GP: Firstly guys, what are your backgrounds in game development? Did you all start off in the garage?
INS: When we started, none of us (Al Hastings, Brian Hastings and I) had any game development experience and even though we were renting a real office, it was definitely “garage” development! We had no clue about what it took to make a game other than what we could guess from playing other games. Terms like “macro design” and “game balancing” were definitely foreign concepts.
GP:When and how did Insomniac get started?
INS: I started the company in early 1994 with my life savings – renting an office and buying a Mac, a PC and a 3DO dev station. I spent a couple of months doing things like writing design documents, doing business plans that we’d never use, etc. Then Al Hastings came on board in the late spring. He and I created a demo for Disruptor and shopped it around to a bunch of publishers. When we were down to the last few dollars in my bank account, we signed a three title deal with Universal Interactive Studios. As soon as we knew we were going with Universal, Brian Hastings (Al’s brother) joined us. For a while we worked in San Diego trying to get into production – Al was writing the engine for Disruptor while Brian was working on enemy AI and tools. I was working on building backgrounds while another artist was doing characters.
GP: What was the first game that you managed to get published?
INS: That first person classic – Disruptor!
GP: Ahh... Disruptor! That game was an excellent FPS. Critically acclaimed - crap sales. What was the feeling in the camp after Disruptor bombed at retail even after all the excellent reviews?
INS: We were all a little bitter. We felt that Universal had sold us a bum deal since they had promised to market the hell out of the title. What happened is that no one ever heard about the game since Universal’s marketing budget for the game was minimal. I remember seeing an article that claimed “Disruptor is the best title that no one has ever heard of.” That hurt.
GP: Ok. After Disruptor came Spyro. How did you guys come up with the idea for the game? Was it already in planning while Disruptor was still being developed?
INS: After we shipped Disruptor, we all sat around and threw out ideas for the next game. We knew that we were going to take a break from the FPS genre and Al Hastings was already working on an engine for a 3rd person game with amazing panoramic views. Mark Cerny had suggested that we consider the fact that in two years, the average age of the PS gamer was going to drop significantly and that we had a chance to go head to head with Nintendo in capturing that market. Then Craig Stitt said “Hey, let’s do a game about a dragon!” And that’s how it started.
GP: What did Sony think when you first showed them Spyro? Did they write out a cheque right away?
INS: As I recall, Sony was pretty excited about the game. Sony had also just been shown Crash Bandicoot which was being developed by Naughty Dog who also had a contract with Universal at the time. So they were already excited by the possibilities raised with that game and to have Spyro as well was a good thing. Of course, the deal was between Universal and Sony so none of us were privy to any but the initial conversations about the game.
GP: Ok. Fast forward a few years - two sequels and a new Sony console later (along with 8 million + sales of the Spyro franchise). What did you think of the PS2 hardware when you got your first development kit?
INS: We were impressed by the power of the hardware and a little intimidated by what everyone had been saying (“it’s difficult to develop for the PS2”, etc.). But Al Hastings dove right in and began developing the first of about 12 engines that drive Ratchet and Clank.
GP: How did the idea for Ratchet and Clank come about? It must have looked wacky on paper…
INS: Actually, we had already been working on a very different game and ran into a brick wall. The game we began developing on the PS2 just wasn’t fun nor was it what most people here wanted to do. Then Brian Hastings suggested we do a game about a character who has lots of cool weapons and gadgets and flies a spaceship from planet to planet. As soon as he put out that idea, everyone got really excited and started contributing ideas. As a result the preproduction phase went very quickly.
GP: Was it very hard to convince Sony to back it?
INS: Sony was already backing development of our initial PS2 game and I think that they were relieved when we shifted gears and began to create Ratchet & Clank. We’re very lucky that they were so supportive!
GP: When did actual development begin on the game, and how big was the team?
INS: Preproduction began at the end of March 2001 and the team was about 35 people. We went into production in November of 2001 and by the end of the project we were up to 45 people.
GP: Tell us about the game’s setting/storyline.
INS: Ratchet lives on a backwater world in an abandoned arm of a forgotten solar system. He is a young, self-taught mechanic who has a special knack for building and repairing things, and dreams of someday leaving his planet and striking out on a magnificent space adventure.
