Last week, Insomniac Games hosted a series of panels talking about crafting a new Ratchet & Clank story, how the team designed the game for PlayStation 5, building the world around Ratchet & Clank and how the score composed by Mark Mothersbaugh came to be.
Grant Hollis, the Art Director on Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart kicked off a chat about the sights and sounds of the game. With the power of the PlayStation 5 and the chance to use real-time reflections, Hollis said the team wanted to introduce new materials while keeping Clank looking the same. Since he is made of stainless steel, the material has stretched reflections instead of mirror-like reflections.
Ratchet was a great opportunity to explore his facial range and expressions and to push his model to have more charm and emotion. In bringing out the charm, Insomniac worked on the filmic quality fur to get Ratchet to feel more realistic and loveable.
Designing Rivet allowed the team to explore a new protagonist. The early stages of development include different colours of fur, a bushy foxtail, and a robotic arm with special abilities (hello Devil Breaker!?), the goal was to make her powerful, charming, and heroic – in addition to having an edge because of her past.
Rift Apart begins on Megalopolis. Better known as “the Utopia in the Clouds,” this city is entirely run on clean energy and the city is in the midst of a celebration honouring Ratchet & Clank. However, space pirates rain on the parade and you’re thrust into the alternative version of Megalopolis – Nefarious City, which we’ve seen in the State of Play preview. “We don’t normally associate a cyberpunk dystopia with the series but we added our own spin to it.” From propaganda dance clubs to 1950s retro flying saucer vibes, “It is definitely a dystopia but it’s charming and fits into the Ratchet & Clank universe.”
“Our goal was to create a film-like experience in Rift Apart with both the gameplay and the cinematics,” Lindsay Thompson mentions. “This was achieved with many features, we reached our highest quality performance animation with facial rigs,” Thompson continues.
Adding Rivet to Rift Apart allowed Insomniac to push their rigs and models to the limit. Early on in development the team was able to achieve appealing results and set the standard for the animation team. Game engine technology helped Insomniac develop the game on PlayStation 5 with seamless weaving in and out of cinematic and back to gameplay and back. This helps immensely with world-building and storytelling. Enemies and civilians are smarter and more responsive because the power of the PS5 allows for more enemies on screen.
Daniel Birczynski the audio lead on Rift Apart held a ton of excitement for the capabilities of the PS5 and what the new console could do with sound. For audio, the PS5 is the most significant and most capable machine with a wealth of audio features. The goal from the beginning was for Rift Apart was to sound like a movie so early on the team worked on guidelines for what the sounds of a new Ratchet & Clank should be.
3D audio is important to create an immersive experience and you get a better feel of space and because it conveys a sense of height. “You hear the ships flying above you, or the fireworks going off around you in Megalopolis,” says Birczynsky. “When Dr. Nefarious talks to you from his giant ship, you can sense how large the ship is and object-based audio you can achieve a precise sense of location.” Precision audio works well for cues and when exploring Nefarious City, you need to find the club. To find the club, Ratchet needs to follow the beat of the music and it shines through with the use of 3D audio.
From a technical standpoint, a lot of work was done on the fur and Insomniac focused on coarseness and grooming directions. When wet, the fur clumps up and wind can affect it, too. Clank being a robot, his body needs to behave correctly based on his stainless-steel frame, so the raytracing shows the blur and stretched-out reflections. Mud deforms under a character’s feet, sharks swim around leaving trails behind them, even the shells from Ratchet’s gun leave small trails when they hit the water.