Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters
- Programmed unique weapons both new and from prior games
- Large set of armor powers and effects
- Lemmings-like Gadge-bot Survival minigame
- Aided in the PS2 port created the next year
The game came out to great acclaim and was very successful, both financially and with critics and fans alike. The game has sold over three million copies and has been bundled countless times with the PSP. Perhaps most importantly, though, as a company we all felt very proud of the game we released.
A Programmer’s First Effect
The first thing I created was a really simple artist tool. It allowed artists to move, rotate, and scale entities that they dropped into a level so that they didn’t rely on gameplay programmers to add this functionality per asset. Easy peasy! The second thing I worked on was Ratchet’s wrench throw (which has it’s own fun story.) The third thing I worked on, however, that’s when things took off: The Concussion Cannon.
The weapon was special because it was an existing weapon from the Ratchet series (it was known as the Blitz Gun in the older games, and it was also our internal name for it originally, but the name was changed near the end of the project.) Not only was this the first effect I was supposed to create but I also had an existing version to live up to! The first thing I did was play the original one a ton – I watched how it kicked back enemies, how the beams spread from the gun, how long the effect lasted on the screen, and more. I noticed that, even though it was a shot-gun-style damage cone, individual beams would actually find and draw through specific enemies and objects. It gave the effect just a bit more style. And fortunately, my boss was also an ex-Insomniac guy and could fill me in on all the unseeable aspects of the effect and also give me great pointers on how to recreate the effect.
By the end of the project I had worked and reworked the effect many times. Programmed and re-programmed the method for finding enemies. Calculated and recalculated the equation for determining damage. The goal was to hide the fact that it was the first effect I had ever created… ever! Not only was that accomplished, I still think that the effect has dramatic punch and a great look to it. And if you pay attention, you’ll see that individual beams find and draw through specific enemies and objects. Just like the original.
As I became better at using our particle effect and creating effects, I was given more jobs related to these tasks. Eventually I was given the responsiblity to create effects for all of our armor powers. The player could gather and equip various bits of armor and if you had a full set and equipped them all at the same time, you earned a bonus power, usually attached to the wrench. Near the end of the project I decided to add a bunch of secret armor sets that required the player to mix and match the exact set in order to unlock even cooler and more specialized powers. In total I created 13 different armor powers.
In fact, it was these armor powers that caused me to work one of the longest marathon work sessions I’ve ever done. We were heading right into pre-Alpha and I was told that I would no longer be allowed to add new things to the game (not that there wouldn’t be things added… because that certainly happened, but that I wouldn’t be allowed to add them.) It being my first game I decided that I really wanted to get these armor powers in the game, so I bit the bullet and worked 36 hours straight. I was finally caught by my boss, and when he realized how long I was at the office he quickly sent me home for some sleep. But I was able to get all my powers finished in time for the milestone.
Some of my favorites:
- Shock Crystal: A large, purple crystal grows from the ground and fires out destroys any enemy projectile that gets too close.
- Wildburst: When you wrench slam, a large, slimy bubble starts to grow and then explodes, sending a bunch of napalm around the level, landing in burning, sludgey puddles.
- Fire-bomb: Flaming footprints and a flaming wrench that shoots out a giant fireball with each swing. Did I mention the fire?
One of the more structured tasks I was given was setting up the gameplay and “tools” for a minigame styled after the PC daring Lemmings. Our game, Gadgebot Survival, was far simpler – it was only one screen (no scrolling) and featured only four “jobs” for the Gadgebots. These requirements were clearly outlined at the beginning, complete with all the level layouts. It made implementing the final product easy and hassle free, which gave us plenty of time to polish up the layouts of each map.
The various “jobs” included the ability to self-destruct (to destroy the ground and create a hole), build a bridge (filling in a hole, but sacrficing that robot), transportation, and swinging across a trapeze. It was an odd set of powers, but they interacted in cool ways and provided a pretty diverse set of puzzles.
In fact, the minigame turned out so well that we added four bonus maps in our bomus Treehouse level that contained a bunch of extra content from the game. Two of the levels were design by testers from Sony, one by the designer, and one of them by me. The only problem — we were already “text locked”! For the uninitiated that means that we could no longer add any text to the game because we wouldn’t have the time to get in translated in time. My solution – Ascii art! Each name was a simple like ascii “drawing,” my favorite being the bear: