Ratchet & Clank (2016) postmortem

Shaun McCabe is a diversion executive for Ratchet Clank (PS4), and a prolongation executive during Insomniac Games’ studio in Durham, North Carolina.  Chad Dezern is a Creative Director for Ratchet Clank (PS4), and a studio executive of the North Carolina location. The dual also co-directed Ratchet Clank: All 4 One (2011), Ratchet Clank: Full Frontal Assault (2012), Ratchet Clank: Into a Nexus (2013).


Sure, it seems apparent now. Of course there should be a Ratchet Clank diversion to tie in with a major suit picture. But Ratchet Clank for a PlayStation 4—designed as a torpedo one-two punch alongside a film, a ultimate chronicle of an start story—didn’t always seem like such a good idea. 

Of course, we were anxious when we listened that a film was a go. We’ve prolonged felt that Ratchet, Clank, Qwark, and their Solana star feel had all of a action, humor, pathos, and customarily plain
. . . bigness . . . to stock a feature. Or six. Hey, it’s a large universe. 

But a awaiting of creation a film tie-in was generally daunting. 

First, we had a bequest of a array to consider. This one indispensable to be a vital step forward, yet it also indispensable to keep a essence of a strange game. We had 10 Ratchet games underneath a belts during that point, opposite a full spectrum: story-driven singular actor epics. Single player/competitive multiplayer hybrids. Couch Co-op. Experiments in form. Experiments in scale. We’ve had judgment successes and eminent failures. The many new title, Ratchet Clank: Into a Nexus, was mostly good received, earning a obscure compliment/upbeat critique “it was too short, we wanted more.” Okay. We’ll need to make certain a eleventh one is formally epic.

“We indispensable to make a large diversion that blew divided a prior efforts. It indispensable to sync adult with a just-getting-started film. And we indispensable to boat it in 10 months to line adult with a film release.”

Second, there was a awaiting of syncing adult with film production. What did co-development of a diversion and film unequivocally mean? A lot of variables, that’s what. Sure, a film is formed on a strange game, and pulls some models from a item libraries. But a book was in motion (rightly so, it was customarily removing started). And early conversations forked to a vital cleanup of a backstory, a redo of a impression lineup, and a introduction new locations. How would we work out a diversion macro around that? 

And finally, there was a second oldest arch-nemesis, time itself*. We indispensable to recover a diversion day-in with a film, and time—that grumpy, no-good jerk—was unforgiving. We twisted adult in fetal positions and hid underneath a desks for a while. 

But ultimately, we uncurled ourselves and climbed adult on tip of a desks since we adore creation Ratchet Clank games. And so do a lot of other people during Insomniac. Even after 16 years, there is extensive seductiveness and fad in a series. We all grew adult doodling robots, reading scholarship fiction, and examination Star Wars, Back to a Future, and Ghostbusters; it’s protected to contend that we were deeply influenced by a clarity of consternation and fun in that sold aria of summer film sci-fi. 

So, we indispensable to make a large diversion that blew divided a prior efforts. It indispensable to sync adult with a just-getting-started film. And we indispensable to boat it in 10 months to line adult with a film release. **

Okay. We’ll stop whining. We adore Ratchet Clank. Sign us up.

*Our oldest arch-nemesis is a male named Paxton Crowlers. 
**This changed, appreciate goodness.

Within a initial 30 seconds of a initial examination about Ratchet Clank on a PlayStation 4, we knew that we didn’t wish to make a remaster or an up-res. 

We wanted to request all that we’ve schooled over a past 15 years. The strange diversion is unequivocally many a platformer initial and a shooter second. Shooting used a hero-facing automechanic that finished it flattering formidable to aim; consequently, there were slower rates of fire, reduce ammo counts, and fewer enemies. The weapons that are now a hallmark of a array felt some-more like gadgets that blew things up. Modern third-person shooters are some-more refined, with a seamless formation of camera and reticle. We felt like it was a sworn avocation to update a controls, to pattern a diversion around a fun and liquid sharpened mechanic–but that meant a redo of any weapon, enemy, and setup in a game. It meant effectively rebuilding everything.

Yet we couldn’t suppose a take on Ratchet Clank that didn’t embody hoverboarding on star Rilgar, infiltrating a Ion Turret on Batalia, or swimming underwater during a Pokitaru resort. We wanted to keep many of a strange planets intact, to strike a nostalgia symbol for a fans and to keep a prolongation time manageable. 

