Games and Movies: Bridging the Gap with Ratchet & Clank

How do you bridge the gap between video games and movies? The new Ratchet & Clank movie may have the answer.

While video games offer pleasures no other forms of entertainment can, they’ve also been trying to capture the magic of the movies since their inception. As hardware has evolved, games have been inching closer and closer to achieving the cinematic quality of animated features from big studios like Dreamworks and Pixar.

Now, the gap between games and movies has been bridged in a most fascinating way with two of gaming’s most beloved heroes, Ratchet and Clank. The fuzzy Lombax tinkerer and his big-brained robot buddy are breaking new ground, starring in both a recently-released PS4 game developed by Insomniac Games (our review) and a feature film produced by Rainmaker Entertainment (out this weekend), both titled Ratchet & Clank.

Together, game and movie retell the origin story of the galactic gun-toting duo as they team with the Galactic Rangers (led by the self-centered Captain Qwark) to take down the evil robot army of Chairman Drek. James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye reprise their roles as Ratchet and Clank, respectively, and are joined by such Hollywood heavy-hitters as Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson, John Goodman, and Sylvester Stallone.

Despite what it may seem like on the surface, this isn’t just your average game-movie promotional tie-in.

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“The game and the film were essentially jointly developed,” says Insomniac chief brand officer Ryan Schneider. “It’s been a few years for each of them. What allowed us to pull off such an authentic film experience is that we had the game’s writer, T.J. Fixman, write the original script for the film. That helped us balance the film and the game and tell two different stories. Then we had the artists responsible for creating Ratchet & Clank originally serve as the lead visual design artists on the film side in Dave Guertin and Greg Baldwin. We participated in the animation dailies for the film, lighting passes…It’s been a tightly coordinated experience.”

On an unprecedented level, the two projects work hand-in-hand toward a shared artistic vision. One of the special things about the massive collaboration is that, unlike previous movie-game tie-ins, there’s only a miniscule drop in visual fidelity from movie to game. Typically, games based on movies look like a rough digital approximation of the rich characters and worlds we see on the big screen.

Not the case with Ratchet & Clank. The game is arguably one of the prettiest looking of all time. From the lighting, to the animation, to the little hairs on Ratchet’s ears, the game is movie-level digital artistry, without question. According to Schneider, that level of fidelity was difficult to achieve…until the arrival of the ever-powerful PS4.

“We started to see articles comparing R&C gameplay to a CG animated movie like a Pixar film as far back as Tools of Destruction,” says Schneider. “But it was more about the trend line of that, forecasting that, ‘Wow, that age appears to be here.’ I think the difference between the PS3 and PS4 is that now there are articles saying that you can’t tell the difference between the film and the game. It’s that close. For us, it makes it that much easier to envision the game becoming a film. A moviegoer who doesn’t know the franchise can experience the big-screen version and then go buy the Playstation game and not see any kind of drop-off. For a fan, it helps keep them immersed in the universe that much more.”

Having been with Insomniac for upwards of a decade, Schneider can attest to the fact that the studio has had big-screen aspirations for Ratchet and Clank since the birth of the franchise. “When we created this franchise, it leapt onto the screen. We felt like it had far greater potential beyond video games. It was a no-brainer for us. You’ve got these endearing, engaging characters on this intergalactic quest with these out-of-this-world weapons. It lends itself perfectly to film. It just takes a while to get there. For us, the best situation was to be fully involved in the process. We finally found a partner who was willing to give us that opportunity in Blockade and Rainmaker. That is what finally sealed the deal for us to be able to bring a Ratchet & Clank game to life on the big screen.”

When asked about the possibility of Insomniac working on more cross-media projects like Ratchet & Clank, Schneider leaves the door wide open. “That’s one of the benefits of owning the actual property. We have the opportunity to expand our universe however we see fit. If the right opportunity comes up with the right project at the right time, we’re definitely interested in pursuing it further.”

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The fate of a future project of this nature would presumably depend on the success of Ratchet & Clank on both fronts. Schneider does, however, feel that his team and their partners’ approach to bridging the game-movie gap has been a fruitful one.

“I can’t speak for other game-movie adaptations that are coming out, like Assassin’s Creed or Warcraft or Angry Birds,” Schneider says, “because I don’t know how they’re integrated between the game and the film. I believe that our approach worked. If you have the game people interacting with the film people and both trust each other and share assets, great things can happen. When the film side essentially takes your premise and makes it something entirely different for movie audiences, you have a disconnect. I think we were able to very clearly avoid that. If there are more partnerships like this one, I think you’ll see similar, if not greater, results. There’s a lot we learned along the way that we can apply to being more successful next time.”

Ratchet and Clank now sit on the cutting edge of media-melding discovery, but it’s important to note that they’ve already got plenty of adventures under their belts. They’re two of the most iconic faces in gaming, after all. The video game series debuted in 2002, at a time when platforming games were ubiquitous and incredibly popular, but over the years, the relevance and prevalence of platformers has gone down severely. What is it, then, that’s allowed Ratchet & Clank to endure?

“I’d like to think it’s the gameplay first and foremost,” says Schneider. “Despite people’s changing takes over the years, there is something inherently satisfying about blowing things up in fun and inventive ways. From a narrative standpoint, I think it’s a timeless story told with humor and heart. You’re talking about two orphaned beings, one mechanical and one the last of his kind, finding each other essentially randomly and teaming up to save the galaxy. Everybody appreciates a good underdog story, and this is the heart of a terrific underdog story.”

Now, Ratchet and Clank can work their way back into gamers and movie lovers’ hearts in a brand new way, across two works of art that work in tandem to give us the duo’s grandest outer-space adventure yet. Perhaps nobody, though, loves the characters more than their creators at Insomniac Games.

“People over here love working on Ratchet & Clank,” says Schneider in an earnest tone. “I’ve been a part of every game, and I can literally say that these characters have become a part of my life.”

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Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor.