SPOILER ALERT: The below article reveals some details about the beginning of the plot of “Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart,” new playable protagonist Rivet and her backstory.
“Ratchet & Clank” fans will finally step into the furry shoes of another Lombax in the series’ upcoming installment, “Rift Apart.”
And yes, let’s get it out of the way — Rivet, the new playable protagonist in “Rift Apart,” is indeed the inter-dimensional counterpart of Ratchet, the team behind the Insomniac Games title revealed at a recent preview event. For months, the identity of Rivet had been kept secret, and Insomniac only recently revealed her name and substantial gameplay footage in the latest PS5 State of Play presentation last month.
Insomniac has been gradually revealing details about Rivet and the overall plot ever since. “Rift Apart” sees its protagonists’ archenemy, Dr. Nefarious, gain control of the Dimensionator, taking Ratchet and Clank to a darker dimension where he always comes out on top. There, they’ll find a number of characters that serve as counterparts to those that the fans already know and love. Even Ratchet has his own parallel: Rivet.
But make no mistake, Rivet is “an entirely new character with her own distinct personality and a lot of history in this unusual dimension,” “Rift Apart” lead writer Lauren Mee says. Wielding a huge hammer with her robot arm and teaming up with Clank in the early footage, Rivet has already caught the attention — and certainly, the curiosity — of fans.
In the media preview event for “Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart,” which releases for PlayStation 5 on June 11, Mee and lead animator Lindsay Thompson revealed much more about the mysterious Lombax, and creative director Marcus Smith elaborated on the making of the new protagonist in a subsequent interview with Variety.
Multi-Dimensional in Another Dimension
With a series that has spanned nearly 20 years, 16 games and dozens of beloved characters and plots, Insomniac faced one particular issue.
As Smith puts it: “How do you thread the needle with such a long-running franchise of getting old players, who know all the ins and outs and can tell you about the past characters and backstories, with the reality that many of the people who will play this game weren’t even born the last time we did a full-length game?”
Smith and his team already had the thought early on to introduce the idea of different dimensions and a device that could transport anyone to a different dimension. As they continued to hammer out how that would impact the world of “Ratchet & Clank,” Smith cites a surprising influence for the direction the game ultimately ended up taking: the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which an angel shows a man what life would be like if he never existed. It got them playing with the idea of seeing what the characters and their lives would be like if different choices were made.
“What would a different dimension of Ratchet and Clank be like?” Smith says. “And in particular, what would Ratchet’s life be like if he didn’t have a Clank?”
With that, they began to ruminate on what well-known characters in a different dimension could look like. There was an idea, Smith says, to have two Ratchets, but that came across as “a cheap soap opera where somebody’s got an eye patch and you know that one’s evil.” There was another idea on having the counterparts be polar opposites of the characters fan know — which would be easy, Smith says, if their characters were one-dimensional. Having complex characters makes it much more difficult to work in such diametric forces.
Instead, they settled on having inter-dimensional counterparts that are ultimately true to their core character, but that are shaped by their circumstances and the events they’ve been through. It was that philosophy that guided the creation of Rivet.
A Scrappy Survivor
Rivet, like Ratchet, is a fighter for good against the forces of Dr. Nefarious — but in her dimension, Nefarious wins. In fact, Rivet lost her arm in her battles against Emperor Nefarious, as he’s known in her dimension, and she doesn’t even have a trusty sidekick like Ratchet does in Clank. Simply put, Rivet has probably seen the darkest scenarios that the world of “Ratchet & Clank” has to offer.
Smith admits it would’ve been easy to “go ‘Terminator’” with Rivet and have her try to blow away Clank as soon as she lays eyes on him (although he does say Rivet isn’t jumping to trust Clank right away). But “we finally kind of realized that what was magical about seeing alternate dimension versions is how true they are to their core character,” he says. Ratchet, he goes on, is always looking for the positives, which was reflected in Rivet.
With the core that they’ve already built in Ratchet in mind, Thompson describes the kinds of questions she and Mee would ask each other early in development: how did being a lone wolf in this dangerous world affect her? Is she awkward when she gets the chance to socialize?
Thompson and Mee describe the Rivet players will meet as a character shaped by her tough efforts to survive in a dark dimension who hasn’t let those experiences rob her of her optimism and compassion.
“As we would be passing her off to different animators, we made a concerted effort to also figure out who she isn’t,” Thompsons says. “Despite her tough exterior and perceived coolness, she’s never cynical, dark or cruel. Sure, she might not know the best way to act in a social situation, but she sure as hell isn’t shy. She’s on a mission for good, to protect herself and the innocent inhabitants who are tormented by the Emperor Nefarious and his goons.”
Basically, she’s “a scrappy little punk,” Thompson goes on. Although independent, charming and quick-witted, Rivet is also vulnerable, just one battle away from losing it all.
Bringing Her to Life
So how does all of that character work translate into the gameplay and design of “Rift Apart”? Rivet’s character design quickly garnered the adoration of fans, and that’s no accident. Rivet, like Ratchet, is charming, and that’s one word that Smith says their art director always comes back to when designing their characters: charm.
“You have to look at them and be like, ‘I just love this character, and I can’t even put into words why,’” he says.
When it came to gameplay and what the difference between playing as Rivet and playing as Ratchet would feel like, Smith says they tested a few different ideas, experimenting with the two having different inputs and abilities.
But the team very quickly saw that, once players encountered something that they couldn’t accomplish as the current playable character, they simply wanted to throw down their controller — or worse, they preferred one character to another, finding that either Ratchet or Rivet suited their play style better. That approach, he describes, simply made it a more frustrating experience.
“Because we were telling this story about these two characters being the same, and being in each other’s dimension, it meant we basically tied everything together where they are shared,” he said of Ratchet and Rivet. “They have the same abilities and the player is progressing them jointly across the entire experience. So every time you level up a weapon, it’s shared. Every time you’re collecting something, it’s shared. And that ended up really leveling the playing field of, you feel like you have one continuous play experience, even though you’re seeing perspectives of different characters.”
One last step to bringing Rivet to life: the voice. And “Rift Apart” ended up nabbing one of the most prolific voice actors in gaming, Jennifer Hale, who also voices the female Commander Shepard in the “Mass Effect” series, for the role of Rivet. Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t Hale’s resume that got her the job.
Smith says he and the team embarked on their normal process for auditioning voice actors, in which they send out a character description (a coded version of it, anyway, so it’s not incredibly obvious to the public who they’re trying to cast) and listen to the submissions without knowing who the actors are. Hale’s audition, he remembers, immediately jumped to the top of everyone’s list. “She just embodied that toughness, but [also] vulnerability and charm,” he says.
And, of course, there are certain benefits that come with working with an industry veteran. Smith remembers that they would schedule four-hour recording sessions, and Hale would wrap up with more than an hour to spare, having nailed all of her lines.
“All hail Jennifer Hale,” Smith laughs.