Insomniac Insider

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.

Insomniac Games welcomes its summer community intern James Iliff. James is entering his Senior year at the University of Southern California majoring in Interactive Entertainment. He enjoys long walks on the beach and dabbles in virtual reality.

This summer so far at Insomniac has been a blast, and I’m still dizzy from E3 two weeks ago! So even though everyone has already had their fill of Lollipop Chainsaw shenanigans and Watch Dog rumors, it is now my turn to spill some beans. To begin, here’s a picture of Nick (the animation intern) and I with a squad of Power Rangers:

I’m on the right. As you can see, all I wanted to do was get a candid photo with my favorite childhood heroes, but then Nick stomped on stage, grabbed my hand, and started flexing. Not sure what happened there, but lunch afterwards was REALLY awkward.

Outernauts got a little G4 action at E3, and I could tell that a lot of people were thrilled to see what Insomniac would bring to a new platform. When I hopped on board back in May, I had no idea that so much incredible hard work goes into creating a Facebook game. For some reason, when I thought about Facebook games – or “social” games in general – I just thought that they were somehow easy. At least, I thought they were easier to make than full blown AAA titles. But with Outernauts, Insomniac has been dedicated to bringing a fully robust console quality game to Facebook, and all in a fresh 2D orthographic art style.

Just from my short experience thus far with the Community Team, I’ve learned so much working with the Facebook platform. I’ve also learned not to make the concept artists angry, because they will start “rage drawing” you. And you don’t want to be anywhere close to that concept when it’s finished!

Back to the point – I found that working with a Facebook game is much more challenging for artists in terms of marketing. For instance, if I want to make an ad for the game, or a banner image or a poster, I can’t jump into a map and start taking really cool screenshots to use as a baseline. I can’t go into Maya to play around with 3d art assets, experiment with sexy lighting effects, or snap a few shots to run through post-processing. Instead, because Outernauts is all 2d, that means every single asset has to be made from scratch.

If you don’t like that particular angle of that character, or you don’t like the way the lighting is designed, then the artist has to concoct an entire new asset from scratch with a slightly different angle and slightly different lighting style, all in Flash. That amount of dedication just blows my mind. It reminds me of old-school rotoscoping techniques with in traditional animation, where the artists draw out every single frame in order to make a fluid image come together. I love the fact that Insomniac has embraced the Facebook platform, and has really experimented with it and created something genuinely awesome.

Another thing that took my heart at E3 wasn’t necessarily a software platform, but a new hardware platform. In this console cycle there’s been a ton of tinkering with controllers, motion devices, stereoscopy, and the like, in order to make gaming a bit more interesting. Each of the major consoles has a controller that encourages players to get off the couch and into the action. Game consumers are already expanding beyond simple consoles – and when the next generation comes around, consumers won’t be in a frenzy over graphics anymore. This cyclical process has already been repeated five or six times, and now we’re getting smacked in the face by the Law of Diminishing Returns.

So you’ve seen stuff like the Kinect and the Playstation Move and the Wiimote way at the beginning of this cycle, the Razer Hydra for PC, and now most recently the Wii U. But there was something at E3 that I’ve been evangelizing since I was a kid, that I know in my heart of hearts is the future – the immediate future – of gaming. And I think there’s a bunch of people who also know it’s the future, but it’s very difficult to articulate what it is, and how it works. These might be two really scary words to you, but I’m going to say them anyway:

Virtual Reality Hardware – specifically head-mounted displays (HMDs). You might have come across some “virtual” HMDs coming out right now on the consumer market, but they tend to have a low field-of-view and no gyroscopic head tracking capabilities. In other words, they have no sense of peripheral vision, you can’t move your head around independently in the game world, and the experience just feels like a floating television that you are looking at from five feet away.
People have always been dreaming about virtual reality since Neuromancer, and in the 90’s it really captured the public imagination. VR companies were popping up left and right, but the technology wasn’t quite there yet, and the industry crashed and burned around the same time as the dotcom bubble. Now that it’s experiencing a resurgence fifteen years later, a ton of pseudo-VR devices are coming out that don’t really make any sense.

However, what was shown at E3 was a robust HMD called the Oculus Rift, developed by hardware pioneer Palmer Luckey and integrated with Doom 3: BFG Edition by John Carmack. I’ve had the honor of collaborating with Palmer over the past year or so on other VR projects, such as Shayd and Project Holodeck, and have worked with a number of his prototypes. Now, since teaming up Carmack a few months ago, he can finally launch the final iteration of his RIFT, and dole out some harsh VR justice to the universe.

Using aspheric lenses and SBS stereoscopy, the Oculus RIFT boosts a wide field-of-view (of about 90 degrees) that totally kills anything on the market today in the consumer price range. It also utilizes a gyroscope for orientation data, so you can actually look around inside the game environment quite naturally. However, the RIFT isn’t yet ready to be a neat consumer package – it is still a DIY device for enthusiasts and hackers and modders and homebrewers. But it’s the beginning. It’s the spark of a revolution in the FPS gaming niche. There’s going to be a lot of innovation with this kind of hardware in the next ten years during the following console cycle, if you even want to call it a console cycle anymore I don’t know. All I know is it’s going to be a hell of a decade.

Insomniac Games and EA Explore the Vast Reaches of Facebook With Outernauts

Award-Winning Console Game Developer Aims To Tame The Galaxy With Its Social Gaming Debut

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.—(May 9, 2012)— Have you ever dreamed of a career in cosmic exploration? Today Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: EA) and independent video game studio Insomniac Games announced the first details of Outernauts™, a completely new intellectual property and the indie developer’s first game tailored for Facebook. Combining Insomniac’s immersive storytelling with a unique art style and sense of wit, Outernauts is an adventure role-playing game that casts players as members of United Earth’s elite Outernaut force. The Outernauts are charged with capturing and training exotic alien beasts as they uncover the riddle behind mysterious “ancients” while battling pirates and evil corporations seeking to control the galaxy.  Players will explore planets, harvest loot, and fight asynchronously alongside or against friends to master a wild, untamed universe.  Outernauts marks the first foray into the social gaming space for Insomniac Games, creators of the Spyro the Dragon™Ratchet & Clank™, Resistance™, and Overstrike™ franchises.

“We see a huge opportunity to reach an entirely different audience of gamers through Facebook,” said Ted Price, President and Founder of Insomniac Games.  “As we have demonstrated for nearly twenty years in the console games space, we’re confident we can help evolve the definition of a game experience on Facebook. With Outernauts, we are delivering a deep story with real RPG strategy, coupled with Insomniac’s signature sense of humor.”

Outernauts is currently in a closed beta testing phase and will launch on Facebook this summer. To learn more about Outernauts before launch, visit the game’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/outernauts.

 

About Insomniac Games

Insomniac Games is an independent videogames developer that has released award-winning hits exclusively for PlayStation consoles for 18-plus years. In 2009, it announced a partnership with EA Partners to release its first multiplatform game, Overstrike.  The studio has created world-famous game franchises such as Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank and Resistance, resulting in more than 38 million games sold globally. Insomniac is also known for its collaborative workplace culture, having earned 12 local, regional and national “best places to work” honors since 2004. In January 2009, Insomniac opened a Durham, N.C. studio. Additional information can be found on both Insomniac studio locations at http://www.insomniacgames.com.

About Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) is a global leader in digital interactive entertainment. The Company’s game franchises are offered as both packaged goods products and online services delivered through Internet-connected consoles, personal computers, mobile phones and tablets. EA has more than 100 million registered players and operates in 75 countries. In fiscal year 2012, EA posted GAAP net revenue of $4.1 billion. Headquartered in Redwood City, California, EA is recognized for critically acclaimed, high-quality blockbuster franchises such as The Sims™, Madden NFL, FIFA Soccer, Need for Speed™, Battlefield™, and Mass Effect™. More information about EA is available at http://info.ea.com.

The Sims and Need for Speed are trademarks of Electronic Arts Inc. Mass Effect is a trademark of EA International (Studio and Publishing) Ltd. John Madden, NFL and FIFA are the property of their respective owners and used with permission.  EA and the EA logo are trademarks of Electronic Arts Inc. Ratchet and Clank, Resistance and Outernauts are trademarks of Insomniac Games, Inc.  Facebook is a registered trademark of Facebook, Inc.

Fans! Have you ever wanted to play games with the Insomniacs? Today’s your lucky day! We’re supporting Extra-Life, (http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?) meaning we’ll be playing games to raise the well deserved cash for children in need. By supporting our team through a donation, you will get to play games online with the Insomniac Games team. A few of us will be playing different games, but now is your chance to play R3 with its creators. If we are playing it and you have it, then let us know! (Hopefully someone around the office owns it!) How to get in on this brilliant offer? Simply visit our team page, make a donation and let us know by email (extralife@insomniacgames.com) the name you used when you donated, your gamer tag, along with the donation amount and we’ll be in touch with you to schedule a time to play a game with you on Saturday (10/15/11)!

