After 14 years and 12 games, Ratchet & Clank has become a solid if unspectacular franchise for PlayStation.
Almost all of those titles are decent action platform games, and the series has a loyal group of die-hard fans. But it's been a long time since the Lombax and his robot friend troubled the upper echelons of the charts.
This week's Ratchet & Clank reboot, however, is a far bigger proposition.
Not only is it a critically acclaimed remake of the original (it currently has a Metacritic score of 86), it also ties-in with a major movie based on the series and starring the likes of John Goodman, Paul Giamatti and Sylvester Stallone.
We think of it as a new beginning for Ratchet & Clank,” says Shaun McCabe, production director at developer Insomniac.
We have heard from people this week that remember playing Ratchet when they were teenagers, but all these years later they are getting the game for their kids. There is a whole new set of folks that are excited for platforming games. It's really refreshing to see things come full circle like that.”
James Stevenson, community and marketing lead at Insomniac, adds: It's nice because it's the first Ratchet on a new generation of hardware, and PS4 has done extraordinarily well.
It is great for those that maybe played the game a while back who want to come back, perhaps they haven't played the PS3 games and they want to see how far the franchise has come. There are also a lot of new PlayStation people that have never played Ratchet & Clank. And there are people who will see the movie first and that will be their introduction to the universe, and then realise there is a game. So it hits in a lot of different ways for us, and is the biggest opportunity that Ratchet & Clank has had in a number of years to hit a wide audience.”
Insomniac's initial tagline for Ratchet & Clank was ‘play the game, based on the movie, based on the game'. It is quite typical of a series that has never taken itself too seriously, and it's something that will be reflected in the movie as well.
In fact, unlike other movies based on video games, the developer has been deeply involved in the production of the film.
We have been working with Blockade and Rainmaker [production companies] from the beginning,” explains McCabe. They've been great collaborators and were genuinely interested in hearing what we thought about the material they were putting together, and learning from us about what made the franchise special.”
Stevenson adds: And we had people consulting, from animators to our lead artists Dave Guertin and Greg Baldwin... they were consulting on the film to make sure the look and feel was right. There was a lot of asset exchange, where they took a lot of our assets, and sometimes stuff they built we took and modified it and put it into the game. Some of the locations in the game actually came from the film assets.
Even TJ Fixman, who wrote the game, wrote the first draft of the film script. It is a family movie, it is a kids movie, but it stays very true to the DNA of the franchise. It feels like Ratchet & Clank.”
Both PlayStation and the film's distributors have been working side-by-side on marketing, too. This includes TV ads that promote both the game and the movie at the same time.
We are pretty proud of how the film has turned out, so it is definitely something thatwe want our fans to see,”says Stevenson.
And we were at the press junket for the film, which took over an entire floor of the Four Seasons hotel here in LA. We had Ratchet in costume, and all these films journalists and mum bloggers and all sorts of folks coming to speak to the stars, and then play the game. It has been a good opportunity to integrate with them where we can.”
Not that's it been easy working side-by-side with the movie team, explains McCabe.
One of our goals, and this goes back to the first Ratchet & Clank, is that we want to make a game that feels like you are playing a feature animated film,” he says. To that respect, maintaining continuity between a gameplay set and a movie scene... there was some challenges there. But I say challenge and I kind of smile because it was actually kind of fun.”
Stevenson continues: Also, as we are doing the game, the movie is evolving with different drafts of the script, they're changing things and changing scenes... all of those things are directly affecting us. This wasn't a classic movie tie-in game where the movie is basically done and you have six months to make the game. We were working in parallel with the film the whole time. We are both trying to build these planes in the air and then get them to fly in formation at the same time. That's a tricky skill.”
"This is the biggest opportunity that
Ratchet & Clank has had in a
number of years to hit a wide audience."
James Stevenson, Insomniac Games
It's not just the movie, and the impressive PS4 install base, that Insomniac hopes to capitalise on with this new Ratchet & Clank. It also believes that there is a growing demand for classic 3D platform games, particularly amongst gamers that are a bit fed up with the same old adult shooters.
A lot of what people are saying now the game has launched – and indeed leading up to it – is how this kind of game is a breath of fresh air,” says McCabe.
We are hearing people talk about Ratchet, and a lot of the other platform games that existed down the years and are no longer around. There is a lot of enthusiasm that has been built up for this genre over the years. And honestly, a game like Ratchet & Clank is such a nice diversion from a lot of the more hardcore, M-rated experiences that tend to be fairly popular today.
There is a whole new generation of people getting into the same things that I did when I was a kid.”
It's the potential new generation that will most appeal to PlayStation. PS4 is selling incredibly well, but it has yet to appeal to a wider audience of familes and younger players.
Ratchet & Clank is a game that hardcore players enjoy, but with its Pixar-like visuals, and now with a movie to tie-in with, it has the potential to attract a younger audience.
And that's something developer Insomniac has certainly recognised.
The film provided us with an opportunity to reach a little bit younger than we normally do,” says McCabe.
In Ratchet & Clank on PlayStation 4, we have actually done a good bit to make the game even more accessible than ever before. We want to get kids as young as six or seven to enjoy Ratchet & Clank, which was a fun challenge to take on.
We do feature a casual controls mode, where they can use the D-pad so that it accommodates kids with smaller hands or don't want to press too many buttons at the same time. It's basically a simplified control scheme. And we have seen all kinds of kids play it and enjoy it, which is awesome.”
It's for this reason that the Ratchet & Clank reboot might just prove to be one of the more important games in the franchise's history.