When Insomniac Games' Ratchet & Clank was first announced, we were among many who simply didn't know what to think. Here was a platform game obviously borrowing heavily from Naughty Dog's fabulous Jak & Daxter, right down to using chunks of the same technology, now "with weapons". But surprisingly enough, not only did it work but it worked really, really well. So well in fact that, apart from a short demo at this year's E3 and PSEx shows, Sony has been keeping very quiet about the sequel. Fortunately, we've been playing it solidly now for a couple of weeks, and not content with just telling you what we think of it elsewhere today, we also tracked down Insomniac Games president Ted Price to answer a few questions about the game...
Eurogamer: How have you managed to get a sequel out so quickly?
Ted Price: When we finished Ratchet & Clank 1 last year, everyone had a lot of great new ideas about how we could take the RC universe and expand it significantly. We had the energy and the drive but we didn't have the manpower to do it in a year. So we doubled the team size over the course of the project, stuck to the deadlines and managed to make a new game that's bigger and (in my opinion) even better than the first one. Everybody is pretty tired now but very happy that the new game turned out so well.
Eurogamer: What are the major improvements over the original?
Ted Price: We've made tons of changes but here are the big ones:
Character Growth: You can now earn more hitpoints (nanotech) for Ratchet by killing enemies. Killing enemies gives Ratchet more experience and once Ratchet has gained enough experience, he gets another hitpoint. Ratchet goes from 4 to a possible 80 hitpoints in the game. Furthermore, his weapons upgrade, doing more and more damage as players progress through the game. The enemies also get stronger (up to 120 hitpoints plus they do up to 35 hitpoints of damage with their attacks) so players will be constantly challenged as they play through.
New Gameplay Modes: One of the big new features in RC2 is what we're calling mega-games. Unlike the mini-games we introduced in the Spyro series and continued over to RC1, mega-games are multi-tiered gameplay segments where players can play over and over and the challenges will continue to change. This is a great way to earn money in the game. A couple of examples of the mega-games are gladiatorial arenas and hoverbike races.
A couple of other new gameplay modes include space combat (also a mega-game with multiple tiers of gameplay) where you can buy upgrades for your ship, and special "spherical worlds".
Upgradeable Weapons: Almost all of the weapons you buy can be upgraded with the experience Ratchet gets through killing enemies. These upgrades usually give the weapon new functionality, greater ammo capacities and cause more damage.
Plus, we've got a new story, upgradeable armor for Ratchet, special "illegal" mods for some of the weapons, a new economic system, more sophisticated enemy AI, and more...
Eurogamer: Tell us a bit more about the new weapons. How many new ones are there, and which is the coolest?
Ted Price: There are 19 new weapons, 17 of which can be upgraded. Plus we're bringing back 5 from Ratchet & Clank 1. You can get these 5 for free if you have a RC1 save game where you purchased these weapons.
My favourite new weapons are 1) the mini-turrets, which are gun emplacements you can toss onto the ground - they sprout machine guns and blow away anything in range, 2) the spiderbot, which is a little spider you drive through the environments and use to blow up enemies, and 3) the bouncer, a gun that fires bouncing bomblets. The bomblets track down enemies and explode.
It's hard to say which of the new weapons is the "coolest" though because each has different functionality and most of them upgrade into versions with new functionality. I think the coolest aspect of the weapons is that when you upgrade them, you get what is essentially a brand new gun!
Eurogamer: Is this using the exact same engine as Jak II?
Ted Price: Not at all. On Ratchet & Clank 1, Naughty Dog gave us the code for their background renderer. We modified it and integrated it with the 10 or so other renderers we developed ourselves. Then we gave the modified code back to NDI in the hopes that they could use the improvements we made for Jak II. Naughty Dog gave us a real leg up during RC1 with their generosity.
On Ratchet & Clank 2, the background renderer was modified even further by Insomniac's Al Hastings and Rob Wyatt who reworked a lot of the technology to enable more polygons on screen, bigger environments, etc. We added a brand new lighting system, improved our other renderers like the animation renderer, particle renderer, sky renderer, etc. As a result RC2 runs faster than the first and if you compare its engine with that of Jak II, they'll probably look pretty different.
Eurogamer: How much did Insomniac contribute to the tech?
Ted Price: Well, aside from the background renderer we used in RC1 and as the base for RC2's background engine, we've always developed our own technology from the ground up. At the beginning of RC2 we also gave Naughty Dog our occlusion system (this is a system that ensures you don't draw objects when they're hidden or “occluded” by other objects. I'm not sure if they used it in Jak II.
We have a very strong tech and tools department at Insomniac and they kept very busy on Ratchet and Clank 2 developing the new lighting system, adding 16:9 support, improving the animation and special effects renderers, etc. Since the game is about 150 per cent bigger than the first the technology team had a lot of work to do to keep the framerate at a constant 50fps and to squeeze everything into memory.
Eurogamer: How many people worked on the game in total?
Ted Price: Not including the support folks here at Insomniac there were around 65 Insomniacs designing, building and testing the game. Plus we had a composer, David Bergeaud writing the music, some great voice actors helping with the characters, Mark Cerny assisting on design, and lots of folks at Sony helping with the testing, marketing and PR.
Eurogamer: Is there more opportunity to play as Clank this time around?
Ted Price: Clank, especially big Clank gets more screen time in RC2. What's especially cool is that you get to play on the spherical worlds as Giant Clank. Little Clank gets a couple of new bots to command as well.
Eurogamer: Will there be a third Ratchet & Clank title? If so, how do you intend to make it different while still appealing to fans of the first two?
Ted Price: That's a question I hope to answer when and if we announce a third game!
Eurogamer: Will your next all-new character based game still involve platforming?
Ted Price: We're not afraid to step outside of platforming as we have in the past with Disruptor. But I think we've developed a real expertise for creating platformers so as long as the genre is still something that players want, we'll be making those games. Though I believe that by the next generation of hardware, platformers will be very different from what they are now - the genre is currently going through its first significant transformation since games went 3D.
Eurogamer: What opportunities do you expect the PS3 to present to Insomniac?
Ted Price: Your guess is as good as mine right now.
Eurogamer: Are you already working on a 5G (fifth gen) console game?
Ted Price: (Scratches head) now how do I answer that? If we were, I wouldn't be able to tell you anyway. Sorry about that - I don't want the Sony hit men coming after me and breaking my kneecaps.