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E3 Analysis:  Dante's Inferno  Doesn't Need To Be Literature
E3 Analysis: Dante's Inferno Doesn't Need To Be Literature Exclusive
June 3, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

June 3, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
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    14 comments
More: Console/PC, E3, Exclusive



[At E3, Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander looks at Visceral Games' Dante's Inferno to argue that perhaps it doesn't need to take its source material -- the seminal, epic poem -- as seriously as some have suggested it ought.]

Audiences often urge game developers to create more sophisticated, artful experiences, and one avenue to this may be to take inspiration from literature. But when creating games -- especially action games -- how faithful to often austere source material should games be?

As soon as details first began emerging on Electronic Arts' Dante's Inferno, earnest, artful and chin-stroking audiences were unhappy that Alighieri's revolutionary epic poem took so many liberties with the source material.

It's not hard to see why. Where the Divine Comedy's Dante is a suicidal soul-searcher on a journey of discovery about self and sin, Inferno's is a former Crusader armed with a giant scythe that looks like it's made out of a monster's spine.

They've made of the hero a real video game character, complete with "dark past", added a vaguely risque subplot about rescuing Beatrice from the devil's seduction, and pegged on a cheerfully insouciant "Go To Hell" tagline.

As a religious allegory, the original work had -- and continues to have -- significant cultural and spiritual impact, and yet here's a revoltingly gory boss kill involving putting a monster's tongue into a spiked gear (developer Visceral Games aptly chose its new name).

None of this is in the Divine Comedy, of course. Surely Visceral could have done more with one of humanity's greatest pieces of literature than make a God of War clone, right?

Judging by its E3 demo, overt mechanical similarities to God of War probably give the game more to worry about in the court of public opinion than whether or not it's faithful to the source material.

Gleefully gruesome and literally hellish, the game seems to use the poem's backbone and references to enrich an action game, rather than use the game as an attempt to emulate an epic poem in video game form.

The very same literature buffs who despaired the lack of fidelity in Dante's Inferno can still get a kick out of recognizable symbology and references in the game -- whether that's hacking up repulsive, spewing "Gluttony minions" by the River Styx, or the imagination of Charon's boat as a living entity with a head to be twisted off at the neck. There are unbaptized babies running around with weapons.

"The real inspiration is the setting, the characters and the script," senior producer Justin Lambros tells Gamasutra. He says the team was interested in visualizing an "actual geography of hell," and the visuals on screen often go with the voice-over from the actual Divine Comedy narrating each scene.

The Divine Comedy, after all, is largely a poem about two guys walking and talking -- not exactly the core gameplay of an action game. In that way, the liberties the team took were intended to create a stronger video game, a more reasonable priority for, well, a video game, than focusing on a strong epic poem adaptation.

As for the batty storyline, Lambros says the team intended to go "over the top" -- and maybe it should. It's an action title set in Hell. Why not have fun with it?

That's certainly not to assert that games should never treat literary sources with gravity. Audiences would like a game that uses the medium's potential to correspond with other cultural sources, and that's an excellent goal. Dante's Inferno is not that game -- it would rather be an action title.

And that's okay. It still becomes an interesting argument for the merit of taking inspiration, rather than being imitative.


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Comments


mike franchina
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well they definitely went over the top. But way too far. In my opinion, from the few screens ive seen, and the design of the main character, they didnt bring enough of the creepy, catholic imagery into play. The designs, especially of the main character, dont look bound to any real stuff, like actual crusader armor, they look theyre based off other game characters. weak.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

G. Sampson
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It seems like their art team took a lot of inspiration from the text, but what about their writing team? Do they even have one?

Dylan Nix
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As a fan of the source material, I have been interested to see what Visceral would do with Dante's Inferno. It looks like quite an exciting game -- interesting environments, "familiar" control mechanics, over-the-top boss battles. I certainly see the value in looking towards literature for inspiration; however, I can't help but wonder why they didn't just pull from Inferno for ideas.



Perhaps I'm not seeing the whole picture, but the demographic that will buy it for both the gameplay and the fact that it's inspired by Dante's Inferno seems incredibly small. If someone likes the poem and looks at what's been done here, I wouldn't think it would match up with their concept of Inferno as a game. If someone purchases the game based on seeing trailers or playing a demo, I don't think they're going to care about the fact that it's based on "some old book". These are generalizations, I know. It seems like a strange choice to me and may have piqued my interest more strongly had they not treated it like a licensed property game.

Joshua Sterns
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Using a literal or historical document as a source for a video game is a great idea. There are plenty of awesome events that could provide hours of entertainment. I think Civilization illustrates this idea very well.



Video games are going to face the same dilemas that movies encounter when doing historical or literal adaptations. You cannot acurately portray history in films to the same degree that is possible via the written word. Even a good historical film like Glory is full of characters and events that didn't exist. The same thing goes for books turned into films. As much as I loved the movie Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy the book had a bigger impact on my life.



