It all began with a map. That's what drew Visceral Games producer Jonathan Knight to the Divine Comedy and eventually birthed the videogame adaptation Dante's Inferno.
"You open a copy of the book and the first thing that usually jumps out at you is a map," says Knight.
"There have been many, many drawings of it over the years, going all the way back to Botticelli. He is famous for the Birth of Venus and about 100, 150 years after Dante he did a reprint of the Divine Comedy and illustrated it. It was the first time anyone had done that, but it was a creative impulse we'd see repeated throughout the centuries that followed.
"Botticelli drew a map that showed the funnel shape of the nine circles of Hell, the nine rings starting at the surface and going down to the centre of the earth. Dante imagines rivers and cities and cliffs and it's full of this very specific geography because he walks the whole thing on foot with Virgil."
It's thanks to that map that you'll be able to experience Dante's journey through the afterlife on your Xbox 360 or PlayStation this week.
Knight believes that the universe and mythology so vividly brought to life through the writing of Dante Alighieri - and of course the illustration of Sandro Botticelli - is an ideal fit for a videogame.
"What I think we get doing an adaptation of the poem as a videogame is we get the benefit of his incredible imagination," he says. "The monsters and creatures that inhabit Hell, the mish-mash of mythologies from Biblical references to Italian politics and folklore to what was going on in Florence at the time. It's just this unbelievable petri dish of imagination."
On the surface, Dante's Inferno seems to serve up a faithful take on the world imagined in its poetic source. You'll progress through the nine circles of Hell in sequence, just as Dante envisaged. You'll cross the River Acheron, the River Styx, the River Phlegethon, and Lake Cocytus, each depicted with as much artistic and environmental fidelity to the original text as possible.
Knight notes the convenience inherent in the poem's structure: it neatly provides a boss encounter for every circle, from King Minos and Cerberus all the way to Lucifer himself.
"In the poem, King Minos is described as a king with a crown and the tail of a snake which he uses to judge the damned," says Knight. "We basically lifted that physical description of him and created our boss character."
"If you know the poem, you'll play the game and see all these minor characters, these Florentines that Dante meets in the poem. Whether it's Brunetto [Latini]who's kind of his teacher or Filippo Argenti who's his angry rival, there's a lot of these character littered throughout the game for you to interact with.
"Virgil is there," Knight continues, "and you can talk to him and all of his lines come directly from the poem. He'll describe to you how Hell works and who's there and so forth.
"A lot of it is fairly literal, albeit abridged because it's a 14,000 line poem. If you want all of that then obviously the best thing to do is to actually read the poem."
Where the game departs from the original poem is in the specific story it tells while following Dante's narrative thread of a man traversing Hell. Visceral admits it created "a bit more conflict" in the story, most evident in the reimagining of Dante himself as a warrior rather than a poet or scholar.
Despite taking liberties to make the Divine Comedy work as an action, Knight told me he felt great responsibility to do justice to Dante's original work.
"I'm very much a champion of the poem," he says. "Whenever we could do something that was more in line with what happens in the poem or had to make a choice about this character or that or this environment or that, we always tried to do what was in the poem first. But sometimes you have to change things for gameplay reasons."
Knight points to the example of Lust and Gluttony. In the text, Dante skips over the two areas quite quickly, meaning there's not a great deal of description from which to work. While this may make sense in literature, it's not quite the kind of pacing you'd want in a game.
Indeed, Visceral wanted each of the nine circles to have some central architectural elements, some important characters and to explore each of the sins in depth and equally. As such, they've taken license to build out those circles with more detail than what is in the poem.
"I think people know when they see the product is called Dante's Inferno - it's not called the Divine Comedy - that it is a popularised version of it," says Knight. "And that's a tradition that's been around for a long, long time.
"If anything, the game is making more people go back to the source material to see what it's all about. I'm really happy it turned out that way. Even though our adaptation is loose, and it's clearly a game, I think it will bring more people to the source material."
Have you read the Divine Comedy? If you haven't, I'm curious to know whether Visceral's game is likely to encourage you to seek out a piece of 14th century Italian literature? And if you have read it, are you interested in how Visceral has adapted Dante's Inferno for the interactive screen?