Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction - PS3 - Preview 2
The Ratchet & Clank series debuted back in 2002 and since then, there have been several iterations in the popular franchise (including, Going Commando, Up Your Arsenal, Going Mobile – the game’s entry on the handheld platform, Deadlocked and Size Matters). The duo has been so popular that it has shown up in other titles, like Sly, Jak, Hot Shots Golf and Resistance: Fall of Man.
Wonderfully managed and cared for by Insomnia Games, the next full release is looming with Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction for the PlayStation 3 console system. The title marks the second next-gen title for Insomniac, and the dev team is frank in admitting that the lessons learned in Resistance have been applied and taken to the next step in Tools of Destruction.
SCEA recently hosted a visit to Insomniac in Burbank, where media not only got to speak with the dev team, but also got a little hands-on time with the title. The initial reaction? This will be a hit title. The Ratchet & Clank series is moving a giant leap forward and come October 21 – when the game hits the retail shelves – there will be much rejoicing from PS3 owners.
Insomniac’s Brian Allgeier, the creative director, was quick to point out that ToD falls firmly within the company’s four production pillars – mystery (some of the background of Ratchet will be revealed as players journey the vast worlds), adventure (new worlds and new weapons), variety (the game is going back to the roots of the series in terms of gameplay structure) and spectacle (“We believe we are on par with a computer-animated movie,” Allgeier said).
Part puzzler, part platformer and a whole lot of adventure gaming, ToD has set lofty goals and during the studio walk-through, it was apparent that Insomniac is achieving it.
Two levels were shown, one on the primordial world of Sargasso and on the icy comet world of Iris, which is home to a supercomputer. The goal for the game is 60 frames per second, and the game does use the SIXAXIS controller’s motion-sensors for the flying elements. There is not only flying within the worlds, but there will be an arcade space portion within the game as well.
Players will be able to talk to NPCs and get quests while learning of the backgrounds of the world. The worlds are massive with lots of areas to explore, and raratanium can be collected to upgrade weapons. Speaking of weapons, what would a Ratchet & Clank game be without some unique weaponry? A hallmark of the series, ToD is no exception. There will be weapons that shoot Slinkies (which can clear a room of enemies all while using the animation of the coiled metal toy), a Gelanator (shoots cubes of gelatin that can be used to reach higher places), a Groovitron (shoot out a giant disco ball, accompanied by disco music, and all enemies within ear range stop attacking and start dancing) and if you remember the weapon that turned enemies into sheep, well it has been modified – in a tribute to Happy Feet, it turns enemies into penguins.
While Sargasso gives the players a lot of freedom, Iris is a more directed experience that propels the storyline. As it is a planet dominated by the robotic pirates that are a central enemy, Ratchet will get a holo pirate disguise (all weapons and such are tied to a radial menu activated by the controller). The depth of the game’s design starts to show through on this level as you eavesdrop on pirates discussing the dental plan (or lack thereof), or engage in a memory-type game in which you have to copy a pirate jig to open a door. Clank uses a Geo-laser to knock down weak walls to all egress to other areas of the level, and there are numerous references to past characters.
Taking the controller in hand, there is a bit of a learning curve, but nothing that will not have you playing with confidence quickly. Tackling a t-rex type mob with a weapon that fires missiles at multiple points on the giant beast, or flying out of reach and discovering treasures on top of benign dinosaurs’ heads can be entertaining.
Chad Derzen talked about some of the finer points of what makes ToD so visually compelling. Probably the most stunning thing is this little fact: in previous titles Ratchet had 112 bones in his whole body (including the head), but in ToD he has 90 facial bones and hundreds in his body. This creates a much more expressive and animated character.
“A lot of us on the art side were really excited to work on Tools of Destruction,” he said.
Color planning was essential to achieving the look of the game and ToD uses more color scripting than ever has appeared before, and shape is also important.
“The way we use shape is a big part of the Ratchet series,” Derzen said. “We wanted our creatures to ‘read’ from a distance (as in players can determine what monster they will be facing by the shape of it viewed well before you can see details).”
The game uses a proprietary engine developed at Insomniac and that allowed the design team “to take all the core-style elements and push them through in new directions.” The game uses layered shaders (employing up to 12 layers) and surface contrasts are handled in the same way the team used to look at color contrasts. The lighting has been upgraded and the effects system is completely artist driven. Much more surface articulation was available due to the power of the PS3, and the weapons are not just static elements within the scenarios – they have a variety of moving parts as well.
Anthony (Moo) Yu, RCF Gameplay Lead, went a little deeper on the weaponry of the game. There is the Death Springs (the Slinkies), the Predator Launcher (the weapon that has multi-point target locks), the Negotiator (the standard rocket launcher), a tornado launcher (fire off a tornado and control its path with the SIXAXIS controller’s motion sensors), a combustor and buzz blades, and the Alpha Disruptor, which Moo called the most powerful weapon in the game.
He told a story about a special request the team had, and the result was creating a skin for Mr. Zurkon, a hovering robotic weapon that can clear out a lot of enemies in a hurry. There is also a Visi-copter, which again employs the motion sensors of the SIXAXIS and allows players to ‘scout’ ahead. Plasma Beasts are gelatinous mines that transform into beasts and attack nearby enemies.
There are 23 weapons in all, and all can be upgraded using raratanium. Each of the weapons has an upgrade tree that will allow players to pick the upgrades they wish to apply to the weapons. In addition to upgrading weapons at vendors, you can also replenish ammo supplies (instead of having to find it tucked into boxes in the environments).
The miscellaneous stuff
Chris Nicholls, Insomniac’s Animation Director, talked about how the hardware “is allowing us to create as artists” and through a series of progressive scene he showed the evolution of characters from previous Ratchet titles to ToD. And while many people have seen the trailers for the game, few realize that the trailers and every cut scene within the game uses real-time game models, not high-resolution studio work.
Because of the increase in bone structure, the animation team was able to cull more emotional responses from the characters and he said that Insomniac is “looking to push the emotional response from players.” He also hinted at a rift in the relationship between Ratchet and Clank, propelled by the way they look at each other and using expressive body language.
“We are really trying to push the technology as we become more familiar with it,” Nicholls said. As for the lessons learned from Resistance: Fall of Man that were applied to ToD … Nicholls said the animation in Resistance was more mechanical but in ToD the team went for performances to “create characters that really talk to the player.”
“We’re a fiercely independent company” Nicholls said, pointing out that there are only five or six animators in the studio, “and everything you see is created by them.”
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction is a gorgeous game that allows players easy access to the gameplay and rewards them with a great deal of entertainment. You will see many returning characters (like Captain Quark) who have received terrific visual upgrades, but the emphasis is on entertainment.
Ratchet (to Captain Quark): “Did you call us here for a reason, or are you just trying to get us killed?”
Captain Quark: “Can’t it be both?”