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Those very special folks at Insomniac granted us some of their time after putting their latest work, Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando, to bed.  We ask about what the team does to develop camaraderie, what was re-used from the original game, the possibility of a Ratchet & Clank / Jak and Daxter cross-over game, platformer conventions, and a host of other topics.  Thanks for your time, guys!

 

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Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando Q&A Conducted by Omni

   

Any initial trepidations making a sequel?

GAVIN DODD, Tools Director: Who me? I'm Mr. Positive, I never say it can't be done. If anyone tells you otherwise, they're a big fat stinking liar. Actually, we were all pretty excited at the prospect of releasing a sequel in a year – something that’s pretty rare these days.

 

What development tools were used for Going Commando?

GAVIN: We used a mixture of commercial and proprietary tools to develop Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. The commercial tools include Developer Studio, SourceSafe and SN Systems ProDG for the programmers, Maya and Photoshop for the artists, and Sound Forge for the sound designers. The proprietary tools are mainly used to convert models, animations, sounds and other data produced by these tools into a form the Playstation 2 can use. And of course we always have a wrench handy.

 

Most sequels concentrate on new things, but what is unchanged from the original?

TIM TRZEPACZ, Gameplay Programmer: With such a tight schedule, it's only natural that we would reuse a lot of stuff, but you might be surprised how little we actually reused. Reuse was definitely the exception, rather than the rule. Not a single enemy or vehicle from the first Ratchet was reused. Many of the underlying systems were completely rewritten or at least heavily overhauled. A lot of stuff was thrown out, rewritten and then thrown out again.

Some of the weapons are direct descendants of weapons in Ratchet and Clank. For example, the Morphoray that turned enemies into chicken came back as the Sheepinator, which turns enemies into sheep.


There were also some effects from Ratchet and Clank that stuck around. Although some gorgeous new explosions were written for Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, there are still a few things in the game that use the original explosion code.

The Thermanator water is a very close relative to the original Hydro-displacer water from Ratchet & Clank, but in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, it runs much faster and the water has the ability to be frozen.

What was the biggest disagreement (or point of contention) in the early stages of Going Commando's development?

BRIAN HASTINGS, Vice President, Programming: I think the two biggest issues were the spherical worlds and the weapon upgrade system.  There was a heated disagreement over whether the spherical worlds were going to be fun and at one point we came close to dropping them altogether.  Fortunately we got the technological issues solved early enough that we had plenty of time to play around with the spherical gameplay and really make it feel unique and fun.  The other big issue was whether the weapons would upgrade via "experience" or if you would simply buy the upgrades with bolts.  Since this single issue would change the way the entire game played it became a very heated debate.  In the end I think we definitely chose the right direction, since the experience-based upgrade path adds a lot of extra incentive and excitement to using each weapon.

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Is there anything that inspired the spherical worlds?

BRIAN HASTINGS: The biggest inspiration was the image from the cover of "The Little Prince."  Way back in the initial-concept phase of Ratchet and Clank, I just kept imagining him sitting on a lonely little asteroid planet like that.  But we didn't really think about it in terms of actual gameplay until we were coming up with gadget ideas and we wanted some way to let you jump 100 meters in the air 

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without taking away your control.  It just didn't seem possible without creating enormous walls to bind the player inside the world.  But then I remembered the image of the little asteroid-like planet, and it seemed to be a perfect match - you could go as high as you want and you wouldn't need any walls to bind you in.  We hadn't quite perfected the technology for the first game, though, so we decided to hold off and really make the globule worlds shine for Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando.

 

Was there always a sequel planned or is Going Commando a way to cash-in on Ratchet & Clank's popularity?

BRIAN HASTINGS: Right from the beginning we felt that Ratchet's universe had limitless potential. The sci-fi theme, gadgets, weapons, and alien worlds all offered so many unexplored possibilities that we knew it had the potential to be a series.  The only question was whether or not it would garner enough sales for Sony to greenlight a sequel.  We're basically optimists here so we started a small team working on the sequel before we were even finished with the original.  By the time we found out that the original was selling well we already had a big head start on the sequel.

In the end, that head start was what allowed us to release Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando just a year after the original.

 

Have any of the control aspects been changed from the original ? Will a Ratchet & Clank fan be able to just pick up Going Commando and start playing?

