Interview: Dante’s Inferno Senior Product Manager Phil Marineau

Dante plummets to Hell.As you surely know, Dante’s Inferno launches next Tuesday on the PS3 and Xbox 360. The fiery slasher is highly anticipated and has already received very solid reviews. I got the chance to talk with EA’s Phil Marineau, the Senior Product Manager on Dante’s Inferno, to talk about development, the game’s place in the action/adventure genre, and the upcoming Super Bowl ad for the game.

Fearless Gamer: Obviously the game’s based on Dante’s Inferno so why that poem, why that source material?

Phil Marineau: Well, ever since our executive producer read the poem – and he’s somewhat of a literary buff – if you go online and you go on Google and you type in Dante’s Inferno and you search images everyone throughout history who’s read the poem has been inspired by it. The image you see the most is the cone, the cone image, where someone’s sort of drawing Hell. And it gave us the idea that, you know what, this sets up perfectly for a level-based video game. You start at the top, on the surface, you fight through nine levels of Hell, and at the end you have the ultimate boss battle with the ultimate bad guy, Lucifer.

As we were going around pitching it internally people were like, “Yeah, I totally get it.”

FG: So what makes Visceral and EA’s vision of hell different from what we’ve seen. There are a lot of games out there that take the hell concept, what makes this different?

Phil Marineau: With Dante’s Inferno Hell is our point of differentiation – the way we’ve designed it, the way we approach it – specifically the nine circles. The folks associated with it – the ambiance, the environment, the atmosphere – all that stuff, in our hell, definitely makes it a unique and great gameplay experience. We have a fantastic design team, it’s probably our strongest suit amongst all the different core groups within development and they really spent a lot of time developing and designing each of the nine levels to play differently, to feel differently, to be fun, to match…the art group did a fantastic job matching the sins to the feel and the ambiance that you get and it’s all wrapped together with the sound.

FG: I really like the environment – it has a very gritty and super-dark feel to it. When you guys were making that did you have concerns about working with the ESRB – you were really able to put a lot of content into the game that’s not showing up in other games because it’s so racey.

Phil Marineau: We at EA are always working with the ESRB to make sure that we are compliant and in line with their guidance in what goes in to our titles. That being said, there’s lots of iterations. For as racey as things are in our game, there’s a bunch of stuff that didn’t make it cause we were like “Yikes, that’s a bridge too far.”

Wayne Barlow is one of our concept artists and he’s been working with the idea of Dante’s Inferno and Hell for over 30 years and once we decided we were going to go down this path we were like, “Alright, we gotta get the best and the brightest around these days about this stuff.” When we talked with him and explained what we wanted to do he came back with some stuff for Lust and Cleopatra where she had sex organs for fingers and we were like, “This is great and thank you, but it’s probably a little too far.”

FG: Yeah, that might be a little much.

Phil Marineau: Yeah

Dante's lost love, Beatrice.

FG: So what made you guys pull the trigger on the Super Bowl ad for this game? It’s the first of it’s kind for any video game developer to show off at the Super Bowl, am I right?

Phil Marineau: Definitely for EA – this is EA’s first Super Bowl ad. I believe there’s probably been, back in the day, some Apple IIe Super Bowl commercials or something back in 1991. We did a little checking. I don’t think we can claim first ever for the industry, but first for a long time and definitely a first for EA.

In terms of why we did it, it was a couple things. One, the timing was perfect. The game comes out on Tuesday, February 9th on the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 and the [Super Bowl] is on the seventh. Part two of that timing is we’ve been marketing this game for a long time. It’s a new intellectual property, albeit, it’s 700 years old, so we’ve really been trying to have a conversation with the consumers – more of the hardcore consumers in terms of gaming – every month by introducing them to a new circle of hell. We called it our “Nine Months of Hell” campaign. The Super Bowl is going to serve as our capstone for that. Every month we’ve been talking about a different circle, trying to elicit conversation so people are talking about it and understanding it and getting excited about it. As we build to this roar at launch, what better megaphone than the Super Bowl itself.

Timing was the first part. The second part is that this is something EA is doing more often now. You saw Mass Effect 2 at the NFC Championship – in the last two minutes they ran the entire launch trailer. They were also on during the premier of Lost. EA as a whole is trying to do more with less, less meaning a smaller SKU plan, but really doubling down and doing significant investment in those titles we think can really perform.

So it’s perfect timing for us – part of our Nine Months of Hell capstone and our launch and just as the EA mantra is moving in terms of marketing.

FG: Sure. So with the launch coming up do you have any concerns? The game launches the same day as Bioshock 2, right?

Phil Marineau: Yeah, the fourth quarter is loaded with a bunch of great games – our fiscal fourth quarter, first quarter of the year. Mass Effect 2 just came out and is a 96-rated RPG, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 comes out shortly after us, and the reaction to their demo has been great, and, you know, Bioshock 2 launches on our date. We certainly are concerned with and excited for other titles as fans of the game, but we feel like we have a unique selling proposition here with our Nine Months of Hell, the gameplay is fun, it’s easily accessible. A lot of people can pick it up and play and understand it and relate to it. That’s another good reason the Super Bowl makes sense. We’ve been communicating for a long time now over the last nine months explaining why we’re cool, why we deserve to take a look. We put the demo out there for free trial for anyone who wants to see and compare us to anything else. We certainly got the message out there and we’ll let the consumers make up their minds about what they want to do.

FG: Definitely. So the game draws obvious comparisons to Bayonetta and God of War – what sets you guys apart? What makes the game different?

Phil Marineau:We’re huge fans of Bayonetta. We’re huge fans of Darksiders. We’re huge fans of the God of War franchise, Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, all these third-person action/adventure titles in our genre and we certainly did get inspiration from a lot of those. I realize people specifically hone in on God of War but I think that’s because they’re the industry leader.

FG: Yeah.

Phil Marineau: What sets us apart is, again, the environment. The nine circles of Hell. The ability to go through and explore it and hear the environment and feel it and the combat through it. It’s unique and it’s different from anything else that’s out there or has been out there.

FG: So my last question for you – this is just the first part of Dante’s trilogy. Are we going to see more? Is Dante heading elsewhere or is this it?

Phil Marineau: Right now we’re really focused on Dante’s Inferno and making it the success that we think it can be, but we’d be lying to say we hadn’t thought about how we would adapt Purgatorio and Paradiso. We have some great ideas for both, but we need to make sure this one’s a success first and that the consumer demand is there before we move forward. We hope so. We’d love to make it, but we want people to want us to make it.

FG: Well Phil, thanks a lot. I really appreciate you doing the interview.

Phil Marineau: My pleasure.

I’ve included some stills from the Super Bowl ad, but you really need to see it. It’s fantastic, and the song choice is perfect. You can view that trailer and more at the Dante’s Inferno official site.

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