Insomniac Insider

As we continue towards this Fall, we wanted to spotlight various members of the Sunset Overdrive team with some questions you hopefully haven’t seen answered elsewhere. Get to know the Sunset Overdrive team. This week we talk to Game Director Drew Murray.

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There is a rumor that you were standing on top of a chair when pitching Sunset Overdrive to Microsoft, can you confirm or deny?

Confirmed. I was telling the story of what we thought would be a typical experience in the game, and as I reached the culmination of the story, I was building up the performance, talking louder and gesticulating more. At the end, I jumped up on my chair, switched to yelling, and acted out the last 45 seconds or so. I’d actually been practicing jumping up on a conference table, but the table at Microsoft seemed a bit flimsy so I decided to go with the chair, not really considering the fact that jumping up on a swivel chair maybe wasn’t the best idea. Thankfully, Noah Mussler at Microsoft snatched his arm out and held the chair for the rest of my performance so I wouldn’t flip over.

Describe your ideally dressed Sunset Overdrive character?

As part of our pitch, I described what I pictured me and Marcus looking like in-game. My character was wearing nothing but a Speedo, a kangaroo codpiece, and sneakers. Add a black-eye or a bloody nose, and I’m good to go!

What were some of your first design rules for Sunset Overdrive?

After seven years of Resistance, “no rubble, no grey” was our first rule!

Our best rule, though, was “Less talk, more rock!” (which we totally ripped off from a Superbrothers article based around a Jordan Mechner quote). The core idea is that most developers spend a ton of time talking and talking and talking about how to translate their basic, essential inspiration into a game, and then start working on it, but the best way is to go directly from inspiration to making, or “rocking.” As the article said, “Don’t think it through. Don’t talk about it. Don’t plan it. Dive in and start making it happen.” As soon as something is playable, you find consensus much quicker, even if it’s to go a completely different route, and you also get people focused on improving a feature instead of arguing against it as a theoretical concept.

All game designers should read this: http://boingboing.net/features/morerock.html

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Sunset Overdrive inspiration concepts

What’s the hallmark of a well-designed game for you?

I think it’s how well a game reflects its inspiration and intent. “Fantasy-based melee game” could be used to describe both God of War and Dark Souls, but those games have completely different inspirations and intents. One is to make you feel like a total badass the moment you pick up the controller, the other is to oppress you and make you work for every inch of ground you gain. And they’re both fantastically successful at evoking the feeling that they intended.

You’re a stickler for terrific controls, can you talk about the process? How do you know you nailed it?

The process really just comes down to tons of iteration. We do a rough pass to get the overall experience feeling vaguely correct, and then drill into the details. We’ll look at a particular thing like camera turn speed and really drill into top speed, acceleration and deceleration, how the stick-input-angle relates to different speeds, how the turn speed is affected by zooming, and tons of other details. Details like whether acceleration to top speed is going to take 5 frames or 6 frames are huge decisions, and there are heated debates about them.

Then we start playing the game and looking for cases where the controls don’t feel right, and we decide whether to adjust the core controls or set up special-case adjustments.

Along the way, we’re doing constant usability tests – first internally and then bringing in outsiders who have never seen the game – and seeing how players handle the controls. We get a lot of feedback from players telling us what they like and don’t like, but we’re also watching them play and will pick up on a lot of details that players may not consciously realize but that they’re having problems with. We take all we’ve learned, adjust what we need to, and run more people through it.

It’s a balance, though – your intent for the game has to stand firm. A game like Dark Souls could be considered non-responsive by a lot of players in a usability test, but those delays and slow, heavy animations and losing control after a big hit from an enemy are what make that game great at realizing its intent and inspiration. For Sunset Overdrive’s high-action, immediate responsiveness is what we aimed for, and so making sure that the controls are fast and tight was our goal.

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The One-Handed Dragon from the E3 2014 trailer. Drew’s favorite Sunset Overdrive weapon.

What’s your favorite video game of all time?

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal. I already loved Ratchet – the colors, the weapons, the combat, the tight controls, the humor, the minigames, the variety of mechanics, the different planets – and Up Your Arsenal took everything that was already great about the franchise and made it so much better. It cemented my desire to come to Insomniac to figure out how they made such great games. We’ve described Sunset Overdrive as “the game for adults who grew up loving Spyro and Ratchet,” because that’s who we are.

If your city was overrun by mutants who had drank Overcharge, how would you survive?

I’d steal an ice cream truck, cover it with pinwheels and roman candles, and blast T. Rex from the truck’s speakers while cruising around the city in order to gather a group of like-minded survivors. Then we’d drive to the Santa Monica Pier while eating ice cream novelties and create a post-apocalyptic pagan nudist colony in the amusement park there, surviving on funnel cakes and beer while we watched the sun set into the Pacific from the top of the Ferris Wheel.

Your Sunset Overdrive Weapon of Choice?

The One-Handed Dragon. I love the whistle-sounds of the fireworks, I love the risk-reward of the delayed-explosion, I love the dragon fireworks effects, and I love the gun model itself. I also spent a lot of time defending its early implementation, so I think the One-Handed Dragon and I bonded over other people’s mutual disdain for us.

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Drew and Conan O’Brien at E3.

What was it like demoing to Conan O’Brien?

It was fun. I knew in the back of my mind that I might look like an idiot on national TV, but I’m the guy who was jumping around on tables and chairs when presenting the game and asking concept artists to tweak the ears of the in-game kangaroo codpiece for the fifth time so it would look just right; it’s not like I have a lot of shame. I know how lucky we are to have people interested in the game, so I’m just trying to enjoy all the cool and unique experiences that are coming up, and this definitely fit the bill. Conan and his crew were very cool and, despite the appearance on TV, they all seemed to really dig Sunset Overdrive. As a bonus, my mom now thinks I’m famous.

Other interviews with Art Director Jacinda Chew and Creative Director Marcus Smith.

The Herker OD is one of many different enemies you'll face in Sunset Overdrive.

We’ve filled you in on how combat and traversal were intertwined in Sunset Overdrive like two young lovers, but what good is that if there’s nothing to shoot at? So, let’s chat about enemies!

We wanted to do two main things with the enemies in Sunset Overdrive: make them threatening and make a wealthy variety of them. And, to be honest, this wasn’t exactly easy. In the game, you’re always quickly moving up, down and every which way – so creating admirable foes to match that speed and freedom took some work.

But, it got worked. And here’s a few of them and how play.

OD: These guys have a horde mentality and will wreck you if you’re sticking to the ground. We’re going to throw a lot of them at you all at once and they actually have a lunge that’s both quick and unexpected. So, while they aren’t the toughest to kill – the sheer amount of them makes them dangerous.

Plus, OD are pro at blocking your traversal paths. They climb on grind rails and even block you from bouncing on objects. So, you’ll have to be keep moving and adapt your traversal path and style when facing off against hordes of these.

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Blower: These folks are going to attack you at range with messy Overcharge bile that lingers around and damages you if you stay in it. And we’ve worked to make sure the consistence in which they fire is random and doesn’t feel too “patterny.” That plus the fact that Blowers usually position themselves on perches on the outskirts of battle, mean that you’ll have to strategically hone in on them with traversal to get the kill.

Herker: You’re not going to like the Herker. I mean, you will – but repeated bulldozer fists to the face will bruise your friendship with it. On a basic level, the Herker is a tank. He can take a lickin’ and keep on kickin.’ However, he’s also endowed with some speed. One of his attacks is a beeline rush towards the player that will take out a huge chunk of your health if hit. So, the best way to defeat him is to keep your distance and stay above him.

However, he’s not just limited to close-range melee attacks. He can also throw large pieces of concrete or OD at the player, which can both hurt you on impact and force you to now deal with another enemy at close range. So, overall, he’s a versatile enemy that usually becomes your primary target to take out first in a fight. If you don’t, you’ll be the first thing taken out.

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Scabs: Scabs are humans, but that doesn’t make them any less threatening than their more mutated brethren. Plus, their presence will actually make you switch up your play style. The normal Scabs fire assault rifles at the player from a distance. This constant ranged damage is a style that the mutants don’t fill. It will force the player to stay in constant movement in order to dodge the barrage of fire – all while trying to line up their own shots to take the Scabs down.

And that’s just a few of the enemy types! There are more types of OD and Scabs, as well as a whole other variety of foes like the Fizzco Security Robots. But, for now we hope you see how just a few of the enemies really differ from each other and force the player to approach them in separate ways.

And it’s important to note that you’ll be facing these guys all at once. Imagine turning the corner and seeing a huge horde of OD running towards you. As you slide on a rail, you have to club off OD that are trying to block the way. You jump on a grind rail only to have a Blower spew bile at in the path. You jump on the nearest car and suddenly bullets whiz by from a band of Scabs on the roof to your left. You land on the street to gather your bearings, but a chunk of concrete knocks you back. A Herker has joined the party. Better get moving, buddy. And shooting!

Hell, the Scabs and the OD will even fight each other – making the fight even crazier.

That’s the experience we want you to have in Sunset Overdrive. We want to surprise you and constantly make you re-evaluate you combat situation. Sound fun? Good!

Unless you said “no.” In that case, bummer.

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Hey, Outernauts and Insomniacs! Stephanie here with a blog about a fun secret I get to share with you!

What’s a great video game without a few hidden secrets? Most call them “Easter Eggs,” we call them necessary, fun, and a part of the development process.

We’re lucky to be a studio with multiple projects and since we’re great friends with the Sunset Overdrive team, we decided to throw in a special nod to them as they make all their announcements at E3 this week. How do you add Sunset Overdrive to Outernauts? How do you show some appreciation to the adorable Fizzco spokesblimp Fizzie?

Well, Fizzie made us, I mean, WE decided to add a very special Fizzie touch to Outernauts by making Fizzie “appear” in Outernauts!

To activate the Fizzie Easter Egg, just change your beasts’ name to “Overcharge.” Then watch the next time you collect some Lunar. Magical Fizzie things happen… Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait.

Now the question is, what could happen if you named your beasts different things… Will more secrets be revealed? Try some other names and maybe you’ll find more secrets!

Thanks for reading! Now go explore the galaxy!

Every year the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (AIAS) and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) honor video game artists by selecting concept art pieces for their Into the Pixel Collection. These pieces then form a gallery that travels throughout the year, with the first stop being E3 2014 in Los Angeles.

This year, 19 pieces were selected by the jury and three of them are from Insomniac artists! Two of the selections come from Sunset Overdrive: Souvenir Shop by Vasili Zorin and Character Grouping by Julien Renoult. Sunset Overdrive holds the distinction as the only game to place two pieces of art into this year’s collection.

Ratchet & Clank was also honored, marking the third time Insomniac Games Principal Artist Dave Guertin has had a piece selected by Into the Pixel. This year’s selection was Dave’s Planet Yerek Color Script from Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus.

Our winners are below. But you should check out the Into the Pixel website to see all of the winners from 2014.

Sunset Overdrive Souvenir Shop by Vasili Zorin

Sunset Overdrive Souvenir Shop by Vasili Zorin

Sunset Overdrive Character Grouping by Julien Renoult

Sunset Overdrive Character Grouping by Julien Renoult

Planet Yerek Color Script by Dave Guertin

Planet Yerek Color Script by Dave Guertin

As we continue towards this Fall, we wanted to spotlight various members of the Sunset Overdrive team with some questions you hopefully haven’t seen answered elsewhere. Get to know the Sunset Overdrive team. To kick us off, we talk to the man himself, Creative Director Marcus Smith.

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How did Sunset Overdrive come to be?
Well, sonny… pull up a rocking chair and let me spin a yarn from a bygone era… Drew Murray and I were finishing up Resistance 3 (I was the Creative Director and Drew was Lead Designer). We’d immersed ourselves in “end-times” themed entertainment both as part of R3′s thematic crux and because, frankly, we were thinking a lot about the apocalypse. It was all the rage, reading Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, Robert Kirkman’s “Walking Dead” comics, watching all the different film versions of Richard Matheson “I Am Legend”, etc.

And maybe it was because both Drew and I were about to become first-time parents pretty close to one another, but you might say we got kind of obsessed with post-apocalypse scenarios. (Drew more than me. He was a full-on prepper. Moderation isn’t even in his vocabulary). But after our daughters were born and the world didn’t end, we started to get pretty worn-out on the whole, “dark, depressing, monochromatic, just scrapping by” genre. Still, there was still *something* that attracted us to the idea of an end-times scenario. Seeing the character Jim walk around the empty streets of London at the beginning of “28 Days Later”, or seeing Charleton Heston cruise around the streets of Los Angeles in the whale of a convertible, even Will Smith hitting golf balls of an aircraft carrier in “I Am Legend”, there was something clicked about how you could have fun in the end-times.