We finished adult building a new diversion on tip of a strange foundation. We started with a categorical story beats. We chose Ratchet’s home star on Veldin, Aleero City on star Kerwan, Drek’s Warbot bureau on Quartu, and Drek’s Deplanetizer orbiting arms as a categorical locations. These would be common between a diversion and film, so we reworked any blueprint from tip to bottom (in a box of Veldin and Aleero City) or designed a plcae from blemish (in a box of Quartu and a Deplanetizer). These became a comment tent poles, matched as closely as probable with a film. Our longtime SCEA author Greg Phillips was useful here; he’s a unfounded good of Ratchet Clank knowledge.

With a large story points established, we combined a gadget-driven course intrigue that opens adult new planets. We pulled heavily from a strange game. But we gave ourselves accede to diverge. We like a open star planets that started display adult in after games, and we like a jetpack automechanic that we grown for Ratchet Clank: Into a Nexus. So we stretched star Gaspar with a outrageous new jetpack area. The film has an transformation set-piece boat fight method in Aleero City. So we combined that, too. We threw a trainer conflict into a Blarg Research Station since we don’t know when to stop.

After we determined a macro design, we confident that we could get a leg adult if we used some of a strange layouts. So we enlisted assistance to remove a PS2 turn information and import it into a engine (no easy feat, interjection to controversial archival practices; see “what went wrong.”) When designers and sourroundings artists changed on to a project, they started with ideal 1:1 replicas of all of a locators and instances from a original. That sped adult routinely time-consuming pattern iterations. We spent a bandwidth scripting encounters and polishing rivalry setups for a new control intrigue instead of grappling with elemental blueprint issues. 

All told, a final diversion enclosed complicated controls, dual new planets, 3 extensively reworked planets, 8 returning planets, a new arms arsenal, new Clank gameplay, new space combat, new trainer battles, and a new arms arsenal, all wrapped in a structure that matches a film and also represents a best try during capturing a essence of a strange game. 

The film is formed on Ratchet’s start story from a PlayStation 2 game. Ratchet is a Lombax waif mechanic. Clank is a drudge bureau defect. The dual accommodate when Clank’s shun pod crash-lands on Ratchet’s adopted home planet. 

But a story diverges after that. The film tells a story that is some-more character-driven and permitted than a (admittedly rather rambling) strange game—Ratchet is nicer to Clank. Clank’s start story is easier to understand. There are some-more delegate characters and fewer planets. 

The new game’s macro indispensable a thespian rider to match. It had to mount on a own. But it also had to line adult ideally with a film’s re-telling of a story. We couldn’t have incompatible writing, tract points, or visuals. 

“Insomniac judgment artists were lead visible designers for both a film and game, so visible coherence was baked into a new characters. Still, we didn’t pattern to use any film resources during first. We were agreeably astounded when a tube flowed both ways.”

Fortunately, Rainmaker was a good partner. We had entrance to a commencement scripts and dailies. We had a clarity of where a story was headed. Longtime array executive Brian Allgeier and array author TJ Fixman are experts during crafting diversion narratives that compare automechanic progression.

And they had a good idea: since not tell a diversion story from Captain Qwark’s indicate of view? That liberated us up; now we could take a some-more concerned demeanour during a transformation on a aspect of any planet. We could follow a film, yet we weren’t organisation to any scene. We could concentration on creation a pacing feel right for a game.

We common some-more than a story—sharing models incited out to be a win, too. Insomniac judgment artists Greg Baldwin and Dave Guertin were lead visible designers for both a film and game, so visible coherence was baked into a new characters. Still, we didn’t pattern to use any film resources during first. We were agreeably astounded when a tube flowed both ways. 

We sent several large tough drives to Rainmaker, containing any judgment image, model, texture, and animation from a PS3 era—a value trove of characters, enemies, vehicles, and weapons. We didn’t know if we’d ever see them again. But soon, we perceived renders behind for evaluation. Hey! Clank looks unequivocally good—shiny and smooth. And remember that low-poly credentials hovercar? Here it is again, presented with lovingly discriminating shaders and film-ready detail, prepared for a big-screen debut.

Still, we were large cynics. “Sure, these demeanour nice, yet we’ll never be means to use film models in a game,” we surmised. “They’ll need so many optimization, we’ll be improved off starting from scratch.” 

But we assured ourselves to try it. We non-stop a exam indication adult in Maya, and it was like peering into that briefcase from Pulp Fiction. 

The models were very, unequivocally tighten to what we’d need for a PlayStation 4—they were clean, quad-based, and in line with a firmness target. Sure, they indispensable some work. Textures indispensable uv space allocation, shaders indispensable to be authored for a engine, characters indispensable to be re-rigged for a tools. But removing these impression models—this close to going into a game, though a common concept-to-z-brush-to-maya-to-engine pipeline—was a large efficiency. We had a full fast of categorical characters prepared to go before a finish of preproduction.

The game-to-film-to-game tube didn’t stop there. We had a surreal believe of promulgation off sourroundings judgment images, observant plcae renders from a film, grabbing film credentials models and dropping them in a game, afterwards relating a whole thing adult with shaders, lighting, and post effects. This has to be a initial hardware epoch that this is possible, and it’s glorious. Welcome to a ideal future!

Nefarious Mech

A dense schedule, a new height and a initial cross-studio partnership – any singular one of these hurdles suggested we were in for severe production. And yet, Ratchet Clank PS4 incited out to be among a smoothest productions in Insomniac history. Eerily smooth. We still pattern to arise adult and learn that it was all a dream…

The dense report singular a array of new facilities we could supplement to a engine. So instead of a common washing list of engine requests we accumulate during a start of a project, Ratchet Clank PS4 had customarily a couple: “PS4 support” and, well, “fur rendering” (cuz Ratchet). And while this meant a array of “wants” had to wait for a future, it also meant avoiding a arrange of large-scale changes that finish adult negligence down production.

We also benefited from tellurian formula pity practices. In a aged engine, Insomniac was simply not good about pity formula between franchises. For example, a Ratchet Clank and Resistance titles are famous for their weapons. The underlying code, however, was unequivocally different. So while we were achieving a user-facing thought of innovative weapons, we weren’t being fit about it. 

Moving into a new engine, a gameplay and engine leads instituted code-sharing policies that directed to share as many formula as probable between projects. We now frequently ferment common gameplay and engine systems by all projects. And we inspire programmers to pursue “shared” solutions whenever possible. The outcome was a outrageous potency boost though detracting from a actor experience; both Fuse and Sunset Overdrive continued a Insomniac tradition of innovative weapons though profitable such a large cost.

By a time Ratchet Clank for Playstation 4 kicked off, we had a lot to pull from – hero, controls, weapons and other core systems were already in place. This authorised us to get adult and using on a PC in a matter of days – maybe a fastest start for any Insomniac project. This early transformation continued by preproduction. In customarily a few weeks, we combined an in-engine proof-of-concept that in a brief vignette demonstrated a guarantee of Ratchet Clank on a Playstation 4 (hint: it’s dark in a diversion and includes a gardening bot). And we wrapped adult a 3-month preproduction by delivering a fully-playable proof-of-concept featuring an updated chronicle of Metropolis.

In a end, doing reduction and pity some-more enabled us to settle a plain substructure and build transformation that postulated us via a whole project.


We knew that Ratchet Clank would be a initial console diversion for many kids. If all goes well, we thought, it’ll be a infirm memory—the commencement of a lifetime of healthy diversion personification habits. 

We took this shortcoming seriously. SCEA’s well-appointed usability exam lab and a glorious staff were a godsend; we tested a diversion early and mostly with 7-9 year olds, even during pre-production. Our initial exam used greybox geometry to make certain that we were on a right lane with a new Clank gameplay. We were speedy to see that kids could clear solutions to a puzzles, even if they didn’t know all of a member pieces. We didn’t need to make a puzzles any easier, we customarily indispensable to purify adult some of a messaging. 

Later tests suggested that unequivocally immature players tended to omit a right analog stick; they didn’t utterly grasp a advantage of relocating a camera, and weren’t utterly concurrent adequate to pierce dual sticks during once. So we designed levels with as few pointy turns as possible. And we combined a infrequent control mode that authorised for transformation with a d-pad. This broadened a intensity audience, with no disastrous consequences for a other problem modes. 

Usability tests are not for a gloomy of heart, and Ratchet Clank’s tests had their satisfactory share of head-scratching mistakes and hair-pulling problem spikes. Overall, though, it was moving to watch even a youngest players play a game. They couldn’t stop articulate about it, even when we begged them to stay still to equivocate skewing exam results. By a after tests, a child groups finished with play times identical to seasoned adult gamers: explanation that a problem tuning worked.


Insomniac is comprised of dual locations: one in Burbank, CA and one in Durham, NC. Both are lousy with Ratchet Clank experts. 

On both coasts, there are animators informed with any shade of Ratchet’s moveset. Designers with a low bargain of rivalry swarmer behaviors. Programmers familiar in bin drop physics. Environment artists deeply imprinted with a visible impression beliefs of a series. Brian Hastings—credited with a strange “an visitor travels from planet-to-planet” pitch- resides in Burbank. Dave Guertin—credited with Ratchet’s strange impression design—resides in Durham. We wanted to work with a dream organisation of all of these people. 

