A few weeks ago, Nintendo’s upcoming shooter Splatoon made headlines when it was revealed that the game wouldn’t include voice chat, a decision that caused somewhat of a divide between gamers. Some felt that Nintendo was locking out a crucial part of team-based gaming, while others believed that there’s no real need for it. Two Gamnesia writers are going head-to-head tonight to tackle this issue.
Colin McIsaac: Voice Chat is Not Necessary
It’s no question that Splatoon would be much better off if it included an option for voice chat. In fact, I used to think voice chat was an absolutely necessity for Splatoon—it’s a team-based game, and because it focuses on online multiplayer, you won’t have friends in the same room to discuss your strategy in person. But after playing gratuitous amounts of Splatoon for our review coverage, I can safely say that I was wrong.
Yes, it would be nice, it would be fun, and the game would be the better for its inclusion. But it’s certainly not necessary.
Splatoon’s designers have put an incredible amount of thought into the game’s core mechanic—splattering brightly-colored ink all over the floor—and designing it such that it communicates very clearly to its players, “here’s where you need to go.” When your team is green and you see pink ink on the map, or right on your screen, you know that it’s your team’s job to reclaim that turf. The game’s map is able to send this powerful message instantly, because the message is the very map itself.
The question, of course, and the argument for voice chat, is who should be the one to reclaim the turf in a given area? But the answer is painfully simple: if there’s somebody there, leave it to them, and if not, then it’s up to you. It’s a basic principle that most gamers already understand about team management (even if they don’t consciously realize it), and the few who don’t will quickly come to learn it while playing Splatoon.
Obviously there’s some nuance to this principle. In larger areas, you may want two teammates to split up the task. If you see someone on your team trying to reclaim enemy territory, but there’s an opponent trying to stop them, you may want to follow them in as backup. The fundamental point remains, however, that the game is deliberately designed so that players can make smart, team-oriented decisions without verbal communication.
…And to be perfectly honest, that’s likely the most effective way to do it. Those of you have have played the Global Testfire know how just quickly events unfold. Situations that demand voice chat in many other games barely give you enough time to decide for yourself how to proceed in Splatoon, let alone how to coordinate three other people. If you’re not there at the exact moment your team needs you, then you (and by extension, your team) are better off staying focused on your task at hand than readjusting to fit other people’s second-long needs.
Jeff Edelstein: Lack of Voice Chat is Holding Splatoon Back
If not the most impressive title Nintendo has released in recent years, Splatoon is certainly a strong contender for the most ambitious. This new IP is more than just a fresh coat of paint (or...ink?) on Nintendo’s long list of polished exclusives; Splatoon is the beginning of Nintendo’s assault on monotonous third person online shooters. And while I commend Nintendo for going all out with efforts to promote the title, I can’t help but believe that they’re not fully prepared to stake a claim in this genre.
If Splatoon is to do for shooters what Mario Kart did for racing titles, as Nintendo hopes it will, they can’t afford to hold back on features, especially not one as essential as voice chat. Some may rightfully argue that Mario Kart, certainly the game with the largest online presence on the Wii U, gets along fine without voice chat capabilities despite early complaints – but a one-size-fits-all approach is doesn’t work for online multiplayer. Mario Kart, while capable of team-based modes, would not benefit particularly much from voice chat as there’s rather little that can be done mid-race to assist teammates. Splatoon, with its dynamic and ever-shifting turf wars, is another story entirely.
The heart of this game’s appeal lies in the aforementioned turf wars as the primary online mode and the one showcased in the recent Global Testfires. Those, such as myself, who participated surely noted that while the gameplay itself was very enjoyable, there was an undeniable sense of frustration in being unable to communicate with one’s team members. To some extent, players will assume roles based on their weapon choice (e.g. splat rollers claim territory, splat chargers cover them from higher ground), but this relies too much on assumption. As such, players are left to deal with a high level of unpredictability; a characteristic hardly suitable for a game in which strategies can change in seconds.
Admittedly, being able to speak over voice chat with strangers on one’s team is likely a moot point; would you listen to someone you didn’t know try to dictate how you should play? The true issue of voice chat falls to a multiplayer scheme that Nintendo is all too familiar with: playing with friends.
More often than not, Nintendo has made good on their reputation for local multiplayer fun through this kind of focus, and because of this, no other developer can stake the same claim to local play supremacy. Rather than throw this focus completely out in trying to break in on the online multiplayer scene, Nintendo should embrace their skill in this area, making the online experience feel local. Without voice chat, this effort is greatly crippled; it’s much more difficult to feel like one is playing alongside friends when one can’t even speak with them.
Despite these criticisms, I’m optimistic; Nintendo has made it clear that free, post-game support will be a definite for Splatoon. And if fans demand the addition of voice chat, I have little doubt that it’ll be added in due time – but why wait? If Nintendo is truly serious about making a splash in the world of online shooters they can’t hold back, and they certainly can’t afford to deliver an incomplete package of a game, free DLC or not.