Ratchet & Clank: 10 Years of Concept Art

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.

  • ktiger34

    Nice read. Judging by the last paragraph, this article was written months ago. lol

    Ratchet & Clank: NEXUS would have been an interesting concept. I loved Deadlocked, but now I am really interested in seeing how NEXUS would have turned out.

  • Melazzee

    Ahhh this is amazing! Thanks so much! Yeah, Ratchet does look kinda crazy with no stripes, I’m glad you included them :P

  • DannyJC13

    Truly brilliant and stunning stuff. I’m jealous of the skill shown here!

    Also, not to be rude, but would it be possible to see some concept art of R&C 2′s Tabora? That planet amazes me.

  • Agent-II

    Wow, this is a goldmine of Ratchet and Clank concept art! I also love the included videos. Pretty neat, seeing the earliest version of Ratchet and Clank. The HD collection is going to bring back so many memories, I can’t believe it has been 10 years.

    I have all of your games, Insomniac, from Disruptor to Outernauts. And I have to say, Ratchet and Clank really is something special, and I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to stop making Ratchet and Clank games.

  • Toppot

    Thank you for this Insomniac. I love seeing early R&C stuff =]

  • IncredibleMeh

    Absolutely beutifull! It’s great to see how Ratchet and Clank evolved into what they are today!

    Also, I think I know where you guys got you insperation for the Zoni from. Clank’s concept art looks very similar to them no?

  • DarkMegamanSX900

    This all looks nice! ^_^ Insomniac did an awesome job at making Ratchet and Clank I take my hat off to you guys Iam I glad to have met this game 10 years ago yea!! To Ratchet and Clank!! and to Sony and everyone who works in Insomniac!!!! Thank You!!

  • Wozman23

    I always love seeing concept art, especially early designs. All4One has some really amazing pieces. I love how the character models turned out, but it makes me wonder how different the franchise would have been had the other early looks stuck?

  • EKGProductions

    Hey Insomniac. I just signed up here, but let it be known I have been a massive fan of yours for a long time. I’ve even declined to play 2 of your games, because I never want to feel like I’ve seen everything you have done. Deadlocked is one. I am saying all of this so you understand how much of a fan I am, since I am now going make my fan plea.

    I beg of you, don’t give up on Ratchet & Clank. I know the industry has changed, I know shooters are where the money’s at, and I am not sure if the previous 3 games in the series sold well. If Tools of Destruction and especially A Crack in Time didn’t sell well, then the world doesn’t know what is good for it…I am begging you to not give up on Ratchet. I know Full Frontal Assault is in the works, and I can’t wait, but we all know it isn’t a traditional Ratchet game, neither was the very fun All 4 One.

    Traditional Ratchet games are the only things on the face of the planet that make me actually feel good. I mean, feel like everything is going to be OK. It is hard to explain. I’ve been gaming for 25 years. I’ve played it all, and through everything, there is only one franchise that makes me smile like an idiot whenever I start playing, and I don’t stop smiling like an idiot until the game is done. That franchise is Ratchet & Clank.

    I thought after All 4 One we were never going to see another more traditional Ratchet game. I was terrified, actually. The thought of never jumping and shooting as Ratchet again in a new adventure was quite literally the most depressing thing I ever had to think about. I was extremely relieved when I heard Full Frontal Assault was being made. I was slightly depressed when I heard it was a tower defense type Ratchet game. I know tower defense is easy and cheap to make, after all, how better to pad out a game than make the player stay in one place and fight wave after wave of enemies?

    I am sure the game will be great, and I truly am looking forward to it, but please, don’t forget about traditional Ratchet games. I don’t care if its a PSN game or a Vita game or what have you, just please please please don’t let traditional Ratchet die. If Sly Cooper can make a big comeback, I know Ratchet can too. A Crack in Time is one of the greatest games I have ever played in my 25 years of gaming. I wouldn’t be able to die happy in another 60 years if I thought that was the last, fully featured 15-10 hour traditional Ratchet & Clank game I was ever going to play.