By operative cross-country, with a growth organisation that spanned studios in roughly accurately equal numbers, we tapped into a full energy of a common knowledge. Further, this authorised us to run an good staffed production. We started with a small organisation in NC during preproduction, grew to a incomparable distance during production, afterwards rolled off many developers and discriminating with a small team. The headcount draft was a devise manager’s dream.

But as it incited out, it was a bit of a calamity for everybody else. 

We’re not being mesmerizing here. We have to list this in both categories. It was a singular biggest win for a project, yet it was also a singular biggest source of pain. 

Why? Because culture.

We flower on “face time” during Insomniac. When Insomniacs speak about breakthrough moments, they roughly always engage a small, multidisciplinary organisation collected around a guard to solve a problem. We use collection like email, IM and yes, even a telephone, when it creates sense. But we eventually flower on informal, in-person “collisions” – that’s when we do a best work.

Ratchet Clank for a Playstation 4 wasn’t a initial incursion into remote collaboration. Over a years, we’ve upheld offsite employees and contractors. And a handful of Insomniacs in a Durham, NC studio worked directly on Sunset Overdrive, essentially grown in Burbank, CA. Ratchet Clank, however, was a whole new turn of remote collaboration.

Going into production, a thought was to support “bi-coastal breakthroughs”, holding what’s worked so good for us over a years and bursting it opposite studios.

We attempted cross-studio, multidisciplinary strike teams. We bought HD cameras for any organisation member and strongly speedy video discuss over IM or email. And we determined on-site leads in any studio so folks had daily in-person strike with their manager.

Some things, like a HD cameras, were a large win; a “face time” helped encourage togetherness on a organisation many of whom had never met any other in chairman before. Today, video discuss is a apparatus of choice for inter-office communication during Insomniac.

The cross-studio strike teams, on a other handed, valid some-more challenging. Despite everyone’s best intentions, iteration time slowed down interjection to time section differences and communication overhead. The unpretentious brainstorm meetings that are a fortitude of a work became grave and rigid. In a end, we reorganized a teams so many members of a underline organisation were on-site together. Our subsequent cross-studio collaboration, Edge of Nowhere, we adopted a “same-site strike team” proceed whenever probable and saw a large alleviation over a initial proceed on Ratchet.

Finally, on a care side, we detected that a prosaic hierarchy and faith on particular empowerment doesn’t always work for remote development. So one of a initial things we did on Edge of Nowhere was artistic a “team structure” request directed during giving people a clearer clarity of a decision-making hierarchy and to whom they should go when issues came up.

As a observant goes, “culture cooking devise for breakfast” – we have to be clever in a bid to encourage “bi-coastal breakthroughs”. Again, since culture. But we also know that with gifted Insomniacs around a star and extraordinary opportunities on a horizon, we’d be ridiculous to stop trying.

You’d consider we’d value a possess work. But sometimes, we pierce from devise to devise so fast that we forget to tag and store everything. If we had a time machine, I’d send myself a nasty letter—“give all a detailed name and repository it, we idiot!”

“You’d consider we’d value a possess work. But sometimes, we pierce from devise to devise so fast that we forget to tag and store everything. If we had a time machine, I’d send myself a nasty letter—’give all a detailed name and repository it, we idiot!'”

We simply don’t have entrance to a source files from a PS2 era. Back then, we had a numbers-only fixing convention, with number-to-name directories scribbled in private notebooks. We used a home brewed item government complement that we can no longer access. And a office structure was a free-for-all, with source files frequently dark divided on internal directories. 

(You’re substantially aghast, yet that’s not a misfortune of it. We also used Hot Wheels as an item control system. Seriously—if we wanted to check out a level, you’d squeeze a analogous Hot Wheel to vigilance that it was yours for editing. Level 6 was a 1968 Beatnik Bandit. we always favourite that one. Wait, maybe that complement was flattering cool). 

Anyway, a PS3 epoch resources are some-more accessible—we used Perforce during that point, finally—but still tormented by controversial fixing practices and rambling structure. Finding things customarily involves messaging a chairman who finished it, that creates item wrangling a domain of a few people who remember that arrange of thing. Thanks integrity for Greg Baldwin and his comprehensive believe of a impression and arms lineup.

Luckily, a PlayStation 3 RC Collection valid to be a saving grace. Idol Minds went by a unpleasant routine of extracting a resources from a PS2 master front for a collection. We confident early on that we could use those libraries. So we enlisted support from record consulting organisation Tin Giant to remove information from a collection and modify it to a engine formats. Amusingly (to us, anyway) a resources defended metadata from a PS2, so we got to revisit a item numbering complement and remember a fledgling growth practices.

