Live Dante's Inferno interview Finished
Jonathan Knight, the executive producer and creative director of Dante's Inferno, has been answering your questions live on Eurogamer today.
He was on superb form and typed very quickly, which rather impressed us - as did his open and honest answers.
The interview with Jonathan Knight winds down a week of Dante's Inferno coverage on Eurogamer. This has included our hands-on impressions as well as features on adapting text for telly and what lurks inside the game-artists' minds.
And we've got one last bit of coverage tomorrow, as Johnny Minkley fronts the latest Eurogamer TV show from Florence - birthplace of Dante Aligheri and our favourite Pizza Express pizza.
Read on for the full transcript of our live interview with Jonathan Knight. The earliest questions and answers are presented first.
Our live coverage has now ended. Here's what you missed: Updating...
Super Moderating Hero: Hello, Eurogamers. Jonathan Knight is with us now and we're nearly ready to begin.
We know we've drowned you a bit in Dante's Inferno these last couple of days and we're very nearly almost sorry. But we know you can think of something to ask, so get stuck in!
ChthonicEcho certainly has a lot to say.
Super Moderating Hero: Let's begin! First things first, Jonathan, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you are so very famous?
Jonathan Knight: I'm often mistaken for Jonathan Knight from the "New Kids on the Block". Brother of Jordan Knight. I think that's why I'm so famous. Just kidding!
Well, briefly, I'm an executive producer at the Redwood Shores studio of EA. And I'm currently producing and directing the new game Dante's Inferno, which is a really bold and exciting project.
Normally, it's the job of a teenager bored in class to imagine the protagonist of an otherwise dull literary work to spew corny one-liners while mowing everyone down with a minigun. How did this idea came to be?
Jonathan Knight: Well my first idea, frankly, was to make a game set in the afterlife. But the medieval afterlife, you know. I was really interested in how the medieval mind thought about death and the afterlife.
Given my somewhat literate background and education, I suppose (I studied theatre and literature in graduate school), I immediately thought of Dante's Inferno. Dante has given more thought to the medieval world view of the afterlife than anyone.
So I figured it would be best to go right to the source, and after reading the poem a couple of times, I just knew there was a game in there.
Did you decided to clone God of War first, or did you decide to make a game based on the Inferno first?
Jonathan Knight: Well we didn't decide to clone God of War exactly. We decided to do an epic action/adventure game with melee combat, and we wanted it to be highly responsive, really fun, run at 60Hz, and have crazy monsters.
There are a few games that do that well. Our own Lord of the Rings games, built at the Redwood Shores studio, did that well too.
Of course we've all played God of War and are huge fans, and if those comparisons get drawn, it's extremely flattering.
But I think the idea of doing Dante's Inferno, and also doing it as an action game, came around the same time.
A video game based on The Divine Comedy could have been a point-and-click adventure, an RPG, a first person puzzler and/or platformer... even a racing game, if one really tried. What has prompted you to choose the genre that you did?
Jonathan Knight: Honestly I want the game to be accessible to lots of gamers, and the action genre - particularly an action game that has friendly, fluid controls - is a great way to do that.
Really, it's just the game that I think will be the most fun to play. The most heart-stopping.
Super Moderating Hero: If we bought Dante Alighieri back to life, and presuming he spoke English, what would he say about your interpretation of his poem? And what do you say to fans of his work claiming that you're pillaging a classic?
Jonathan Knight: The thing about Dante Alighieri is that he also wanted his works to be consumed by a large audience.
He was extremely unusual in that he wrote in the Italian vernacular of the time. He didn't write in Latin, and he didn't write something that only the monks could understand.
He's similar to Shakespeare in that way, who would go on to help solidify the English language a few centuries later, but who also expected his works to be consumed in a loud, raucous, bawdy, open-air theatre with people throwing stuff on stage.
We don't think of these guys this way anymore, because we are forced to study them, and their language seems so inaccessible.
So, while it's impossible to truly guess what Dante would think of what we are doing, I have a general feeling that guys like that would probably be drawn to videogames if they were working today, because they were always about what's new and cool.
Did you ever wish your parents had called you Michael? Also, The game - What names were you thinking of before Dante's Inferno was settled on?
Jonathan Knight: Man, for most of my childhood I had to endure that joke. "What's your name?" "Oh... just like Knight Rider!" groan
As for the name of the game, I never thought of any other name besides "Dante's Inferno". That's the name it's always had, and that's the name it will ship with. I seriously want to do a videogame version of the poem. I don't just want to borrow the name.
For me, a few things happen in the poem, and I want to capture them all in some way.
First, there's the adventure aspect. Sure, Dante is kind of a wimp in the poem, and he's a hero in our game. But he is still traveling down through nine physical circles of hell, and describing and incredible setting with incredible monsters. We are going to be very faithful to that aspect.
Second, he stops and talks to Shades along the way... the damned souls of Hell. We are going to be basing our Shade encounters very much on the poem. (We won't have Dante rambling on for hundreds of lines, so expect an abridged version!)
Third, Virgil will be a guide and narrator, and when he talks, it will be from the poem.
All those aspects will be there.
What we have changed, primarily, is the core story - making Dante into a more interesting, conflicted hero character, and giving Lucifer and Beatrice bigger, more dramatic parts.
We had to do that, in order to give a sense of conflict and drama, and I think people will really enjoy where we've taken the story, and I do think it's in keeping with the themes of the poem.
I'm hearing a lot of comments from people on the forum I frequent, saying they'd be happier with this adaptation if you'd simply titled it 'Inferno' and dropped the explicit reference to Dante. Had you considered a move like that? Is the title still open to such a change to placate the English students?
Jonathan Knight: First of all, the title of the poem isn't "Dante's Inferno", it's "Commedia". Then later, it became "Divina Commedia", or "The Divine Comedy". It's in 3 parts, and part 1 is entitled "Inferno". So calling it "Inferno" would actually be closer to the original literature!
We have come to commonly refer to the first part of the poem as "Dante's Inferno", but that's a phrase that came much, much later, after Dante was long dead.
I think it's important to call it "Dante's Inferno" because the game and the story are really all about one man's Hell - Dante's. As you'll see when you play the game, it really is HIS hell, apart from anyone else's. And I like that double meaning.
What have you learned from Dead Space that you will bring into Dante's Inferno?
Jonathan Knight: I do want to clarify that while many people who worked on Dead Space are working on Dante's Inferno, it would be more accurate to call the team the "Dante's Inferno team" than the "Dead Space team". But we are working down the hall from each other, share the same technology and central resources, and collaborate on lots of things.
Also, the GM of the studio was formerly the EP of Dead Space, and he is really driving us to be one unified studio with a shared set of values and goals. Which is awesome.
As for the question specifically, we've learned a ton from that game, but primarily the value of polish. That game is really polished, with love, care, attention to detail, artistic sensibility, and that's a big reason people love it. The audio is also amazing. You can expect all of that from Dante's Inferno.
Hell is something a lot of people take seriously, especially in the US. Are you at all prepared for the inevitable religious backlash?
Jonathan Knight: Believe me, going through the process of building a video game from scratch at a major publisher, getting it funded, and seeing it through to launch... that experience prepares you for anything!
I don't think too much about that, frankly.
We are not taking some particular point of view with this game. It's not a statement or a religion, or anything like that.
It's an adaptation of a literary work that has been around for 700 years, and if someone is OK picking up that book and reading it, then they should be OK playing the game.
Super Moderating Hero: Beast riding, one of your star attractions, will also be a key part of God of War 3, one of your star rivals. Did that recent revelation catch you by surprise? What will win back the upper hand?
Jonathan Knight: We're not out to compete with God of War 3 feature by feature, let me just say that. Beast riding has been in our design from day one, which goes back to 2007. Beast riding is also in lots of other games... like, say, Crash of the Titans!
We think it's a really fun game mechanic, that makes the player feel powerful, and we're going to use it in ways that are unique to our game and our levels.
Quick Time Events..... WHY?!?!? Surely a new method of killing off large enemies could be explored where each is like a little puzzle, ala Shadow of the Colossus?
Jonathan Knight: Well, we have a way to go still, the game won't be out for at least a year, so I suspect we will be evolving those where we can. We've got the basics in there, and QTEs are fun and they do work. We want to build from that.
I don't, however, want to put in a mechanic that's different, just for the sake of being different, only to find that it confuses and frustrates people. So it's a balance.
Do the levels have a definite path that must be adhered to, or are players free to choose their own way through, to a degree? I ask this, in light of some interesting images from the game that have been released, featuring irregular locations.
Jonathan Knight: I'm really, really excited by the level design in this game. We have an amazing level design team.
Fundamentally the game is linear, so it's certainly not an open world game.
However, the designers are really putting a lot of care and attention into every part of the levels, and that means lots of what we call "Beta paths", secret locations, surprises, etc.
Some areas will be more adventure, some will have puzzles, some will be combat, some will be big action sequences. The goal is to make sure that it's always interesting, that you don't start seeing the same patterns over and over again, that you don't get lost, confused, or frustrated. It's meant to be entertainment, after all!
Have there been any challenges in the development of the game and have any concessions been made? Or is everything falling into place up to now?
Jonathan Knight: I never get complacent, and nothing just falls into place. Believe me, I want this thing to be as great as it can be, and that means constant challenges. EA has been giving us the time, talent, and resources we need to do that, so I would say so far so good.
One of our biggest challenges is that the game will run at 60 frames per second. This was very important to me from day one, and this is what we will ship. I don't think many games achieve that on PS3/Xbox 360, but the ones that do are just so damn fun to play. The fluidity, the responsiveness, are just so important to the experience, especially when you're doing a lot of fast-paced fighting.
I don't think we will ultimately sacrifice anything to achieve this, but it changes the way we work, and the art pipelines and so forth. So we are taking a little longer to get to what will eventually be the final "look"... and we appreciate people's patience with work-in-progress screenshots that don't ultimately represent the final look of the game.
Since the first game seems to cover the first part of the Divine comedy, I guess sequels are planned? Yes? They are, aren't they? Go on, tell me!
Jonathan Knight: I'm not going to lie and say I haven't thought about it. But I can be completely honest and say that EA has no plans at this point in time for part 2. We've got a game to make!
On the issue of overly-accessible controls and how they can affect a game, making it too easy. A recent example would be the latest Prince of Persia, where some gamers felt it controlled like a glorified quick-time event, whereas a bare minimum of input (thankfully without those hideous screen prompts usually associated with QTE's) would lead to a series of complicated moves. It may be too early to ask, but how much accessible do you plan Dante's Inferno controls to be?
Jonathan Knight: It's a great question, and we are very mindful of just this. I personally didn't get through all of PoP for very much that reason, despite the fact that it's a gorgeous game.
Here's what I can say. There will be difficulty settings. So that will help. There will be depth to the combat system, such that on an easier difficulty, you can get through the game, enjoy it thoroughly, without going deep. But on a harder setting, you won't be able to beat it without going deeper.
We have many of the systems working now, and as journalists play it more and more throughout the year, I think they will enjoy seeing how it evolves, and I suspect we'll end up with something that a range of gamers are going to really like.
And God of War is NOT the only influence on the combat system as it evolves, I promise!
How violent is the game at this stage? Dead Space was a great throw back to the times when you could shoot people into tiny bits and I really enjoyed it, can we expect the same level of violence from this underworld romp?
Jonathan Knight: Well, it's a game set in hell, and Dante has a Scythe the size of a sailboat on his back, so it's pretty... let's say, satisfying.
I'm not out to make gore for gore's sake. But the material demands a certain level of death and destruction.
Was there some other old literature epics that you considered that would make a good game before you settled on Dante Alighieri's writings? Paradise Lost?
Jonathan Knight: Great question, and the answer is yes. Not Paradise Lost particularly. There's a film script floating around Hollywood based on Paradise Lost, and some people tell me the movie is going to get made, and others question whether it will. But it's just not as interesting for a game as Dante's Inferno is.
There are a few others that I think would work, but I'll probably get in trouble if I start rattling on about that.
What I will say is that BioShock borrows heavily from Atlas Shrugged, and that was a big influence on me. I thought, "hey, those guys are doing Atlas Shrugged! Cool!" For them, it was more borrowing ideas here and there, not an adaptation, whereas I'm sticking much more closely to the original work.
But I do hope that games reach the point where it's commonplace to go back to the classics and re-imagine them. Films have been doing this for a long time, and it's wonderful. There are also lots of ways to do it, it doesn't always have to be a direct adaptation.
I think game stories, characters, worlds, etc., can benefit from legends and literature that have worked for hundreds of years. There's some great stuff in the minds of some of these writers.
Super Moderating Hero: What can you tell us about the movie? Are you involved and helping? Are you sharing assets? Will both projects follow the same story? Are you under any creative restraint because of the film?
Jonathan Knight: There haven't been any official announcements about the movie project. There was a leaked story late last year about Universal acquiring the rights to make a movie based upon the game. That is certainly true, it would be weird to deny it.
What I can say is that this is a game property first and foremost. Any movie that might be under consideration has no impact on the development of the game.
Super Moderating Hero: Will there be multiplayer?
Jonathan Knight: We are looking at ways to appeal to the connected consumer (sorry for the corporate speak), but we don't have plans for true multiplayer as such, no.
Why does the beast at the end of the trailer look like a GIANT MOUTHCOCK? What is all that pink stuff?
Jonathan Knight: Hehe, nice. That's a sneak peek at Gluttony, the 3rd Circle of Hell.
Will there be any kind of loot in this game - Dead Space had some kind of slight RPG style inventory system, any chance we could expect depth beyond simple hack and slash in this mode?
Jonathan Knight: Yes. The currency of the game is the souls you collect by killing stuff (and also in other unique and interesting ways throughout the game). You'll spend those souls on upgrades. I don't have a lot of details to give at this time, unfortunately, but the goal is to give options that would appeal to different play styles, yes.
Will there be any kind of loot in this game - Dead Space had some kind of slight RPG style inventory system, any chance we could expect depth beyond simple hack and slash in this mode?
Jonathan Knight: I guess see answer to previous question.
What do you plan to do to keep us all interested and excited up until the game's release?
Jonathan Knight: We plan to release concept art, screens, videos, do interviews, hold a community day, make lots of noise at all the big game industry events, and basically celebrate the development of the game. We will eventually have a website at www.dantesinferno.com, right now there's just a one-pager there, with a sign-up. But that site will be sweet, with lots of fun stuff and updates.
My hope is that games who are excited to see where we go with this form a community, get engaged with our website (once it's up), tell us what they think, and even help shape the game as it's made.
I worked on The Sims years ago, and one thing I loved about that great franchise is that the community that plays it really has a strong hand in the choices the development team makes. I carry that attitude forward. We read the boards, we listen - it's not always fun when the comments are on the harsh side - but it's great to get that feedback so we can fold it into our choices.
So keep it coming!
Super Moderating Hero: Can Eurogamer be in your game, Jonathan? We've done some voice acting before, you know, and we're very dedicated.
Jonathan Knight: If the unions permit me, yes.
Super Moderating Hero: Excitement!
Super Moderating Hero: Looks like we're drawing to a close. You've been quite spectacular, Michael Knight, as lots of our readers are pointing out. Time for our routine closer - would you rather have lasers for eyes, or be able to turn invisible?
Jonathan Knight: Turn invisible. I'm creepy like that.
Super Moderating Hero: Lovely stuff. Thanks ever so much, Jonathan Michael Knight.
Jonathan Knight: My pleasure! Thanks for the opportunity to talk about the game!