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Ratchet & Clank: not fit for this world

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Ratchet & Clank: not fit for this world

The art of Ratchet & Clank games is pretty goofy, and for good reasons.

Arjan Terpstra

02 Nov 2021 ⋅ 4 min read

One of today's most popular game franchises started life as a pretty goofy concept--and stayed that way.

In the history of successful game pitches, the very first pitch for Ratchet & Clank may well take the prize. "Wouldn't it be great to play a fuzzy space alien and his robot friend," it ran, "and travel the galaxy from planet to planet collecting weapons and gadgets?"

While most game pitches are nothing more (or less) than a stepping stone for better ideas to develop upon, Ratchet & Clank games would grow to be exactly what the rough pitch promised: a game where a fuzzy alien and his robot friend collect oddball weapons on planets far far away.
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© Insomniac

Factory Escape, official concept art for the game Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, made by concept artist Dave Guertin. The art is available as part of our Ratchet & Clank fine art print collection.

Guns and gadgets

The concept, at close inspection, was pretty goofy and undefined when Insomniac's creative strategist Brian Hastings first aired it at a company-wide conference, in 2000. After three Spyro the Dragon games, Insomniac wanted to work on something else for a change, but (as described in The Art of Ratchet & Clank, 2018) new ideas wouldn't gel with the designers, and so a collective brainstorm was organised with the full company present. After Hastings' pitch, others chimed in with ideas for guns and gadgets, yielding ideas like Morph weapons or the infamous Groovitron, a weapon that would only be part of the games many releases later.
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© Insomniac

Creature's Eye, official concept art for the game Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, made by concept artist Dave Guertin. The art is available as part of our Ratchet & Clank fine art print collection.

After the conference, the studio plotted a course to design a game world befitting of the initial pitch idea, soon hitting upon the game world we know today as the Solana Galaxy, a galaxy that, in the best sci-fi tradition, sits far far away from our world, in many many ways. Inspired by platform and fantasy games that came before Ratchet & Clank, as well as by classic sci-fi films and comics, the Solana Galaxy would superficially look and feel like ours, and yet would be radically different, too.

Law of nature

Apart from 'fuzzy space alien' Ratchet, there are countless other species with human traits, for example, and Clank lives in a world thriving with other fantastic robots. The laws of nature apply, but only to an extent. Handguns are often half the size of the person who yields them, and have effects on enemies earthly weapons will never achieve—the studio aptly refers to them as "Weapons Not Fit For This World."
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© Insomniac

Rift Apart, official marketing art for the game Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. The art is available as part of our Ratchet & Clank fine art print collection.

And so on, and so forth: the Ratchet & Clank world is a sci-fi fantasy world befitting a tradition of cartoon-y and/or pulp-y science fiction that has been in existence since (at least) the 1920s. "Pulp sci-fi" as a genre holds a large sway over modern-day cartoon imaginations of outer worlds—it's hard to not see the similarities between a villain like Doctor Nefarious and his dome-shaped cranium, and the aliens from Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), to cite but one visual reference.

Flash Gordon

Unsurprisingly, "vintage sci-fi" is a huge influence for Ratchet & Clanks designers. Dave Guertin, Principal Designer at Insomniac, in interviews cites Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon comics from the 1930s as a principal source of inspiration, for its "classic views of the future, complete with halftone printing and yellowed newsprint pages." Melvin the Martian is mentioned as an influential cartoon, a character from Warner Bros' Looney Tunes cartoons, as are other, classic properties.
Space Pulp

Characters on this Uncanny Tales book cover (left, 1939), and Forbidden Planet movie poster (1956), share a distinct shape language with Dr. Nefarious from the Ratchet & Clank games.

"We drew from all sorts of sources," Insomniac CEO Ted Price admitted. "Cartoons, sci-fi movies, popular culture... But most of what you see in the games is a direct result of our team just having fun in a universe with very few constraints.” This fun is apparent in the rich, colorful, and vibrant world a player encounters, a world usually lit in a warm light. The overall style is realism, with the caveat that the shape language in vehicles, buildings, and characters is heavily indebted to cartoons—everything moves with exaggerated motions, often to support the well-timed quips and punchlines of the lead characters.

In the end, a Ratchet & Clank game looks and feels like a Saturday morning cartoon you can play, complete with outlandish villains and doomsday devices set to destroy the galaxy. As games, they aspire to nothing more than that, beholden as they are to that first, brilliant idea of playing a fuzzy space alien and his robot friend in search of ever more planets, weapons, and gadgets.
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© Insomniac

Hidden Resistance, official concept art for the game Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, made by concept artist Dave Guertin. The art is available as part of our Ratchet & Clank fine art print collection.

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© Insomniac

Forest Guide, official concept art for the game Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, made by concept artist Dave Guertin. The art is available as part of our Ratchet & Clank fine art print collection.

Ratchet & Clank Fine Art Print Collection

That’s it! This galaxy blows!