If running games with your favorite developer wasn’t enough! Insomniac Games will raffle off 3 signed R3 posters and 3 signed R3 Survivor Editions if you help us reach our goal of $5000. Anyone who donates and e-mails us will be entered to win!

Donation Page for the team:

http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&eventID=501&teamID=7311

Insomniac Games welcomes its summer community intern Brandon Winfrey, more commonly known on the internet as Mucudadada, or as “that guy who baked the Ratchet cake for Insomniac’s Community Day.” Brandon will be spending his summer away from the University of Southern California at Insomniac, blogging and creating videos about working at a videogame company.

So deadly...but so lovable. *sniffle* I'll miss you!

Four months.  That’s how long I’ve exercised my ignorance inside the walls of Insomniac Games.  Fortunately, during my time here much of that ignorance has been exorcised.   Thanks to the fantastic people here who are vastly more knowledgeable than me, I’ve learned more about the games industry than I ever would have while endlessly browsing the litter of popular game sites.  I’m here – in the thick of game development.  I could skip five feet and annoy a designer about the level he or she is working on for Overstrike.  This has been an unparalleled first hand look at what goes on inside a top developer as they create AAA titles.  I’ve been a fly on the wall – A fly with the uncanny ability to put halfway amusing words together in Microsoft Word.

But, alas, like all good things my internship has come to its end.  Do I want to leave?  Not at all, amigo.  In fact, I’m probably being forcibly removed from the property by burly security guards as you are reading these very words.  However, I’m not leaving empty handed.  I gots some knowledge!  But since I’m such a nice person (ha!) I want to share it with y’all!  After all, you guys are the future.  I’m pretty much a lost cause.

Let us run-down the most vital lessons I have learned this epic Summer.

5.  Community: The Swiss-Army Knife of the Industry

My grandmother: She's a charmer!

I’m going to be honest.  I had no idea what Community did when I accepted my internship here.  I just said “yes” as fast as I could.  I could have been agreeing to serve as James Stevenson’s footstool for all I know (I kind of did).  A boatload of Google searches and PAX Panel viewings later and I still was in the dark about exactly what I was going to do.  Well, the reason I couldn’t get a solid definition of what Community does is because they are prone to do everything.

At a basic level, Community serves as a conduit between the community and the developers.  We let the developers know what the fans want.  However, it goes much deeper than that.  Community has to know just about everything having to do with games.  What are the latest trends, who is popular, why are the popular?  Then we take that information and help the developers mold the best game experience possible for today’s market.  That takes a lot of research – and a large ability to multi-tasks.  It’s a busy job, sure, but it’s never boring!  You are always doing something fresh.  How fresh?  Lemony fresh.

 4. There is No “I” in Team. For serious.

Apparently, Peyton Manning was the "I" in "team."

More so than any other artistic medium, video game development is all about collaboration.  The individual detail required to craft a AAA game in this age is so vast, it’s almost impossible for one person to impose his or her will on everything.  So, pitch perfect teamwork is an absolute must.  If you can’t work well in a group – you are going to have a hard time fitting into game development.  It’s difficult to corral everyone on the same central vision for a project, but that’s what generally sets great games apart from not so great games.

On one level – yes – game companies want to hire people that are talented and self-sufficient.  However, if you confuse self-sufficiency for self-hermiticity (pretty sure that’s a double-negative) then you might want to reconsider your career path.  I suggest something where your communication and social skills won’t come into play because in this industry the unity of the team is what determines the quality of the game.  Perhaps you should try professional hermitism instead?

3. The Game Industry is a Business

*giggle* Oh, Business Cat.

This is the one that no one really wants to say.  The game industry makes games to entertain, yes, but there would be no games industry if no money was made in it.  Of course you always want to create something that is unique and interesting – everyone who creates art does – but if no one buys it then what’s the point?  Self-indulgence?  Uh-uh.  I self-indulge myself everyday and while it may please me – it’s not worth the risk of over 200 people’s paychecks.  Profit has to be made.

