After an almost hour-long hands-off preview of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and a handful of sessions listening to various developers at Insomniac, I sat down with the game’s creative director Mike Daly for a one-to-one chat about the game’s development, its influences, and how it’s making the most of the power of the PS5.
Because she’s been all anybody has been talking about in Rift Apart since she first appeared, the natural starting point was Rivet, the new female lombax leading the game, and why the series decided to reinvent itself with a new protagonist. “A lot of motivations were all mixed in at the same time,” Daly tells me. “We wanted to make a game where you could get engaged with the story and appreciate it, whether you are brand new to the franchise, or whether you’d follow along all the Ratchet & Clank games so far. By introducing a new protagonist, that let us engage with fans of the long running series with something new and interesting, someone they haven’t met before, and somebody who has sort of like, a lot of personality quirks to get to know and, and to appreciate. At the same time, they’re on a level playing field with all the players who are new to the franchise, because nobody knows more than anybody else. But another perspective is like, we’ve got a parallel dimension. And although there are connections between the two and some associations, there’s a lot of differences too. And these differences sort of let us get more diverse, so it’s been a good opportunity to broaden the types of characters that we’re able to represent.”
Rivet is an alternate dimension version of Ratchet, and is basically “Ratchet without Clank.” A popular fan theory has suggested she might be transgender, since Ratchet lore claims only male lombaxes have tails. However, according to Daly, Rivet’s “identity is not a part of the story,” and her tail simply comes from the fact that Insomniac were unaware of this admittedly niche bit of lore.
Aside from her design, a huge standout with Rivet from the preview was how kinetic she was. She grinds rails, she runs on walls, she swings across valleys, and she zooms about on hover boots – it’s all very Spidey, and Daly says there’s definitely something of Peter and Miles in Rift Apart’s gameplay. “The biggest inspiration we took from Spider-Man is that if you expand the moveset of the hero enough to where you have several options available to navigate the space, the game becomes a lot more expressive,” he says. “You feel like you’ve been the one to solve how this works rather than just sort of like applying the one solution to the one problem. Another big part was even taking what we knew to be Ratchet’s moveset and making sure [his reactions] were very responsive. The timing is permissive – you can chain into and out of these moves so that you rarely have that feeling of ‘I tried to do a thing like jump or dash or swing and it didn’t work’.”
Spider-Man is not the only influence that helped shape Rift Apart. Because the game features so many different locations, it has a lot of muses and Easter eggs for fans to look out for. “We try to develop the game as collaboratively as possible,” Daly says. “So lots of people bring a lot of things to the table. In each of our planets, we’ve tried a lot harder this time around to make sure each one has its own little story going on. All your actions feel motivated by something that’s advancing the plot or developing the characters – something you’re a little more emotionally invested in. And the cool thing about that is since each planet gets that treatment, we can pull on an even broader set of influences, because each planet can have its own little micro themes to its own micro story. Some of the planets play with different tone motifs, for different kinds of movies, or shows, or games even. That gives us this great sense of diversity.”
Because there are so many different worlds this time, there’s no one overarching influence, but when asked for some of the more unexpected ones, Daly seemed to suggest Ratchet & Clank was going a bit Jaws. “One of the areas where we’ve stretched the most is in an abandoned underwater base, where we try to make it a little bit spooky, and play with some suspense tropes. And that is obviously not normal for Ratchet & Clank. But I do feel like for that level, we still managed to keep that light hearted, even though it’s sort of like bent in one direction that it usually doesn’t go.”
For all the headline bells and whistles of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart that I dive into in my full preview, one of the things that has been most impressive has been the game’s accessibility features – not just the depth they have on offer, but the way Insomniac chose to centre them during a recent State of Play presentation, when it knew it had everyone’s attention. According to Daly, accessibility was given this platform because of the value the studio places on making sure everyone can enjoy gaming as it was intended. “[Accessibility] is one of our gameplay pillars. We knew we needed to fulfil a few really important overarching objectives for this game’s gameplay to be a success, and one of those was we want it to be enjoyed by the broadest audience possible. We’re really proud of our accessibility features, we’ve expanded on what we were able to offer in Miles Morales, which I was already really proud of. We pushed hard for accessibility, and it’s an important part of the game itself and the development of the game.”
Another thing highlighted in the State of Play was the game’s photo mode, and according to Daly, that’s because it’s a real labour of love. “We’ve got a group of people on the team who are super passionate about it, they love photo mode, and they especially love seeing what the fans do with it creatively – and so they push for that feature,” Daly says. “I was mentioning before about being enjoyable for the broadest audience possible, and a great photo mode lets people who don’t even have a PS5 get some enjoyment out of seeing the game. There’s a pretty broad palette of tools you can pull on to make something really unique out of the photo mode.”
You’ll even be able to switch and dye your armour within the pause menu before heading into photo mode, letting you make sure Ratchet or Rivet are wearing their coolest armour in each shot. The characters are also fully posable and can even have their facial expressions tweaked within the photo mode, to give each player complete control. It’s so detailed, every tiny cube of the Pixelizer is ray traced. You’ll be able to try it out for yourself on June 11, when Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart launches exclusively for the PS5.
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