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Ever since the reveal of the PlayStation 5, Sony has heavily promoted its roster of exclusive games - from the bullet hell of Returnal to the grit of Demon's Souls, the technical elegance of this next generation of games is undeniable. And no where is that more true than Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
The new game following the titular, feline-like Lombax and his robotic companion is Sony's next big PS5 showpiece. Everywhere you see the PlayStation 5, you see the incredible potential of its SSDs in footage from Insomniac's upcoming platformer. Though Ratchet & Clank is often perceived as a game for kids, its long gaming history and its appreciation of cheeky game titles (Up Your Arsenal, Size Matters, Quest For Booty, Going Commando) means it has an adult audience, too. There are a lot of people waiting to see how Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart will turn out, and hopes are high. I spoke to the game's director, Mike Daly, to get a better understanding of what's in store for fans.
If you've missed the gameplay for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart of its new central character, Rivet, you can see it in action below:
Rivet is the other side of the same coin as Ratchet in this interdimensional adventure, and like Ratchet she's a Lombax, a species all but extinct in his universe. Why is now the right time to bring in a new Lombax as a playable character?
Mike Daly: Well, the really cool thing about introducing Rivet to the game is that, since you're going to another dimension, that gives us the ability to introduce new characters that puts every player on a level playing field, whether they're familiar with the franchise or not. So, Rivet was a great way to tell a new story that was accessible to everybody.
But for fans of the franchise, we've given you a protagonist with a new angle that you haven't seen before - because, you know, Ratchet and Clank aren't necessarily changing that much after all these games. So Rivet brought a fresh personality and perspective to the series, and really goes a long way towards helping us tell this new story with just a lot of charm, humour and heart. She's a very expressive, emotive character, and is really just a lot of fun to watch.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart - Rivet // Credit: Insomniac
This isn't part of a soft reboot, rather a direct continuation of the previous games, those that came before 2016's Ratchet & Clank. Why was that call made, instead of continuing the story of the 2016 game going forward?
Daly: We were always more interested in continuing the long line of games from the past, because they've established so much about the world and the lore and the character arcs that we wanted to see carried forward and expanded upon. So to us that was more interesting than taking the (2016) reboot, and retelling a portion of the story from the past, because that keeps it fresh for fans.
The ability to go into a new dimension, I think, was only really possible if we carried the story further, rather than have it diverge between the reboot and the established canon storyline. So yeah, we were excited to keep the [original] canon storyline going - I think a lot of fans were excited by that, too. And when we look at what we need to do to tell a brand-new story, it just fits with that timeline better than trying to overlap timelines, and bring them further apart.
I remember as a kid being a little frustrated with the way Ratchet's mobility was compromised without his companion. This entire game is about that separation of Ratchet and Clank, so how did you make sure that frustration with Clank's removal didn't affect gameplay too much?
Daly: So this time around, Clank's role in the game is more about using his brains to help them plan and strategise for solving the bigger problem, and that's reflected in the Clank puzzle segments as well. So in the past, obviously, Clank was integral to movement, as you said. And since Ratchet and Rivet don't get their own Clanks, what we've done is basically make each Lombax's base movements a little bit more independent of what Clank provides to them. So, they will rely more on gadgets to get around and do their traversal moves. And then whoever has Clank at the moment can glide with the Heli-Pack; and whoever doesn't have Clank can glide with the Omni-Boots. So the movement set, as far as gameplay is concerned, is complete for both characters. You're not hindered by not having Clank.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart // credit: Insomniac Games
Rivet has a hammer instead of a wrench - how did you land on that weapon, rather than the classic wrench that Ratchet uses?
Daly: So in Ratchet and Rivet's dimensions, there are a lot of parallel connections between them - but they've diverged pretty far as well. Rivet in particular, did not ever meet Clank. And so she's had to face the challenges of her galaxy without a best friend that had this complementary skill set. And as a result, she's had a much harder life, and a life that is more about fighting in The Resistance [the movement battling the game's antagonist, Doctor Nefarious] than broader problem-solving, and so that pushed her in the direction of a weapon that is more about action. And you can see that also reflected in her robotic arm, which is just a ripple effect from her struggles, which were much more intense in her dimension than Ratchet's.
We know Ratchet and Rivet are two sides of the same coin, but where is Clank's counterpart? Can you tell us if we even get to meet his interdimensional parallel?
Daly: I mean, the dimensions are pretty different in a lot of ways. And so I'm just going to leave it that we'll let everybody explore those differences when the game comes out.
You've mentioned that each world has its own contained story and problems to solve. How did the team move from just being a 3D platformer primarily, to this more RPG-influenced storytelling style?
Daly: Yeah, so moment-to-moment gameplay feels the best when you're serving as many purposes as possible. So, in addition to having really satisfying traversal and combat, we know we can make traversal and combat feel better and more fun when you get rewards for it - for example, collecting bolts or experience points. So that enhances that moment-to-moment gameplay and makes it more enjoyable.
