[Insomniac North Carolina studio director Chad Dezern talks Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One's co-operative single-screen design, and how games like Super Battletoads and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspired close-quarters gaming.]
Online multiplayer may have made game players around the world more connected than ever before, but for many people, their fondest gaming memories were shared with others in the same room, playing together on the same screen.
Local co-op has spent some time out of vogue, but now it's slowly creeping back, as many games have recently embraced a type of play that brings people together in more than just a virtual space.
Gamasutra spoke to Chad Dezern, studio director of Insomniac Games, North Carolina, about how the PlayStation 3 four-player game Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One (releasing October 18, 2011), and is taking a bite from the co-op pie. Dezern shared the team's interest in single-screen co-op, and trying to make the game comparable to a team sport.
It feels like for a while single screen co-op was off the table until Nintendo and Epic brought it back in larger ways. What is your take on local co-op?
The game started simply with us wanting to let people play as Ratchet and Clank together. But weíve touched on that a little bit in previous games like Ratchet: Deadlocked, but we felt like there was always a lot more to do and we felt like there was a lot more that we could sink our teeth into; the co-op Ratchet & Clank game, it just made so much sense.
At the same time, I think a lot of us have fond childhood memories of Super Battletoads and in games from long ago, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles where you were all playing together. But we wanted to capture some of that get-together-with-your-pals experience and play through the Ratchet universe.
Local co-op has more of an appeal to many, because then youíve actually got your friends in one location, and you can smack them if they do something stupid. Itís a lot more fun to have that kind of communal experience. Did you guys have that sort of thing in mind when you added abilities like lashing, or shooting someone off the edge of a cliff and that sort of thing?
Yeah, absolutely. You know a pretty fair number of mechanics in the game actually came out of us playing together and wanting to compete a little bit as we play. So the game is cooperative at its core Ė thatís what we incentivized, but we also let people compete straight up for bolts; we let people throw each other off the ledge.
We let people do these little things that add some dynamism to the experience that really makes it a unique twist on a co-op game. And it all came from us being a little bit antagonistic toward each other when we play through in the office.
How do you balance that sort of thing so people who are not as good at the game donít get dominated?
We just look at balance in all kinds of ways to make sure that weíre legitimately rewarding the best player. You know if you play through and earn the most bolts, youíre going to be able to buy the cool new weapon first and show it off to your friends. At the same time we donít want anybody whoís not as skilled to have a miserable experience.
So, if you work together well with your team, if you simply cooperate, we give you a segment bonus. And so you can always buy weapons and upgrades, [but] you just might not be able to buy the greatest thing before your friends do.
Letís talk about making a good game for kids. I know this isnít just for kids, but the series has a strong appeal for that demographic.
The main thing for us is that we just want to make this really beautiful, high quality game, and we want to make it feel like youíre playing together with friends through a CG movie. And although I canít say we explicitly make decisions about what we think kids will like, I can say that we try to make ourselves happy. We try to make a game that we would want to play, and in fact we do; we play this game all the time in the office because itís something that a lot of us just wanted to see for a long time.
When youíve got a whole lot going on and the characters are kind of small, how can you try to let everyone know where they are and whatís going on when there are blowing up and exploding everywhere?
We have a lot of different devices to help people focus on their characters, because that is one of the challenges of making a single screen cooperative game for sure. One of the things weíve learned over time is that we have a kind of ideal camera distance, and if weíre at that distance you really can track your character even when things get action packed and dense on screen.
But weíve added a lot of devices where we have color-coded character signals that turn on when the camera gets a little bit far away. And itís the classic player number over a characterís head; this has been a device thatís used in a lot of games to great effect. And we think that with all these elements together you can keep track of your character on screen.
When things get really, really hairy, itís just everybody working together to use their weapon; youíre going to get that big explosion; itís almost a reward when that happens in a game at this point. It's kind of like everybodyís focused on one thing and you get a big moment when those times come together.
[Pic credit: G4TV]