Splatoon 2 team on busy dev cycle, Rank X, plus Octo Expansion difficulty, Agent 8 design, more
Splatoon 2 is celebrating its first anniversary. As a way of highlighting the occasion, Famitsu published a lengthy developer interview in last week’s issue. The Japanese magazine caught up with producer Hisashi Nogami, director Yusuke Amano, director/art director Seita Inoue, director/lead programmer Shintaro Sato, and sound designer Toru Minegishi.
The team shared some interesting information about the hectic development cycle for Splatoon 2, Rank X, and more. There’s also plenty of Octo Expansion talk, including the difficult and the design for Agent 8.
Here’s our translation:
Congratulations on your one year anniversary! What are your impressions, looking back on it now?
Nogami: I think honestly everyone here finds it hard to believe it has only been one year. Obviously there have been the updates, the Splatoon Koshien, the world championships at E3, and even creating two soundtracks. I’ve been working so hard that I think my lifespan has been cut by a third. (Laughs)
Inoue: I think the development of the first Wii U Splatoon was also very busy, but this time with the simultaneous development of the second game and the Octo Expansion, I’ve basically forgotten what the first time was like.
Nogami: It might be hard for everyone else to understand, but with the development of the second game happening while we were still updating the original, the tight schedule meant that we were constantly rushing around without a break.
Minegishi: For me personally, I particularly remember around this time last year I was working on some of BGM for sale at Tower Records and also performing Wet Floor Shibuya live. I have the sense of “It’s only been a year?” but also “before I realised it a whole year has come and gone”. It’s a really strange feeling.
Amano: When you’re busy, you forget these things, don’t you? Until only recently you were working on the game, and the next minute all the details become hazy. (Laughs)
Satou: I’m just repeating what everyone else has said, but it has been a really busy year. When we looked back at the development timeframe of the first game in comparison with the second, we were like: “is that all we’d done by then?” The pace for the development of the second game was extremely quick and the time seemed to just fly by. Still, with the limited amount of time and the huge amount of work, I’m happy that everyone rose the challenge.
In May you introduced the Rank X system, but what proportion of users are actually reaching that rank?
Satou: The number of active users at that rank is actually rising. It’s now slightly higher than the users that were before above S+10. And that number always rises a little towards the end of the month before the reset in the new season where the numbers are re-adjusted. Then some users go back to S+.
Nogami: It’s not unusual for users at S rank and above to make up about twenty percent. But I think with the introduction of the X rank, we have given those at S level something else to aim for.
Are more users reaching Rank X than you expected?
Satou: It’s more or less what we expected. But the amount of users pushing their limits and really trying hard to reach the Rank X status was a little more than we predicted.
What do you think about the varying popularity of the weapons? For example, the Inkjet was originally really popular, then its popularity quickly waned, only for it to become popular again. Did you expect this kind or rise and fall?
Satou: Obviously we try to think ahead, but there are things that we can’t know for sure. Because these changes in taste happen regardless of the real merits of the weapon, I think we’d like to continue developing in line with user preference, rather than trying to force weapons onto the players that they don’t want.
You’ve said that you’ve been under pressure, but you could also say that due to this hard work and the balancing you’ve been able to do, a lot of the kinks have been ironed out. And because of that tuning, I think there are more players now who can become skilled at the game than at the time of release.
Satou: I think knowing how players feel has more than just theoretical importance. Because of that we try to develop the game while keeping in mind the elements that appeal to players most. In line with that, everyone on the team is trying their best to keep that appeal in mind, and maximizing it for the players.
Nogami: Our thinking is basically that if the player does not feel in synch with a weapon then they will not be able to use it well.
Satou: From the various weapons we have, we’d like to keep tuning the game alongside the knowledge of the weapons that the players like to use most.
Now I’m going to ask you about the music. In May two new songs were added by the Chirpy Chips (Japan: ABXY). Could explain the concept behind those tracks?
Minegishi: The Chirpy Chips are the same colorful, rock and retro electro band from the first game. And in line with that image is the first song ‘Wave Prism (JP: Battery Full)’. But in contrast to that is the other song ‘Blitz It (JP: Chip Damage)’, which is the band’s long-awaited attempt at something new.
I can definitely sense a new coolness to them.
Minegishi: Also the band broke up briefly and then after reforming they got a little caught up in the moment, which is why the vocals are especially lively. (Laughs)
The Octo Expansion
I’d like to ask you to talk a little bit about the Octo Expansion.
Amano: From the beginning of the development for Splatoon 2 there was a lot of talk of us using Octolings. But if we just threw Octolings in there randomly, there would be the obvious question of why there would be octopuses around in a squid world, and the players would probably be confused. So in order to include Octolings in the game, we needed a reason that the players could relate to, also going into a specific story about the Off the Hook pair. Then we had to create the content for all of these things. The player will know more when they play, but for now let’s just say that it seems that Marina is an Octoling…
Ah-! Did you just reveal a secret to the public?