Like everything in life – it’s a balance.  What is something that feels fresh and fun while also being marketable to a wide audience?  Sure, you could make an amazing Puzzle-FPS-RTS, but the market is probably pretty small for that type of game (although it you do make that and it’s a hit – I expect some royalties).  And, honestly, that can be a tough scale to balance some times.  It’s the difference between giving the customer what they want and what they don’t know they want yet.  At the end of the day, this leads to some sacrifices and changes that hopefully make the game more appealing to people.  Like most businesses – success depends on the quality and sales of the product stacked against the amount of resources used to create it.  Fun (and scary as Hale) times.

2. The Industry is Fast – You have to be Faster

The Flash: Running to Mediocrity One Step at a Time

Whew, has this industry changed.  Just a few years ago I would eagerly wait for the latest gaming magazine to come to my door so I could pour over the latest news.  Now, I just read my Twitter feed and find out what my favorite devs ate for lunch (I’m looking at you, Kojima).  Things are fast now.  Like, really fast.  Like -The Flash got injected with an adrenaline needle and is late for his own wedding- fast.  As a larger independent developer, you can imagine that is can be hard to keep up sometimes.  The bigger the boat – the harder it is to change direction.  However, there is really no other choice unless you want to capsize.

That’s why people in the game industry have to be constantly thinking three steps ahead.  You have to always be on the lookout for new trends and judge the trajectory of where they will be in a few years.  It’s not enough to look at the state of Mobile games and decide to make one.  By the time you have crafted something, the market will be completely different.  If you want to be successful it is not enough to simply follow trends– you must create them.

1. Independence is Vital                 

Ted Price kinda looks like Bill Pullman, ya?

I wouldn’t get away with 90% of the stuff I do if Insomniac wasn’t independent.  The chain of command is just too long at a larger company.  Right now, since Insomniac has the say on its content, I send my creation off to my bosses and they sign off on it.  Boom, chip chop chip.  It’s posted to all of y’all.  If I was at a bigger company I’m sure someone in the lengthy chain of command would have probably vetoed the Chimera wearing a sombrero.   Bah – that’s no fun.  Get a little crazy every now and then!   And, no, I’m not saying that larger companies don’t allow fun.  I’m merely stating that when you are dealing with a complex system – with multiple people dipping their hands into every little thing – the message and creativity might get a little muddy.  When the control is more centralized – an auteurship is fostered.

This independent spirit is something that really vitalizes Insomniac.   We determine what we are doing next – not a publisher.  We are in control of our destiny.  This is especially important in today’s market.  As I previously stated – the industry is consistently changing.  If Insomniac was not independent – we may not be able to keep up with these changes.  And as a result, the company would be limited.  However, the options we have are limitless.  And that is a priceless gift – especially for a creatively driven company.

The final lesson I’ve learned is probably the most important: I want to work in the game industry.  I’ve wanted to work in film for a large portion of my life, but after having rubbed elbows with so many fascinating and genial game industry people this summer – I’ve realized that’s not where I want to be.  The film industry is a tad cold – whereas the game industry is inviting.  Every event I attended – every person I nerded out with was genuine and fun.  Not only is that rare in the entertainment industry, but that is rare in life!  I think the feeling of glee (not that glee…) comes from knowing that the game industry is on the rise.  It has come such a long way, but there is still so much more to be explored.  Anyone who thinks interactive entertainment has reached its peak is dead wrong.  It’s just warming up to its potential.  And I want to help it get there.

These boots weren't made for walking - they were made for hoverbooting!

Of course, I would have never been exposed to any of this if it hadn’t been for Insomniac Games and the truly stand-up people that work here.  I’m not going to lie – I can be a lot to handle sometimes.  I mean, I dance at my desk – I’m talking dubstep rave dance.  I’m one flail away from creating a solo mosh pit.  However, Insomniac took me under their wing and taught me everything I know today.  For that, this company will always be held in my highest regard.  There is a reason Insomniac is considered to not only be one of the best game devs to work at – but one of the best companies to work at.  And it’s not because they produce quality titles just about every year – It’s because of the amazing people that create those titles.

I know, I know.  I’m getting all sentimental now, but whatever!  This place is awesome – and they don’t say that they are awesome enough.  Apparently, there is the word called “humble” that they use, but since I’ve never heard of that phrase, I’m going to take it upon myself to spread the word.

So, thank you.  Thank you, thank you for the wild ride I’ve been on these four months.  And thank you who ever is reading this.  If you’ve made it this far in the article, you are either crazy or genuinely interested in what I’ve learned.  If you are in the latter (or former, I’ll take what I can get) then I hope you’ve learned something from my mistakes.  I’ve haven’t been writing these just because I get a ton of self-gratification from seeing my mediocre word-play on paper (although, I do love that) – I’ve written it to give you a look at the industry I’ve come to love.