We started looking at it less as “the end” and more like a new beginning. One where the laws and societal rules no longer control our behavior. The idea that we wouldn’t have to devolve into “Lord of the Flies” when society breaks down, but perhaps we could re-build based on more creative philosophies, like Burning Man. That was the spark, the impetus that drove Drew and I to create the basis for Sunset Overdrive. Luckily for us, (CEO & Founder) Ted Price, (Chief Technology Officer) Al Hastings and (Chief Creative Officer) Brian Hastings supported our crazy idea and everyone at Insomniac got behind it, turning it into something so much better than we could have ever imagined.

Can you talk about the inspirations that drove the creation of Sunset Overdrive?
I just did! What do you want from me!?!? Well, after we’d “turned the corner” and started thinking about “fun in the end-times,” Drew and I amassed a huge collection of inspiration- music, images, fashion, artists, pop culture, etc. Our very first pitch had literally no story, enemies, or gameplay. It was like we were a couple insane hoarders dumping a giant pile of ‘stuff’ on a conference table. Some of that included: Veladoras, vintage Halloween masks, the “Hyena Men” of Nigeria, pictures of young Keith Richards, H.R. Pufnstuf, Jean Paul Gaultier, Nanook of the North, Wacky Racers, Tank Girl (the comic, not the movie!), tons of artists (like Jamie Hewlett, Ashley Wood, Frank Kozik, Jim Mahfood, Geof Darrow, Rhys Owens, Banksy, Clement Sauve, Phil Hale, Raymond Pettibon, Rob Schab, Jeff Soto, Bill Barminski…), movies (Repo Man, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Idiocracy, The Warriors, Fight Club, Dogtown and Z-Boys, The Stuff, Streets of Fire, Turk 182, They Live…), The Gorillaz “On Melancholy Hill” music video, Harajuku fashion, Mardi Gras Indians, Devine & John Waters, Burning Man, British mods, Dia de los Muertos, Rude Boys, vinyl toys, and so, so, so much music.

Drew and I both grew up listening to punk rock and music is important in our lives, so when we first started talking about the energy of the game, we would make each other mixtapes with bands like The Misfits, The Saints, FIDLAR, Stiff Little Fingers, The Monks, Swell Maps, Bass Drum of Death, Dead Kennedys, Dickies, Slade, Le Tigre, Dan Sartain, The Birthday Party, Jay Reatard, Bad Brains, Killing Joke, Ty Seagall, Nation of Ulysses, Tricky, The Bronx, Youth Brigade, Buzzcocks, Fear, Cheap Time, Germs, DZ Deathrays, The Peechees, Gang of Four, Adolescents, D.R.I. Melvins, Iggy & the Stooges, Minor Threat, Thee Midniters… I could literally go all day here. In summary, inspiration came from everywhere!

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What’s your favorite video game of all time?
Me? Oh, man. That’s a tough one. Tetris was pretty good… I’m not sure I could say one game. I’ve so many good experiences playing games and it varies so much by what was going on in my life when I played. Like, maybe I was going through a bad breakup when Mario Sunshine came out and I really never gave it a real chance, you know? Ok, let’s see… Ocarina of Time is certainly up there. For some reason I think back on B-17 Bomber for the Intellivision all the time. Marble Madness was an incredible *experience* when you played it in an arcade, artful, but stress filled (plus, I love Mark Cerny). I got completely immersed in Myst and Doom right around the same time. Spent way too much time with Super Mario Brothers. And GTA3. Jumped ship after Vice City (GTAV got me back, but I could also complain about it for hours) Loved Ico. I work at Insomniac because I loved Spyro (added advantage: it was the only game my girlfriend at the time- wife now- asked me to play so she could watch). COD: Modern Warfare was such a well crafted experience. Peggle is a phenomenon. Lucasarts had a western called, “Outlaws” that was incredible- such a good soundtrack. Years later, “Red Dead Redemption” equaled the feat (loved just riding a horse around and hearing the sounds of cicadas coming out at dusk). Minecraft is so damn addictive!

Some of the most memorable gaming moments came playing Counterstrike & Marathon in office environments (i.e. day jobs. I’m old.). Beyond Good and Evil didn’t get the respect it deserved. Last of Us was incredible. Arkham Asylum was a perfect game. This is hard. So many good games! If I had to choose… I’m going to go with Half-Life (first one). It changed my perception of what a shooter was and I completely fell into the world of being Gordon Freeman at Black Mesa. Plus, I had a really powerful PC at my job at the time, so it was super smooth. I’m going to be up all night now, thinking about the games I should have mentioned…

If your city was overrun by mutants who had drank OverCharge, how would you survive?
First of all, I live in Los Angeles, so nothing would probably change. However, I would take over a 7-11. It’s stand-alone and well stocked with supplies that take a while to expire. It could be easily fortified and I could build means of moving around to surrounding buildings above the heads of any mutants. Plus, they’d probably stock OverCharge, so if things got really bad, I could just join the rest of ‘em!

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Describe your ideally dressed Sunset Overdrive character?
Let’s see. I usually start with hats. Maybe a pith helmet. One with a built-in fan system. Then some aviator sunglasses to protect the eyes. UV rays are no joke, people. Maybe a marching band jacket with the arms torn off, a color-coordinated baseball jersey under that. Get me some of those MC Hammer pants in garish color, a pair of painted-up wrestling boots, some wings made of Raven feathers and a pimp cane. Just add an ice-cold a mint julep silver goblet and chill. That’s my Awesomepocalypse.

Your Sunset Overdrive Weapon of Choice?
I’m a sucker for the TNTeddy. Everything about it- the animations on the little bears trying to get away, the voice of the bear Teddy Ruxpin wanna-be, the giant, satisfying teddy bear flame effect that shows up when you do a lot of damage… Plus, it makes big explosions. Which is always nice.

Favorite Amp for your character?
You’ve put me in a tough spot because we haven’t shown many amps yet, so I’d normally answer something that I can’t talk about yet. Let’s just say that my favorite is one we’re currently calling “Grim Reaper.” I can’t really tell you about it, but I’ll add that I loved Mr. Zurkon in the Ratchet games and I’ll let you piece that together. (note to self: I sure hope we don’t cut the Grim Reaper..)

Give us a couple songs on your current playlist (from the Bus playlist?)
I’m at this moment listening to DZ Deathray’s new album, “Black Rat,” which is incredible. Maybe it’ll be released in the States at some point… Checking my recent listening: “Hussy Woofer” by Pink Mexico, “This Town” by Kid Karate, “Yellin’” by Cy Dune, “You Are Dead” by Mind Spiders, and everything by Sleep Maps (check out their Band Camp!). Was that a couple? I really like music…

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Other interviews with Art Director Jacinda Chew and Game Director Drew Murray.

You wanted classic Ratchet & Clank back and –well- it’s back! Into the Nexus, the epilogue to the “Future” series, drops tomorrow on the PS3 for $29.99. But, we know you! You aren’t an uninformed fan. You want reviews to back up your purchases and assure you that, “Hey. That money you just spent? Ya. Good call. You’re going to have a delightful interactive adventure.”

Well, ok! We’ve got a bevy of Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus reviews to peruse over right here. Convenient! They are quite good. Convenient!

  • IGN – 8.2 – “The characters are offbeat and funny, the story is well-paced, the art direction is distinctive and above all else it’s a blast to play, with always evolving gameplay and an ever-escalating arsenal.”
  • Gamespot – 8 – “In what may be the last Ratchet & Clank for this console generation, the series takes its leave with a proper bang, reuniting you with your favorite characters and keeping you hooting and hollering all the way to the finish line.”
  • Game Informer – 8 – “The Lombax and his metal companion are aging well, losing neither their ability to transform enemy legions into smoldering messes of nuts and bolts nor the allure that makes this action so much fun.”
  • Destructoid – 8 – “Nexus is short, sweet, and to the point, with hardly a dull moment in sight, making it a fitting conclusion to the Future series.”
  • Escapist – 8 – “Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus takes everything there is to love about the series and packs it tightly into a brief – but suitably explosive – package.”
  • Joystiq – 8 – “I’m not normally raring to play a game a second time, but the allure of powering up these guns was strong enough (and Into the Nexus‘ run-time short enough) to get me right back into it.”

There you go! Across the board you can see that reviewers took a liking to the return to Ratchet form. Fans of the series should feel right at home snuggling up to the insane arsenal, planet-hopping story, and colorful exploration that the series is known for.

So, stop reading this and just go buy the thing already. Don’t worry – the reviews have your back. Also, we have your back. Not just on buying Into the Nexus, but in life. That dream you have. Do it. We support you. Just play Into the Nexus first.

