Some Hellish Thoughts

I was fortunate enough this past weekend to attend the San Francisco Wondercon, a comic book convention with a dash of videogame and film celebration. After a few hours surveying the ground floor, and the cosplayers, I attended a panel entitled Dante’s Inferno: Adapting Literature for Games. This discussion of Electronic Art’s upcoming Dante’s Inferno, an adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, included Jonathan Knight (Executive Producer and Creative Director), Justin Lambros (Senior Producer), and Jeff Adams (Lead Concept Artist).

I will admit my hesitation to the idea of a Divine Comedy adaptation. A videogame adaptation of a 14th centure epic poem sounds laughable. The text is dense, the themes dark, mature, and critical, and the story does not lend itself well to an action-adventure title. Not surprisingly, the first segment of this panel attempted to address the cynicism surrounding the difficult work of translating a heavily respected literary work into a completely different medium. Knight discussed the importance of Dante’s work on literature, the medieval world view of the afterlife, and popular-culture portrayals of sin. According to Knight, it is only natural such an astounding work of fiction makes its videogame debut.

Knight spoke passionately about the game’s literary source, and I have no doubt he wants to share his enjoyment with the players. It is hard to shake the feeling the game will be Dante’s Inferno in name alone, which could disappoint the hopeful Executive Director. There are a slew of pressures on EA Redwood Shores to make this game a blockbuster. They could certainly use a boost in sales after their latest title, Deadspace, had a lackluster release. It just so happens that wordy chunks of text and philosophical ramblings don’t sell like they used to.

Opting for an epic adventure on an immense scale, creators have greatly abridged the narration, created a larger antagonist role for Lucifer, and enhanced our poet protagonist into a vengeful warrior. Dante is no feeble writer, but a muscular slayer of demons, armed with Death’s Scythe and a cross sewn into his chest. When asked if the team would include and update the work’s political satire, Knight responded that any politicians in hell would come strictly from the original text. I understand not wanting to step on any toes, but EA is certainly passing up a splendid opportunity for political satire, more akin to Dante’s original intent.

The team was a little fuzzy on gameplay details, but thankfully Nate Ralph of Wired magazine had some hands on time with the game. "The game itself is a single-player, combo-based action title, taking many cues from Sony’s God of War. Dante’s scythe extends in an arc just like Kratos’ cursed chain-blades. Enemies drop colored power-up orbs. Quick-time button-pressing events are used for dramatic action sequences. (It’s likely no coincidence that God of War II’s lead level designer is now on the Inferno team.)"

Jeff Lambros called their design strategy "onion development," layering setting and story over core gameplay. With the assistance of talented, and slightly morbid, artist Wayne Barlow , Jeff Adams hopes to paint the environment with all the fascinating and grotesque figures you would expect to inhabit hell. Though Dante may be turning in his grave to see his original work discarded in favor of demon-slaying action, this game could turn out to be a riveting experience for gamers less familiar with classic literature.

Despite the fact, I think calling the game Dante’s Inferno is a mistake, and a somewhat insulting sales ploy, I am interested to see the final outcome. The game is expected to release sometime late next year. To stir up excitement and educate consumers about the medieval underworld, a marketing representative at the panel revealed EA would launch a "nine months of hell" campaign shortly before release.


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Author: Jorge Albor View all posts by

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