And if you haven’t learned anything… well… at least you got to see the occasional cat picture!  That’s worth something, right?

No?

Well, crap…whatever.  I tried.

Sort of.

 

-B-Win

Sometimes, I like to categorize myself in the “not-so-intelligent” column.  My most recent foray into stupidity was deciding that taking a Spanish 2 class – at 8 A.M. – 4 days a week – was remotely a good idea.  Since I haven’t taken Spanish in four years and mirror the sleeping pattern of a Northern Hawk Owl, every morning is a little slice of tortura.  I get why they make us take a foreign language – they want us to be able to converse with the vast cultures of the world more efficiently because communication is the key to success – blah, blah, bler.  That’s all well and good in theory, but I highly doubt “Donde es la biblioteca” is going to push my career to new heights.  (Unless I’m a Fireman from Fahrenheit 451, of course)

A much better communication lesson has come from my internship here at Insomniac Games.  And more so than teach me to communicate – it’s taught me how to communicate.  No doubt you noticed that the Resistance 3 beta went though a few rough patches when it was released to a larger group of people.  That was unfortunate, but that’s why you have betas – to find and fix the problems.  Still, fans rightfully wanted to know what was going on.  In my infinite wisdom – I was prepared to hunker down and stealth out a patch in the middle of the night.  Isn’t that what most companies do?  Maybe they’ll release the patch notes a few hours after it goes live if they feel especially courteous.  The “Pretend All Hell Isn’t Breaking Lose” tactic is an industry favorite.  I simply expected Insomniac to follow suit.

Silly me.  We don’t “follow suit” here at Insomniac Games.  We don’t even wear suits (Fancy Friday hasn’t really caught on yet).  Instead of passive avoidance – the Community team here actively addressed every single issue.  I don’t think there was a thirty minute span of time when Insomniac didn’t update people on the status of the beta via the magical magic of social networks.  Having connection problems?  BOOM – IG responded to your concern.  Patch just went to Sony for testing?  BOOM – IG let you know.  Heartbroken Matchmaking was down?  BOOM – IG was there to wipe away your tears and rock you to sleep.  Every issue was addressed and it wasn’t filtered through some corporate rose-colored spin machine.  You got the facts as soon as we got the facts.  And y’all seemed to genuinely appreciate that.

Bird IS the word on Twitter! Unless you elongate it for more than 140 characters, of course.

This approach was a pretty big eye-opener for me.  I learned that the key to proper communication is transparency.  Dodging around an issue is only going to make your loyal fans upset.  It’s not like you guys are unaware of what the issues are.  You’re all smart (I’ve seen your report card – Gold Star for you!) – thinking otherwise would only insult the community we care about.  So, the best way to communicate with the fans is to be as open and blunt as possible.  Again, that’s a pretty scary notion, but at the end of the day it’s immensely more respectful to the community to keep them out of the dark (Are You Afraid of the Dark?  Yes…).

However, I also learned that simply informing people isn’t enough anymore – you need to interact with people, as well.  For instance, since matchmaking was down for a short time in the R3 Beta – my superiors went all out to help people find each other so they could play custom games.  Tweets were re-tweeted, forum post where advertised – heck, I even saw Vitti, our web developer, playing Mr. Matchmaker by introducing beta players too each other over a candlelight dinner – while playing a romantic violin ballad for them (Not really – he only plays the French Horn).  A grand deal of effort went into making an unfortunate situation – better.  Without it – all of that communication would be like the points in “Whose Line is it Anyway” – useless (Although, I did always root for Colin to win).  You can keep people informed – sure – but that is only one layer of commitment to the fans.  The other layers need to show that steps are in place to rectify the problem.  Using social media to interact with people and help them construct private games was a great way to show that commitment.

I'll take any excuse I can get to make a "Whose Line" reference.

Transparency and interaction – those are the key ways to communicate – not some foreign language you’ll only use to try and pick up girls (for me, that’s a big emphasis on the try).  Keeping fans consistently informed instead of dodging acknowledgement only conjures up unnecessary frustration.  With this lesson learned I’m starting to inch off the “not-so-intelligent” column.  Oh, I’m still there, but I’m starting to communicate my way off of it.  Just not using my Spanish.  Estoy muy mal a Espanol*.

 

*See, I didn’t even use the accent mark.