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We know you have been dying for more info on Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus. Many of you can’t wait to get your hands on it. We don’t blame you! It IS a back to the FUTURE return to form for the duo. We have good news on both fronts!

Into the Nexus (or Nexus in EU regions) will be playable at both Gamescom AND PAX in the Sony booths at each show. Not only that, but we will be dropping some additional information very soon.

So if you are heading to Cologne and Gamescom this week, be sure to check it out. If you are planning on making the trek to Seattle for PAX Prime you should probably do the same. There are bolts that need collecting and NEW weapons that need shooting.

For everyone else, stay tuned for additional information and content very soon. We may even have a live stream somewhere in that Gamescom/PAX sandwich!

In the meantime, check out this screen from the game. And follow us on Instagram for more photos, art, and screens from around the office!

Auf Wiedersehen für jetzt!

Hey folks,

Deadlocked HD has launched on the PlayStation Store in North America. As you know, we worked with Sony to offer Deadlocked HD as a free download for you who bought Full Frontal Assault to make up for the delayed Vita version of that game.

For our friends in Europe, Gladiator doesn’t have a release date yet. Stay tuned for more details as soon as we hear when it will launch in Europe.

Also to note – at this moment, the Deadlocked HD servers are OFFLINE. Sony and Idol Minds are looking into this. We’ll update when we have more details.

How to Download Deadlocked HD:

Due to the special nature of the promotion + cross-buy, it’s a little tricky to download it on the PSN store, this post is to help you find the game.

If you bought Full Frontal Assault on disc: Go to your XMB under the DISC option and you should see DISC BENEFITS. As long as you are logged onto PSN, you should be able then download the Vita versions of FFA and/or Deadlocked HD from that menu.

If you bought Full Frontal Assault digitally on the PSN Store: Due to the special nature of the promotion, this is a little trickier to download. Search the PSN Store for the Vita version of Full Frontal Assault (yes, on your PS3!). Then download it. It should start a download of all three titles (PS3 FFA, Vita FFA, Deadlocked HD). You can then go to your Download List and cancel any unwanted downloads (while leaving Deadlocked HD downloading).

If you haven’t bought Full Frontal Assault: What are you waiting for? It’s a heckuva deal to download Full Frontal Assault (you get both the PS3 and Vita versions) and you also get Deadlocked HD! But if you really really only want ONE Ratchet game today, you should be able to search the store or new release list for Deadlocked HD, which you can purchase for $9.99.

Whew. Think that’s it. We’ll keep you up to date with any updates on the servers.. Have fun in the Dreadzone!

Continuing our celebration of the Ratchet & Clank 10th Anniversary, Insomniac Insider brings you this special retrospective blog post from Chief Operating Officer John Fiorito. John was the Environment Art Director on the PlayStation 2 Ratchet & Clank games. He worked on concept art for levels, lighting, modeling/texturing backgrounds, skies, and level layout. He presents this look back at some never-before-seen Ratchet & Clank concept art.

Ratchet & Clank: 10 Years of Concept Art
by John Fiorito

Ratchet & Clank turns 10 this year and to celebrate the anniversary Sony will release the Ratchet & Clank HD Collection on PS3. Ever since the first Ratchet & Clank game hit the streets fans have written us wanting to see concept art. While concepts are just one of many pieces we used to put our games together, they are a great way to show the history of the series. So I searched around the studio and pulled together a collection of images that go all the way back to 2002 when Insomniac started working on a new game…

IN THE BEGINNIG

… well actually it was 2000. We were wrapping up Spyro: Year of the Dragon and looking ahead to the Playstation 2. After spending a year developing a new game code-named “I-5” and later known as “Girl with a Stick” we decided to cancel the project and shift gears (To find out more about Girl with a Stick and its ultimate demise check out the Full Moon Show podcast #49 here). That left us with only a few months to present a new concept and we started working on a game set in an alien galaxy that featured lots of crazy gadgets.  Right away our entire studio (about 40 of us) focused on bringing this idea to life. We started to develop our tech, game mechanics, animation, story, design, sound… everything!  On the concept art front, Insomniac character artist Dave Guertin created these early sketches of our heroes:

Our first image of Ratchet. The idea was to create a spunky alien with a crazy gadget gauntlet and some Bionic Commando traversal abilities. While he barely resembles the final character, Ratchet 1.0 already has many of his characteristics in place: oversized hands and weapons, a gadget glove, three-toed feet, and pilot headgear. Eventually his reptilian body gave way to a more relatable cat form:

Dave’s first designs for Clank were also very different. In this sketch, Clank appears to be a mechanical lizard. Only his eyes and articulated legs carried through to the final design:

At the same time our environment team was exploring a variety of directions for Ratchet’s universe. In these early sketches it’s easy to see that we were still moving away from Spyro’s fantasy worlds and into Ratchet & Clank’s sci-fi style. “Asteroid Observatory” by artist Chad Dezern (now our North Carolina studio director) shows many of the hallmarks of a Ratchet & Clank level- hoses, antennae, and clustered building composition. This image later became inspiration for Nebula G34- Blarg Tactical Research Station, or as we called it during production, level 6:

This unfinished sketch (by me) displays further exploration that would become our style: exotic alien vegetation, craters, and retro-futuristic structures with rounded aerodynamic forms. Eventually this concept evolved into planet Novalis- Tobruk Crater, the first full campaign level in Ratchet & Clank:

CRITICAL MASS

At this point, our studio was moving really, really fast. As we explored the look of the game we were putting together our first demo. Ratchet’s detail and proportion solidified in this series of drawings by Dave:

Clank still had a ways to go. During the first days of development, we knew we wanted gadgets. One early idea was where the gadgets would actually be three robots clinging to Ratchet’s head, back, and arm. These bots would transform to perform all sorts of functions. As it turned out, all those shapes became a visual mess on Ratchet’s body so the three became one. These drawings highlight Dave’s exploration process before arriving at Clank’s final form:

With our heroes resolved, we put all of the pieces together and created two mini-levels that we called dioramas. We used the I-5 engine to build and run both levels but were unable to display the amount of detail imagined for Ratchet & Clank. Most of the geometry in the middle and far distance was faked and built at low detail. Some of the farthest objects were flat two-dimensional cut outs. This is what we presented to Sony to get the project green-lit:

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These levels laid out the visual rules that governed Ratchet & Clank’s universe for the next 10 years: lush brightly colored environments; ambient movement like waterfalls, spaceships, and air cars; retro-future architecture; and long views showing a traversable destination. Both dioramas became production levels in Ratchet & Clank. The city test remained almost intact and formed the center of Metropolis on planet Kerwan while the tropical jungle became Jowai Resort on planet Pokitaru. Note that Ratchet did not have any stripes. Once the character was added to the game, Sony Japan requested stripes (and we thought they were crazy). But we were very wrong.

HITTING OUR STRIDE

Once we realized the vision Insomniac spent the next three years in full production releasing Ratchet & Clank (R&C), Going Commando (GC), and Up Your Arsenal (UYA). Our crazy pace kept us working fast and loose. Almost every concept found its way into a game. At the start of production some of our most popular characters came to life, such as Dave’s design for Captain Qwark:

At the time Blasto was a relatively popular PS1 character and we wanted to avoid too many comparisons. This is why we gave Qwark his bright green suit. Other characters designed at this time include Big Al , the Plumber and Giant Clank:

Meanwhile, concept drawings for a production environment turned out to be pretty complicated. Ratchet & Clank’s platform gameplay required the level geometry to fit precise design metrics. As a result, many of our early levels were visualized by an artist and game designer working closely together. I was lucky to collaborate with Mark Cerny on many of the R&C levels. He would present a series of very detailed game mechanic and enemy setup diagrams and then I would arrange them into a coherent layout to fit a planet’s theme. A lot of back and forth sketching resulted in a level map ready for production.

This is a thumbnail layout for what would eventually become Blackwater City on planet Rilgar. We designed it with an opening view in mind- the level started at the ‘star’ near the bottom of the drawing. We also tried to make the gameplay path loop back toward the start so that Ratchet could reach his ship quickly after completing a mission. In this map, the large circular area at the center of the page is the end of all three gameplay paths and a quick glide back to the start. Here is a finished map ready for production, Qwark’s HQ on planet Umbris. If you look closely, you can see Mark’s original pencil layout beneath my ink drawing:

During the level map phase we also figured out all of the pieces that we’d need to build. These often needed to be modular and easily instanced. At the same time we were trying to show off the power of the Playstation 2. This meant building worlds with a lot of detail. The result was forms with a lot of curvature, silhouettes of antennae and other “techy” detail, articulated construction, and negative space. These concepts for Gadgetron HQ’s grindrail segment show off all of that:

