Wednesday, June 24, 2015

About Splatoon

I started to write a post on how I would do Splatoon and I realized that I had to talk about the game as it is first, and when I started writing I didn't stop and so split this off into its own post.

Splatoon is revolutionary and freaking adorable.

It's the first time in 14 years that Nintendo made a game with original characters, and that's not even what's notable.

First off, the development was game-play oriented.  That's good.  It's not my general preference (I'm very much a story person) but if games are going to continue to change and expand and grow there needs to be constant work in new and different ways to do stuff.  Splatoon is different.

It's been called a third person shooter because you shoot stuff --or rather: you can shoot stuff if you so choose-- but really that's not right because the idea of a shooter is more narrow than that.  There are turn based RPGs where characters use arrows or blasters and we don't call them shooters.  Splatoon is instead about covering areas.

It started off as just that.  Covering areas in your color.  Despite the appeal of the idea, it did not start off as painting the town red and still only includes that rarely.  In the beginning it had more a Rolling Stones vibe: Paint it Black.  The teams were black and white.  The graphics and interface were extremely basic because at this point it was just testing raw game-play.  The players were represented as boxes.

It was noticed that with these early boxes and basic graphics it was hard to see other players in their own color and the resulting stealth, now that they had seen it in action, was picked up on as something they could purposely incorporate into the final product.

Eventually, when a setting was grafted on, it made sense to choose squids because of the association with ink.  Instead of having stealth-on-your-own-color all the time by accident, they made it so that you could submerge in your own color of ink in squid form and that was stealthy (humanish form not-so-stealthy.)

This leads to a trade off.  In squid form in your own ink you're hard to see (and also much faster) but you can't fire weapons.  Much of Splatoon is about trade offs, and I'll get to that, but first a bit on the setting.


First, the way-back back-story.  You can skip this part and still understand everything else I'll talk about.

Splatoon takes place 1,200-ish years in the future, not that it's terribly important.  Rising sea levels is a repeated theme in the backstory.  The three big things are that someone afraid of what the sea levels would do cryogenically preserved his cat, that cat being the one that shows up in the game.  Second, rising sea levels somehow wiped out most life on land allowing sea life to crawl up on land (presumably after sea levels dropped again), lose the ability to exist in the sea, and evolve into myriad human-like forms (and do so really quickly.)

Real life evolution does not work like that at all, but it's ok because silly fun is what the game runs on.

100 years before the game was when The Great Turf War between the Octarians (a coalition of octopus descended creatures) and the Inklings (the squid creatures of the game) took place.  This was due to rising sea levels again, which left them with not enough space to coexist.

The Inklings won, the Octarians retreated to underground caverns.  Since the caverns were underground they needed to be sustained without the use of the sun, which takes a lot of energy, and when that breaks down it provides the impetus for the return of the Octarian threat (they steal the Inklings' power source) that the single player campaign is built around.


The game started as a different kind of multiplayer --fighting to cover the stage in your color instead of trying to kill the enemy-- and multiplayer is what it's built around.

You enter the game in a plaza in Inkopolis, an/the Inkling city.  The plaza is populated by the Inkling version of miis, which is to say that you can see other people who are online in a way that doesn't let you interact with them directly but, if they've left some kind of a message up like, "If we can buy shirts, hats, and shoes, why can't we get pants?  I'm sick of athletic shorts!" or, "This game is awesome!" you can read it.

You can also take a look at them to see what gear (weapon, headgear, shirt, shoes) they have equipped, what level they are, and probably other not very important stuff I'm not currently thinking about.

Other than sex (I talked about potential for using the physical dichotomy to tell stories here), skin color, and eye color all inklings look pretty much alike.  They don't have hair, but for the squidy bit that is where hair would be the color is randomized and has the potential to change every match, so that's not a distinguishing feature.  While two of the tentacles remain long enough to style (after a fashion), boys all have them done one way, girls all have them another way.

There are also usually some blue jellyfish walking around.  They're the only other species you'll see that doesn't appear as an interactive game mechanic, usually a merchant.

There is a jellyfish merchant (he sells shirts and coats) but he's not the only jellyfish around.

The previously mentioned cat will give you advice if you click on him.  He also appears to announce the winner at the end of every match.

Weapons can be purchased from a horseshoe crab person.  A shy, possibly depressed, anemone-haired person and the loud, brash clown fish in her hair run a hat shop.  A shoe shop is run by a shrimp who, oddly, appears to be breaded and toasted in spite of being very much alive and not in any kind of pain.

Out of a back alley works a sea urchin person.  He seems shady.  It's a playful cartoon world so shady doesn't translate to doing anything bad, but he seems shady.  He has no fixed inventory, instead he can get you whatever you want by way of clothes for a steep mark up even if it isn't on sale or the merchants won't sell it to you, and get them pre-broken in so they'll be exactly like the thing you saw and said you wanted.

Before I finish talking about the sea urchin person, I need to say what I mean by 'broken in'.

The creators of Splatoon came up with 24 "abilities" which range all over (more durability, better stealth, being able to track down the person who just killed you, moving faster, et cetera) and each bit of non-weapon gear has a main ability which is unlocked from the start, and one to three secondary abilities which have to be unlocked by earning experience points while wearing the gear.  Once you've earned enough to unlock one it will be selected at random from the list of 24.  Secondary abilities are less powerful than main abilities but still useful.

Part of the reason for urchin-guy's steep prices is that he'll get you gear with secondary abilities unlocked.

The other thing he does, which he will not do for cash, is make after market modifications to clothing.  He can add secondary slots if the gear has less than the maximum of 3, and he can reroll the secondaries if you've got all the slots filled don't like what you've got.  Like I said, no cash on this thing --barter only.

Hence: shady.  He operates out of a back alley, gets you stuff you shouldn't be able to get (gear with abilities unlocked) for a steep mark up, or makes mods to your stuff without even dealing in cash.

To recap the merchants, in a land of humanish squid we have a shrimp person, a jellyfish person, an anemone person (with sidekick), a horseshoe crab person, and sea urchin person doing business.  Only the the Jellyfish person has other members of his species in evidence.

Presumably they all come from places where other members of their species lives and, assuming a lack of tragic backstory, came here for the business opportunities.

In addition to needing the money to buy stuff from the merchants, you also have to attain a proper level.  (There are 20 levels, you can only go up, and they're based on experience.)  For the weapons shop it's a question of what the proprietor will trust you with.  Sure, the weapons all deal in ink, but they're still weapons.

For the others, it's presented as them being snotty (though shy and/or depressed person will apologize to you for holding the policy.)  It would make more sense, to me, if it were presented as brand protection.  Every one of the stores you can visit is run by the owner, meaning they're all small businesses and we know from one of the multiplayer stages that there is at least one mall nearby they have to compete with.

If they only let the cool kids wear the clothes they sell then it associates them with coolness, and if you have to earn the ability to shop with them then wearing the stuff they sell is proof that you did earn it.  It's not a particularly nice practice, but under the right conditions it could make business sense.

In addition to the merchants you can look in on where the newscasters (who happen to be local pop-divas) are taking a break from being on screen.  There's a place for same-system-multiplayer, and the place for internet multiplayer.


First, basic multiplayer gameplay:

There are two modes of play (at least one more will be added) and both are about covering an area in your ink.  One, called Turf War, is about making it so, at the end of the match, the entire level has more of your color than the other.  The other, called Splat Zones, is concentrated on a specific area (or specific areas) and involves having that area (or those areas) in your color for longer.

Either way, the point is not to take out your opponent.  That can help as they can neither ink turf nor take you out while they're re-spawning, but the point is to ink up the ground.

During development this led to debate over whether it should be possible to ink walls.  Walls don't count towards winning or losing so inking them seemed like it could be a pointless distraction.  When they realized that applying the swim-through-ink mechanic to ink on walls would open up entirely new movement possibilities the debate was over and ink on walls was in.  Now there are parts specifically designed with being able to use inkable walls as pathways in mind.


A quick thing on life, death, reincarnation, metaphysics, and reloading your weapons:

In theory the inklings descend from squid yada-yada-yada [we don't need explanations, we have lampshades]{handwave}.  In many ways it makes more sense to think of their squid form as made of actual ink.  Their humanish form too, though to a lesser extent.

There's a bit in single player where your mentor warns you not to fall in the water because, as you know, sea life such as inklings can't swim.  In fact, though, lack of swimming ability doesn't have time to come into play because they dissolve in water.  When one spatters ink on a wall or on the ground, it's like it would be in real life: almost zero thickness.  Yet your squid form can submerge in it.  Your squid form can also move through pretty much anything a liquid could move through.

The things that hurt you are things that would dilute ink (water; other ink of another color) and falls from a great height (which would splatter you.)  Also weaponized colored sound, which I'm not going to think about too much because I think colored sound is in the "wacky fun" category that gets a pass for making no sense.

When there is too much of [thing that hurts you] you die in an ink explosion (of your opponent's color) or dissolve (if you fell in water.)  A few seconds later you're back at a respawner.

That's standard multiplayer / checkpoint singleplayer fare.  But, in the single player campaign (where dying sufficiently often will earn you a game over screen, however temporary it may be) it is canonical that after you've splatted the enemy leader to *poof* he isn't dead, just captured.

Thus it seems logical to conclude that it is canonical that inklings and octarians who are inked into *poof* do not die but instead respawn somehow, which the mutliplayer respawners make use of.

Now, back to your own ink.  What's a good way to quickly heal yourself from being hit with enemy ink?  Take a dip in your own.  This also (slowly if sitting still, more quickly if swimming) reloads the ink canister on which your weapons run.

Does this mean that if you've got only enough ink left for one shot you can fire it at your feet, change into squid form, drop into the ink-spot you just made, and sit there for a while to completely refill your ammo?  Yup.

Does this violate the conservation of energy?  Yup.

Inkopolis runs on that sort of thing.


Trade offs.

The inventory system in Deus Ex was designed to foster resource management, the inventory system in the Resident Evil games was designed to foster desperation.  The extremely limited inventory-esque system of Splatoon is designed to be about making trade offs.

Now I tend to be a single player person most of the time, and I tend to cheat.  I don't like having to choose, I like to be able to do ALL THE THINGS.  So trade offs aren't my first choice.

That said, I understand that in multiplayer you don't want to let people do all the things.  I get the idea that a jack of all trades is a master of none.  I get that if you let someone be an √úbermensch who can do everything as well as someone who specialized in that thing then you've eliminated the benefits and rewards of specializing.

So I can understand where making trade offs comes from and appreciate when it's done well.  I can even appreciate the concept when its not done well.

Splatoon tries to make every choice involve compelling mutually exclusive rewards.  Fast and stealthy by swimming through ink in squid form, or slower and quite visible by staying in biped form because it allows you to have your weapon out and thus quickly respond to a threat?

The primary weapons are divided into four categories.  Each individual weapon has its own balance of attributes (e.g. fire rate, power, range) and weapons are sold in sets of primary/secondary/special.

The big thing that represents a choice on the part of the game developers is the fact weapons are sold as sets.  If you could pick primary, secondary, and special then you'd never have to choose the benefits of having your first choice of primary vs. your first choice of secondary vs. your first choice of special.  And the choices do make a difference.

There are secondary and special ones that don't do damage or spread ink.  Classifying them as weapons at all is somewhat iffy.  Mind you they can be incredibly useful.  The point, though, is that if you're not good with those then maybe it means your preferred primary isn't a part of a set that's for you.

It seems like the developers were trying to make it so there would be choices like this.  You want the best of A combined with the best of B combined with the best of C, and instead you just have to pick one, good and bad together.

I've already mentioned that gear comes with abilities.  you have to decide what to wear which means balancing:

  1. Primary abilities
  2. Secondary abilities
  3. Style

And before that you have to decide what you're going to spend your money on.  Do you want that really nice looking hat with a primary you need and four secondary slots, or do you want to buy a newer better gun as part of a set that better suits your style?

It is important to note that choices made can't lock you in to a style you dislike.  You can always earn more money to buy something else if it turns out you made a bad choice.

It would be terrible if you initially thought that you'd be best off customized for speed and up close interpersonal attacks and then realized that you're better at sniping from a distance but, too late, you're stuck with an optimization that totally clashes with your skills.  So it's good that Splatoon doesn't do that.

You can always earn more coin with which to buy different weapons or gear, and unless you're in a match right now, you can always change the gear and weapon you're using.


Things that go splat.

There are four types of primary weapon:

There are melee weapons: giant paint rollers and paint brushes that can cover a lot of area fast but leave you extremely vulnerable to foes with longer reach.  They can be used to cover a very short range by swinging them to send the ink on them airborne, but everyone not using them has a longer reach.  They're very powerful in terms of taking out the enemy since ink-equals damage and they've got the most ink of anything.  The problem is that you have to get in really close to do it.  Unless you're sneaky and stealthy, these are really for putting down ink, not combat.