    I’m just rambling now and repeating myself, but I just wanted to write this comment and let you guys and gals know that I love what you do, I am a huge fan of all of your games, and if it wasn’t for Ratchet & Clank I wouldn’t be the man I am today. Please don’t forget about the two greatest heroes in all of gaming. It might not be viable to make another fully featured Ratchet & Clank game, but damn it, it is the right thing to do…

  • Nectern

    Hey Insomniac Games, I ope you know just how big of an impact Ratchet & Clank had on many many peoples childhoods and teen years. I am still buying and playing these games regularly and consider them some of the greatest games of all time. I would really like to express my gratitude towards you guys for making something so special and hope that there is more to come. I already have the collection preordered despite owning the original games on PS2 simply because Ratchet & Clank are worth owning twice, or even three times over. The only other game series I felt could hold a candle to Ratchet & Clank was well Jak and Daxter, but as I cautiously wait for NaughtyDog to hopefully make a Jak 4, I hope you guys keep pumping out these AMAZING Ratchet & Clank games and again I thank you for everything you’ve done thus far.

    These games are simply masterpieces and I hope that you guys are aware of the fanbase that loves you all so much for everything.

    Thank You, We Really Appreciate It.

    :D

    (Note: Any job positions available @ Insomniac? I might take a course @ school just to learn to be employable by you guys in the future and who knows maybe even help make a new Ratchet and Clank game someday? Could be just fanboy dreaming, but I seriously love you guys. Thanks!!!!!!!)

  • Zantor

    Some of these inspire a sense of wonder inside. The most awe-inspiring are the manta ray city concept, Metropolis (Tools era) concept, and the collage of Megalopolis. I’ve always found something so much more intriguing in your ideas than other settings and stories. Keep going; this franchise has great potential.

    There is a level of innovation, and even originality I don’t see in other titles from other studios. I yearn to see more creativity, yet do not burn out on ideas; I’m sure you as a developer know where I am coming from. The game market needs variety, and R&C is one of few which demonstrate innovation and desire to explore new paths.

  • hamood

    the original Stratus City looks freaking awesome

  • SomeRandomSquishy

    Great read! It was especially interesting hearing about the scrapped idea of Ratchet & Clank: NEXUS. Sounded really interesting. :D

  • zombie-brain

    WoW i really like the idea about the Bounty hunters chasing Ratchet and Clank, and the hunters looked pretty cool, if you ever do another R&C game (Which i tottally hope you do) then that would be awesome if you implemented those bounty hunters :D

    And like some of the others said, i have played R&C since the first one, and it is my favourit gaming franchise. I play games like BF3, WoW, Mass Effect and so on, all kind of shooters, mmo’s, rpgs. But there is still nothing that can compare to the R&C games, i just love that universe and games, just something special about it :) so yea, plz make more! :D

  • InsomniacStripes

    I exceptionally enjoyed the early concepts of ratchet. Not as nice as his current design though XD. And some early Dave art! Awesome!

    Also, Darren Quach’s mantis city design was great. Too bad it was cut. What a piece :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/CPuff8D Liezl Bohnen

    I still say you guys need to release a big ol’ artbook with all this good stuff in it. I know of my personal friends who would pay good money to own it, myself included!

  • http://twitter.com/PhoneJon jonPhone

    Thank you Insomniac for making your amazing concepts public for all the people out there who love RC!

  • Neil

    Fanboy here, played every single game and loved every one since the beginning. Ive always loved going back and replaying each one, and the concept art really shows how great the series is. Nexus sounded like a great concept. If ratchet was on a battling planet, and he’d have to become the hero that saves everyone, thatd be great. But if it were on one planet, itd have to be big with a lot a varying cityscapes.

  • Chris Boers

    Good luck with your ‘NEXUS’ release tomorrow. Will be interesting to see whether the ‘into the nexus’ fits with the R&C: NEXUS description here…

  • Yasmany Navas

    the backside of his penis against her lips.

  • gracia

    I Really Loved Ratchet and Clank, Love your Concepts too ! :D