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Jonathan Knight   ('Dante's Inferno' Video Game) Jonathan Knight ('Dante's Inferno' Video Game)

'Feel The Burn!'

Jonathan Knight grew up playing games on the family Apple II that still sits in his office. He has been making computer and video games since 1994, after combining a software programming background with a Master of Fine Arts degree from Boston University, where he directed plays and studied the works of Shakespeare.

He has worked for several major publishers, including Interplay, Activision, and Electronic Arts, where he has been since 2001. He has produced and directed for a number of key gaming franchises, including Start Trek, Quake, Wolfenstein, The Sims, and The Simpsons.

He is currently a Vice President and Executive Producer at EA’s Visceral Games studio, and has written, directed, and produced the highly anticipated video game 'Dante’s Inferno.'

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jonathan Knight about the upcoming 'Dantre's Inferno,' and first wondered how he and Visceral had chosen 'The Divine Comedy' as inspiration for his latest release - and how challenging had it been (re: this 14th Century poem by Dante Alighieri) to transform into an interactive median? "The Divine Comedy has been adapted over and over throughout the centuries. Great painters, storytellers, musicians, sculptors, etc., have taken the poem and illuminated it in their medium with their own spin. We see ourselves following in that tradition, which continues up to the present day with books, films, and now the game."

"The biggest challenge for the video game is that the game is very action-packed, due to the interactive nature of the medium, and so we needed to weave a new storyline that allows for more action and conflict. We brought in an Oscar-nominated screenwriter to help us with that, and the result is a story that layers nicely on top of the poem, using the same principal characters, but with a more dramatic twist."

What is the signifocance of the bloody red tapestry cross sewn onto Dante’s chest? "The tapestry contains scenes that represent the sins of Dante’s past life—his war crimes, childhood, his betrayals, etc. In the game, those scenes literally come to life in stylized cinematics that show the player Dante’s past, and his journey through hell becomes a mission to redeem himself of those sins. He sews it into his own chest because deep down he feels tremendous guilt over the things he has done."

In game play you get the choice to focus on Unholy and Holy powers. How important was it to add this element to Dante’s development and does it effect how the storyline plays out ie: depending on which side the user focuses on? "It was very important, it is really the core of what separates Dante from other action heroes—his duality. Punishing and/or absolving is something you do quite frequently in the game, we wanted to work it right into the fast-paced combat system. For most enemies, when you wear them down and grab them, you’re given the choice in that split-second moment, and the choice determines how you finish them off: either by absolving them with the cross, or punishing them with the deadly brutal scythe."

"Those play-style choices feed your Holy and/or Unholy meters over time, and you level up one path or the other (or both). You also have opportunities to earn Holy and Unholy experience when you encounter the damned. These souls are found less frequently, in non-combat areas, and they are characters that come from the poem—like Dante’s Florentine friends and rivals, or various political figures. You can read what their sins were in life, and they talk to you and give you some background. Armed with a little more knowledge of their transgression, you decide whether to punish or absolve."

'Dante’s Inferno: The Animated Epic' is released on both DVD and Blu-ray next week, the same day the game drops. How does this animated feature relate to the game and how did this collaboration of multiple animation studios come together? "In partnership with Starz / Flim Roman, Visceral Games co-produced a full-length animated feature based upon the game. It was a really fun project. We worked with six different animation directors, at various studios in Asia ad North America, and crafted a film that literally changes animation style as you descend the nine circles of hell."

"We used a lot of the voice talent from the game in the movie, and the game team supervised the overall creative direction. In the end, the movie is a great companion piece to the game, and covers aspects of the poem that we weren’t able to explore in the game."

Interviewed by: Ken Tebo

'Dante's Inferno' Official Site

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