In the same way, moment-to-moment gameplay is more enjoyable when it has a narrative purpose. That was basically an opportunity that we hadn't always capitalised on in the series. And now we realise that if you're having fun performing good gameplay actions, and it's rewarded with progression, and that feels purposeful - it is serving a need that this planet and its inhabitants have - that all combines to make your enjoyment of the game a lot stronger.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart // credit: Insomniac Games
By giving each planet its own story arc, we're constantly giving you something new and creating that excitement for travelling to a new planet because you never really know what to expect, but there's still going to be some fun moments there. It lets us pace out our storytelling in a way where you can have these fun character-development moments throughout without the big story arc, having so many tiny little beats and details that you can't keep track of. So that type of storytelling, I think, is all part of the same formula that keeps gameplay and story diverse, moving quickly, but feeding you with plenty of fun moments to enjoy.
When it came to the launch of the PS5, there was a definite focus on Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart as the game that really showcased the potential of the console's SSD. Which way did that work? Did the game need to be able to wow audiences as a demo for what the PS5 can do? Or was it the other way around, in that Insomniac knew the potential of the SSD and found a mechanic and game that happened to show it off incredibly well?
Daly: So, we knew from the very inception of the game that it was going to be a PS5 exclusive, and we could lean on that. However, we wanted to make a game that was new and took the experience further than it had before. When we were thinking about what we could do, knowing what we could never do before, it became clear that so much of the structure of games is informed by how you're able to load things into memory. With that constraint gone, then we started asking ourselves, "Well, what can we do now that we could never do before?" A lot of the things that we tried in this game made perfect sense. So basically we took knowledge of being a PS5 exclusive as an opportunity to figure out what can now be done that could never be done before. And in a way, it just naturally shows off with what the PS5 can do.
There was also a mention of some of the ridiculous weapons that didn't make it to the final game. Are there any you wish now made it to the game, or any you've thought of since that could have made it?
Daly: I mean, I can't talk about any of the cuts specifically. But I can say that when we are faced with the hard task of taking this really expansive list of brainstormed ideas and prototypes, and figuring out what's the best fit for the game - although it's painful to see the possibility of some of these weapons never really fully realised - we select the weapons based on the ones that are going to be the very best for the game. So, I definitely have no regrets about the arsenal that we picked and how they're rolled out over the course of the campaign. I really think that we've made our best arsenal yet.
Do you have a favourite weapon, though?
Daly: It's so hard to pick a favourite. When I play through the game I always pick my least-favourite weapon so I can figure out how we can elevate them and make sure that every weapon in the arsenal can be somebody's favourite. But if you're going to twist my arm I'll quickly say I think my favourite's probably the Negatron Collider [a gun shown off briefly in a State of Play which releases a powerful beam which passes through multiple enemies in a line], because I love that satisfying audio visual haptic sensation of charging up the weapon.
And then the adaptive trigger, and the flexibility that it gives you on canceling and firing. Really, it just looks incredible. I love how the energy of the weapons makes rocks float around you, and they'd scatter across the atmosphere when you fire and the tactical satisfaction of charging up while you're trying to get enemies in a line so you can get the most out of your shot. It just works on a lot of levels, and it's really satisfying.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart // credit: Insomniac Games
Insomniac is also responsible for the wildly successful Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. What lessons did you take from those developments into Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart? I did think that at least the swinging from platform to platform might be similar.
Daly: I mean, we didn't take any moves directly from those games, per se. But with those games, we did find that when the player has an expressive palette of moves to where they have multiple options for how to deal with threats and get from place to place, it just feels a lot better. It feels like you're getting creative and you have a higher skill ceiling, and we wanted that feeling for Ratchet. And so we've tweaked how Ratchet moves and goes from move to move, and introduced some new ones that give you a better sense of that flow so that you have more options on how to close distance or get to cover, or even just jump across a gap.
And another big difference that those games have made on Ratchet is that more and more, we're looking at accessibility as an important aspect of our games. And so they expanded our accessibility options greatly. And we wanted to take that and expand it even further with Ratchet & Clank by offering new ones that are custom tailored to playing this game by as many people as possible.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart // credit: Insomniac
When it comes to accessibility, was that a feature that was at the forefront of the team's mind at the very beginning of development on the project? Or was this something that you collectively saw the importance of in other titles as they were released, and something you slowly introduced into Rift Apart?
Daly: From the beginning of the game, we wanted one of our main goals was to reach the broadest audience ever, and so accessibility is obviously a huge part of that. It wasn't a reaction or realisation so much as we were driven to integrate this into the game design from very early on. So accessibility was always on our radar, and the aspects of reaching that broad audience. We knew also that this game appeals to younger players, but also [the original] Ratchet & Clank came out 19 years ago, and it was a hard game. There are some very hardcore Ratchet fans out there. I'm very proud of our difficulty options - we reach this really broad spectrum of difficulties that are satisfying both to brand-new, younger players who are just learning the DualSense controller for the first time; and longtime veterans who really need to sweat bullets to get a lot out of their experience.
And then finally, the other thing that we've taken from Spider-Man and Miles Morales is customisation over your character's appearance. That has been taken a lot farther than we've ever taken it in a Ratchet game, which dovetails super nicely into our fully featured photo mode so that players can get creative with the game and share their experiences, even with people that don't even have PS5s. So, all this came together to give the game this super broad appeal we were shooting for.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is due to release June 11 2021 on PlayStation 5.
Featured Image Credit: Insomniac Games
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