Welcome to another week of Protagonist Profiles, where we look into the origins and evolutions of gaming’s favourite protagonists. This week, we continue to look at heroes of platformers as we stay with Insomniac Games for their second popular platforming series, Rachet & Clank. Headlining this series are the titular characters, terrestrial Rachet and his robot sidekick Clank. With a hit Playstation series, a series of spin-offs and even a tie-in movie to their name, we’re going to look into how this all came to be. Let’s fill in the file!
Like we said in last week’s Protagonist Profile on Spyro the Dragon, developers Insomniac Games felt that they had nothing left for the character to do, and so wished to move on with a whole new IP. Unsure of what genre to jump into next, the developers bounced over different ideas for their new game (nicknamed ‘I5‘), but nothing stuck. It wasn’t until 6 months later when a member of the team, Brian Hastings, proposed a concept for a platformer in which a space-travelling reptile travels the galaxy to collect space weapons. This initial idea lay the groundwork for what we now know as Rachet & Clank (2002). The original idea for Rachet as yet another reptile protagonist didn’t stay for long, however, as developers drew several different potential creatures for the player to control. Some of these animals included a dog and a rat. Feline creatures stuck out the most to the developers, citing their agility as an influence for what they wanted the character to be like. Therefore, Rachet is shown to have feline-like features, such as fur, a lion tail and large pointed ears.
Another early idea for the protagonist was to have several robots attach to him throughout the game, each with their own unique abilities to aid Rachet on his quest. However, Insomniac Games dropped the idea due to inconvenience in development and causing confusion with Rachet’s appearance. Instead, they simplified the robot idea to Rachet having just one robot sidekick, which became Clank (although the ‘smaller robots’ idea was reused in areas where the player controls Clank). As the game went further into development, the character’s appearances began to be explained via the lore of the in-game universe.
Rachet is described as a Lombax, an intergalactic species of anthropomorphic creatures with features of both felines and humans (e.g. a human hand). Born on the Lombax homeplanet of Planet Fastoon, Rachet spent most of his life growing up on the planet Veldin, sent there by his father to protect him from the galactic Emperor at the time. Rachet yearns to travel into space, becoming a mechanic and even building his own ship as he grows up on Veldin. Here he meets Clank, who helps him leave the planet and from then, the two embark on the adventures the gaming series details together.
Rachet is described as headstrong and not afraid to voice his opinions, but can also be self-conscious and worried about what others think of him. Early designs for Rachet’s personality were quite short-tempered and cocky (a trait quite common with platforming protagonists at the time), but this was criticized by several different reviewers of the first Rachet & Clank game (2002) as being unpleasant and not easy to sympathize with him on his journey, so for the sequel (Rachet & Clank: Going Commando), they toned down his ‘rudeness’ and made his relationship with Clank more friendly.
Clank (original name XJ-0461) meets Rachet after escaping the factory where he was made and crashes on Veldin after a high speed chase. He is equipped with several different tools including a helipack, thrusterpack and hydropack. He is usually player controlled for situations such as tight spaces and areas with no air. He is more goal-focused, especially in the early games, which causes a strain in their relationship. But over time, both characters learn to work with one another and form a formidable team together.
Excluding the negativity early on for Rachet’s personality, critics and gamers alike have looked upon this platforming duo favourably, with praises for the voice acting (by James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye for Rachet and Clank, respectively), dynamic relationship between their two protagonists and general tone being shared by reviewers at the time. Clank in particular has been a favourite among critics, with Benjamin Turner from GameSpy wishing that Clank be the main titular character of the series instead of Rachet. However, some who viewed the original Rachet now with hindsight have said that they respect the character development Rachet’s character has received from his ‘selfish’ early rendition to what he eventually became. Nevertheless, they have ranked highly on platforming lists and best character lists alike, from top character of the 2000’s for Rachet (Game Informer) to best sidekicks for Clank (IGN). And with a recent movie and reboot of the original game released just last year, it’s good to finally fill in a file of a platforming protagonist whose series still remains popular and new to this day in this current console era.
Finally, some more trivia for you! Did you know that during development of Rachet & Clank, Naughty Dog (creators of Crash Bandicoot) came to Insomniac Games with a proposal regarding their newest IPs. After just releasing their new platformer (Jak & Daxter), Naughty Dog offered Insomniac Games the chance to share the same technology they used to build their engine for Jak & Daxter, in return for Insomniac to share any advancements they make on the engine with them. This would essentially create a superior platforming engine for both series of games, and allowed the two companies to build off one another. Insomniac Games accepted the offer and thus, the Rachet & Clank engine was built thanks to this generous gift from Naughty Dog (although it’s important to note that they didn’t use the EXACT same engine, Insomniac Games merely used the same technology Naughty Dog used to create their own platforming engine for Rachet & Clank). Seems pretty rare these days for gaming companies to share technology with one another, so this was a very interesting bit of trivia to discover!
And on that note, that concludes this week’s edition of Protagonist Profiles. Tune in next week where we keep moving with the platforming heroes, as we research the platforming duo that came just BEFORE Rachet & Clank. No, it’s not Mario & Luigi. Or Sonic & Tails…