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Splatoon’s Inklings Started Out As Blocks Of Tofu

As the release of Splatoon 3 approaches, the Splatoon franchise has already become an easily recognizable Nintendo IP. The series’ vibrant colors and unique gameplay help it stand out, and its signature Inklings are identifiable at a glance. These squid characters weren’t a part of the original game’s early development, though, and it took some time for their final concept to come about. Nintendo’s earliest versions of Splatoon instead had what were essentially playable blocks of tofu.

The original Splatoon launched in 2015 exclusively on Wii U, and Splatoon 3 is expected to launch in 2022 on Switch. The main game mode in Splatoon and its sequel is Turf War, in which players battle to cover a majority of the map’s surface area in ink. Ally-painted zones can be quickly traversed by transforming the player Inkling into squid form and swimming through the ink. Given squids’ real-life ink-spraying capabilities, the characters and gameplay appear to mesh perfectly with each other, but the squid kids were only invented after multiple other design attempts.

In a 2015 Nintendo interview between late executive Satoru Iwata and the Splatoon development team, the devs revealed Splatoon’s first build had players control tofu-like blocks in a maze. This demo involved “a white thing and a black thing shaped like blocks of tofu, and they were shooting ink and they had to steal each other’s turf.” The tofu blocks had to be given “a little nose” because players would otherwise “never know which end was the front or the back.” Despite its rough state, the team chose to continue work on this demo’s concept out of “at least seventy ideas,” since it was playable and had potential.

Splatoon’s Gameplay-First Development Eventually Led To The Inklings

Shortly after the launch of the Wii U, Splatoon’s developers were attempting to “make a new kind of game, without worrying about trying to fit into existing game genres.” The tofu demo already had some important gameplay elements still used in Splatoon: Hiding in same-team ink is an important strategy first introduced in the tofu phase, when the map was visible on the TV screen instead of the Wii U GamePad. Players could look at a top-down map to see enemy locations, but standing in one’s own ink obscured their location because their tofu block was the same color.

Once the general gameplay of Splatoon was in place, character design shifted to finding something more marketable, as “Tofu is a bit of a hard sell.” The development team moved from tofu to human characters, but they stood out from the ink too much. The devs next put players in control of white rabbits, which could then be colored with the ink. The gameplay was starting to be finalized, but there was still a disconnect between it and the rabbits’ character designs. When asking other Nintendo employees for feedback, common critiques included, “I don’t see the appeal of the character,” and, “Why are the rabbits shooting ink?

Splatoon’s developers needed to figure out a design that made sense for the game’s primary actions. A correctly colored squid could hide in the ink like the tofu did, and a later idea of the characters transforming into humanoids let them use weapons properly, be customizable, and generally “become a character players would grow to love” when not swimming in the ink. The rest of Splatoon and its post-apocalyptic setting were then built on this initial decision to go from tofu to squid.

Splatoon 3 is set to be released for Nintendo Switch in 2022.

Source: Nintendo

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