If you go out of your way to collect every last wayward Zoni scattered throughout the latest adventure from Insomniac Games, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time for the Sony PlayStation 3, you'll eventually be able to unlock a final destination to explore: the Insomniac Moon, a 3D recreation of the Insomniac offices in the form of a museum that serves as a tribute to and exhibit of all kinds of interesting objects, enemies, levels, and basic design features that did not actually make it into the main game. It's an interactive cutting room floor of sorts that grants a unique access to the a traditionally ignored aspect of game design, and it's something that I have wanted to see in a major release for years. Forget your mere smattering of concept art here. The Insomniac Moon is the future of unlockable end-game bonuses.
From the moment players guide Ratchet into the museum, it's apparent that something special is going on here. While the area sports a minimalistic design, the real stars are the deleted and unfinished materials. Wander around the place and it's not long before you'll stumble on a guided missile weapon that uses flaming birds as ammo. Then there's a set of crates that pay out special bonuses depending on how Ratchet whacks them with his Omniwrench. Want to have a look at a flying space monster that involved animation too complex to work into the environment in which he was meant to patrol? The museum can offer that. Everything on display comes with a paragraph of text or a video clip that explains just what the object or enemy in question was supposed to do and why it was left out of the adventure. It's fascinating to read and refreshingly honest.
The best surprise inside the museum is that several of the cut level elements are playable. There's a hoverboot race that was originally planned for the Agorian Battleplex, and checking out its exhibit space leads to being able to race through the semi-completed environment. There's also an additional Great Clock platforming puzzle originally meant for Clank and another dropped Battleplex element that involved a procedurally generated obstacle course. Game archaeologists can relax. There's no need to dig through data files in search of the Ratchet version of the Hidden Palace Zone. It's all right here on display in a unique open peek behind the curtain. I can't get enough of exploring what could have been, but its the honest explanations that accompany each item on display that intrigue me the most. Some items were cut because they did not thematically fit into A Crack in Time, while others were technical impossibilities or just too confusing for the play test group to figure out (e.g. the Great Clock puzzle).
Ultimately, I wish that every major game featured its own take on the Insomniac Moon. Imagine the possibility of Super Mario Galaxy featuring the original E3 2006 "Welcome to the Star World" level or Ghostbusters: The Video Game offering the chance to explore the lost "Parade" sequence. The Insomniac Moon presents an amazing and deeply appreciated look at interesting material that goes far beyond a few screens of concept art. Other developers can consider the bar raised when it comes to providing behind-the-scenes unlockable material.
Here's a little taste of what the museum on the moon has to offer courtesy of YouTube user DarkVizardBerryTan:
For more on the Insomniac Moon, be sure to listen to Episode 50 of the Kombo Breaker podcast in which we dig deep into the museum and other elements from Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time with Insomniac's James Stevenson.