PAX 2007: Destructoid interviews Insomniac Games

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As James Stevenson, community relations manager for Insomniac Games, and I tried to find somewhere relatively quiet to talk, we made the mistake of installing ourselves on the enticing beanbags in a hallway where, unbeknownst to us, a Guitar Hero II tournament was getting under way.

And while the threats of physical violence from an imposing, bellowing Enforcer where simultaneously distracting and endearing, I did actually manage to talk to James a little bit.  

Hit the jump for Insomoniac’s thoughts on Spyro, the Penny Arcade Expo, and Ratchet’s sex life.

In the spirit of PAX, the first portion of mine and James’ conversation was centered on the collective lack of food and sleep, and the pervasive “We’re all really hungover” vibe that loomed over the convention like a sweet miasma.

And then, we actually started talking about games.

Destructoid: So, James, what are you playing right now?

James Stevenson: In my 360, BioShock. Is there any other answer to that? I actually have it in the hotel room, but I’ve only gotten to play about 20 minutes. On the PS3, I’m playing Lair. I’m having a lot of fun with it. Warhawk, too. Crush on my PSP, and on my DS, Pokémon Pearl.

What’s in your CD player right now?

In my car, I have a live concert of The Arcade Fire in Portland and Yellow Card’s new album. What’s it called? Paper Walls. The new Linkin Park CD. And I’ve returned to Stadium Arcadium too. A little Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And … what do you order at McDonald’s?

A #1. I actually just went to McDonald’s to get some food, and that’s what I got. 

So, they whole Church of England thing? Is that over, now? How did that affect Insomniac?

Sony really handled that for us. Sony Europe dealt directly with the Church. As far as I know, that’s all there is. I assume it’s put to rest, now.

Insomniac has been developing games for Sony for a really long time now, and it’s obvious that you guys know your way around a PlayStation. There’s even a section of your website devoted to dealing with technical issues. Will Insomniac ever license their engines to other developers?

Anything is a possibility, but moving into the middleware space is more than just developing an engine. It’s about the tech, it’s about providing tools and support and licensing. It’s a pretty substantial growth to your business. Right now, we’re just focused on making great games for the PS3. But, like I said, any thing’s a possibility. You never know.

On the topic of hardware, what do you think about the PlayStation Eye? The Eye of Judgment looks pretty cool.

I got to play a little Eye of Judgment. There’s a lot of potential, it’s a cool idea. We always like to look at everything we have on the console. If there’s a way to use the Eye in one of our games, we’ll definitely look into it. This isn’t a “no” for the future, but there’s nothing planned. It would have to be appropriate for the game.

I’ve heard rumblings of a Resistance: Fall of Man sequel? Can you tell me about that? What about new IPs?

The only game we’ve announced right now is Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction. It’ll be out on October 23.

Here’s a reader question: Do you regret letting the Spyro franchise go? The games have been … different since it left Insomniac.

I don’t think so. We made the games, and that was it. Ratchet and Clank is another character-based series that we love. There’s no regret. We’ve moved on to other projects, and Universal still owns the property.

Another reader wanted to know if you guys feel tied down by Ratchet and Clank? You guys just released a new IP …

Yeah, we just released Resistance, so we don’t feel pressured to pump out Ratchet games. If we didn’t want to make Ratchet and Clank games, we wouldn’t make Ratchet and Clank games. We really enjoyed making Tools of Destruction. We got to push the story and the animation and really bring the world to life in ways we couldn’t on the PS2.

One Destructoid reader wanted to know where the inspiration for the humor in the Ratchet series came from? I mean, seriously, a weapon that makes enemies dance? Where do you guys get that?

Anywhere and everywhere. Everyone at the company is encouraged to contribute. It’s all on a spreadsheet, and we go through and sift through all of the ideas until we find ones that we like. There’s a lot of people across the entire company contributing.

The Groovatron is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was just a matter of being able to do all of the animations. Also, it was always too powerful. The combat devices are a cool way to bring overpowered weapons into the game. Same goes for the Death Springs and Mr. Zurkon.

As far as the cut scenes and the story, T.J. Fixman did a great job. He wrote some really hilarious stuff. I can’t give him enough props.

Resistance had a totally different feel than Ratchet and Clank. It was a lot darker, obviously. Are we going to be seeing more of these darker games from Insomniac?

It’s really fun breaking things up, when you switch gears. It’s like a breath of fresh air. We like the themes presented in Resistance, and it’s a lot of fun to be able to back and forth. But, like I said, the only game we have announced right now is Ratchet and Clank

I just read that Sony pulled out of E for All. How does that affect Insomniac?

I would assume that, by that time, the [Ratchet and Clank] demo would be out on the PSN. Yeah, it’s the weekend before it’s released — there’ll definitely be a demo by then.

Does it affect us? Not really. I’m interested to see how that show goes down. I’m sure we’ll be around, checking things out, seeing what’s up.

With E3 being media-only and E for All losing support from Microsoft and Sony, is PAX the next Great American Video Games Convention?

The atmosphere is very different. It’s not a giant press show. I don’t think that was the intention. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? I don’t know if Tycho and Gabe want it to get much bigger than this. I don’t know that it will be the next E3, and I don’t know if that’s what they want for it.

I think PAX is great. It’s great to meet fans. I’m glad we came. 

Insomniac has the reputation for being a really generous company, and great to work for. What do you guys think about Child’s Play?

Every Mystery Guest that comes on the Insomniac podcast, the Full Moon Show, we donate $500. So, yeah, we definitely support Child’s Play. 

Ok, here’s the last reader question, one that I really liked. We know that the new Ratchet game is supposed to showcase a lot of character-development and storyline. What about Ratchet’s love life? Doesn’t he get lonely all alone, saving the universe?

Will he ever find someone? It’s entirely possible. He’s been trying these online dating services, but every time he finds someone, he’s called off to be a hero. Besides, he thinks it’d be nice to be able to find another Lombax, which is kind of hard, what with Emperor Tachyon trying to hunt them to extinction and all.

[Editor’s note: I would like to thank James for taking the time out of a hectic weekend to talk to me. He was really cool and awesome to talk to.] 


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