Amano: It was going to slip out sooner or later. (Laughs) The Hero Mode is the story of Callie and Marie, but alongside that there is also the matter of the Octolings that we mentioned earlier, and also the overarching story concerning Off the Hook. These elements are the main focus of the expansion.
Nogami: With the second game we have introduced a lot of new characters, but we have not given up on the base Inkling game. Because of that we have think about how best to implement the Octolings into the game smoothly.
In all the stages I think there is the feeling of preparing players for the ranked matches.
Amano: That’s the result of us trying to provide players with the most varied play possible. Actually, providing training for ranked matches was something we never considered.
Nogami: Of course we’re happy if players can develop a new way to play or learn to use a new weapon in the Octo Expansion, but the most important thing is for the players to have fun while playing.
That’s true, but the difficulty is definitely higher, isn’t it?
Amano: In the original Hero Mode you could win simply by collecting the most Zapfish, but in the expansion there are many different conditions for victory, which may take some getting used to. In the first game Sakaguchi (Tsubasa Sakaguchi, joint director of the first game, most recently director of Nintendo Labo) came up with lots of ideas and experimented with them before it was decided exactly what form the Hero Mode should take. But because it was thought that players might find it difficult to play the game with all of those conditions, those ideas were put aside. We thought it would be a shame to let all of those go to waste, so we adopted some of his, as well as adding a few new ones of our own. So there may be some layers that find the stage specific conditions difficult until they get used to the system.
Nogami: Players also need to become familiar with the weapons. There are stages that are difficult if the player does not understand the specialities of each weapon.
There was a lot more trial and error than I was expecting.
Amano: Because of that, the levels had to be designed so that the players would want to try again and again.
When I failed the objective, C.Q Cumber appeared on the screen telling me I had failed and then everything exploded. That was certainly a surprise.
Amano: To be honest we had a lot of trouble deciding what to show when the player failed. If you’re defeated before you collect enough Zapfish then that’s easy for to understand, but in the expansion there are time limits and also other conditions that mean failure, so rather than having everything separate we made it so all failure resulted in C.Q Cumber appearing, along with the explosion. (Wry laugh)
Ah, so it’s all C.Q Cumber’s fault, is it? (Laughs)
Nogami: But C.Q Cumber isn’t such a bad guy, he’s just devoted to his job! (Laughs)
As retrying a stage means recollecting all the necessary points, I think this accounts for a lot of the difficulty.
Amano: Our intention there was not to make the game more difficult. Because we have this trial and error system but also wanted to keep the stress factor down for players, we introduced C.Q Points. Also with trial and error in mind the stages were designed short so that there was no sense of delay between each challenge, to keep the experience smooth. And then the player can also progress by choosing between a difficult high point station and an easier low point station. And even if the player runs out of points, Pearl will lend the player money or offer assistance, meaning that no matter how many times they fail, the player can continue the Off the Hook storyline.
I’ve heard of many players being unable to finish the Hero Mode, but for this time you’ve also added the option to skip, right?
Amano: Players can choose to skip or, as mentioned, get assistance from Off the Hook.
Nogami: If you clear the game you unlock Octoling characters and we wanted as many players as possible to play as them, so we added the skip function. But I think players using their own abilities and overcoming the challenges will get the most out of the experience in the end. If the player has been careful in choosing their route, intending to get by on their own skill, but then comes across a part of the game they just can’t complete, then I think it is fine to use the skip function.
Did you have any favorite stages during development?
Amano: The Ink and Watch station was pretty popular. The one where you have to smash all the moving targets with limited ink.
Inoue: I still can’t beat that one! (Laughs)
But a lot of the stages where you have to destroy the targets are difficult, aren’t they?
Amano: Actually the ones where you ride the rail and to hit the target were originally more difficult, but we made them easier.
Really? Well they still seem pretty difficult to me.
Amano: I think if you use the Jet Squelcher those stages become a lot easier. The further left the weapon is on the selection screen, the easier it is to use.
I kind of assumed your recommendation would be whichever weapon was easiest to use?
Amano: My recommendations is always whichever one Kamabo Corporation recommends. (Laughs) After all, they’re built practically with the user in mind.
Was there any point in the development where you thought the stages were a little too difficult?
Amano: We knew at the time that some were difficult, but we were constantly worrying over how much to lower the difficulty. Because this is additional content, we wanted it to be something different from the original Hero Mode, and we also tried hard to remove anything unnecessary and keep the stages as tight as possible.
Nogami: Because difficulty involves such fine lines, it’s hard to set one that is perfect for everyone.
That’s true. And once you’ve completed the level once, the second time is always easier.
Nogami: Exactly. There are a lot of stages that are like solving riddles, and once you know the way to solve that riddle, the stage becomes much easier.
Amano: Once you get the knack for the stages, I think they’re totally do-able.