Salmon Run, and to a greater extent Splatoon 2’s map rotation mechanics, are not exactly the most player friendly systems. Both require you to be on a certain time to be able to play the maps or mode you wish. For many of us, this can be a frustrating experience, limiting one’s ability to play the way or mode you wish.
In a recent interview in Rolling Stones, Nintendo game designer Jordan Amaro provided an explanation as to the design choices in Splatoon 2.
In Japan, everything is tailored. You’ve probably heard Sheena Iyengar’s TED talk, in which she went to a restaurant in Japan and tried to order sugar in her green tea. The people at the cafe said, “One does not put sugar in green tea,” and then, “We don’t have sugar.”…In Japan, there’s a sense of, “We’re making this thing for you, and this is how we think this thing is better enjoyed.” This is why, in Splatoon, the maps rotate every couple of hours. And the modes change. “I bought this game. Why can’t I just enjoy this game the way I want?” That’s not how we think here. Yes, you did buy the game. But we made this game. And we’re pretty confident about how this game should be enjoyed. If you stick with us, and if you get past your initial resistance, you’re going to have the time of your life with this game. You’re really going to love it.
Which brings up an intriguing question, to what extent should game developers cater to players? Well, like most things, it’s complicated.
“The Right Way”
It is impossible to go throughout your life and not hear this phrase in one form or another. We as a species, through our culture, have assigned “right ways” of doing things. Being someone who grew up on new york style pizza, to me, the right way to eat a pizza is to take a slice and fold it in half. Seeing someone not eat pizza this way is somewhat jarring, making them an outlier, an oddity, doing something that is frowned upon. Again, being someone who lives within a stone’s throw of Philadelphia, there is the concept of the “Philadelphia Cheesesteak.” It has bread, meat, onion, and of course—Cheesewiz. It is an iconic food here, and while it is hardly the only way to have a cheesesteak(best cheesesteak is in Camden, NJ, in case you were curious), it is the combination of those ingredients that makes it a “Philadelphia Cheesesteak,” and is the only proper way to prepare one.
It seems only natural to take this type of cultural-group-think and extend it into games. Someone has made a product their way, and you are consuming it, so the creator should be able to say “it should only be consumed this way.” Unfortunately, that rigidity is problematic when coming from a medium that is largely heralded as a form of art that allows those who experience it to also have agency on that art.
How Far to Take It
It’s key to remember that games enable such vastly different experiences for different people, taking it so far as to give the player a way to shape their experience and others with it. When thinking of how rigid you wish for a game and its accompanying mechanics to be, you can’t forget this important point. Players will find ways around your system, they will break your system, they will mold your system to their own desires because games as a medium are not static entities like paintings. When the oil sets on a canvas, that paint is set, to make changes to it is to mean it is simply incomplete.
Once it is done, it is done; Games, not so much.
Games are a fluid form of art, they adapt, they change, they evolve, they die. This is especially true in games that are largely influenced by other players, online multiplayer games and MMOs all are heavily influenced by the players themselves; not just developers. This creates a tricky situation, here you have a medium of art that has a give and take. The developer, on one hand, creates the game, but the player shapes that creation further, turning it into its final product. Making rigid design choices means that when it comes time for the player to finally shape your product, you end up with something no one truly wants. The developer has made it their way, hoping for a certain reaction. The player has taken that design choice and further shaped it into what they see fit.
For me in the case of Splatoon 2, it means I won’t be playing Salmon Run. I have taken my ability to act on this art form and have shaped my portion into not experiencing it. If this was the goal of the developer, then they achieved what they were seeking. However, I highly doubt if this is the case. Much like a chef who makes a meal plans to have their dishes experienced in a certain way, none make meals that plan for certain portions of it to simply not be experienced in some sense. Developers are in the exact same situation, and they must adapt.
If a developer wishes to have something experienced a certain way, they must realize the medium they are working with. Outright ignoring players and being blind to the parts that each side play to mark this piece of art work simply isn’t an option. Having a rigid or strict set of designs choices isn’t inherently a bad thing, but understand that while the developer created the game, players create the experience for the game itself, not just the developer. Developers should expect needing to change their game based on the portion they don’t have control over, the players.
Salmon Run is no different.