After delivering two huge and celebrated platform adventures in two years, Insomniac Games is gearing up for the release of the third in three - Ratchet & Clank 3: Up Your Arsenal - and has big plans for the quirky duo. Apart from multiplayer, which is a huge (and perhaps obvious) addition that proves really entertaining thanks to Ratchet's vast and volatile arsenal, we can also expect the occasional sojourn into a 2D side-scrolling platformer starring Captain Qwark - whose mini-adventures will be catalogued in various collectible, playable episodes strewn around the game world (ripe for PSP conversion, we'd argue). And above all that it's just a bigger and more exotic variation on what's come before, and a darn sight better looking, too.
And with a few months to go until the game's release, Insomniac is starting to talk in more and more detail. What follows is a Q&A session conducted by Sony just prior to E3 with a clutch of developers - Brian Hastings, VP of gameplay, designers Michael Stout, Colin Munson and Cory Stockton, writer Brad Santos, and director of marketing communications Ryan Schneider. Expect more on Ratchet & Clank 3 in the coming months.
Sony: It's a given that R&C3 will feature new weapons and gadgets, but does Ratchet have any new abilities we should know about?
Michael Stout: Ratchet will have 15 new Weapons specific to Ratchet & Clank 3, and a host of new gadgets. We're also tweaking the controls, and giving extra optional control sets - including a First Person Mode and a completely new third person mode - that will allow for greater control and aiming.
Sony: Similarly, are there any new robot controlling powers for Clank? Can we expect more giant Clank action?
Brian Hastings: We've given Clank a new twist on his traditional robot controlling powers. This time around he'll be working closely with another member of the "Q-Force", but we can't say any more about who it is just yet. We can say that Clank's new status as an intergalactic movie star does play into the gameplay at one point. Giant Clank action will definitely return and it will occur in an intriguing location, but it won't be on spherical worlds.
Sony: Any more love interest for the dynamic duo?
Brad Santos: Ratchet's been looking for love in all the wrong places, but in Ratchet & Clank 3 he may have finally met his match. She is Captain Sasha, commanding officer of the Starship Phoenix and daughter of the Galactic President. Sasha shares Ratchet's love of starships and videogames. At first, their relationship is strictly professional, but after these two have been through a few harrowing situations together, a real romance begins to develop.
Sony: How does Ratchet & Clank's relationship progress in R&C3?
Brad Santos: The friendship between Ratchet and Clank is stronger than ever in Ratchet & Clank 3, but their relationship has evolved quite a bit since their first meeting. In Ratchet & Clank 3, Clank steps out of Ratchet's shadow for the first time and begins to relate to his partner as an equal rather than as a sidekick. Clank has developed into a really interesting character and players will get to know him a lot better in Ratchet & Clank 3.
Sony: Does the game feature many new enemies?
Michael Stout: There are very few enemies that are returning from previous games. We have more than 30 new enemies in Ratchet & Clank 3, from the agile Robot Ninjas to the Terror of Talos (A huge batlike creature controlled by a robot supervillian). Our enemy AI is also being reworked to add more character and to make the enemies feel even smarter than the last game.
Sony: Are there any new playable characters?
Brian Hastings: There is one new playable character who will be playable at five sections of the game [Captain Qwark]. Who it is and the circumstances under which you play as this character are one of the funnier things in the game. But I regret to say that it is also one of the secrets we are revealing at E3, so I can't say anymore for now.
Sony: You must be running out of ideas for new planet types for them to go to?
Brian Hastings: One of the best things about Ratchet's universe is that it offers boundless potential for new looks for the worlds. The premise of an alien galaxy full of unknown worlds really allows us to go in new directions with each game. New uncharted sectors of the galaxy can be explored where the planets and indigenous species all have a distinct look. In this game we start out with the emergence of a warlike race called the Tyrrhanoids who are bent on destroying all organic life, despite being such themselves. The design of that family of characters helped shape the look and feel of an entire section of the game. We also have a very talented team of production designers who spend the first two or three months of the project experimenting with new looks that we haven't done before. The screenshot of the forest world, Florana, is a very nice example of a look that they created that is distinct from anything in our past games.
Sony: Do the spherical worlds make a return?
Colin Munson: We really liked the spherical worlds in Ratchet & Clank: Locked and Loaded, and I don't think anyone here had any doubt that they would return in Ratchet & Clank 3. Spherical environments offer a whole new layer of gameplay potential that we are just beginning to explore. So definitely expect more spherical worlds in Ratchet & Clank 3.
Sony: You're churning out the R&C games at the rate of one a year. How do you feel about this? Can you fit everything you want in or do you find that you have to drop ideas because of the short timeframe?
