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Dante's Inferno in Review

Burn, baby burn! Dante's Inferno! Burn, baby burn!

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Interview: The Dante’s Inferno Team

PS3, XB360, PSP
Developed by Visceral Games
Published by Electronic Arts
Releasing: 02/09/2010

Looking to cut a swath across the gaming landscape this first quarter is Dante’s Inferno. The game has garnered some attention and some controversy from the gaming community. With a demo already released on both Playstation Network and Xbox Live, gamers have been able to get a look for themselves about what this game will really be about. Are we just looking at a God of War clone, or is there something else there for us to experience? Recently, we here at Gamers Platform had an opportunity to sit in on a roundtable interview session with three key members of the development team for Dante’s Inferno: Jonathan Knight- executive producer, Mike Cheng- level designer, and Vincent Napoli- lead combat designer.


What do you think some of the challenges were in modernizing the source material of Alighieris epic poem to gamers?

I think there were kind of two big challenges. The first being, that the poem doesn’t have a real strong dramatic narrative to it. It’s kind of a “travelogue” if you will. Dante and Virgil are on a journey through the afterlife, describing what they see, and they are on a quest of sorts to get to Beatrice. And that was kind of the foundation of our story was trying to stay true to the idea of Dante, his love for Beatrice and his journey to get to her and we kind of built on that. What they describe in the poem as they see it is an incredible setting for a video game, so epic and bizarre and twisted and detailed, and there’s monsters and demons and amazing environments and weather. And all of that stuff reasonably faithful to that vision, I mean he mapped hell, that’s kind of what (Alighieri’s) remembered for in addition to this amazing poetry. The map that he created of hell that people have been drawing ever since he wrote the poem, that was really what drew us to it. But to turn it into a game there has to be a central character with a strong motivation, that’s a warrior that’s good at killing things and who has a strong objective. So we took the bold step of writing a new story that layers on top of the basic ideas of the poem, and we kind of twisted it so that Beatrice is a kidnap victim that’s been taken down to hell, Lucifer gets a bigger part in the game as an antagonist, and we kind of just shifted the dynamic. We took Dante and changed him from a poet/politician into a warrior. So those were sort of the challenging but necessary tweaks we made to the story to make it work as an action game.

The other big challenge was setting out to make a game set in hell, (we sort of start to think) oh, we’ll do a level based on gluttony or lust or greed, and those were exciting concepts for us. But really being able to design an environment that looks like hell when we can’t actually go there to take pictures of it we have to really imagine it, and everyone has kind of a different idea of what hell is. So we had to really employ a lot of concept art and a lot of iteration to really push the boundaries and come up with places that felt like they’d be in hell.

Religion in games is something that basically the industry stays away from, in particular, Judeo/Christian philosophies. Has there been any backlash that you at Visceral or EA in general have gotten from the public and how have you chosen to handle it?

You probably won’t believe me but, no. I mean you think we would’ve. It’s certainly been somewhat of a controversial project. I think that most of that controversy has sort of centered around taking a, you know, revered piece of literature that’s sort of a classic, and is studied in universities and is a great achievement of western literary civilization and turning it into a video game, I think that’s somewhat of a controversial idea, and I hope when people play the game and look at some of the special features and documentaries, they’ll see that we took it reasonably seriously, and that we really loved the material. I mean the game is creating interest in Dante and the Divine Comedy, there’s a generation of young people that are picking up the poem and reading it because the game got them interested in it. That’s just something that we know to be true. I’ve had actual schoolteachers come up and tell me that. Generally people who love literature are really excited that we’re doing it even though they may not agree with everything we’re doing, because it’s just created a lot of excitement and sort of reenergized a 700 year old poet. In terms of the religious aspect of it, we just haven’t gotten that a lot. I think that people understand that the Divine Comedy is a work of fiction, it always has been, and we’re sort of telling that fictional story that Dante told in the poem. The game is not particularly religious in that it doesn’t take a particular point of view or preach to people, it’s not saying “you should believe this or shouldn’t believe that”, it’s just telling the story of that poem. So in that way, it is not religiously controversial.

To what extent is Visceral working on the PSP version (co-developed by Artificial Mind & Movement) and what differences will be seen between it and the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 Versions?

It’s essentially a port of the game. It’s largely the same game on the PSP. And we’re sort of producing it out of Visceral using much of the same assets. It’s pretty impressive. We were really pleased that A2M was able to get the whole combat system onto that platform. It feels just as good, just as responsive. It’s super fun. Most of the environments in large part are in the game, it’s pretty much all there. There’s a little bit less content in the story, some big set pieces that we couldn’t make happen on that little screen and a few features here and there that are a bit different. But we developed it simultaneously with the other two so much like the PS3 and 360 are the same game, (the PSP version) is the same game on the go.

Does the Playstation 3 version take advantage of any additional processing power?

I think we did switch to a multi threaded system (for the PS3), but from a consumer’s perspective, the Playstation version and the Xbox version are virtually identical. Much like with Dead Space we’re expecting people to have the same experience on both platforms. The big difference being that on the Playstation, there’s the “Divine Edition” that has a few more extras but as far as the game itself it’s the same game.

A lot of people are comparing Dante’s to God of War. What gameplay features have been put into the game to make it bigger and better than God of War 3?

We have a more ability to customize upgrades. We’ve kind of created two different progression charts. (For example,)When you go the Holy route there are certain magical abilities you can purchase to give you certain advantages in boss battles. So it kind works out great with a choice of what character build do I go with. The other thing we have is the magic system, which instead of having one magic (ability) equipped, you can have up to 4. Dante can have three holy abilities and or three unholy abilities and you can make any combination you want anytime to whatever will fit your playstyle. So the holy abilities are sort of defensive and sort of stunning… go the evil route and you have sort of the damage shield that damages everyone around you (it’s more offensive). Kind of like an RPG kind of choice. And we have an accessory system. There are over 30 items and you can have up to four equipped. They have their own leveling system and modify your basic combat to provide you all the abilities like attack or dodging automatically or healing automatically when you get hit. We wanted to tackle the idea of bringing in stuff you normally don’t see in an action game (and)sort of don’t portray the action game merit (and)I think we accomplished that in a lot of ways.

Well, there we have some of the thoughts from the designers of Dante. I for one am really looking forward to playing the full game, as I really enjoyed the demo. It seems that the experience of delving into the levels of hell may be a memorable experience.

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