How Nintendo prototypes games, starring its first new IP in years: Splatoon

The road to creating the ink-based shooter -- which releases very soon -- was anything but smooth, a new interview with the developers reveals.
"I think the fact that we started out by coming up with seventy ideas was a big part of why we were able to do that. And it’s not like all of the ideas we brainstormed just disappeared. A lot of those seventy ideas ... ended up in this game."

- Splatoon producer Hisashi Nogami

Nintendo's Iwata Asks interviews can be hit-or-miss, but the new one -- on the development of Splatoon, the first new IP from its primary development studio, EAD, in 14 years -- touches deeply on the prototyping and development process at the company and is not to be missed.

Production of Splatoon kicked off with a six-month brainstorming period, as described above: A small, core team played off of each other, developing 70 ideas over that period -- and the concept that survived to the end became Splatoon, an ink-based third-person shooter.

But the promise of the original prototype of the game started to "fray a bit," says producer Hisashi Nogami, once the team attempted to refine it into a game.

The original prototype featured block-like placeholder characters that put the team in mind of tofu; after a natural shift to humans, and later to rabbit characters, things just weren't working.

"After we made the characters human and added depth to the arena ... We weren’t sure how to solve those problems," Nogami said.

"People were sort of like, 'Well, I guess it’s fun.' ... Basically, no one was completely satisfied with it," says Yusuke Amano, the game's director. "When people asked 'Why rabbits?' and 'Why are the rabbits shooting ink?' we couldn’t give them a rational explanation."

"So we thought 'What’s the answer to that question?' That’s when we really started searching for it," Nogami says.

The team hit on the idea of anthropomorphized squid characters -- which fit the game's theme. When that fell into place, so did everything else; production proceeded rapidly from there.

Another key element, says the developers, was allowing the team members to share their own passions through the game -- like street fashion, which features heavily in its visual design.

"For example, if there are stickers on the wall, the stickers are put on in a way that you can tell that someone put them there because they wanted to. We’ve really filled the game world with 'things that someone loves,' so I hope people will pay attention to all the little details," says Seita Inoue, the game's art director.

Once the main gameplay and character were locked down, the game "was strong enough that no matter what we added to that concept, it didn’t waver," Amano says.

That brainstorming period, and the process of working toward a common goal, laid the foundation for a strong game in the end, it seems. Want to know more? You can read the full Q&A at Nintendo's site.

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