Italy’s place within videogames is well established, but a new initiative seeks to take it to the next level
How IVIPRO is planning to grow Italy’s influence throughout gaming
Developers searching for inspiration now have a new resource thanks to the creation of an organisation dedicated to showcasing the cities and landscapes of Italy. Called the Italian Videogame Program, or IVIPRO, the institution is amassing an enormous database to represent some of the country’s most evocative and culturally rich locations.
IVIPRO, staffed by five people, is building its collection with the help of tourist boards and cultural institutions, but founder Andrea Dresseno knows that certain locations will be of more interest than others. “Ancient villages and villas, fortresses, abandoned buildings, and monuments,” he suggests. “Local folklore mixing in with history and legends can further contribute to the characterisation of a location.”
IVIPRO will also present the histories behind the locations. “A place is not only architecture but also a potential story,” Dresseno says. “I’m thinking of locations where important historical events took place, like in Assassin’s Creed II.” And it’ll present the objects found within them: “Even a painting can become an aesthetic or thematic inspiration for a videogame.”
Once the first part is launched later this year, developers will have free access to the database, which is searchable via tags. Dresseno uses the example of someone making a game about witchcraft and coming across Triora, a town in Liguria, north-western Italy, where witchcraft trials took place in the 16th century and which features a medieval citadel. From there, IVIPRO will offer further research into themes and specific locations and will put developers in touch with the local film commission, which may be able to help with organising field trips and access to private property.
Italy is already a common inspiration for videogames, most prominently in the Assassin’s Creed series, in which Rome, Florence, Venice and the Tuscan hill town of Monteriggioni have taken starring roles. Monteriggioni’s tourist site features a visitor itinerary based on the locations in Assassin’s Creed II. More recently, The Coalition looked at Fenestrelle Fort in the Alpine region of Piedmont for Gears Of War 4, and based the COG’s capital city on the late Renaissance fort town of Palmanova, which features a strikingly geometric street plan.
Seeing Palmanova’s potential, IVIPRO has started working with its council to reach out to other game developers. Dresseno notes that as well as the obvious attraction of its plan, there’s more to discover, such as a series of tunnels that cross under the town and a rich history. As a Venetian citadel it was positioned to protect its empire’s frontier against the Ottomans, and as a planned town it was designed to utopian ideals. All residents were to share equal status and the physical shape of the town was intended to drive everyone to artistic, academic and commercial heights.
“Another very interesting star fort is Sabbioneta in Lombardy,” Dresseno says, adding that, like Palmanova, it’s a ‘microcosmos’: a highly self-contained place that works well for the technical limitations and creative needs of games.
The ultimate aim of the project is to promote Italy to the wider world. Currently self-financed, IVIPRO is looking for backing for its long-term survival, but it’s supported by the Italian culture ministry, the game-industry association AESVI, and national and regional Film Commissions Associations.
“I consider videogames as a vehicle to promote Italian places and tell stories of our culture, much the same way as the film industry does,” Dresseno says. “They are digital works in which entertainment and culture can coexist. They can also bring benefits to tourism if local institutions understand the marketing opportunities a videogame can create.”
Dresseno’s first interest in videogames’ relationship with the real world came when playing Broken Sword and Gabriel
Knight 3. “The mystery of Rennes-leChâteau [in Gabriel Knight 3] captivated me so much I decided to go there with two friends of mine,” he says. “I became in this way a videogame tourist.”
But as well as promoting Italy as a place, he hopes it will help the local game industry. Although it’s still relatively small, AESVI announced late last year the results of a survey that recorded a growing number of studios and an uptick in overall revenue. Dresseno is proud of several recent Italian games, including
Wheels Of Aurelia, the narrative-based game in which you drive down the Italian coast during the political assassinations and kidnappings of the ’70s, and The
Town Of Light, set in Volterra, Tuscany, which focused on the treatment of people with mental disorders before a law closed all Italian psychiatric hospitals.
“I think it’s important to deal with themes like this,” Dresseno says. “But I’m even happier if a videogame deals with it. Videogames show that they can tell stories of considerable depth.”
“I consider videogames as a vehicle to promote Italian places and tell stories of our culture”
Andrea Dresseno heads IVIPRO, having established Archivio Videoludico, the first Italian videogame archive, in 2009