If video games continue to be influeneced by historical or literal documents, then they need to focus on vague themes. Do not attempt to recreate history. That will just anger history bufffs (same can be said for literature). Do, however, take the setting, themes, and maybe an adventure or two. I believe Assassins Creed is pursuing this route with some decent success. Would people be as upset about Dante's Inferno if it invovled a fictional character/adventure and was loosely based on the epic poem?



Sorry if I went too far off on a tangent. The history major in me went into full swing, and when this is combined with my passion for video games I'll tend to talk too much. :D

Tom Newman
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Liberties have been taken with Dante's Inferno for the last few hundered years, in other books, movies, comics; etc. Much of our popular culture view of Hell is based on this work. I am excited to play this title, and am happy that the necessary liberties were taken to make it a more compelling experience.

Chris Remo
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I don't agree. It is possible to take inspiration from a literary source without claiming to actually be adapting that material. Immeasurable volumes of art across all media have drawn enormous inspiration from the Divine Comedy, but there's a difference between doing that, and actually calling your work "Dante's Inferno."

Eric Carr
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If you were going to use the concept, but not the story, I don't get why they would call it Dante's Inferno. Say, if they wrote an all new story, about a different traveler's adventure through the afterlife they could still include the references to the original story without giving Dante a monster scythe. At least, that's what I would do.

Then again, at the end of the day it's a game. If it plays well, then that's all that matters. The trappings on top of it are all just for show after all.

Joshua Sterns
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@Eric Carr



That's exactly what I was getting at with my post. Be inspired by history and literature, but don't attempt to copy it verbatim.

jacob haug
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I very much agree with Chris, there is a big difference between being inspired by and being based on. Of course all art is inspired by other art, after all art is not created in a vacuum. But this game doesn't deserve/shouldn't adopt the name of "Dante's inferno". It seems like an attempt by the developers to get press for doing something artful and novel when it really seems (to me anyway) to be just a gimmick to set itself apart for other action games. In the end this doesn't seem significantly different than Devil May cry, Ninja Giden etc. - not in my mind anyway.

When I say "Art" I use it in a very general way, let us not start down that road...

Mike Doscher
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"Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only a heap of broken images..."



It looks ridiculous, but there's a certain witty potential there. A potential for for a subtle and very cruel joke made at the expense of both the medium and the audience.



If they left in the farting devils at the Malebolgia I'll play it regardless.

Michael Rivera
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I just can't help but feeling like naming this game Dante's Inferno will hurt the game more than it helps. The only reason you'd want to name your game after the source material is to bring in fans of that material. In this case it only seems to be alienating them.



It would have been a much better business move to give the game and protagonist different names and then heavily advertise that the game world was based on Dante's writings. This is roughly what God of War did with Greek mythology, and they never took any flak for bastardizing their source material.

Ranger McCoy
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Yes--if EA were making Dante's Inferno, then the name would make sense.



But they are not. Never in a billion years would Dante allow Beatrice to be in hell. Beatrice saves Dante. EA hath inverted the art on multiple levels to serve the corporate-state Matrix's bottom line.



The best stories are about heroic characters rendering ideals real in the serice of truth, beauty, and freedom.



This was Aristotle's view.



SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR CREATING EXALTED VIDEO GAMES AND VIRTUAL REALITIES WHEREIN IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES



http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589 (funny discussion/debate)

http://www.google.com/patents?id=aAuzAAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&z
oom=4&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0_0

http://wordsonplay.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/system-and-method-for
-creating-exalted-video-games-and-virtual-realities-wherein-ideas
-have-consequences/



Abstract

A video game method and system for creating games where ideas have consequences, incorporating branching paths that correspond to a player's choices, wherein paths correspond to decisions founded upon ideals, resulting in exalted games with deeper soul and story, enhanced characters and meanings, and exalted gameplay. The classical hero's journey may be rendered, as the journey hinges on choices pivoting on classical ideals. Ideas that are rendered in word and deed will have consequences in the gameworld. Historical events such as The American Revolution may be brought to life, as players listen to famous speeches and choose sides. As great works of literature and dramatic art center around characters rendering ideals real, both internally and externally, in word and deed, in love and war, the present invention will afford video games that exalt the classical soul, as well as the great books, classics, and epic films-past, present, and future.



What is claimed is:

1. A method for creating video games and virtual realities wherein ideas have consequences.



2. The method in claim 1 where said ideas are rooted in classical, epic precepts such as those found in the Great Books and Classics, and exalted at the pinnacles of Western culture and history.



3. The method in claim 1 where said ideas are manifested in the words the player or non-player characters, write, speak, read, disseminate, congregate about, fight for, and/or associate with.



