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EXCL: Dante’s Inferno Artist Blog – 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

Rich Larm, the Lead Environment Artist on the Dante’s Inferno video game, has provided Dread Central readers with an exclusive in-depth look at the process his team utilized to build out just one of the game’s numerous environments, in this case an area of Limbo. In addition, he’s given us a few sneak peeks at the other circles of hell as well: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, and last but not least, Treachery.


As an environment artist, you can’t ask for a more inspiring project than Dante’s Inferno. Adapting the poem’s epic environments into 3D was a dream project, but with the dream also came a beast of an endeavor. Our time frame for completion was about 18 months, and we had to pull it off with a new graphics engine and much of the art team residing in China. Additionally we set tough technical goals that had to be maintained on a daily basis:

  • simultaneous development on PS3 and 360
  • eliminate all load pauses with continuous memory streams
  • maintain 60 frames per second throughout the entire game
  • Sustaining 60 fps was especially difficult because everything onscreen needed to be rendered under 16.666 milliseconds per frame. 16.666 ms divided amongst animation, environments, vfx, ai …

    Fortunately our team consisted of some really great designers, artists, and engineers. Early on we were able to set up tools and work flows that allowed us to iterate quickly and keep levels optimized as we progressed. As a result we avoided costly re-work and cleanup time. In all, the travails proved rewarding, especially the effort to maintain 60 fps with its responsive gameplay.

    A. Evolution of an Environment
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Combat and level design are the heart of Dante’s gameplay. Our mantra was “Design first and Art supports”. For environment building we used a phase process that followed on the heels of level design. Designers would build out the playable spaces in primitive forms called whiteboxes. After the essential gameplay was defined in a whitebox, it was sent to artists.

    Here’s a look at the evolution of one environment in Limbo. This is the mezzanine that overlooks the underside of Minos’ court.

    I. Designer Whitebox
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    The first step in building an environment; it contains sizing and initial camera/combat/puzzle scripting. Environment collision is created at this stage.

    II. Concept Drawing
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Based off the whitebox, concept is created to guide environment models and textures.

    III. Models, Textures, UVs
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    The whitebox is replaced with detailed models and textures. Models are created in Maya. Texture maps are created with ZBrush, CrazyBump, and Photoshop. Lighting begins at this point.

    IV. Lighting/Color Study
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    For epic scenes that require special details another concept piece is created. The in game model is screen captured and an in depth study is painted over top in Photoshop. This painting guides lighting and vfx.

    V. Baked Lighting
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Lighters create light rigs in Maya and bake lighting information into static models and textures (vertices and lightmaps)

    VI. Spherical Harmonics Lighting
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    These grids are invisible during gameplay but light characters and other dynamic objects.

    VII. Combined Lighting and Textures
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    An example of combining baked lighting and finished textures.

    VIII. VFX particles added
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Particles are added to give a sense of life to the scene. Global wind volumes are placed to affect particle direction and Dante’s ribbons.

    IX. VFX final pass
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Final vfx pass including: lut, glows, screen distortion, wind trails, vfx lights

    B. Postcards from Hell

    Here’s a look at some of the different environments.

    Surface: Cathedral
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Limbo: Nursery
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Limbo: Minos’ court
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Lust: Storm
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Lust: Cleopatra’s chamber
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Gluttony: Intestinal wall
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Gluttony: Mudvalley
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Greed: Gold Shades
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Anger: Precipice
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Anger: Lighthouse
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Heresy: Lava wall
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Heresy: Flaming Crypts
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Violence: Suicide woods
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Violence: Burning Sands
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Treachery: Ice Bridge
    EXCL: Dante's Inferno Artist Blog - 60 fps: The Number of the Beast

    Thanks for reading,

    Rich Larm
    Lead Environment Artist: Dante’s Inferno


    Gamers will get to go to hell in North America beginning February 9, 2010, and in Europe on February 12, 2010, for the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, and the PlayStation PSP.

    For more information on Dante’s Inferno, follow the team at Visceral Games on Twitter at @danteteam, and visit the game’s official site, where the team explores a new circle of hell, with new content and updates, on the ninth day of every month. Below you can watch Fraud, which was just released. Only one more to go — Treachery comes in February!

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    Steve Barton

    You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

    • Floydian Trip

      I hope this game turns out as awesome as it should. I picked up the book to read before I play it. Looks like an awesome book just leafing through it. I’ve been playing games my entire life since the days when text adventures were the thing but I still don’t understand what is so special about 60 FPS when the human eye can’t even detect it.