a review of Dante's Inferno
a videogame developed by visceral games
and published by electronic arts
for the microsoft xbox 360, the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system and the sony playstation portable
text by Ario Barzan

ZERO stars

Bottom line: Dante's Inferno is “the epic video game epically based on the epic epic.”

The horrid little issue, here, is not just how this thing blows our minds with all the force of a dying fart. It’s also the question, “Who made this?” At first glance, it’s easy enough to assume an absence of human thought. The closer we look, though, the clearer the cheetoh-stained fingerprints of Homo sapiens become. Dante’s Inferno was, yes, brutally, bloodily shat out by the person who thinks devising the marketing phrase, “GO TO HELL“, is worth losing at least one night’s worth of sleep over on self-congratulation. With a nauseous excitement (also achievable by finally glimpsing Bigfoot, but only when it is masturbating), we can say that we know who this person is. This is the person who is ten minutes late to a meeting because they got lost on the way back to the train station. This is because they were in a nearby electronics superstore, buying Mario Kart Wii, because it wasn’t going to come out in the U.S. for two more weeks. This person barges into the meeting room, ten minutes late, wearing a Wind Waker t-shirt from Gamestop, and holding a bag containing Mario Kart Wii and a Japanese Wii to play it on.

Instead of “confessing” that I’ve not read the Divine Comedy, since a confession is prompted by guilt, I’m just going to say: “I have not read the Divine Comedy.” As information for Dante’s Inferno became more plentiful, the eye-rolling already going on sped up. E.A.’s marketing campaign didn’t even work on the level of absurd humor. One ploy revolved around a “Sin to Win” contest, wherein the demands were: 1) “commit acts of lust — take photos with us or any booth babe”, 2) “prove it”, and 3) “repeat.” The prize: “Dinner and a SINful night with TWO hot girls, a limo service, paparazzi and a chest full of booty.” The fact that E.A. was later willing to offer an apology, somehow, made this stuff even worse. Dumbly, disdain for the game was now and then met by the sort of tired, “progressivist” counter that anyone who had anything critical to say should just “lighten up” and let appropriation take its course. These apologetics were built on the assumption that mean words could only be coming from an indignation that E.A.’s project didn’t do justice to the source. We can’t really speak for everyone’s revulsion, but we will anyway, and say that this revulsion was born from something innate. There is something intrinsically bad about this thing. If it were the only game in the world, and if the literary source material did not exist, it would remain junk. Having not read the Divine Comedy ourselves, I had and have nothing to exactly weigh it against. Dante’s Inferno is not a “bad translation” — rather, it is bad entertainment, through and through.

If you’ve played E.A.’s The Lord of the Rings games for the Playstation 2 (thinking specifically of The Two Towers), Dante’s Inferno isn’t much different, in that the design is wonderfully effective as a mental tranquilizer. In the LotR titles, because almost all of the resources for enemy-design have been put into making an Orc animate like a movie Orc, there’s no real ground-up behaviorism to engage: just masses of scrambling Others fit to an indebted look. The games become something of a faceless endurance test — and the test is how consistently you can use the currently objectively-best canned-combo you just purchased on everything. While Dante’s Inferno isn’t leaping off of cinematic material, there’s a commensurate outer focus. Put an enjoyed artist on the team (weirdly, the only graphically sticking part of the game is Hell’s gate, a copy of Rodin’s sculpture, itself downgraded by meager placement, slapped against a rock wall in Boring Cave Place), animate, and call it good when the clusterheck appears rowdy enough. The real divide responsible for Dante’s Inferno‘s status as full-fledged, zero-star trash, though, is how it couples this disengaged brainlessness with aesthetic terror, all amplified by an insistence on its “edginess,” “flair,” and “contemporary richness.” The game’s way of dead-seriously communicating Dante’s repentance is by showing him as having literally stitched the image of the cross to his chest. One imagines E.A.’s video-game interpretation of the New Testament, where Jesus is born with a galactic crown of thorns already atop his head, the thorns replaced with the teeth of a Megalodon.


Not a few minutes into the game, the player — Dante — is laying waste with a spear to swarming heretics, as a counter on the left documents each murder. Ill-integrated messages spring up, explaining controls. And not a few minutes past that, Death shows up to claim the soul of a sneak-stabbed Dante in a boss fight, whose import is not indicated through the fight itself, or prior content, but through an overscored soundtrack (which, at its worse, is surely some form of auditory terrorism (seriously, someone arrest those responsible — Heavy Rain’s composer, too, please)) and a tediously elongated enemy lifebar. By the end, Dante has appropriated Death’s scythe, and Death is crying for mercy, choking, “No! No! Please don’t!” The intention seems to have been to present Dante as a “spiritually misguided” warrior who, in the end, is relatable because of his “human struggle” or resistance in the face of seeming inevitability. Instead, the first boss fight of the game establishes Dante as more unsavory and barbaric than Death. When your protagonist is harder to sympathize with than the personification of mankind’s greatest fear, there is probably a problem.

Afterwards, Russell Crowe returns to his Tuscan home to see that his lover has been murdered, is soul-bound to Satan, and that the CG directors find it important to remind us that women do, indeed, have breasts. In as humorous and abrupt a transition as the opening-CG-to-heretic-exterminating was, Dante’s mourning is slammed against returning control to players in a silly graveyard as the music hecking screams. Artless, hairless beings clamber out of the earth, begging to be re-killed, the exit ahead walled off by a flames — though the brick walls on either side are two-feet high. Whatever one feels at this point is what one will feel, more or less, in ensuing hours (in this sense, the demo is a success). That the locked-in-a-room design multiplies so eagerly is just worsened by the junky combat rendering it as explicit. Because fights play out with the same type of loose, indiscriminate weightlessness of a Dynasty Warriors game, the mind keeps detaching from the moment and leaping to an end point. Here, it’s the lowering of that barrier, or experience points (used in an ability tree whose context, through a “moral decision,” is more transparent than I don’t know what). In God Hand, it wasn’t until recently that I cared to notice “locked” doors that required room-clearing (this doesn’t include gates that physically open); which is to say, God Hand‘s self-dedicated fighting distracts one from focusing on conditional barriers, outside of when they’re made immediately relevant, such as the death-cage matches. Even once you’ve made the discovery, it remains an effort to detach from the moment and get concerned with the reward. Instead, future contemplation centers on how a current fight can hook onto the next.

All of this just goes back to the game’s inexplicable identity as culled from literature. Again, it’s not so much the mere fact of E.A.’s adoption, as much as they’ve put the adopted child into a goo-filled cylinder and transformed it into a different child, leaving us to wonder: why didn’t you just do that to begin with? Really, why did this need to specifically be Dante’s Inferno, and not a hell-based game of another name? The answer comes down to an And/Or duo. 1) E.A. and Visceral Games were desperately scrambling for ideas, and since there are no copyright hurdles with the Divine Comedy, the teams latched onto the opportunity, and/or 2) E.A. and Visceral Games hoped to convey some sense of historical weight, cultural relevance, and “artistic conscience” by basing their game on the poem which, “get this dude — has some totally messed up stuff in it.” If both of these things are not dishonest (one is, for sure), they are at least indicative of creative failure in beginning, middle, and end. As that hell-based game, Dante’s Inferno is another dreary slew of mismanaged violence; for what it is, it’s intolerable proof that Inspiration is never, ever a guarantee of quality, and that features like an Achievement for killing scythe-armed babies are less shocking, and more embarrassingly desperate.

I leave you with this.

–Ario Barzan


38 Responses to DANTE’S INFERNO

  1. What’s weird to me is how little faith they actually had in their source material in the end. Apparently, to make Dante’s Inferno any kind of exciting experience to play, Dante can’t be a poet on the run from what amounts to his own sins and middle age. He has to be as BADASS crusader who stitched a cross into his chest and stole death’s scythe. It’s like they’ve spent all this time hyping the literary prestige their game comes from, then vomit all over it for the sake of making it like any other game.
    I mean, I would totally play the actual beginning of the Inferno, where Dante is running away from a bunch of beasts of sin in the woods somewhere in Italy.

  2. there is so much we could do with the old epics. it’s such a shame.

    > Instead, the first boss fight of the game establishes Dante as more unsavory and barbaric than Death.

    one of the reasons i can’t stand god of war – i hate kratos. with passion.

  3. Guess the reviews I sent in aren’t going up then 🙁 Oh well.

    Is there much we could do with the old epics? I used to think of God of War in a partially fond sense: the sense that it could have been what ancient storytellers kinda had in mind in their stories about courageous Gods and massive battles. Maybe if they could play God of War, they’d say “Badass!” or the ancient greek equivalent. Obviously that wasn’t the reason GoW was made, but the reason it was made was the same reason those stories got told.

    In my notebook, among my other ideas, are “An action game based on Beowulf” and “A puzzle game based around scrutinizing literary metaphors (poss based on Dante’s Inferno?!)”. I don’t think either are good ideas anymore. Even something as action-packed as Beowulf would be a stupid skin to try and build a game into – games have to be able to do their own thing. That’s what makes Rhythm Heaven better than Guitar Hero.

  4. I don’t think there’s any problem with trying to adapt prior works of any kind into videogames, it’s just personally I think people need to be more aware of what it means to be translating them into videogames. I think something based on Beowolf could be a fantastic game, but I also think it would be a lot more successful if it stayed a lot more modest than a lot of these big name adaptations have. Like, personally, I don’t think the ancient greeks would have ever invented a dude like Kratos, and even if they did, they never would have been “AND THEN HE COLLECTED ORBS (or whatever the collectables in that were) TO LEVEL UP HIS LEGENDARY BLADES”.
    I dunno, I think the perfect adaptation would a Winder Waker-ish version of the Odyssey. It’s just you in a boat on the Mediterranean, and you gotta get home. Poseidon might be an asshole from time to time and force you into certain locations, but no quest items, no powerups. You just have to survive and get home, and the game all of a sudden shifts gears and you have to kill a dozen dozen dudes.
    Also, seriously, do we need our heroes to look so goddamn weird? First Kratos has this impossible tattoo on his albino ass, and now Dante has a hecking cross stitched into his chest. I’m all for dudes looking distinctive, but it’s ridiculous.

  5. i’m wondering if anyone here has played tamashii no mon. it’s a 90s computer title, developed in japan, based on the inferno. unfortunately, the only things related to it on video sites such as youtube are songs from the soundtrack. maybe if i knew how to write out its name in japanese characters . . .

  6. I’m going to sound like a fag here, but can telling a linear story (which is what any retelling would be) as a central intention really make a good game? You could get a Silent Hill kind of game out of it, but not a Castlevania, not a Metal Gear Solid. I’m not saying that a linear narrative can never be good. But a good game designer has to be able to manipulate it. Otherwise you get a (possibly well meaning, but misguided) guy saying “I want a massive cyclops boss”, leaving the behaviour and gameplay to other people – and those are going to be the people who just want to go home. The result might have some good environments. It might even have concise and compelling cutscenes. But it won’t be much of a game.

    I can’t think of any great examples… the review of that robin hood game on here is fascinating, but I’ve not played it (I have never completed an adventure game in my life, that review brings me pretty close though). I’d be inclined to think that the designers of that one were probably doing their own thing, correct me if I’m wrong.

  7. In a practical sense, castlevania and metroid are linear. They just have a hazy section where you can pick whether you’re going to get missiles or rockets first before you complete the single-focus of your purpose. The first time you play through, you tend to follow a fairly specific path, and the items are arranged to encourage that specific path. Really, the ‘nonlinearity’ is like examining the work after your first read through to compare different areas and reveal new depth. It’s unlikely you would find the best-path to the end of one of those games that skips most of the bosses, or whatever, on your first try, and for somehting like the clock puzzle in SoTN, it would be a rare person who actually figured out that secret on their own. That’s a tower of druaga kind of impossible secret.

    As long as a linear story has depth and lets you reexamine it, there’s no reason it can’t be as deep as it needs to be. The difference, here, is that rambo is not a political dissident fighting the established church while simultaneously creating a work with religious significance. He’s just stabbing guys.

    If there were a level in here where there was some kind of angel protecting demons and overlooking their crimes for some bizarre reason–as a representation of church leadership protecting pedophiles, then that’s the kind of thing that would mimic the substance of the original work. The linearity isn’t the issue–it’s the content.

  8. I’ll paraphrase a quote in movie review I read once.

    “Lawrence Olivier realized that it wasn’t enough to just film Shakespeare. One had to dig for what was film-like in Shakespeare, and shock his words into becoming the natural flesh of the movie.”

    So the question, then, is this. What is video game-like in The Inferno? Or Greek myths, Arthurian legend, or any such inspiration?

  9. What’s videogame like about The Inferno is the way it challenges you. In order to enjoy it rather than just letting the words appear in your head, you have to think hard about what it’s presenting you with (the metaphorical, political, historical, geographical, philosophical and scientific implications). From here there are two things that separate video games and great literature: only one of them _knows_ when you’ve beaten its challenges, and only one of them has, so far, challenged you with anything that is worth a damn.

    Also, yeah, sorry, it’s not linearity with which I have a beef. It’s just that there is such a thing as a vision that is linear, too linear to make a game out of. Like you can’t just imagine the player defeating a cyclops and make a game out of that. You may have a spectacular and even detailed vision for the look of the cyclops and what the player does to them. It’s just that a vision for a game must be a vision for the cyclops’ behaviour – this was not something the Oddysea was specific about. Behaviour is what the player is thinking about, it is the meat of the game. The Oddysea might sound like a game – or rather, it might sound like a game being played by a player that is good at it. That does not necessarily make it a good, dynamic source material.

  10. Oh, this is easy as it regards Dante: what is “video game-like” in The Divine Comedy is leveling up. As the best RPGs take the growth of numbers to mean the growth of something else, that would be your basis for a real game based on Dante. I don’t know how fruitful an attempt at that would be (it would seem a little base to transfer Dante’s complex ideas of spiritual and philosophic growth, as evinced by, well…everything, to something as binary as a video game: choice Dragon Quests and the uniqueness of Itoi’s work give something of a road map, but the simplicity of those games and their morality may be a limit of the medium), but the groundwork for such a thing is at least obvious.

  11. It would be way easy to make amazing games built around Homer (as you guys have mentioned with the Odyssey), but those games would ultimately be juvenile interpretations of the epics, which again brings up the question of the need for any of this at all. I don’t know that a good game based on Dante would be possible without the game also being an astute and even artistic interpretation of the Comedy–which is not to say I could readily see it as possible in actuality. Lets just say I think any attempt to infect video games with film’s obsession with literary interpretation would be a bad idea.

  12. Eh, I think what makes me believe that the Odyssey could be a good game comes less from what’s game-like about the Odyssey than what’s necessarily Odyssey-like about games. We like to believe games are exciting if it requires a longer and more concentrated effort to complete our objectives. Thus why boss battles have 6 times the life meters of everybody else, even though essentially you’re just repeating what you would do for everybody else 6 times to win. I don’t think games should be less violent, but I think violence should be a more conscious decision than it is. How does this relate to the Odyssey? There’s no fighting in the Odyssey, it’s essentially a series of dangerous encounters that Odysseus needs to find new ways to run out of (realize that this is the basic premise of the Inferno too). I don’t think the Odyssey would be awesome because you’d have an EPIC BATTLE WITH A CYCLOPS, but more because it would allow for that cyclops to be part of a larger, more interesting fabric. Which is also to say the Odyssey has enough wiggle room plot wise that Homer’s interpretation would only be “a good player’s” playthrough.
    I dunno. I’m just saying that it’s not impossible to adapt anything into a game, but that it’s more a matter that we have really unimaginative game designers at the moment.

  13. What do you mean by fabric? I’m ready to be proven wrong, but I can’t think of any existing game or game structure that would be compatible with the Odyssey, and it’s asking too much of game designer’s imaginations to reinvent _everything_. When I said that the Odyssey can sound a bit like a player playing a game well, I mean it in the sense that absolutely anything can. If you have a player that already knows what they have to do, you can make them do anything – you could make War and Piece an interactive fiction.

    Except that it’s not interactive. Cutscenes and movie licensing has gotten us into a frame of mind where we see something interesting and immediately think “If it was ME there, that would be badass!” And of course it would – but it doesn’t work that way, because games are about making mistakes, about aspiring to be badass, not about playing a role.

    Get too enthusiastic about the end result of gameplay (what the player will be doing when they’re good at the game), and you’ll end up with, at best, a jRPG combat system; at middle an obtuse adventure game; and at worst, God of War’s quicktime events.

  14. But that’s what I’m saying. One of the huge difference between a book (or a movie) and a video game is that the sequence of events is decided by the player. Theoretically, perfect play of a video game version of the Odyssey would have you somehow getting straight back to Ithaca without washing up anywhere else. The problem is no game designer wants to adapt a story without forcing you to EXPERIENCE THE BOOK. That’s why, in God of War, you have to CUT OFF THE HYDRA’S HEAD in a quicktime event (if I remember right, I never played the game and just disgustedly watched a friend who was 3/4 as high as I was try and play it), because goddamnit if you don’t do it like they did it in the book. The thing is, unless you’re promising BRANCHING STORY PATHS or NONLINEAR GAMEPLAY, very few games are willing to give the player that much freedom, and certainly no game with a literary pedigree ™ at this point is willing to approach it.
    PS – most good stories (Odyssey and Dante’s Inferno, included) start out with their heroes making a lot of mistakes.
    PPS – War and Peace interactive fiction would require us to have more advanced technology for interactive fiction than storytron (http://www.plover.net/~bonds/storytron_screen_small.jpg (please correct me if storytron is not the most advanced interactive fiction technology available (sleep is death might count but I haven’t had the chance to know yet)).

  15. Great review; I particularly liked the line “Cheetoh stained fingerprints of Homo sapians” I’m sure I’ll have reason to use it.

  16. Dude, in no way does the player decide the sequence of events in a video game. You do not decide the level design or mechanics, you just work within them. Someone getting back from Troy to Ithica just would not be the odyssey.

    You’ve misunderstood me. I DON’T think you could make an IF out of War and Peace (I can’t believe I wrote War and Piece…). I’m saying you CAN’T just take a story and say “I’m making this, except the player is going to be playing the main character. You certainly can’t say that the player’s mistakes will come out as the character’s mistakes. What a character does in a story will never resemble what a player does in a video game – they are motivated and composed by entirely different things.

    I’m saying that a good game is about behaviour, and behaviour is not what the Odyssey describes. “Defeating the hydra” is something that is in the myth of Hercules. If you want to make a good game based on that, you’re going to have to think of the hydra as a good boss, with detailed and meaningful movements – in fact that is all you ever should think about. You’re going to have to think about that much more than Ovid or whatever ever did. So it is no longer about the story.

  17. lowell…
    (Yeah, I’ve seen that. I think it’s gotten to the point where unless I can make a video game out of the Odyssey out of the hairs and other less nameable things in my ass, the argument’s not gonna go anywhere. But I really think we’re coming at the same answer from different angles.)
    (Also, Ovid wrote the Art of Love (and I guess more significantly the metamorphoses), which is as much an argument for stuffty game design of a viscerally interesting and literary experience as any. Though to be fair his recommendations about sitting awfully close to someone in the stands of a gladiator arena come from the same mindset as “giving the librarian chocolate because she likes chocolate” in Harvest Moon.)
    (I have no idea why I’m writing in parentheses.)

  18. I’m obsessed with the notion that Don Quixote would be a terrific RPG.

  19. HA! I’ve also toyed around with how don quixote could be an RPG. You couldn’t do it justice since cervante’s tells the story with such mastery that it would be hard to break it up with the video game. I do see how it could be turned into a charming snes type sprite RPG. Particularly if you could switch between sancho’s perspective and quixote’s perspective e.i. sancho see’s the inn while quixote sees a castle. The environments would be different enough so you could only access certain points as either the don or sancho. The duke and duchess would be great NPCs; always hecking with sancho and the don. I’d love for somebody to make this an xbox live arcade game or something of the type.

  20. Would the windmills turn into SotC-style glorious monstrosities?

  21. The game would also be more about surviving battles then actually winning them too.

  22. The problem with the Odyssey as a game is you’ve got the meat of the epic wrong. It would be quite possible to make a fantastic game set around Homer’s action, Odysseus’ faults, the episodic nature of the journey and all that. What you’re not going to do is make that game and also have it be about fidelity, fatherhood, identity, and leadership. You’re not going to include the domestic settings that make up about half of the thing. You’re not going to effectively translate the cadence and flow of Homer’s verse, the tension of the oral repetition, or the sense of the way the Homeric heroes actually lived their lives. You’d just end up with Wind Waker done right–a game I’d no doubt play, but a game that in no way deserves the title Odyssey.

  23. It’s pretty amusing that the intro to the game seems to be much more in line with the source material, judging from mcquill’s description (i.e. running from the beasts of sin through the woods).

  24. I can’t see past the first page, but yeah, it’s more “consistent” with the source material, though it looks like it’s all cutscene. It does reveal what’s the unspoken biggest problem with trying to adapt the inferno into a videogame, though, which is that nobody will ever, ever, make Purgatorio and Paradiso into videogames and they are absolutely essential to any flow the Inferno has as a story. That goes for a lot of what “needed” to be changed to make the Inferno into a videogame, because even though Dante’s journey through hell is an intensively interactive experience, nobody outside of conceptual artists is going to make a virtual world like Dante’s where his progression is based entirely on observation. The poet Dante doesn’t only not kill as much as the videogame crusader Dante does, but he doesn’t kill at all. His big spiritual revelation in hell is just learning that he doesn’t have to sympathize with these sinners, whereas it seems (mind you, I don’t have the gaming machines to verify this for myself) the videogame tries as hard as possible to make you recognize and sympathize with as much of its hell as possible.
    I dunno, it seems awful worn out to say this, especially here, but I think any literary adaptation in the future is gonna have to learn a little bit from MOTHER about what it means to explore and interact with an environment. And I don’t think any can proceed until there’s a way to design a game without making killing the only mildly interesting thing you can do. That’s kinda why I say the Odyssey would be an awesome experiment in adapting a prior work to a videogame, even if you can’t get the bits about Telemachus and the like into it. Odysseus, despite being an absolutely brilliant soldier, doesn’t really fight in the Odyssey. He’s constantly figuring out more and more brilliant ways to try and run away. Even the most famous scene, with the cyclops, involves no real fighting – they stab him in the eye when he’s drunk, and then take advantage of his blindness to sneak out in the morning. I also say the Odyssey because it’s the basic idea behind a lot of videogame storylines already, extending back to Super Mario Bros at least. There’s actually an older textual source I think would make a lot awesomer of a video game utilizing what we already have, but I’m not gonna mention that now since it’s still conceivable I could brute force somebody with programming skills into making it if I can find somebody else to brute force into drawing it (shameless plug for the fact that I will pay somebody with basic basic drawing skills to help me make a videogame).

  25. Oh yeah, some of the navigation links are broken. You have to use the one’s towards the bottom of the page (“[next][后一页]” and “[prev][前一页]”). Or, you can just increment the number towards the end of the URL.

  26. also, hey seriously website, considering I don’t even get a response from the e-mail address on the “write for us” section of the about you guys page, what’s a dude like me that’s always talking stuff gotta actually do at this point to get his words about games up here?

  27. Hey, same here. I guess we’re both just tremendously stuff dude.

  28. The discussion on interpretation is interesting, but I hope we all understand that it is a tangential discussion to the subject of this Inferno game, which is unrepentant trash. As a man who has read every word of the Divine Comedy and consider it essential reading for any student of Western civilization, here is my theory on interpretation: who cares. Make it is different as you want. A videogame is not an epic poem. If you just want to take some vague inspirations from the source material and go wild, do it. In fact, if you do so I guarantee that whatever you make will probably be better than if you tried with exacting specificity to recreate the “experience” of the source work. Look man, I have the Iliad tattooed on my body, and Spartan: Total Warrior is pretty much already an Iliad game to me. Just change the dudes’ names to Achilles and Hektor and make it so you’re fighting Trojans instead of Romans, that’s cool with me.

    Despite this liberal policy, DANTE’S INFERNO IS A PIECE OF SHIT. It has absolutely nothing to do with whatever the virtues of the Divine Comedy may or may not be. Ario already pointed this out in his review, but I feel it’s being overlooked. Dante’s Inferno is aesthetic rape, a chilly, ugly mess of ideas that have no coherence whatsoever and play like a greatest hits of everything that’s wrong with God of War. You can play Dante’s Inferno on its hardest difficulty by pressing one button.


    Pretty much nothing more needs be said about this pathetic pile.

  29. Well, yes. I think we all get that. But I do think it is worthwhile, on a conceptual level, to look at how literature actually works and then to look at how video games actually work in order to finally understand that the two are not compatible without major changes to the way things are currently designed. Mainly I’m just a lit snob bitching about how no one actually understands literature anymore. Even those with doctorates usually just end up spiraling into inconsequential scholarship that would find greater use in history or anthropology departments, or else they operate on arcane lit theory ideas so abstracted from the source that they regard the texts themselves as less interesting than the criticism.


