Platform: Windows PC
Role: Designer, Programmer
Team Size: 1
Development Time: February 2023 (2 weeks)
A fan-made level for Ratchet and Clank (PS4)! Help Ratchet and Clank explore a secret robot factory on the planet Arcturus to learn what Drek is creating.
Development Platform: Unreal Engine 5
About the Project
Ratchet and Clank just saved Aleero City and the Hall of Heroes on Kerwan—their heroics officially making them Galactic Rangers. After their first Ranger training session, Ratchet and Clank talk to Captain Qwark who gives them a secret mission to the weapons lab on Nebula G34 as well as a robot factory on Arcturus, a small planet in the Solana galaxy. Qwark gives the duo the task of infiltrating the two hidden outposts to learn about and destroy the weapons and robots being built.
The Robot Factory level takes place in Titanus Station on Arcturus. Once the player gets the mission from Captain Qwark, they can travel to Arcturus immediately after completing Kerwan.
This level is a work in progress. Please continue reading to learn more about my design and development process.
Role: Designer, Programmer
Designed the level
Designed combat encounters
Programmed all level interactions
The current version of the level (February 2023)
This was a small project I started back in 2020 which I decided to revisit as a way to get back into design work. The initial level I made was a fast 1-week project that had interesting ideas that I wanted to improve on like the final combat encounter. The main critique for the level included:
Poor or no sightlines throughout the level - Everything was very much its own section and the player could not always see or realize the next goal.
Tight spaces and tight turns - The conveyor belts were very thin and tight and there were lots of sharp turns. Between these two issues, the level was difficult to navigate, especially for a younger audience.
That being said, I knew what I needed to work on for the next iteration.
Original level map design
Robot Factory 2023
Working in a different industry for the last three years, I have missed working on game projects so I decided to continue an old project idea in my free time. Before I started, I decided to time-box the project to 2 weeks to see what I could accomplish while working full-time and spending time on my other hobbies and with friends.
For this level, I started a new project in Unreal Engine 5. I started with a blank third-person project and made small modifications to the movement. I added a double jump and tested and adjusted the metrics to be more similar to Ratchet's in the actual game. Currently, the movement feels too light which I would like to improve in the future, but my main goal for this project was to build level and the combat encounters (I can focus more on movement for the next iteration).
Once I got the movement in a good place, I started on the design. From feedback on the previous version of the level as well as other projects, I needed to work on sight lines as my main goal for this project. I like to start out by sketching designs on paper because it is easier and faster for me to brainstorm and iterate initial concepts.
Initial level sketch
When I was happy with the initial concept, I started building the level in Unreal to understand the size, scale, and to test out my ideas. For the initial blockout, I scripted the level interactions like the bolt crank button, conveyors, elevator, smasher, enemies, glide, and wall climb. I want to iterate on these mechanics to clean them up and make them feel more like a real Ratchet and Clank game but it gets the point across for a proof of concept.
As I built the level, I made some adjustments to the blockout to improve different sections and added enemies. Ratchet and Clank maps feature two types of sections: a traversal section which focuses on movement with few enemies and combat sections which focuses on fighting enemies with light traversal elements.
The different sections of the level
Section 1 (shown in the first two screenshots below) is a traversal section so it is light on enemies. I introduce the conveyor belts next to the start of the map and use crates to encourage the player to jump onto the conveyor belt to get an understanding of how it works before a trickier navigation in the next room. Once the player goes up the stairs, they immediately see the bolt crank next to a constructorbot enemy, drawing their attention to that corner of the room and guiding them to their first task, activating the bolt crank to raise the conveyors. After the bolt crank is activated, the conveyor belts raise and the player can make their way around the room to the catwalk overhead. If the arrows on the conveyor belt don't guide the player enough, the three, one-hit robomutts on the raised platform will get the player in a position to see the second conveyor and the catwalk to the next room.
