The early development of Splatoon has been discussed a lot since the game debuted. Up until now not much had actually been known about the early builds. The multiplayer shooter genre had become one of, if not the, biggest genre in the gaming community. Nintendo was entirely absent from this genre. Most people thought it was just too out of their comfort zone for them to fill the gap. Eventually they produced a game that both added to the genre and felt like a uniquely Nintendo experience. In the last week some new details have emerged that show us some of the early versions of Splatoon, and the bizarre form it could have taken. What we’ve learnt from this is that Splatoon had been built from the ground up to be something entirely different to the rest of the genre.
It’s been public knowledge since 2015 that Splatoon began life as a game in which blocks of ‘Tofu’ travelled around an area spraying paint at each other and trying to cover a map. This was first revealed in an ‘Iwata Asks’ way back in the promotional cycle for the first installment. Up until now we had only the comments in this discussion with developers, and a single screenshot to demonstrate the first concept behind Splatoon. A recent panel at the Game Developers Conference has given us more insight into this.
So far we only have shaky cam footage of the prototype, hopefully something more polished will emerged. But until then you can see the prototype in action in the video below, curtsey of YouTuber ‘LaKillingFrenzy’ who uploaded his view of the conference.
The brief clip shows a bizarre and very primitive form of the gameplay we’ve come to enjoy. However even in this very early build it’s clear the game was set on subverting the normal rules of shooters. The basic framework of the Splatoon gameplay was there, but the world around it clearly hadn’t been though over this early on. It’s not entirely impossible that the game could have survived as ‘Tofu War’ or some other strange title. However, the rest of the panel has given us even more details of the process that took Tofu to Inkling.
The Inklings have become such recognizable Nintendo characters that they’ve even made their way into Mario Kart. We’d known for a while that Nintendo originally considered using Mario characters themselves in the game, before deciding it would be better to have the game stand alone as an independent project. While it’s clear this was abandoned early on it’s interesting to Mario characters inhabiting this world, and consider the possibility that Splatoon would have been another Mario spin-off.
These pictures shows a pretty finalized version of the game this time starring Yoshi. ‘Frozenpandaman’ has shared these photos, after attending the conference.
The panel then revealed how rabbits where the next choice for the protagonists. After it became clear the Tofu action didn’t have legs, and a new property was needed for the game rather than slotting it into the Mario family, these cute creatures were though up instead. Concept arts shows some bunnies decked in Splatoon gear, with very recognizable guns and maps around them. From this concept art and early build pictures it seems that the gameplay itself and mechanics were pretty far in development before the squids emerged. With the maps and gear featured looking almost identical to what would make the final release. These rabbits were eventually abandoned when developers started asking why Rabbits would be shooting and hiding in ink?
Concepts Early Rabbit designs in a map, from Iwata Asks.
Squids shooting ink and hiding in it became a natural answer to these questions. But the designs showcased at this conference show these could have taken a very different turn. Early designs show some strange human squids. Full squids, but with vaguely human faces and builds. These would have definitely made a different game. These bizarre creatures probably would have made the game as much of a stylistic success, and it’s easy to imagine how creepy they could have looked from this concept art.
Concept art that was shown of early Squid designs, from ‘Frozenpandaman’
Eventually the developers came up with human avatars that transformed into Squids. This decision shows how the character creation mirrored the gameplay. As your abilities were different when in ink to when out, it made sense that your character would be too. Once the breakthrough in character design was reached, the human avatars needed something of a hook too. The 90s inspired slang and fashion centric stylistic approach emerged and the entire game took shape. These early prototypes are very interesting to see though. The full game fleshed out with tofu instead of squids probably would not have been a success. While the Rabbits are cute they really lack the hook that the Inklings developed.
From here then conference then discussed building the outside world of the game that would give the title a more cohesive feel than your average online shooter. The culture that came with the game and the unique character it developed have grown the community and given its fan base more context and fun then you would find in Battlefield or Call of Duty. This sort of approach can also be seen with Overwatch, which took the Splatoon approach of giving players context outside the basic shooter mechanics. It’ll be interesting to see what this coming Octo Expansion adds to the world. Nintendo seems to be aiming to continue building the world around Splatoon along with the gameplay mechanics. The excitement fans have for finally being able to play as Octolings probably wouldn’t have been matched by giving us the option to play as ‘Seasoned Tofu’.