UX Design in Splatoon

I’m not a fan of gritty shooters, but I am a fan of Nintendo’s off-the-wall game designs, so I immediately grabbed Splatoon when it came out. And I was not disappointed. Given how often I’ve been playing this recently, I thought I’d talk about less discussed but still interesting aspects of Splatoon’s user experience design.

Splatoon (c) Nintendo
Splatoon (c) Nintendo

The bulk of the gameplay is a 4 vs. 4 player match involving covering turf with ink and splatting opponents. You play an Inkling who can shoot ink, but more importantly can transform into a squid and swim through one’s ink. Pretty much as crazy-awesome as plumbers that eat flowers to turn into fire-breathing curry machines.

Squidformation. Photo from http://splatoon.nintendo.com.
Squidformation. Photo from http://splatoon.nintendo.com.

Upon opening the game, you’re greeted with news by Callie and Marie, squid sisters and Inkopolis’ music idols (thanks for sexualizing squids Nintendo). One of my biggest gripes is that you always have to spam-click A to get them through their dialogue about which of the stages (on a 4-hour rotation) will be in-game. They have a lot of (repeating) comments about each of the stages, so if I want to play a quick 3-minute match I first have to get through their cute-but-tedious Squidanese. I can find out the current stages in-game anyways, so really the only time their mandatory news blasts would be needed are for updates or events like Splatfest.

Next is Inkopolis Plaza, gateway to all other parts of the game. On the main screen, you can see all of the physical locations of stores, NPCs, and Inklings that you have recently played matches with. On the Gamepad screen is an overhead map of the plaza with links directly to the same stores you can walk to. This takes some of the immersion out of the game, but in the long run it’s a great decision to streamline the buying process (I know I’d get lost looking for the stores). Also, walking from Inkling to Inkling to see their Miiverse posts provides me with enough exploration of the fun environment.

Inkopolis
Inkopolis

The Gamepad also allows access to the equipment screen. Navigation is designed well enough that I don’t even think when I toggle through my different beanies and headphones. Inventory is consistent with the store screens, with main navigation on the bottom. Each of the categories can be accessed with A. Specific items on focus can show special ability info with X. Being able to navigate with weither L/R or side toggle is good for people who might be used to one or the other. A minor problem though is having to click B to go back to the main categories when a simple down toggle, given the layout, would suffice.

equip_menu

It’s interesting that under each weapon is the amount of ground it’s covered with paint. The numbers don’t mean much to me, but it would be cool to see statistics of ground covered and kills for each weapon compared to one another. (I know I’m decent with the .52 Gal and Squelchers, but I fail spectacularly with chargers.)

In terms of worldbuilding, Nintendo does an amazing job creating a colorful squid-based metropolis that makes it fun visiting NPCs over and over again. Take Spyke: an urchin in a back alley who upgrades your equipment in exchange for sea snails. What do urchins eat in real life? Snails. What little creatures surround his humble mat/home? Quivering snails…

He says he doesn't need the shells of the snails...
He says he doesn’t need the shells of the snails…

Something really noticeable about Splatoon’s lobby is that you can’t back out once in the match queue, unless you shut off your Wii U. I chalk this up to the dev team trying to ensure players don’t have to wait too long for 8 players to all join, given they couldn’t predict the amount of sales. Good news is the game’s sold over 1 million copies, and players are currently matched from all over the world rather than locally, so we’ll see if this changes.

The design during matches really helps me understand what’s going on despite the chaos of 8 players spraying/rolling/exploding paint all over the map. When I hit an opponent, I get feedback with splat sound effects and the on-screen reticle lighting up. When my special attack is ready, my squid tentacle-hair sparkles and flaps (easy for opponents to see as well).

There’s no on-screen minimap because it’s on the gamepad, which you can look down at if you dare (I for one have been splatted countless times while distracted assessing enemy movements). You can see your teammates (as little squid-shaped arrows), but you can’t see your enemies unless they have your team’s ink on them or someone uses a special attack.

This game is easy and fun to get into with a short single player campaign, but what really keeps me playing are all the multiplayer modes. It’s a great experience with plenty of small details to bring me more joy as I drown my enemies in neon yellow ink.


Song of the Day: Echos (feat. Py) – ODESZA

Read of the Day: Tense Present – David Foster Wallace

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