Interview with Jonathan Knight and Wayne Barlowe, Executive Producer and Concept Artist of Dante’s Inferno

Interview with Jonathan Knight and Wayne Barlowe, Executive Producer and Concept Artist of Dante’s Inferno

Dante’s Inferno Interview Dante's Inferno Interview
Game Facts: Systems: Xbox 360, PS3, PSP | Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games | Release Date: Feb. 9, 2010

Interview with Jonathan Knight (Executive Producer)
and Wayne Barlowe (Concept Artist) of Dante’s Inferno
by Maria Montoro

January 11, 2010 – With Dante’s Inferno coming in less than a month, we couldn’t help it but be curious about the ins and outs of its challenging development, the controversy surrounding the game, and its dazzling depictions of hell. Read on for all the info!

JK: Jonathan Knight – Executive Producer of Dante’s Inferno
WB: Wayne Barlowe – Concept Artist of Dante’s Inferno
CCC: Cheat Code Central

CCC: 1. The game Dante’s Inferno is based on Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy,” specifically the “Inferno” part of it. How much of the game’s story is based on the poem? Did you make many changes to the story, or is it a close adaptation of the classic?

JK: The game is a loose adaptation, in the sense that we focused primarily on the universe, the settings, the characters, and the themes from The Divine Comedy. Dante had an incredible imagination, and described Hell in great detail. He conceived of it in nine concentric circles descending down to the center of the forest, and is very specific about the geography: the forests, rivers, cliffs, landmarks, cities, etc. We’ve been faithful to that geography, as well as to the characters and monsters that inhabit it. When it came to the plot, that’s where we took liberties and expanded upon what was there. The original poem features Dante and Virgil on a quest to find Beatrice in the afterlife, and we built on that idea, giving Dante a more specific backstory as a crusader, and giving Lucifer a bigger role as Beatrice’s captor. We essentially turned a passive pilgrimage into a rescue mission, and that gave us the necessary conflict to turn the story into an action ride.

CCC: 2. Controversy has surrounded this game since it was announced. There are many other games out there that portray lots of violence and some sexually explicit content, but they haven’t been judged as fast. What do you think is the biggest reason for the controversy around Dante’s Inferno? What aspects of the game may result offensive for certain demographics?

JK: It’s possible that some people just don’t like the idea of turning a classic piece of literature into a video game, because they think it denigrates the original in some way. But the reality is, the opposite is true. The game is fully a celebration of Dante Alighieri, his life, and work. We have made the “video game version” of Inferno, to be sure, but the project itself has stirred so much interest and dialog around the poet and The Divine Comedy. A new generation of young people are now going back to find out more about Dante, to read the original poem, when they otherwise would never have even looked.

Dante's Inferno Interview

CCC: 3. Do you think Dante would have been happy with the game, had he been around in this era and understood video games?

JK: I think Dante would be very happy that he is so much in the news! He’s looking pretty good for 700 🙂 What artist/thinker wouldn’t be happy to have their legacy last that long? And the game is not an exception; artists throughout the centuries have been illustrating, adapting, and tweaking Dante’s Inferno. A couple of years ago, there was an animated puppet movie that re-casts Dante in a contemporary setting. In Florence last year, I picked up several children’s cartoon books that tell the story of The Divine Comedy. I even once saw a Disney comic book from the early part of the century featuring classic Disney icons as characters from the poem. Now I think we’ve taken a more serious look at the material, and although we’ve had to take some liberties with the narrative, I very much think that Dante would be excited by the project. The game is a continuation of that same creative impulse throughout the centuries, to express the poem in a new medium, and to continue and contribute to his great legacy.

CCC: 4. Gameplay includes standard combat with the Scythe and some interesting magic abilities. Are there any other weapons we should expect? Which of the magic powers do you find more practical?

JK: The other main weapon besides the scythe is the cross. It’s a ranged weapon that features strongly in the story of the game and is fully upgradable. It’s Dante’s holy weapon (the scythe is the unholy weapon), and he not only uses it to fight, but also to absolve demons and the damned, should the player choose the holy path.

Dante's Inferno Interview

CCC: 5. It seems like there’s mostly action in Dante’s Inferno, but can we also expect some puzzles and even random platforming elements in the mix?

JK: Absolutely. We often focus on the combat in demos, because it’s fast-paced and visually attention-grabbing, but the game features a huge variety in gameplay throughout all the levels. There are puzzles (some action, some more thoughtful), platforming, adventure moments, bosses, sub-bosses we are always mixing it up, with new environments, new enemies, new situations, new stories, and new characters.

CCC: 6. What was the most difficult thing you achieved during the development process? Were there any specific goals that seemed impossible to realize?

JK: There were two goals that were particularly difficult. First, turning a revered medieval poet/politician into a bad-ass video game warrior this was a big challenge. And second, everyone has a slightly different idea of what hell would be like, and artists over the millennium have depicted it in various ways. Creating environments that truly feel hellish was a tremendous challenge. We had to continually push the boundaries, push beyond our initial instincts. We had some amazing concept artists that helped us get there. I think the end result is quite spectacular.

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