Off in a distant quadrant closer to the center of the galaxy, Chairman Drek rules a polluted planet, Orxon , inhabited by an ugly race called the Blarg. He too has dreams, but his lie along the lines of conquest and domination. The Blarg are tired of their polluted world and as their leader, Chairman Drek has come up with the ultimate solution – to build a new planet using the best parts from many of the other worlds in the galaxy. He just has to convince the inhabitants of those planets to part with a few thousand hectares of their worlds – and if they can’t be convinced, the army of robots and Blarg warriors Chairman Drek has developed can eliminate any resistance.
In one of the orbiting robot factories busy creating Chairman Drek’s evil robot armies, a computer glitch creates a diminutive but brainy robot – Clank. Clank learns about Chairman Drek’s plans and since he has a conscience, he flees the factory, seeking help. Unfortunately for Clank, the bad guys, equipped with heavily armed ships, shoot Clank’s ship down over Ratchet’s homeworld. From this moment on, Ratchet and Clank are forced together by circumstance, and the game follows them as they blast off from planet to planet.
The story definitely takes a few twists and turns so I don’t want to give much more away. But one of the cooler things about it is that Ratchet and Clank really don’t get along for a lot of the game. This creates some pretty humorous situations.
GP: What do you believe makes Ratchet and Clank stand out from the plethora of other 3d platform games on the market?
INS: There are a lot of things that make R&C different from other 3D platformers but the RPG elements are probably the most obvious difference.
Each level introduces more weapons and gadgets. Players can pick up a bomb glove, a flamethrower, a high tech lockpick, mines, a swingshot that lets you zip around levels like Tarzan or Spiderman, small attack robots that fight alongside you. And for the most part, you buy these gadgets with “bolts”, the money that you collect throughout the game.
As a result, some elements usually found in RPGs start to enter Ratchet and Clank. There are more weapons than you can practically buy, so each player’s experience when playing the game will tend to be a bit different, just like an RPG. Also, in an ordinary action game, if you aren’t finishing levels, you aren’t progressing, but in Ratchet and Clank, you’re gathering money as you go along, which means you can buy bigger weapons. Even if you aren’t finishing levels, you’re getting stronger - just like in an RPG.
GP: Did many of your original ideas/plans for the game miss out in the final product? If so, what were they and why did they get the cut?
INS: Interestingly, we really didn’t cut anything except for a few weapons and gadgets that just weren’t fun when we prototyped them. There was the Revolverator – a drill gun which would spin enemies around once Ratchet impaled them and the Mackerel 1000 – basically a fish that took the place of the wrench. Both of these got cut because they were either too hard to use or just didn’t add anything to the game.
GP: Before R&C hit retail, the excellent reviews started coming out. Were you at any stage worried that it was going to become one of the many games that gets the acclaim but misses at retail (like Disruptor)?
INS: Well I’ll wait to comment on that until after Christmas since we really haven’t seen any numbers yet. The landscape for videogames right now is EXTREMELY competitive so you’ve got to make as much noise as possible to get noticed. Fortunately Sony has created some excellent advertising for the game and we’ve gotten great exposure in the enthusiast press. Furthermore, we’ve seen a lot of consumers in the online forums talking about how Ratchet & Clank is their favorite game this year – that’s pretty cool.
GP: Of all the other 3d platform type games that have been released over the years by other companies, what’s your favourite and why? Is there any particular developer you admire?
INS: I think everyone here at Insomniac will probably have a different answer for that. I thought Jak & Daxter and Sly Cooper were both fantastic games. Another one that I really enjoyed was Rayman 2. There are tons of great developers that I personally admire – Naughty Dog, Suckerpunch, Bioware, Oddworld, Rare, Bungie, Valve, Ensemble, Westwood…
GP: What’s next for Insomniac now that Ratchet and Clank has hit stores?
INS: It’s a big, big secret!
GP: We'll be waiting for the news! Great stuff guys. Thanks for your time and good luck with your future projects!
INS: Thank you! All of us at Insomniac hope everyone out there enjoys playing R&C as much as we enjoyed making it. We’ve gotten wonderful comments from people who played the Spyro series on the PS1 and who have now moved on to Ratchet & Clank. That kind of positive feedback is what makes developing games worthwhile for all of us!
Read our full review of Ratchet and Clank and see why we think it is one of the best games available for the Playstation 2.