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Guest Blogger: Visceral's Vincent Napoli talks Dante's Inferno's Cross combat

2:00 PM on 12.16.2009 // Vincent Napoli

[Editor's note: Visceral Games' Vincent Napoli is the Lead Combat designer for the developer's upcoming title, Dante's Inferno.]

Dante wields two main weapons against the enemies of the Inferno. One of them, a magical cross imbued with divine powers, is given as a parting gift from Beatrice before he descends into the Inferno. For all intents and purposes, the cross is Dante’s secondary weapon -- but, the cross serves a very different purpose than the Scythe does during combat. The cross offers a completely unique experience for players who decide to favor the cross over the scythe when upgrading throughout the game.

Our three major goals for designing Dante’s Cross:

  1. The first and most important thing is that the Cross needs to add to the moment to moment game play of Dante’s Inferno. This means we cannot have the Cross bound by some type of energy or mana.
  2. The Cross also has to be accessible. Early prototypes of the control scheme for the Cross had it triggered via holding down the left shoulder button or R2 before pressing any of the four face button. However we found that scheme of multiple button presses, shift keys, etc. to be far too cumbersome.
  3. Lastly, the Cross needs to be Dante’s ranged weapon and serve a completely different function than the Scythe. The Scythe is already a great catch-all tool for anything Dante needs to do close range, so we needed something that controls an entirely different spatial area.

Even though our goals were clearly outlined from the get go, it actually took quite a while to get the Cross to where we are now. We’ve gone through numerous revisions functionally and aesthetically to finally get to a place where we’re happy with it.

One of the first design elements we nailed down was that we didn’t want the player to be able to strafe targets while using the Cross. Strafing while firing at enemies may work fine in other action games, but it didn’t feel right for Dante’s Inferno. Part of the feel of the original poem is that Dante is in constant motion, descending downwards through hell and never backtracking. We wanted to keep that feel in combat as well so we decided that each Cross attack would function like a melee attack and push Dante forward. This not only keeps combat feeling more aggressive at all times, but adds an inherent risk versus reward scenario as Dante may be able to start at a great distance from his enemies, but each attack increases the risk of danger.

Another element that took forever to get right with the Cross was targeting. We didn’t want to introduce the notion of a targeting system or a “lock-on” system but obviously we want players to be able to choose what they aim at. Our solution takes several things into account. For starters, the Cross actually blasts in an incredibly wide arc rather than just a single projectile – it’s basically a spread shot. Also, each Cross projectile can actually “pierce” through enemies, which means whenever it hits an opponent it doesn’t stop moving – it damages them and then phases directly through them to hit anyone else it comes into contact with. Finally, we’ve implemented a pretty refined soft lock system that aims the projectile at what we believe is the player’s “intentional” target.

Oddly enough, the most difficult thing to develop for the Cross was the look of the actual projectile it fires. The first prototype started out with Dante literally shooting a big white cross. At the time it was just a test, but people seemed to generally like the look of it. From there, we made a first pass at our “Cross Bullet.” But for whatever reason, things just didn’t click. The treatment wasn’t working and so it was scrapped before we took it very far.

Our next attempt was to move to a less literal object and go with something more akin to a blasts of energy. This iteration even made it into our E3 demo and was taken to a relatively high level of completion.

Something still wasn’t right however. Along with the aesthetic not feeling perfect yet, the functionality of shooting spheres out just wasn’t working. Players would constantly miss their target, shooting too far to the left or right, but never on target. Not only did the object itself have to change, but the overall shape as well. 

Coming full circle, we finally decided to head back to a treatment of “Cross Bullets,” except this time we invested a bit more into a stylized interpretation of the Cross effects by adding frost-like trails and whispy elements lingering off the cross itself. The biggest hurdle at this point was now frame rate. The effects need to be impressive, but not at the cost of 60 FPS. Luckily, our stellar VFX artist Sandy Lin and the graphics engineering team were up to the challenge.

Getting the Cross to where it is today took, literally, months of iteration time from almost every department. The effects had to be optimized constantly, and the damage and spacing of the cross shots were tweaked after almost every playtest.

But, the end result is something that both the team, and playtesters have found to be incredibly satisfying and fun to use. Here’s hoping everyone else feels the same on February 9th!

[Are you a developer? Want to guest blog about your latest project or simply talk about anything related to gaming? Send inquiries to nick at destructoid dot com.]

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