4. The method in claim 1 where said ideas are manifested in the actions the player, non-player characters, and/or monsters act out.



5. The method in claim 1 where said ideas spread like viruses, by being spoken, written, or disseminated in some other manner, transforming characters who come in contact with said ideas into vampires, zombies, or other forms of monsters.



6. The method in claim 1 where said ideas spread like viruses, by being spoken, written, or disseminated in some other manner, transforming characters who come in contact with said ideas into vampires, zombies, or other forms of monsters, and where said vampires, zombies, and monsters may be saved or converted back to normal by coming in contact with ideas that oppose the ideas that made them vampires, zombies, and other forms of monsters.



7. The method in claim 1 where said ideas must be fought for via words and dialogue, before they have exalted consequences.



8. The method in claim 1 where said ideas must be fought for via deeds and actions, before they have exalted consequences.



9. The method in claim 1 where the player can fight for said ideas in word and deed, and witness the exalted consequences of those ideals, including liberty, freedom, and justice, when they succeed, and the dire consequences of tyranny, domination, and intimidation, when they fail to render exalted ideas, as ideas have consequences.



10. The method in claim 1 where the character can fight for said ideas such as marriage, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and right to life in word and deed, and witness the exalted consequences of those ideals, including a stable and enduring society should they succeed, and a declining, bankrupt civilization, should they fail.



11. The method in claim 1 where the character can battle for said ideas that are based upon classical moral and economic principles of famous philosophers, prophets, poets, statesmen, and economists including Plato, Moses, Jesus, Gandhi Sun Tzu, Buda, Jefferson, Aristotle, F. A. Hayek, Martin Luther King Jr., Homer, Ludwig Von Mises, Adam Smith, and others, and witness the consequences of both their success and failure of their battle, as the consequences are rendered in the game's physical world.



12. The method in claim 1 where the character can battle for said ideas via both word and deed, using a combination of words and action, witnessing the consequences of their balance between word and deed, between reasoning and partaking in violence, thusly bringing to life epic classical works of film and literature wherein the hero must balance word and deed.



13. The method in claim 1 where fighting for said ideas in word and/or deed will have consequences regarding the operation of a weapon, which will operate at its full potential for the players and characters who are the most successful in serving ideals and ideas, and rendering them in word and deed.



14. The method in claim 1 wherein said ideas may be based upon Constitutional ideals and ideas underlying the American Founding, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, sound currency, the right to bear arms, the freedom of speech, the right of the artist, author, and inventor to own their creations and inventions; and wherein the player could fight for sound money in word and deed and witness the consequences of their successes and failures, including liberty, wealth creation, capitalism, freedom, private property, peace, and prosperity or rapid inflation, deflation, theft via the inflation tax, massive debt, empire, long lines, wealth transfer to the rich, depressions, corruption, and war.



15. The method in claim 1 where the said ideas will be supported or opposed by in-game characters, and the player will have to choose how to interact with the said in-game characters, based on their ideas, including but not limited to whether or not to befriend them, agree with them, disagree with them, ignore them, recruit them, shoot them, save them, judge them, or forgive them.



16. The method in claim 1 where the said ideas are based upon the pivotal plot points of the great books and classics.



17. The method in claim 1 where said ideas spread like viruses, by being spoken, written, or disseminated in some other manner, transforming characters who come in contact with said ideas into vampires, zombies, or other forms of monsters; and when bad ideas have infected too many in-game characters, the consequences are dire, including the loss of life, liberty, happiness, freedom, and security.



18. The method in claim 1 wherein said ideas may be related to economics and monetary policy, and wherein the player could fight for sound money in words echoing the classical economists and deed and witness the consequences of their successes and failures, including liberty, freedom, peace and prosperity or rapid inflation, deflation, theft via the inflation tax, massive debt, empire, long lines, depressions, corruption, and war.



19. The method in claim 1 wherein moral ideas have moral consequences in the evolution of the gameworld.



20. The method in claim 1 where said ideas in the video game world are founded upon the natural ideas and ideals occurring at the plot points in great works of literature and film where a character must choose whether to serve an ideal or not serve an ideal, thusly rendering or not rendering ideals real by their actions, and influencing the greater outcome and state of the game world, as ideas have consequences.



21. The method in claim 1 where said ideas in the video game world are used to exalt the classic hero's journey, and where a player's success and progress at every stage or step or plot point of said hero's journey is defined by said player's service or disservice to said ideas and ideals, and where by said player's serving said ideas and classical ideals, said hero's journey advances towards ultimate victory and triumph, while by said character's failing to serve said ideas and classical ideals, progress in said hero's journey is retarded or reversed.

http://www.google.com/patents?id=aAuzAAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&z
oom=4&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0_0

Heliora Prime
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You should write a book.


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