Two years ago, tell me that EA were producing a game based on the very book I was studying at the time and I’d have probably struggled to articulate just how confused I would be at such a proposition. EA have told me now that they are, and to be honest, even in this enlightened era of new EA-IP, I’d say this is an unexpected one. Being educated in the source material, I figure I’d take a swing at commenting on what we know so far, even if it’s not officially coming out for PC.
Inferno is a complex book. But one I actually think is perfect for setting a game in, regardless of the fact that it’s a 700+ year old story. Levels? Check. Monsters? Check. Miscellaneous love interest? Check. Hell, it even has a wisened old coot to point you in the right direction when you get lost and/or scared. It’s also a stunningly descriptive. The designers have got so much visual description to work from in its words that they scarcely need to do any conceptual designing themselves.
Breaking down the video they’ve shown us, I’m actually quite positive as far as the design of hell is concerned, they’ve got it down very nicely. The circle of Limbo, where in the book is occupied by those who never saw God in life, yet remained “virtuous” is vividly described as a land where “souls were as thick as trees”, in the trailer they’re illustrated in all their abysmal torment; a thick forest of the damned. It certainly looks like they’re embracing the “theme” of each circle of Hell in the concept art, and we can presume level design. Excellent.
Not so excellent is the generic Conan-cliche’ we can assume is Dante’. It’s a far cry from the deep thinking, occasionally pathetic protagonist of Inferno. I’m not saying the game should consist of Dante’ wandering the desolation combatting the evils with his knowledge of God. That’d be a dull, dull game. But there’s so much potential for creating a truly memorable character here. I’m fully willing to accept that they need to to use artistic license to transplant the story into one any successful game needs. But it’s not like you need to change much in order to fit the game properly. The historical Dante’ for example fought in the Florentine army as a “knight”. While Dante’ the Pilgrim was in fact a “different” person to his creator, it wouldn’t hurt to combine the historical and the fictional. But the half-naked barbarian armed with crosses clearly illustrates the decision to skimp on the character design, and just have him run about spouting the justice of God in one-liners while he smashes the heathens. Joy.
This is the essential problem I think games have at the moment. We get some utterly stunning environments in every other game these days. But I’m tired of the stories being written by third-rate writers. Think about Half-Life. Mark Laidlaw knows how to write a good story. Why can’t more developers catch onto this simple fact and start hiring decent writers more? Maybe I’m just judging the game too soon. But I know that right up until Conan appeared on screen I was impressed, then I was not. Maybe he is going to be more fleshed out than I assume. But then again, a chief criticism of Dead Space was the fact that your character… Well, had none.
I want this game to work. I really do. To see one of the most fundamentally important literary greats ever given a popularist interpretation which captures the narrative of the book would justify everything I believe in about gaming’s potential. You know, gamer’s constantly bewail how the film industry butchers game after game when we haven’t the foggiest how to take a story screaming for some kind of game adaptation in any meaningful way.
Prove me wrong, Dante’s Inferno.