“Ratchet and Clank aren’t natural heroes at all. Ratchet is an orphan, and Clank is a factory defect. They’re underdogs. Kind of puny underdogs, even.”
For Chad Dezern, Studio Director at Insomniac Games (the developer behind the Ratchet & Clank franchise), there’s a specific reason why the titular furry feline and small robot are so beloved. They’re outcasts who are just trying to fit in with everybody else, but quickly discover that’s not actually important. You don’t have to be James Bond or Superman to feel—and be—cool and powerful. Ratchet and Clank prove that even the biggest, weirdest rejects can still kick serious butt and save the day.
Ratchet looks like an oversized brown cat, but his entire species, called the Lombaxes, are completely extinct. Clank was made in a robot factory and was almost destroyed because he was defective. The pair have saved the galaxy countless times.
The entire series, which has been around since 2002, lets you explore a variety of planets in space adventures replete with quirky characters and hilarious writing. You jump on platforms to avoid obstacles; fight baddies with weapons like the Sheepinator, a gun that turns enemies into sheep; and collect precious bolts to upgrade and buy weapons and armor.
With a new video game and major motion picture both out this month, Ratchet and Clank are now PlayStation’s longest-serving mascots, outstaying characters like Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and Spyro. The series’ combination of a sci-fi setting, humor that appeals to adults and children, and creative weapons have helped it stay popular and relevant 14 years after its debut. But that can’t be it, right?
When Insomniac was developing the first Ratchet & Clank game in the early 2000s, it never expected the series to resonate with so many people and be as successful as it is today.
“No way! We were just thinking about finishing the game and making it as great as possible,” Dezern told me, when asked if the team had a clue about the game’s huge potential. “We didn’t have a long story arc in mind when we made the first one. Over time, though, we did start to see the potential of the series. I mean, it’s a giant backdrop of exotic planets, oversized personalities and super-science weapons. We realized that we had the makings of an epic space opera.”
At the core of this sci-fi epic are two nuanced, relatable protagonists. Ratchet and Clank aren’t caricature goofballs that are only there to look cute and serve as comedic relief—they have actual story arcs and character development. Throughout Ratchet’s tumultuous and emotional journey to learn about his species, he’s saddened by the complicated answers he finds and wrestles with a growing loneliness. He seeks solace in his friendship with Clank, who himself is a castout, hunted for simply being different.
“In a galaxy of deadly creatures and giant robots, these guys don’t have superpowers,” said Dezern. “So when they’re faced with a situation with universe-sized stakes, they rely on their heart and their determination. I think that sense of responsibility, that scrappiness, makes them universal and endearing.”
Insomniac has successfully been able to produce well-written storylines that tap deep into such complicated issues. But it has also made these games enjoyable to play. They aren’t just simple platformers, but rather there’s an emphasis on fast-paced action and constantly leveling up. The franchise has now been on three different console generations, and with every new installment Insomniac has successfully introduced exciting changes while maintaining what makes the series fun in the first place.
The latest series entry, simply called Ratchet & Clank, a semi-reboot and remake of the original game, is a prime example of this. Insomniac had to find the balance between including most of the aspects that made the first installment great and also tweaking gameplay.
“Shooting is one example,” said Dezern, talking about some of these changes. “When we made the first game, we were just starting to wrap our heads around third-person shooting mechanics. The game was a platformer first, and a shooter second. So aiming was character-relative; Ratchet always fired in the direction he was facing, with no notion of strafing. It’s pretty hard to aim, and consequently enemy counts are lower, and you end up using the wrench a lot.
“Flash forward to now, and those mechanics have come a long way; modern games feel so much more fluid than our early efforts. The new game is designed around smooth, responsive shooting. Because of that, we had to rework every enemy behavior and setup in the game.”
MAKING A MOVIE
Insomniac also had to design the game to complement the upcoming film by including new cinematics, planets, gadgets, and villains you’ll see in the movie. It’s a retelling of the original game, depicting how the two main characters first meet and go up against a corrupt businessman named Chairman Drek. It features the voice talents of John Goodman, Sylvester Stallone, Rosario Dawson, and Paul Giamatti.
This will be the first time Sony will have an animated feature film based on a PlayStation franchise, and the decision to make PlayStation’s first movie about Ratchet & Clank was an obvious one. According to Greg Phillips, Producer at Sony Interactive Entertainment, the series’ sci-fi setting lends itself well to the silver screen.
“Ratchet & Clank is a franchise that has spanned 14 years and 3 different console generations—it’s no easy feat,” said Phillips. “Fans fell in love with the characters, humor and gameplay, and with each subsequent game in the series, the lore and universe really resonated with a wide audience—it’s what made the franchise so popular and prolific. So it was an easy decision to bring that universe to the big screen.”
There are a few challenges to making an Ratchet & Clank movie. It has to appeal to both longtime fans of the series and to new, younger audiences. But more importantly, it was difficult nailing the series’ more adult humor, as it’s filled with plenty of innuendo—the innocent kind that adults will pick up on and kids won’t notice. The first game includes jokes about a plumber’s ass crack, personal hygiene, and ripping people a new one with a powerful gun. At one point in the third installment, Up Your Arsenal, a character named Captain Qwark apologizes for making out with a monkey.
While the film won’t be this crude, the filmmakers worked to maintain the series’ adult humor. “With the movie, we tried to strike a balance in order to make sure the humor is viable for kids and adults,” said Phillips. “For those familiar with Ratchet & Clank, we wanted to keep some of the more suggestive humor, but toned it back a bit while still keeping it funny. The character of Captain Qwark in particular we feel audiences will find hilarious thanks to his over the top persona and massively oversized ego.”
With the glory days of video game mascots and their importance long behind us, Ratchet and Clank are of the very few that have been able to stick around and continually show the world why they’re still awesome.
The new Ratchet & Clank game released earlier this month for PS4, while the film hits theatres this Friday, April 29.
Aleksander Gilyadov is a freelance writer with an eclectic taste in film, music, and games. He believes Breaking Bad is the greatest show mankind has concocted, and that The Sopranos is actually a bit overrated.
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