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Postmortem: Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
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Postmortem: Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

December 22, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[Reprinting one of Game Developer magazine's most acclaimed 2008 postmortems, Insomniac goes behind the scenes on late 2007 standout Ratchet & Clank Future to explain the creation of the iconic PlayStation 3 platformer.]

One of the first features developed for Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction was the "Groovitron" -- a bomb that was part boom box and part laser light show. Throw the bomb, force your foe into spontaneous dance, and then kill him to a disco soundtrack. It was hilarious to watch and just as fun to play.

But the music almost died when we realized that we'd have to give every character, enemy, and creature a set of unique dance moves. The Groovitron would require hundreds of animation cycles, special case programming, and extra work across the entire project.

In many ways, this reflected the challenge of bringing our heroes onto new hardware; the complexity, sophistication, and power of working on a new platform meant that our team would need to perform at an equally complex and sophisticated level. We had our work cut out for us but we felt we had an opportunity to create the Ratchet & Clank game we'd always imagined.

Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (RCF) is Insomniac's fifth Ratchet & Clank game. We needed to deliver an experience on par with its predecessors while making a fresh debut on the PlayStation 3.

Our challenge became even more daunting when we added to this a tight one-year development cycle (plus one year of preproduction with a skeleton crew), a production budget only half or two-thirds of similar games, and no experience working on the PS3.

It was necessary to recreate the Ratchet & Clank universe from scratch for PS3, and what follows is an account of the many issues we faced, the decisions we made, and the methods we used to do this.

What Went Right

1. Set a vision.

In late 2005 most of Insomniac was working mightily to get Resistance: Fall of Man up and running on early PS3 hardware (read the postmortem in the February, 2007 issue of Game Developer). Meanwhile, about a dozen of us were trying to figure out where to begin on a new Ratchet & Clank game. We were lacking hardware, an engine, game code, and even assets. We were truly at ground zero.

Figure 1: The opening view of Metropolis as we imagined it in 2005.


To start, we decided to visualize the Ratchet & Clank universe PS3-style by recreating Metropolis, one of the iconic locations from our PS2 series. We did this by building a "diorama" of the city, adding vehicles, and sending a camera through it.

We built our test city using the Resistance engine, stitched together a frame by frame camera fly through, and added audio effects to simulate the experience of being in Metropolis.

We were pleased with the outcome, but we knew that this was a guess at best and revealed more about our hopes for the game without the memory, frame rate, and game design constraints of a real level.

The reaction from our producers at Sony and later from people who saw the Metropolis video at 2006 GDC was astonishing. We were being compared to feature film CGI, and there was great enthusiasm for the game.

When Sony told us that future gameplay deliveries needed to "drop jaws" as Metropolis did we wondered if we could ever match the results in-game (see Figures 1 and 2). At this point we still did not know what lay ahead for RCF, but we knew one thing -- we had a vision.

Figure 2: The in-game opening view of Metropolis in 2007.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Nils Haukås
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Always fun to read "tales from the gaming trenches". :) Postmortems are invaluable for inexperienced people like me who want to get into the biz. Keep it coming! :)

Alex Meade
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Agreed. I could read postmortems all day. xD

Michael Prinke
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This is the postmortem I've been waiting to see for a long time... I'm surprised at the 11-month preproduction phase--and the intricacy that's involved in it. There's really a lot of hardcore research and development going on there--testing the limits of the team and the software and the hardware--figuring out what CAN be done as well as setting the project's goals. This to me seems like the right idea. What impresses me is the time that it enables a team of 100 to do things in--the game proper took only a year after that. This confirms for me a suspicion I've long held--that long production times are the product of poor and hasty planning. The whole process sounds incredibly hectic, which is a notion I'm used to, but it sounds like Insomniac makes sure to have a very precise chart of where they're going and knows exactly what the boat can withstand before they set sail, knowing that rough waters will be a part of the journey...

Shawn Yates
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Excellent post-mortem.

"At the end of preproduction RCF's design called for 25 unique planets, 5 space combat missions, 1 hour of cinematic cut scenes, a hazily-defined co-op mode, and an even more ambiguous online component. "

Sounds like the project I was previously involved with. Why do most game companies feel the need to put in enough cinematic time to that would rival most tv/film production companies given the same amount of time? Hazy co-op features also rings a bell with me, I guess all PS3 preproduction pitches have to hit that checkbox with their publishers nowadays...