There are blasters: short range ranged weapons with incredible power but a slow fire rate.  They will help you cover ground in ink, but they're specialized for taking out opponents in as few shots as possible.  Thus if you pick these you'll be choosing combat (a secondary objective) over laying down ink (which is the primary one.)  Combat is useful because a respawning enemy can't do anything, but unless you're really, really good combat alone won't win.

There are mid-range weapons, they do a good job of covering the area in front of you in ink and they have a fast rate of fire.  They're great for actually doing your job (laying down ink) and pretty decent at the secondary job of stopping the enemy.  If you let someone with a blaster or melee weapon get too close you're probably screwed, but since you have a longer range if you see them coming and do things right you can probably defend yourself.  These are second to melee weapons for the primary objective, and not that bad for combat.  They're basically the balance in the middle.

Finally there are chargers which are in a class of their own.  They're long range weapons which are great for snipers.  They've got the power to take out the enemy, and they lay down a path of ink from you to the end of their range.  The thing is, as the name suggests, they have to charge up.  It takes time, which means that other people can lay down ink faster and it means that other people can target you while you're charging.  If you can survive the charging, they're good at both laying down ink and combat, but you have to survive the charging.  In close range combat they're all but useless.  If you try to charge up you'll be taken out fast, if you fire without charging the power is minuscule.  So they're good at either thing, but only if you can keep the enemy at distance.  The enemy, of course, is going to be trying to not be at a distance.  (Unless they have a charger too in which case they'll be trying to shoot you first.)

Secondary weapons include three types of ink bombs, beacons (discussed below), bombs that slow down enemies in range (but cause no damage), bombs mark enemies in range so they can't hide from you or allies (but, again, no damage), a "shower" that sets up a wall of ink which you can shoot through but, since it isn't their color, enemies can't, and an ink sprinkler which will spurt out ink in a circle while you go elsewhere and do other things.

Special weapons are:

  • an ink missile (inkstrike) that you can target at anywhere on stage, covers a sizable area, and can't be stopped
  • the Killer Wail, which fires a blast of colored sound (remember me mentioning that?) the length of the stage and takes out any enemy in its beam-ish path
  • the inkzooka which ... honestly why a combination of "ink" and "bazooka" would send out small tornadoes of ink with enough power to splat any they meet is kind of lost on me, it doesn't cover much area, but you can aim it with precision and fire it repeatedly
  • the kracken which transforms you into a larger than normal invulnerable squid that can swim through anything (laying down its own ink in its path) and can attack by jumping
  • the bubbler which surrounds you in a bubble that bounces enemy shots back at them
  • bomb rush which, for obvious reasons, is only paired with bomb-secondary weapons.  It lets you throw ink bombs really fast without depleting your ink supply
  • the echolocator, which finds (and marks for the duration) all of your opponents so you and your allies can know where they are.
Special weapons have to be earned by laying down enough ink without dying to unlock them.  (When you die the meter takes a penalty.  When you use them the meter resets to zero so you have to unlock them again.)


One thing that one might realize (or might not, I won't judge) is that if the game is about covering an area, an uncontested area of your own ink is a useless place to be.  Now your own ink you can squid-swim through and none of the stages are that big, but the developers recognized the need to get to where things are happening more quickly (possibly because the most likely area to be uncontested and covered in your own ink is your respawn point.)

Thus the super jump.  By touching an ally or friendly beacon on the map, you can launch yourself in a very large leap to that spot.  The down side is that the enemy can see you coming and since they have an interest in both your allies and your beacons (they can see your beacons on the map) they might very well be there waiting for you and could, possibly, ink you to *poof* before you've had a chance to orient yourself.)

It's risky because they could be waiting for you, but it lets you get somewhere quickly and it lets you get there without going through the space between here and there (so if your opponents are blockading a bottle neck, if you've got an ally or beacon on the other side you can get through anyway.)


The meta game

Multiplayer is divided into two modes.  One is open to everyone and sorted based on I-don't-even-know-what, the other is open to only level ten and up and sorted based on rank.  Your rank goes up or down as you wink or lose in this mode.

