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Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Way I See It: Splatoon's Voice Communication & Motion Controls

The Way I See It is a category of pieces that represent my personal opinions or reasoning on subjects I enjoy or have a lot to say about. Though at times the write-ups may be built on well-researched and verified information, as a general statement, I do not speak with absolute authority on any given matter covered. Thank you for your time.

With the relatively recent announcement of Splatoon 2, I've seen a fair bit of discussion on whether Nintendo will go back on their decision to leave out Voice chat from their online shooter.

Upon its release, the original Splatoon faced its fair share of controversy due to the decision to create a competitive Third-Person Shooter of this sort and take away what could be considered a staple of the genre, not to mention the focus on a gyroscopic control scheme that many had seen as an unnecessary gimmick. After purchasing the game and putting hours and hours of time into the single and multiplayer, I've come to the conclusion that things aren't as simple as they've been made out to be by some detractors.

These are my thoughts.

Voice Chat

Voice chat has been a well loved tool in the era of modern games. Whether to guide, goad, gloat, or greet, voice communication has been considered so valuable to general play experience that it's become an industry standard for any games with online functionality and even externally fostered by dedicated gaming hardware through party chat.

Knowing this, it's no surprise that folks weren't too happy about the idea of an online game -a shooter at that- not including chat as a feature.

For context, Nintendo had particular goals with the development of Splatoon, going through a selection process of features that they wanted to incorporate into a title in this genre. Voice chat didn't make the cut. One reason for this included the negativity that sometimes accompanied an open communication system between more capable and less capable players, leading to potential experiences that Nintendo avoids fostering with their products. Another was the imbalance that could come into play by including the feature.

Designing a game that rewards coordination in a way that can be bolstered through external communication may allow some players to enjoy greater awareness of their situation, but it also opens the door to an inequilibrium when their opponents don't take advantage of it. As a result, the game was intended to ensure that the only advantages one player may have over another are matters of skill: that all players operate with the same inputs and outputs, enjoying the game in the same way without any potential advantage or disadvantage from one another.

With these things in mind, Nintendo developed Splatoon to not only communicate its terms of engagement and functions without necessitating external means of communication, but to the ends of actually subverting the value of VC outright.

This ends up meaning that VC actually doesn't pose a great advantage to players even if they do communicate through external software. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Matches are only 3-5 minutes long barring overtime, making communication that isn't concise more detrimental to active play than helpful.
  • Matches are 4 vs 4 affairs, so complex strategies from either side aren't very likely, especially considering the breadth of corridors and traversal options.
  • Map design is deliberately considerate of VC not being available. They're built with cues to ensure all necessary info for decision making is available.
  • The start of every match shows off enemy and team weapons, allowing players to consider the most effective play-style with which to proceed.
  • The map shows off teammate positions and the ink coverage of both sides.
  • Sound design indicates the distance and weapon type of enemies and friendlies.

As you can see, the ingredients are there for any team of well-seasoned players to not only perform well under typical circumstances, but actually operate on the same level as those who might try and coordinate through direct communication. In fact, if put up against a team who relies explicitly on voice communication to coordinate, those who pay attention to the indicators the game provides will usually be at a distinct advantage.

Gyroscopic Aim

A lot of the time, when people think Nintendo they think motion controls. The age of the Wii was very profitable, but also opened the door to half-hearted implementations of motion controls derogatorily referred to as 'waggle'. There's still a stigma around these controls today among the more traditional core gaming market.

Unfortunately, the idea of motion being an inferior input method for games hasn't been good for the perception of Splatoon's focus on gyroscopic rotation to aim. Though this has been true throughout general conversation from those who haven't tried it, I think that there are some more than reasonable arguments for how Nintendo's execution of the motion controls in Splatoon is a great success.

For one, the use of gyroscopic aim is actually optional. If your preference is a typical analog stick configuration, you're free to turn off motion controls and enjoy a more traditional console experience. Some would argue that the regular aim doesn't feel all that good, and I wouldn't disagree with them. The reason for this is a lack of aim-assist, which is fairly standard in most shooters on console. This may seem annoying on the surface, but it means that, on a fundamental level, Splatoon is one of the few titles in the genre on console that can functionally be played on a serious competitive level in any configuration.

Gyro controls allow for small corrections in a way that brings it far closer to a mouse and keyboard level of accuracy without the need for a handicap to ensure that the aim experience isn't frustrating. It also contextualizes shooting in a novel new way that can be enjoyed by those who would otherwise be daunted by the complexity and stigma of quickly managing aim through conventional means. The appeal of this can be seen directly in the immense size and sustained engagement of the competitive and casual community of the game, which launched almost two years ago on a console with an extremely small install-base. This leaving aside the already staggeringly impressive 1/4th attach rate.

I can only hope that this was deliberate, as seeing this sort of implementation compromised in the sequel would undermine the more recent message from the Switch reveal trailer that the game is being pushed with a competitive experience in mind.


Complaints about Nintendo's decisions with regards to the aiming and communication are, on the surface, very appreciable ones for a traditional shooter experience. However, Splatoon is not a traditional shooter and is designed with the differences that make that true at its core. This not only helps ensure that such exclusions and changes aren't detrimental to the game, but actually bolster the overall play experience, contributing to the novel and well loved title we know today.

I can see where people come from when wanting their standard controls and features, but when said concerns are put towards Splatoon in general terms, I think that does a disservice to the careful and unconventional design that is the basis for the game in the first place. Take some time with Splatoon and drop your preconceptions of what needs to be in a shooter or how a shooter plays. Take in the depth of the game and really give those motion controls a chance.

Who knows? You might find that you enjoy it much more than you expected to.

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