We’re now a lot improved during fixing assets, progressing purify directories, and gripping a information accessible, by a way. We schooled a tough way.

Agents of Dor

Here’s another one for a depressingly thick “mistakes we make any singular time” file. 

We’re unequivocally bad during scheduling cinematics.

We consider we know how prolonged they’ll take. We bottom a estimates on a script—one notation per page is a good sequence of thumb—plus some lessons schooled over a years about dialogue-heavy scenes vs. event-driven scenes. We go behind and onward to make a book manageable. We try to leave some buffer. It’s never enough. 

We always forget to take aspiration into account. We’re never confident with customarily a story cutscenes, customarily a basics. We wish superb transitions between any gameplay segment. We wish NPCs to have some-more fluidity and countenance than we primarily planned. We wish Ratchet and Clank to burst seamlessly into their new Galactic Ranger ship, and afterwards we wish a boat to fly to a stars on a tradition trail authored for that specific level. If we don’t have even one of those things, we get unequivocally unhappy and everybody pouts. 

Keyframed animation is a large partial of a interest of a series, and squish and widen takes time. Our animators tend to adore a work, so they pull themselves tough opposite an revengeful schedule. Thank integrity a work is fun, since there certain is a lot of it. 

That’s no excuse. We need to get improved during scheduling this stuff. We’re requesting a multi-pronged solution: we’re now formulating animatics for junction cutscenes during a early greybox phase, customarily as we’re wiring adult a game. We use a animatics to know what we’re removing ourselves into, with a some-more severe examination routine that takes impression numbers, restraint complexity, and shot combination into account. We get a report from feedback from a animators formed on that visualization. 

We’ll fundamentally find scenes that weren’t apparently required until we played by a diversion from start to finish. That’s customarily a inlet of it. So we’ll keep building in that aegis to save us from ourselves.

We like to start projects with a small preproduction team, grow for prolongation and afterwards hurl people off as we strike Alpha, Beta and afterwards Gold. The additional time on Ratchet Clank PS4, however, unequivocally threw a wrench into a gears (knew we’d do that during slightest once, right?).

“We had customarily dual programmers, and, for a final few months, customarily one designer.”

We had a event to extend growth by several months. But many of a prolongation organisation indispensable to hurl onto other projects formed on a strange Gold and besides, we didn’t have a headroom in a bill to accommodate a poignant boost in labor.

In sequence to make it work, we rolled a infancy of people off during a strange Gold (which became Alpha) and finished a diversion with a small gloss team. 

This is awesome since during a certain point, we can customarily get some-more finished with fewer people (our devise manager would positively agree). But it also meant that we had to take a work of an entire, full-scope Ratchet Clank diversion and widespread it among customarily a handful of people. We had customarily dual programmers obliged and for a final few months, customarily one designer.

Our small postproduction organisation were champions. They took on a beast of a plea and delivered as discriminating a Ratchet Clank believe as we’ve ever done. In a future, however, we’d like to hang to a light rolloff that beam a organisation distance with a work remaining.

Big Al

We take honour in a ability to strike a dates and finish strong. So while a awaiting of delivering a bullion master in 10 months seemed a small crazy, it was also a arrange of crazy that an Insomniac could get into.

We shortly learned, however, that film recover dates are distant some-more liquid than those of games. Release windows meant everything to a film’s success. And given a rival inlet of a market, there’s small inducement for distributors to close down dates too early.

For us, this meant some-more stops and starts than we’re used to. We’d be geared adult for a clever finish customarily to learn that a finish line had been changed back. And while a additional time would palliate some of a pressure, it was also a bit of a letdown.  

Don’t get us wrong, we’re thrilled to have had a additional time and know that it finished a disproportion to a finish product. But we also schooled that additional time can be as emotionally removal as not adequate time.

The Universe is immeasurable and mysterious

Pool Shark

At this moment, we have no idea. We’re walking around with VR headsets strapped to a faces.

But we’re gay by a greeting to a game, vacant and shamed that there’s still an ardour for Lombax and drudge adventures after 3 console generations. For all of a initial palm wringing, we’re unapproachable of it. The lessons we schooled during growth helped us urge a cross-studio coordination, devise a cinematics with some-more detail, and pierce by prolongation cycles some-more gracefully. 

So who knows? 

What we do know is that Ratchet Clank games are impossibly fun to make. There is heated passion during Insomniac for a star and a characters. There are stories to tell, weapons to design, creatures to sculpt, planets to explore. And many significantly, there is a organisation of gifted people here who have come by time and again to broach games that are full of life and ambition. Above all, that’s since a array endures. 

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