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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.