Hunting For Innovation in Dante's Inferno

To do more than use Dante's Inferno as a colorful setting for a generic game the Electronic Arts developers have to find interesting ways to tap into the themes of the poet's nine hells.

At least that's what I told executive producer Johnathan Knight during a chat in Tokyo last week.

While the multiplatform game seems to be shaping up (Knight told me the team is busy "polishing like crazy."), it's not doing much to impress itself as an innovative title. At least not yet.

I told Knight that if the game wants to stand apart from titles like God of War it needs to make better use of the circles of hell. Both the game and the poem it is based upon have Dante traveling down through hell from the first circle of hell, limbo, to the final, treachery.

So far, having played a bit in limbo and violence, the game seems to me to be using this rich settings as backdrops. Granted, the design of enemies, from the unbaptized babies in spider form to the lustful demons, are quite creative. But there is so much more potential in the setting.

Wouldn't it be neat, I theorized to Knight, if the game could somehow more subtly tap the themes of those nine circles through gameplay mechanic and not just art design. What if lust had you playing the game in a way that made you massage the controller in a sensuous rhythm. Or if in the fifth circle, the one devoted to wrath and sloth, gamers ping-ponged between furious button mashing and pregnant pauses?

While Knight declined to talk details, he did say there are some interesting mechanics that pop-up in the game, each tied to different circles.

He pointed this out after explaining why the team didn't create the game starting with the prologue and ending with the final confrontation in hell. Instead, he said, the jumped around while designing the game.

"We started with limbo, the second level of the game and the first ring of hell," Knight said. "I wanted to do the introduction last.

"That way when we go to make our first impressions we've already learned a lot."

Gluttony, in particular, was a level that the team didn't want to do early. It is, Knight said, different from the rest.

"I can't talk about details, but there is something unique in that level that is integral to that sin."

You will, he added, see something like that throughout the game.

"In Anger? Lust?" I asked.

"To varying degrees," he said. "The creative team really pushed things."