Groud level view of section 1
Isometric view of section 1
Section 2 (shown in the three screenshots below) is a combat section. The player can clearly see their end goal for this room with a few enemies in the way. The ranged constructorbots are featured more heavily in this section to challenge the player as they run around on the conveyor belts. If the player falls off of the conveyor belts, in each half of the level they will face a pack of robomutts that will swarm to them and attack. The player can choose to kill them first from the safety of the high platforms with their guns or bomb glove or fall down and face them directly.
Initial view of section 2
Isometric view of the first half of section 2
Isometric view of the second half of section 2
Section 3 (shown in the two screenshots below) is a traversal section. This section introduces a new mechanic paired with the conveyor belt called smashers. These are barriers that smash down in different intervals, and if the player is not careful, they can lose some health if they get caught underneath one. With the new mechanic in this section, the player encounters enemies only twice on flat easy ground and with a high ground advantage.
Combat encounter in the entrance to section 3
Combat encounter in the middle of section 3
For the final combat encounter, the enemies come in waves and spawn behind closed doors. Before each wave, a siren sounds and the light starts flashing above the doors that are about to open. When the final enemy is killed, another door opens for Ratchet to continue to the next level. I did not get the chance to iterate on this encounter from my initial design shown below, however, the player now enters the room from an elevator in the center instead of from a side hallway.
Design Improvements Moving Forward
I spent a quick two weeks on this project with a heavy focus on scripting the level interactions. As I continue working on this project, the spots in the design that I would like to improve are as follows (use the map below to see the breakdown of sections):
Section 1 - This section was designed to introduce the conveyor belts and help the player get used to moving between them. Though the player can see the initial goal/task (the button bolt crank) of the section as they enter, which is a good sightline, the section is very straight and linear. The enemies help with that a bit but I want to add more choices and dimensions to this section. I think keeping the button in the same location but raising it up on a platform that the player needs to navigate to first and then find their way up to the catwalks would be a good first improvement. After that, I would like to experiment more with the conveyor belts which would require more brainstorming.
Section 2 - This is a large area broken up into two main sections focused on combat. I think this section is interesting but I want to make this section smaller and a bit more clear in the aesthetic of the robot factory. I think this section could be interesting if the player sees partially built warbots hanging from the ceiling and then they have some navigation with the hook shot. I also want to improve the enemy encounters on the ground level of this section and add better covers.
Section 3 - I think that section 3 is the weakest part of this level design. The focus is traversing the conveyor belts with the smashers, but the spaces and turns are tight and some of the platforming seems arbitrary when playing through it. I do like where I split the level to give the player an option between two conveyor belts with the hidden holocard at the end. However, I want to open this space up, making it wider so the turns are not as tight for the camera, and rethink the different levels and platforms. I think this section would also require some more brainstorming but the spirit of the experience I initially designed is captured. Also, I need to get the smashers to fall in the correct order that I want.
Section 4 - Not too much feedback from myself on this section, I am really happy with the elevator to the final combat room and I think that fully programmed, the combat encounter will be really cool. I think the glide down to this section may feel a little clunky so I am debating about moving the landing platform or the takeoff platform somewhere else to make this feel better.
Overall - First, I want to go through the level and make sure that it is at the proper difficulty for this time in the game. I tried to introduce the concepts of the conveyor belts and the smashers and then slowly test the players' abilities but I want to spend time and really evaluate and test with real players to see how I did. Next, I did not get a chance to add a section for the gold bolt which I think is a must for every Ratchet and Clank level. It was always my favorite to try to find hidden spots throughout the levels where a gold bolt may be hidden. I really like the holocard spot, though. I think I would add the gold bolt either off of the main room in a spot where the player can access it from the beginning of the level or somewhere in section 2.
I want to continue to work on and polish this level. To start as a next step, with an initial blockout done, I want to test the level with real players to see what they think of the basic concept so my work is not done in a vacuum. Stay tuned for updates!
The different sections of the level again for easy reference