As does downtown Veldin’s central structure from UYA (also inspired by Lombax ears):

One concept that pushed us to the brink of detail we could build on PS2 was Megacorp, the final level of Going Commando. Drawn by Insomniac artist Darren Quach, Megacorp was part industrial-age factory and part gothic cathedral:

As our games evolved, enemy designs became bigger and more outlandish as shown by Dave’s designs for Chainblade and the B2-Brawler, both featured in our arena battles. Check out the little Ratchet for scale:

Most of our PS2 concepts were done in pencil or pen on paper. Since we didn’t really have full time concept artists this was a way to quickly crank out ideas. I liked to work with pen and ink because it meant I could not erase, saving even more time. Starting with Going Commando we began using color and digital painting to help communicate the tone and mood of our levels. This might involve painting over a screenshot of a level in progress such as Chad’s color study for Vukovar Canyon on Planet Barlow:

Or this collage of my production sketches from Megapolis on Planet Endako (Note: Clank’s apartment appears twice):

THAT WAS THEN AND THIS IS NOW

When we started preproduction on Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (TOD) for the PS3 our concept process was very different from the PS2 era. Insomniac now had a full-time concept art team and we made the switch to digital painting. The results clearly showed. Here is Darren’s reimagining of Metropolis, the opening level of TOD:

We decided to create a new diorama of Metropolis to envision Ratchet & Clank on PS3. This was created in early 2006, months before we released Resistance: Fall of Man as a PS3 launch title. At this point, we were not up and running on PS3 and this scene was rendered in our PC engine. Ratchet & Clank do not appear in the video as we were still trying to figure out what a “next generation” Lombax might look like:

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These two images, also painted by Darren, were environment studies for TOD’s Zordoom Prison level and Krell Canyon from Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time (ACiT):

Similarly, characters on PS3 were much more complex than before. Our concepts reflected this by including more detail, color, and multiple views. These images were painted by Insomniac artist Greg Baldwin and comprised our Kerchu enemy faction from TOD:

And here is Greg’s design for the Agorian Warrior, our main enemy type in ACiT:

Insomniac’s most recent Ratchet & Clank effort, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One (A4O), continued to use concept art to drive the look and feel of the game. A40 featured large boss battles, bigger than anything we’d built before. Often, the boss and his environment were intricately connected as can be seen in Dave’s painting of the Wigwump from A4O’s Deadgrove level:

A4O’s enemy factions were also given a detailed concept treatment. Check out these designs by Dave and Greg:

CUTTING ROOM

As you might expect, 10 years of Ratchet & Clank generated in a TON of concept art. While most of it was used to create production assets some ideas never made it into any of the games. Here are a few examples:

Dave’s drawings of a disgruntled band of obsolete cleaning robots that had been shunned by modern society. While the idea was canned, the robot on the lower left returned as the foundation for the robot pirates in Tools of Destruction and Quest for Booty.

Here’s another sheet by Dave that explored a race of alien bounty hunters who were chasing Ratchet and Clank across the galaxy.

This was an concept by Chad for the original Ratchet & Clank game. Asteroid City never became a level but it hinted at Ratchet’s home world, planet Veldin.

This is an idea for a world of robot structures made out of chrome. Unfortunately, they looked more like overturned kitchen appliances and never went into production.

Darren’s striking design for a floating city that is carried through the atmosphere by giant space manta rays. We were unable to pull this one off and eventually removed the flying rays leaving us with TOD’s Stratus City.

And, finally an entire R&C game concept that never materialized: Ratchet & Clank: NEXUS. Following Up Your Arsenal, we entertained the idea of putting our heroes on a singular planet. The design revolved around a global conflict between two alien races and we thought it could be interesting if Ratchet and Clank had differing ideas about the war. Eventually the project changed direction to become Ratchet: Deadlocked, although the idea of one planet stayed with us and reemerged in A4O.

CONCLUSION

We hope you enjoyed this look back across the years of Ratchet & Clank concept art. We’ve   spent over a decade working on various Ratchet & Clank projects, and it’s amazing to look back at the body of work compiled and go through some of the archives of artwork. We hope you are looking forward to the Ratchet & Clank HD Collection when it launches on August 28th in North America (it’s available now in Europe!) and also Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault, coming this fall to PS3 and PlayStation Vita.