The first one involves smaller rewards, but unless you stand around doing nothing you're pretty much guaranteed to get something.  The second tends to be all or nothing, but has significantly higher rewards.

So if you need money to buy that awesome hat you saw, one can definitely get you there, the other might get you there much faster but also might not get you there at all.

In standard (non-ranked) mode your score --thus your experience points, thus your cash reward-- is based on what you personally score plus a win bonus if you win.  No penalty for losing, just a lack of a win bonus.  (Well, technically there is an expires at the end of the day ranking that does take into account how much you've won vs. lost.)

Here's the thing: your personal score is based off of how much ink you laid down.  Not how much ink you laid down that stayed there until the end (which is a good thing because that would suck) but how much you laid down total.

That means that in terms of your personal score you're be better off putting down ink in places you know will be covered over because then you can ink those places again (and it can be covered again, repeat) and thus put down a lot of ink fast because you don't have to move that much.

In fact, in terms of personal score your ideal scenario is probably running in a circle putting down ink while an opponent runs behind you covering up your ink.  With the exception of time spent to reload you get to lay down ink non-stop.  Your score just keeps climbing and climbing.

This, though, helps your team not at all.  It does tie down one opponent, if that's really how your ink gets covered up, but because the ink will be covered up it isn't going to contribute to the final score.

So you have to choose between helping yourself and helping the team.

With gear, if you want to unlock secondary abilities the fastest way is probably to put on an outfit made entirely of gear where the secondaries are not unlocked, play in it to unlock them, and switch out a piece as soon as it is completely unlocked.  This, however, means that you'd always be playing in pieces with locked abilities, which means that you'd always be playing in less than your best, meaning you'd probably lose more often.


Multiplayer tends to take place at ground level or close enough that falling doesn't kill you, so it might be a bit surprising that single player is a platformer.

(A platformer with bright colors?  I'm already imagining a Mirror's Edge crossover.  Modders: do this thing.)

The single player game is, unfortunately, almost entirely disconnected from everything else.  The gear you can buy?  You can't use it in single player.  The weapons you can buy?  Ditto.  Nothing carries over from the multiplayer side (which includes everything else) to the single player side.

During single player you can find "Sunken Scrolls" which reveal tidbits of setting/backstory or, in the case of the boss battles, have weapon blueprints you can bring to the gunsmith horseshoe crab.  Bringing the blueprints to the weapons maker is the only place where single player carries over into multiplayer.

If you have the Amibos then you can also unlock exclusive gear.

Single player has you becoming an unsung hero (unsung mostly because the only person who knows what you're doing is someone who was an adult during a war 100 years ago, and no one really pays attention to him) fighting off the octarians and recovering the city's power supply (a giant electric catfish.)

Somewhat surprisingly, single player isn't just multi-player with bots instead of players and the barest hint of a story tacked on.

That's not to say that the story which is tacked on has more than the barest hint to it, because it's definitely not a story game, but it does make a certain amount of sense:

The bad guys stole the great zapfish and various little zapfish too.

They're using the little ones to power the defenses keeping you from reaching the big one.  They're doing it in layers, no less.

So first you have to steal back the non-critical little ones in an area, which shuts down the defenses of the spot holding the critical one.  Cue boss battle.

The critical one was powering the defenses keeping you from the next area, so once you've got it (once you've won the boss battle) you can move to the next area and repeat.

Since they do have a power shortage going on, the octarians are also using the captured little ones to power R&D, it would seem.

Thus explaining whatever weird things you might encounter.

It's still only the barest hint of a story, but the up side is that it makes a degree of sense (except when it's deviated from) and, probably more importantly, it uses maps and mechanics that aren't in multiplayer.

Invisible pathways that you can't see unless you've inked them, sponges that expand into platforms when shot with your color and contract when shot with the opponent's.  Ink geysers you can set off for various purposes.  Platforms that move powered by propellers you shoot with your ink.  Rearranging landscapes.  Ink streams that allow for fast travel to areas that you can't reach by normal means.

All of these things would be very interesting in multiplayer.  They're not there, though.

It's not that they'd have to turn multiplayer into platforming where you fall and you die, it could easily be fall and you're on ground level.

But, that's more of how I would do it territory, which this post is not for.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the description! I knew that Splatoon was a huge hit, but I didn't know a great deal about it.