In the wake of the initial announcement of Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart, one question was on everyone’s minds: who was that very cool new lombax?
After months of internet theories and embarrassing people referring to her as just “Girl Ratchet” or similar, we finally learned her name was Rivet — an absolutely perfect name for an equal fighter to Ratchet from another dimension. But as it turns out, it wasn’t an easy road for developer Insomniac to arrive at Rivet’s incredible design, her place in Rift Apart, or even her excellent name itself.
In his GDC talk: “Lombax Lessons: A ‘Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart’ Design Postmortem,” Insomniac lead designer Mark Stuart walked attendees through the story of Rivet’s naming and design. Rivet was born from one of Rift Apart’s design pillars, he said, which is that “Everyone’s a Hero,” meaning the team had an opportunity to create a “strong, playable, female lead” alongside Ratchet.
They began work on Rivet early on under the code name “Ratchette,” but quickly nixed it for being “too diminutive” and “reducing her existence to a gender-swapped Ratchet,” he said.
And then, Stuart continued, things got even sillier.
“For a while we switched to her just being named Ratchet. After all, she and Ratchet are technically dimensional counterparts. Ratchet is a non-gendered name. This stuck for a while, but ultimately made every draft of the story very confusing. For example: ‘Ratchet needs to rescue Clank from Ratchet, who doesn’t trust Ratchet and has a long history battling Nefarious.’ At a time where story treatments were being rapidly iterated on, it was hard to tell what dimension you were in, but also which Ratchet you were talking about.”
Next, Stuart said, they switched to the codename Gadget. That was better, but it ultimately didn’t sit right with team members who were kids in the 80s due to multiple other similar characters named Gadget from around that era (Inspector Gadget and Gadget from Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers were given as examples in his slideshow).
It was hard to tell what dimension you were in, but also which Ratchet you were talking about.
Then in a weekly meeting where name ideas were being thrown around, someone pitched Rivet off the cuff and people immediately loved it. It fit perfectly as another tool like Ratchet, and it also called to mind an image of Rosie the Riveter. And so Rivet became canon.
Stuart then went on to share details about the early visual designs of Rivet. He took us through a number of interesting pieces of concept art (which artist Dave Guertin has also shared on his personal page), showing off how the Insomniac team explored different themes for the character. Early on, one they honed in on was the concept of the “survivalist beastmaster.”
This version of Rivet would have leaned into her grudge against Nefarious, extending it to all machines to the point of a total rejection of machinery. Instead, Rivet would embrace nature, and would have the ability to tame three different mounts: a beetle, a flyer, and an Agorian beast.
Rivet’s beast taming ability was ultimately rejected, though, in part because in this version of the game Ratchet was turning out to be much more fun to play. His regular toolkit let him do everything Rivet could do without the assistance of other creatures. But there’s another reason they nixed the idea.
“We realized the nature-loving woman was a trope,” Stuart said. “Think FernGully, Pocahontas, or Krystal from Star Fox. Moreover, constraining the theme of her weaponry stifled the creativity the franchise was known for. Ratchet’s weapons can shift, cut, bomb, and transmute. Making her set exclusively nature-based put unnecessary constraints on us.”
Ultimately the nature design did inspire a few of Rivet’s final weapons, like Mr. Fungi, and some of the beast ideas were later recycled into Rift Apart’s Speedle and Trudi, though Speedle lost an earlier concept ability where it had a large, glowing butt that would explode whenever it collided with something. Apparently, murdering your mounts didn’t jive with the idea that “everyone’s a hero”.
Insomniac still struggled to find a good way to make Rivet distinct, though. They tried giving Rivet and Ratchet completely different ability sets, but that made it frustrating for playtesters, who would forget which lombax they were in control of at a given time and realize mid-jump they didn’t have the abilities they thought they did. So Insomniac added the ability to swap between the two on the fly, but that was also confusing in action, and they were hard-pressed to create a lore explanation for where the other lombax went when they swapped out, or who was where during the cinematics.
“Faced with the knowledge that strongly differentiated playstyles were actively hurting the holistic experience, we were forced to reexamine how long we were going to play as each lombax,” Stuart said. “Or to put it another way: is Rivet cake, or frosting? Is she what makes up the core of the game, like Ratchet, or is she a unique and enjoyable diversion in small doses throughout? After all, Clank has drastically different mechanics than Ratchet in most games, but we only play as him for [a small portion] of the game. Clank is generally considered to be delightful frosting. A lot of these problems go away if Rivet is only playable for small, focused sections of the game.”
We wanted Rivet to be core gameplay. Her inclusion was meant to be inspirational representation and not a bonus mechanic.
But to find an answer, Insomniac had only to look back to its design pillars, including “Everyone’s a Hero.” Insomniac had wanted from the beginning to include a strong, playable, female protagonist, and they wanted to make the best distinctively Ratchet & Clank game they could from start to finish. Put together, that meant no shortcuts with Rivet.
“Rivet needed to be pure cake like Ratchet,” Stuart continued. “We wanted Rivet to be core gameplay. Her inclusion was meant to be inspirational representation and not a bonus mechanic. In fact, in the final product, she makes up about 50% of the playtime.”
Which is how we got the Rivet we know today. Insomniac unified the two under the same pool of weapons and abilities, then differentiated them in other ways, such as personality, appearance, animations, and obviously the story. And we’re glad they landed on the Rivet we know and love, as you can tell from our launch review of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and its place as one of our favorite games of 2021.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.