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The Road To Hell: The Creative Direction of Dante's Inferno
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The Road To Hell: The Creative Direction of Dante's Inferno

February 5, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

The roadmap of Visceral Games is concentrated on action, and is focused on the PS3/360 audience. That offers certain creative constraints, I'd imagine, about the kind of avenues you guys go down. Which is not necessarily a negative thing.

JK: No, sure. For sure it does. I think any time you start to develop an expertise in something, it closes off other things. We're not going to suddenly work on an MMO at Visceral, because we don't have the expertise there. And we're really focused on getting better and better at what we do here, so, yeah. The choices we're making about what we're going to get good at definitely close off other avenues, but that's kind-of the nature of the beast, I think.

At the same time, it helps me think about how you make these creative decisions with your project, when the way you look at something in the source material, like Dante's Inferno, and what you can pull from the original poem.

JK: Yeah, exactly. I mean, we set off in the beginning to do the action game version of Dante's Inferno, and that was, you know, that coincided with the decision to use that source material, so that those were one and the same, and that kind-of set off a series of decisions about how to adapt that.

I think it certainly resulted in a looser adaptation, because there's more of a stretch to make there. I'm not sure there's another genre, frankly, that wouldn't have an equally difficult time -- maybe a sort-of old-school adventure game, where you're not really doing a lot of fighting, but you're mostly doing exploration, and reading, and listening to narrative.

You know, I can imagine that might be a little close to the source material, for sure, but that's just not what we do here, and so, again, as a result it's definitely a bit looser take on it.

Typically, games that are based on existing source material, or based on contemporary licenses that are usually struck as licensing deals. Conversely, a lot of Hollywood creators -- like you said, with Francis Ford Coppola -- will go back and reexamine literature, for the sheer sake of the story. Do you foresee that as a wellspring, as games get more mature, more sophisticated?

JK: It might be. I think that the list is probably not as long as people might think, you know. I think what works Dante's Inferno, and I think what works about some of these big works of literature that I can imagine as video games, is when they really do more than just tell a story, but they spin a whole world. They create an alternate reality that feels really believable.

The Lord of the Rings is the ultimate example, where Tolkien just creates this -- he tells a story, but he also creates a universe called Middle Earth that you really believe, with rules, and history, and characters, and structure, and geography. And you open The Lord of the Rings, and you see that map of Middle Earth, and it just so believable.

And, similarly, with Dante's Inferno, there's always that map at the beginning of the book; there's always that schematic of the nine circles of Hell, and the rivers, and the city of Dis, and Lake Cocytus at the bottom; and that map's been drawn over and over throughout the centuries, just because he was so meticulous, and detailed, and specific about his vision of that place.

I think there's not a lot of great works that do that. They may tell a great story, in a sort of average setting, but to tell a great story and to also create a world that's going to live on as a believable alternate reality, that's stuff you want to make a game out of, because you want to recreate that world in 3D, and you want to allow people to go there and explore it. And, you know, that list is not as long, I think, as you might imagine. But I do think there are others out there that could be great starting points for games.

One thing I was really gratified by was your decision to go at 60 frames a second, which I think is pretty essential for a combat action game. Was there trouble getting buy-in on that? Because I find that most developers usually decide to go with 30 for performance reasons. Sixty is a little bit rare, even in this generation.

JK: Yeah. There was a fair amount of angst over that decision. And there was definitely a strong feeling from myself, and my boss, Nick [Earl], the lead engineer, Brad; and the lead designer, Steve. Most of the leads understood why we were doing that... But we, yeah, we had to evangelize that decision.

I think any artist would be lying if they said that they didn't prefer to have more bandwidth. Any milliseconds you give them, they're going to use it on just one more effect, or what-have-you. But what we found is, it's more of a question of willpower than a technology question. And you just have to commit to it, and say, "Here are your budgets. Here's the box we're gonna play in."

Thirty frames is a very challenging box to play in as well, and so once you just get everybody bought into that, then what I've found is that the visual effects artists, and the environment artists, and so forth, they just found ways to make stuff look good at 60, and you just have to hold them to it.

But it's definitely a challenge to stick to that, month in and month out, and I'm really glad we did. I'm totally convinced that it was the right thing to do. And it's not just for gameplay -- in my opinion, it's not as simple as sacrificing visuals for gameplay. I actually think the visuals benefit from the higher framerate.

If you were to take a screenshot, you might be able to point out, like, "okay, here's the compromise you made because of your framerate," but when you sit and play the game, the overall visual experience is enhanced by the fast framerate. So, I can't really decouple graphics from framerate; I don't feel like it's an either/or situation.

I feel like it's great. It's just not that common. I think it's pretty essential for fast-paced games like this, though. Particularly in this genre.

JK: Yeah. I agree. I agree with you, yeah. I don't think it's essential for Dead Space, for instance, which has a different pacing, and it's a different genre. But for Dante's, it was definitely a must.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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