Brian Hastings: Even though Ratchet & Clank: Locked and Loaded was created in roughly a year it was still longer and had more features, extras and bonuses than most other games in the genre. That's primarily because we have a large development team and we have become very efficient at many aspect of game creation. If we have enough ideas to make our next game push the boundaries of the genre and we know we can make a bigger game than our previous effort in under a year, then we definitely don't have any misgivings about doing so. If we felt quality was going to be sacrificed or we would have to make a smaller game then we wouldn't do it. But even with the stringent schedule we faced last year, we never ended up cutting any of the levels or original concepts in order to finish on time. In fact, we actually came up with and added many of our bonus and replay features during the last quarter of the project while we were facing the greatest amount of pressure to get the game completed.
Sony: How do you write the scripts? Is it a pooling of ideas or is there one super-funny scriptwriter at Insomniac?
Brad Santos: The script writing process is really a collaborative effort involving several members of the Ratchet & Clank 3 team. Our lead writer generates a first draft of each script, which is then passed around to a group of interested developers for edits and suggestions. Some of our best jokes come out of these conversations. We think Ratchet & Clank 3 is shaping up to be the funniest and most off-the-wall Ratchet & Clank game yet.
Sony: We've dog-fighting, turret blasting, giant robots and mining... what gameplay styles could be left?
Brian Hastings: The "gauntlet" sections of this game are a very fun combination of fast-paced platforming action and enemy combat. They basically combine elements of gameplay the player is familiar with, but present them in a style that feels fresh and has a certain rhythmic addictiveness to it. There are two other new styles of gameplay that we will be showing off soon, but not quite yet. One of them is a new and very intense form of enemy combat, and the other is an homage to a classic form of gameplay that I miss and think disappeared before its time.
Sony: Did you see online play as a natural progression for the series? Is it something you always wanted to do?
Cory Stockton: Yes, we have always seen Ratchet and Clank as an opportunity for a great multiplayer online experience. The weapons and gadgets gameplay just seem to lend themselves perfectly to be used against other online players.
Sony: What online games influenced you when designing R&C?
Cory Stockton: Quite a few games influenced us as we were designing the gameplay for the online modes. A few that come to mind are Battlefield 1942, Quake, Tribes and SOCOM:US Navy SEALs.
Sony: What about the online modes, how do they work?
Cory Stockton: We are going to have a few different online modes for players to choose from. The main mode that we are focusing on now is called "siege." The goal of this mode is destroy your opponent's base before they destroy yours! Along the way you will use vehicles including hoverships and Turbo Slider that can be used co-op with a driver and a gunner, as well as Ratchet and Clank weapons, player-controlled turrets, gadgets and destructible environments. All online modes will support up to 8 players and will be broadband only. We will also be supporting the headset for voice chat.
One thing to remember is that the online modes in Ratchet & Clank 3 are not tacked on mini-games or side quests. This is a full-fledged aspect of the overall Ratchet & Clank experience that we have worked very hard on to make sure that it competes with the top online content on the market for the PS2 today.
Sony: Any co-operative modes?
Cory Stockton: This is a feature that we are looking into, but I cannot comment on that at this time.
Sony: What unique aspects of the series have been hardest to transfer online?
Cory Stockton: Everything! Actually it's been a very long and involving process to try to pull the Ratchet and Clank gameplay into an online setting. Syncing the characters over the Internet has probably been the hardest part to handle so far. We have a really high standard for quality here at Insomniac Games and there is no way that we would have an online mode that does not stand up to the quality of the single-player game. You can expect to see the same graphics and animation quality in online that you see in the single-player game. All of this while holding 60 FPS of course.
Design wise, the hardest thing to do has been balancing the weapons for use against players rather then CPU enemies. Some weapons just don't lend themselves well to online like the Suck Cannon or the Ryno2. It's been a long process trying to decide which weapons we want to bring over to online. I feel like we are on the right track though and its going to turn out great!
Sony: Can we expect to see Ratchet & Clank debuting on 'other PlayStation platforms' in future? [For more on this, head here for comments made to Eurogamer during E3.]
Ryan Schneider: While it's safe to say the possibilities are virtually endless in the Ratchet & Clank universe, right now we're focused on making Ratchet & Clank 3 the biggest and best title Insomniac Games has released in its 10-year history.
Sony: Wishful thinking: will we ever see a Ratchet & Clank / Jak & Daxter team-up?
Brian Hastings: Pretty unlikely. The universes and personalities of the two titles just seem too far apart to put either pair in the other's world. Plus Daxter is such a primadonna that I think Clank would ask to be traded to Microsoft if we put them on the same team.