Developer History: Insomniac Games
April 6, 2012 | Follow comments
By Ryan Malin
PlayStation gamers have known Insomniac Games as best friends for the past eighteen years. They’ve always been able to rely on them for quality titles and over-the-top, out of this world weaponry, which led them to buy over 35 million copies of Insomniac’s titles. With Insomniac’s recent departure from PlayStation exclusivity, Xbox fans can now get a taste of the company’s upcoming games. To understand what both system’s fanbases can expect from Insomniac going forward, a look back at the history of the game company is a great place to start.
The start begins in 1994, when Ted Price found two programmers, Alex and Brian Hastings, and put together the company. The Hastings Brothers and Ted Price (CEO/President) are still with the company to this day. Their first game, a first person shooter called Disrupter, was released for the PS1 in 1996. It looked and played like Doom, but already the company’s penchant for unique weaponry was apparent. The player was part of a special “psionics” military force, giving them abilities like heal, drain, and a shield. It would be a few years before they’d return to the shooter genre, but their next game spawned a franchise of its own.
In 1998, the world was given Spyro the Dragon, a platformer where you controlled the titular dragon on a quest to free his fellow dragons from a curse. In development for this game, Alex Hastings is credited with creating one of the first level of detail renders used on the PS1 which allowed for a vast visual range in-game, taking out the need for “fog” to limit gamers view of the world. While the original game’s gameplay was your simple platformer, the worlds were filled with interesting challenges and lots of hidden collectables. As the series progressed, new abilities and power-ups made their way into Spyro’s repertoire. Characters all over the game series started to show the humorous side to Insomniac, another trademark of most of their games. Spyro’s name is synonymous with the original PlayStation and now has thirteen titles under his belt, but only three were made by Insomniac. By 2000, with the release of Spyro: Year of the Dragon, Insomniac hung up the franchise because they wanted a character who could hold stuff in his hands.
Their reasoning for starting a new game series might sound superficial, but no one can argue with the results of the new franchise. If Spyro was synonymous with PS1, Ratchet and Clank is a PlayStation brand. Insomniac found their handy (get it?) protagonist in Ratchet, a member of the near extinct Lombax species, who is accompanied by his robot sidekick Clank as they save the galaxy from evil. The series is best known for its humor and insanely fun and unique list of weapons, the two constants found in most Insomniac games. With weapons from the Sheepinator, which turned your enemies into sheep, to the Nano-Swarmers glove power-up, which launched nasty bees of death, there was always a reason to try every weapon in the game. And with the weapon wheel, you were able to carry every weapon, making excuses invalid for not trying a weapon. The Ratchet and Clank series is highly regarded by PlayStation fans and the gaming press and is still an active series to this day. In fact, the original three games are being released in an HD collection, which you can find more information about here: http://blog.us.playstation.com/2012/03/15/the-ratchet-clank-collection-going-1080p-on-ps3-multiplayer-included/
Before they continued the Ratchet games into the current-gen of consoles, Insomniac developed a dark first person shooter that can be considered the PS3’s first killer app. Resistance: Fall of Man was just one of the very few PS3 launch titles, but it was the console’s strongest title throughout its first year of existence. As Nathan Hale, you were tasked with stopping the alien species Chimera from taking over the last part of Europe in an alternate history 1951. The weaponry that the company is well known for carried over to the new franchise, but the humor didn’t make the cut. Weapons like the Auger allowed you to shoot through walls, while the Bullseye tagged enemies and the bullets would seek out the tagged enemy. The game was popular enough to spawn two console sequels and two handheld games.
Ever since the release of the original Ratchet and Clank in 2002, Insomniac has released eleven games up until 2011. That’s eleven titles in nine years, something that can’t be said for most developers. Even more surprising is the quality of each title released in that nine year period, nearly all receiving Metacritic averages over 80%. It’s from this nine year period of developing that Insomniac decided to go multiplatform, hoping to take more time to develop a singular game. That new game is Overstrike, their first game with the EA Partners program. Not much is known about it besides what can be gleaned from the CG reveal trailer at last year’s E3. It’ll be a four person co-op third-person shooter, with the humor and weaponry you can expect from an Insomniac title.
The company has also expanded to include Insomniac Clicks, which will focus on web and mobile games. Nothing else is known at this time, as they’ve been tight-lipped ever since its reveal last March. Insomniac also has various charity initiatives, even giving a child the chance to be a playable character in the PS3 title Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. Besides a new web and mobile focus and charity drives, the community aspect to Insomniac Games is rather popular. Their forums encouraged the company to release the Full Moon Show podcast, giving fans and other developers a chance to get an inside look at Insomniac’s development process.
With a new lease on development life, a 200 plus run studio, gaming legends associated with their company name and fan’s hearts, Insomniac Games isn’t going anywhere soon. This is good news, because if I don’t get my nearly yearly fix of an Insomniac developed game, I’ll probably go into withdrawal. And that’s never pretty, unless I have my Sheepinator in hand.