Ratchet & Clank Up Your Arsenal

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Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, released in November, is the third installment of the R&C adventures. Since the original game was released two years ago, the franchise has sold over four million units worldwide. In UYA, Ratchet & Clank do battle against robotic villain Dr. Nefarious with help from the slightly unstable Captain Qwark and other returning characters. The game represents creative breakthroughs-developers created 15 new weapons with five levels of upgrades and seven new gadgets, with cutscene features like a satirical music video from Courtney Gears and Qwark's 2-D style video comics-and it's also a huge leap into the online/multiplayer world.

Brian Hastings Chief Creative Officer, Insomniac Games

What are you most excited about in terms of new elements in this game-whether they relate to narrative, visuals/graphics, player capability, etc.?

Online was the big new thing. We went around the company saying, "What is our approach to this series and how can we bring that online in a way people haven't seen before?" Introducing humor online was a big part of it for us, and we did a lot of cool things-the weapons are more exotic, with things like the Sheepinator and the Hall of Shields. We did things that were . . . I don't want to say wacky but different. Turning something into a farm animal is a theme for us.

How do the different disciplines in the studio work together?

I think that Insomniac is the most collaborative company out there. We've always focused on getting creative input from everyone, it's a flat architecture. As CCO, I'm more in charge of collaborating with everyone than handing out edicts. As a result, you never know where the next brilliant idea will come from. The total number of people is 120. It's a very big team. We are known as one of the smaller developers out there, but this game is so big and so full of features.

What drives the development of a new game; what combination of story and the technical mandate is required?

It starts out from a couple of different fronts. We think about what we had in the last game, what big ideas came out of it. Online multiplayer split-screen was a big one. Having seven upgrades for weapons was a big one-where the more you use it the better it gets. That turned out to be really addictive. Those two ideas were the big drivers. The next was Qwark Video comics. Character artists managed to create a vivid 2-D comic book style for a whole backstory.

What is your process for creating and developing the narrative?

For the first time, we hired a lead writer, Brad Santos. In the past it's been me, an animation director and a lead technical director. People are realizing every year how much story matters in a game. Now, integrating the story is what it's all about. People expect it to compete on the level of a movie. You need to have the production values of a movie. You can't have a programmer write the script anymore like we did in the past. We both went to voice recording sessions. It's a big factor in how the voice recording comes across. We've developed a process for getting great voice performances-videogames have been maligned for not having that. Brad is responsible for storyboards. He works closely with our animation director to control where the story is going and the design director to make sure the story meshes with the overall design of the game. Hiring Brad was a big thing. We did two hours of cinematic material in this game, compared to the one hour we've done previously. The online component was maybe 20 percent of our resources. We knew it was going to be sold as much on its being an online game as a single-player game.

What is your background and where do you look for new talent?

I started out as a programmer. I've programmed all of our games. The next one will be the first I won't program. It's important to us to hire the best people, so we advertise on sites like Gama Sutra and we canvas college campuses. There are some dedicated college programs, but those are still developing. We've had a few people come from those.

What are the key elements to creating a successful game now?

A successful game has to connect with consumers. You have to reach in and just find what people feel like playing. It has to be something that people can relate to. For example, Tony Hawk Skateboard-I've always wanted to skateboard, so this offers a real experience of that. Or Madden Football. It's something you can relate to or you want to aspire to. In the case of Ratchet & Clank, we always tried to tap into something that players have wanted to do but never thought it was possible to do.

Brad Santos, lead writer, Insomniac

How has the craft of writing for a videogame changed in the past several years?

As production values have risen, the expectations of the audience as far as storytelling in games have risen as well. As a result, specialist game writers like myself have appeared on the scene. Writing for games is quite unlike writing for film or print. I think it is very important to have a background in game production (I was a game designer for seven years). A good game writer needs to constantly be asking himself questions like: How are we going to implement this? How much animation/modeling/ FX/ programming time is this going to require? How can we shorten this down (gamers have short attention spans)? And how are we going to communicate the story in gameplay? We now have a much better understanding of unique challenges and opportunities for telling stories in games.

What drove the development of the game? Does the process start with a technical/platform mandate or does the story itself come first?

For Up Your Arsenal, we started with a license, a platform and a basic idea of what we wanted to accomplish in terms of gameplay. We knew we wanted to have battlefield scenarios, vehicle gameplay, and the usual Ratchet mix of shooting and platforming. We created a basic story outline and a macro design (a high-level plan of the entire mission structure) simultaneously. On UYA, we did a good job of integrating creative level designs and a really wacky, imaginative story. I worked closely with the designers during preproduction to make sure that the two were closely connected.

What kind of player are you thinking of when you're writing?

That is a controversial question. Suffice it to say that different people here at Insomniac make games for different audiences. When I'm writing a Ratchet & Clank game, I'm writing for the 15-year-old kid who hangs out at 7-11 wearing a black T-shirt. Some of the other developers here prefer to think of parents who play with their kids, or giggling psychos in a hospital for the criminally insane. It's a nice balance.

Eric Christensen, Director of Gameplay Programming, Insomniac

Describe your job.

I manage the gameplay production from the engineering perspective. I keep track of new technology and make sure that we are implementing new ways to make our games faster and cleaner. Along with this responsibility comes the standard things you would expect from a managerial position, such as scheduling, reviews, hiring, future planning, etc.

What's your background?

I have degrees in math and physics. The math has definitely come in useful during the years, and in recent times the physics has become more necessary. I've been in the game industry since 1994 and I've worked for a multitude of developers, including Konami and SquareSoft. Games have been my life for as long as I can remember and they keep getting more interesting to make. I'm excited to see what the future holds.

What inspires you in terms of creating new weapons capabilities for the game?

We use just about anything we can for inspiration. We look at movies, anime and other games that have interesting effects. We try to extract what it is that provides a big impact to the player. That big boom! is what we're looking for.

What kind of software do you use?

Our engineers use Microsoft Visual Studio to edit their source code. Every desk has a Sony PlayStation 2 Development Kit, and some engineers even have two. This is necessary when they're debugging online gameplay. We have the usual foray of compilers that come with the Sony kits, as well as a proprietary tools suite that has allowed us to move around assets more efficiently than I have seen anywhere else. It's not uncommon to think you are looking at a spaceship command console when you see one of the engineers behind two monitors and two TVs.

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