    Yeah, I agree. You want to make a great game that has nothing to do with Dante and call it Dante anyway, go for it. I’d sort of rather you didn’t because it adds to the misunderstanding of the idea of literature, but this quirk of mine has nothing to do with games themselves.


  30. I’ve actually played this abomination to completion. The review is pretty spot-on. I would like to point out the final boss, who is Satan (duh), who has a massive swinging cock down to his knees, backed up by a proportionally large set of testicles. Oh, and his giant cock was black…

  31. @chuckx: thanks for the link! looks like advancing in the game might be dependent on a series of item-based trades. if anything, i’m surprised by the amount of detail that went into environments’ tiles.

    @mcquill & inverse square: i will get back to you both (very soon). promise.

  32. I am glad someone wrote this.

    I am glad it wasn’t me.


  33. Man I wanna stop collecting orbs and stuff. Even the Stephen King inspired Alan Wake, the supposed least video-gamey video game in recent release, has you collect a bunch of MacGuffins. I don’t remember that happening in Misery or whatever. “If I’m gonna escape this crazy bitch, I have to find fifty three lost marbles around the house to power up my jumping abilities”.

  34. Also, I don’t like the idea of adapting other works into action games in terms of story. Atmosphere is an okay thing to want to adapt, but really, what you need is a set of rules. To adapt anything without a clear set of rules is to show a complete lack of understanding of what a game is: Doin’ thangs within a set of rules.

    Like to take a for example, Tremors. You got rules that the heroes have to play by there. Don’t step on the sand for longer than a second or two at a time. That was adapted into a game with the first ant-lion sequences in Half Life 2, and it worked beautifully.

    Not to say this rule is absolute. Earthbound and Mother 3 work beautifully as video games built primarily to tell stories, but uh, Itoi is obviously a lot more talented a storyteller than the dorks who made this.

  35. “But I do think it is worthwhile, on a conceptual level, to look at how literature actually works and then to look at how video games actually work in order to finally understand that the two are not compatible without major changes to the way things are currently designed.”

    This is the sort of discussion I was hoping to spark with that quote. I think the next question I would ask pertains to the nature of events as rewards in video games.

    With the arrival of cut scenes, events and game play became pretty clearly divided, with RPGs being the most obvious example. I believe that this is where things begin to grow stagnant. Story progress is now determined by the number of cut scenes you’ve watched, and the in between where the player actually has control too often becomes a suspended space where nothing really develops in the story. This doesn’t necessarily detract from the game as a thing to be played, but as an interactive story it psychologically dissevers the player from consistent meaningful engagement with the events because the events, when they arrive, are too clearly not of his own making. They belong to the programmer in an environment that is supposed to belong to the player, which has the effect of belittling any event the player might hope to create for himself. It’s a contradictory system that hamstrings the story telling attempt before it can even begin. So how can developers tell stories in ways that do NOT present story events as commodities? How can modern games successfully unify player control with the passage of events? How can player action become an event in a story?

    Oh, and I was wondering, how are video game stories written anyway? Is it a script? Three and a half minutes with a napkin and a pen? I don’t think I’ve ever heard this question answered.

  36. I agree with most of the above. But I think it may be overtly dismissive to say that, because they did not cause them, the player automatically feels a disconnect from cutscenes. At least because the concept of something as a reward is a very powerful thought in a player’s mind. When you do something awesome, you often expect a cutscene to happen.

    Though yeah, cutscenes are hecked up. It’s all I can do to stop myself from NOT whinging about them for this entire post. Personally I mostly object to them because the emotional interest of the work will end up coming entirely from them, when gameplay has so much ability to be interesting. But the best criticism of the cutscene model definitely comes from Jon Blow’s lecture here: http://braid-game.com/news/?p=385

    I think it’s misguided to think of player actions in terms of a story, because no matter how awesome a thing you can engineer for a player to do, no matter how many cool animations and pieces of voice acting you throw at them, they’ll always see their own actions in terms of what they *achieve*. By which I mean, they won’t give a stuff unless their actions are engaged with a system. That could be a battle system, a physics system, or a morality system. I can’t think of many *existing* stories which lend themselves to any kind of real transformation. Although I do think it’s possible to get emotionally interesting story-like things into a system (Panzer Dragoon Zwei, Braid, all those little bites you get in Metal Gear Solid, etc. Also I’m trying to make a game that does this).

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