Like works in any medium, video games aren’t created in a vacuum. They draw on a rich artistic history that stretches back to the infancy of not only video games but of art itself. Because video games are actually massive amalgamations of different kinds of art, relying on visual art, writing, music and any number of other forms to tell their stories and deliver experiences, they draw inspiration from almost any medium that relies on the imagination.
This is especially true in cases like that of Agony, the upcoming first-person survival horror experience from #MadmindStudios, set in hell. Because the concept of hell has such deep and complicated roots in religion, art and philosophy, a game like Agony necessarily leans on its audience’s preconceptions.
And any designer mining a rich tapestry of mythology and art like the one that exists around the idea of the Christian hell, or any afterlife of torment and punishment, would be foolish not to draw on the great works created to describe and define that space.
“I would say that the main inspiration for us was the world created by Dante's Divine Comedy,” says Tomasz “Tomek” Dutkiewicz, the founder of Madmind Studios and one of the the driving creative forces behind Agony. “But Agony won't simply rely on his vision, we took inspiration from countless prophets, artists, and religions.”
Of course, visions of hell have varied wildly throughout its history, with several landmark depictions of it serving as markers for how it would conventionally thought of in different eras.
The poet Dante Alighieri envisioned a hell divided into a strict hierarchy in the Inferno cantos of his Divine Comedy, a vestibule and nine concentric circles that represented increasingly wicked transgressions and the appropriate punishments, culminating in the core of the earth where Satan himself was held in eternal bondage.
In Dante’s formative conception of hell, sinners are subjected to eternal, often repetitive torments that are poetically suited to their sins — the wrathful, for instance, are condemned to forever tear each other limb from limb.
The hell that lives in each of us
Inferno’s influence on the aesthetic of Agony is evident in the suffering sinners the game presents and the twisted presentation of the hellscape at large. But Dutkiewicz emphasizes that Dante wasn’t the only source of inspiration for the team’s vision of what a realm of perpetual torment would look like.
“During the development process, we studied many interesting descriptions of hell, made by prophets and regular people from all over the world. When you try to make a game about the darkest visions of hell, you can't really take someone else's vision, but you have to make a trip into your own mind and take inspirations directly from there.”
Critically, Agony diverges from most depictions of the Christian hell in that it seems there is some path to escape (which, in fact, represents the primary goal of the game).
Players will battle through the underworld by means of the ability to control other damned souls and even possess or manipulate demons, striving to find and strike a bargain with a mysterious entity called the Red Goddess.
According to Dutkiewicz, the team’s research led them to some strange texts and disturbing revelations about people’s personal relationship with hell, either as an artistic construct or as a component of a system of religious belief.
“Thanks to that, we've effectively reached the most hidden fears of us all, and brought it to the surface of Agony.”