COLIN MUNSON, Designer: We have added a strafing feature to Ratchet's move set that adds considerable depth to the combat in Ratchet &Clank: Going Commando. There are also new weapon specific controls like zooming in on a target from a distance. These new features were added without changing any of the core controls from the original Ratchet & Clank, so anyone who has played the original will be able to jump right in.

 

Would Going Commando work in any other genre or is it squarely a platformer?

KEITH LEE, Gameplay Programmer: One way of looking at it is viewing Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando as a cube. Ratchet & Clank would fit into that square platformer peg -- that's the base of the game, but now it'sevolved and taken on a far more multi-dimensional shape. There's the RPG side with Ratchet's weapons and armor being upgraded through usage and experience; even Ratchet himself develops, so to speak, and becomes more resistant to his enemies. There's the explorative/adventure side with the development of plot and characters and the freedom to travel across planets to discover new secrets. The convergence of explosive combat and tactics gives Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando its action and strategy side. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando even has a first-person shooter side, since the player can activate first person mode and circle strafe around enemies. With the game’s unlockable levels of space combat and hoverbike racing, there’s a dogfighting/racing side to the game. And really, I think the beauty of the game lies in its multi-faceted nature -- it satisfies the conventional platformer fan but brings him or her to a whole new level of gameplay with all these different and wonderful elements without convoluting that which made Ratchet & Clank so loved.

 

Which development cycle has been easier: the original's or Going

Commando's?

ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ, Director of Gameplay Programming: They were both challenging but the original was definitely easier. Throughout the development of the original we created such a good working foundation for Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando that we could add almost anything we wanted to the game. The challenge for the sequel came in seeing how much we could possibly add to top the original!

 

Are there any underutilized conventions within the platformer genre?

MIKE STOUT, Designer: Actually, I think that most platformer conventions are over-utilized -- conventions such as collecting, absurd missions (if you can kill these 10 chickens, the poultrygeist will give us the black soup ladle that we need to proceed to the next world), and needing 10 keys to unlock one door. The break from these conventions is one of the things I like most about Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. We drive the game with story and not collectibles, we pumped up the shooting elements and added great depth and strategy with the character progression and weapon experience, and best of all you never find yourself stuck behind a door with 10 locks.

 

Is the "Going Commando" subtitle supposed to have a double meaning?

TED PRICE, President/CEO: Why, yes it is. Ratchet has become a commando in this game. Furthermore, he’s not wearing underwear.

 

How does Insomniac build team unity (to prevent defections, etc.)?

TED: We do a lot of fun things as a team. We now have “Fragfest Fridays” where at 7p.m. on Friday nights we fire up the multiplayer games and try to kill each other. (I think a lot of people get a kick out of killing me in particular). We go to places like Disneyland, Lucky Strikes (cool Hollywood bowling alley), the Greens (18 hole mini- golf course that you play through with putters – not putt-putt though), we have parties, etc.

Most importantly, though, at work we promote what I call “collaborative creativity”. This means that everyone here has a chance to contribute creatively to all of our games. For instance, if you’ve got a great idea about the story but you’re not actually working on the story – you’ll be heard. If you’ve got an idea for some enemy AI but you’re not in the design department, that’s okay – we want to know what it is. Our games are varied and deep because so many people at Insomniac contribute ideas in all areas. There isn’t one person sitting at the top pointing fingers and saying “Do it my way or else.”

Furthermore, we expect everyone to put a lot of him/herself into what they specifically create – no one has time to micromanage others so every team member is expected to be very self-sufficient and creative. This gives everyone on the team a great feeling of ownership in every product we make.

 

Any thoughts on possible action figures? A cartoon series?

TED: My thoughts: This is one of those games that screams for action figures, cartoons, etc. We don’t have any control over whether or not they get made so let’s hope that a lot of consumers ask Sony for them!

 

With Insomniac's relationship with the developer of Jak II, Naughty Dog, and your respective games releasing close together, is there any chance the next project could be a Jak & Daxter/Ratchet & Clank crossover game?

 

TED: We have a great relationship with Naughty Dog. We’ve been friendly competitors for close to 10 years now and we share more ideas and technology every year. A crossover game would be tough to develop though. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando and Jak II have some very different underlying systems.

 

I think both companies are pretty happy making separate games. But you may see more references to Naughty Dog characters in our games and vice versa as we move ahead. There certainly are a lot of those references this year!

 

(November 17, 2003)

 

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