In search of a great Christian game
California-based game developers Phoenix Interactive Studios have recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 for a new PC game, "The Call of Abraham".
Phoenix Interactive said that they were fed up with Christian games that have so often "dropped the ball".
They describe a frustrating dichotomy between games that are either "biblically correct and boring" or "graphically sharp, but Biblically irrelevant and full of gratuitous violence".
"I have four kids and Richard [Gaeta, fellow co-founder] has two kids, and we had this idea of creating Christian video games that stir a hunger for God's Word," said Martin Bertram, Co-Founder of Phoenix Interactive
"The Book of Genesis is full of familiar stories, but they've never been told from this perspective. Wouldn't you love to see – with gorgeous detail – Abraham stopped from sacrificing Isaac … or Lot's wife turn into a pillar of salt?"
A big part of Mr Bertram's motivation is his frustration with the current offerings of many of the more mainstream game publishers. The 'Triple A' game industry - a term derived from the financial rating system - has often produced highly violent and what many believe are morally corrupting games.
Phoenix Interactive highlights the fact that the bestselling game of 2013 was the fifth offering of the Grand Theft Auto series.
"We keep a tight leash on what games our kids can play because a lot of what's out there conflicts with our Christian worldview," Mr Bertram explains.
The Old Testament describes deeply violent events on regular occasions. However, the designers are keen to point out on their Kickstarter page that "even when the main character must kill a rabid wolf attacking Abraham's sheep, or run into battle, there is always a just cause and you are only able to engage in activities that are honourable".
The mechanics of The Call of Abraham also do not reward violence for violence sake, as is seen in other games.
"On occasions where there is a better alternative to violence, you are rewarded for finding and choosing it," he explains.
This is a welcome change from perhaps the most famous recent Christian game title, Catechumen, where players take on the role of a Roman soldier armed with beam shooting 'spiritual' swords as he searches deep in ancient catacombs to locate his demon possessed mentor and brethren.
The game was described by Craked.com as being "your typical first-person slaughter fest with a tiny religious hat on".
Aside from the simplistic story, which was described by secular reviewer Game Revolution as being "more boring than Sunday school", the puzzles were simple, the enemy AI was weak, the level design of simple corridors and large open plan rooms was unengaging, and there was nothing uniquely Christian about it.
As Craked.com commented further that if a game could be considered Christian because the enemies are demons, "by that logic, Doom was a more Christian game because it had you killing way more demons and gave you much better weapons to do it."
Call of Abraham aims to shoot much higher, but it also does not intend to be an evangelistic tool.
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The development team explained to Christian Today: "There isn't any preaching or any time messaging is pushed onto the player.
"We knew that we wanted to make it so much fun that if you're a Christian and you want to give it away, you can give it to a non-believer and they'd enjoy it just as a game.
"Of course, they'd learn more about the Bible and maybe it would stir a hunger in them to learn more, but it stands on its own as a fun game."
The important thing to the creators is both their integrity to their art - the drive to make a good game - and the desire to tell a story in which the Bible is genuinely relevant. As the developers point out, it would be very easy to exploit the kind of 'Passion Dollars' phenomenon of marketing things to Christians. But that isn't what they are about.
This is most potently demonstrated by their decision to assemble a team of religious advisors, who ensure their work has as much fidelity to the biblical source material as possible. In this group are individuals with roles as diverse as church business managers, inner-city youth outreach workers, school teachers, and senior pastors.
"It would obviously be a lot easier to just make biblically-irrelevant storylines and slap a biblical title on it to get attention, but we did the hard work of keeping it biblically-relevant, and now the payoff is that the Christian leaders who have been involved with us are giving us a wholehearted endorsement.
"We've known most of our advisory council for a decade, so it's not a marketing stunt - these are people who know us, they know our game, and they know we're trustworthy."
The Call of Abraham's art style is described by the developers as being in the "ballpark" of the Lucasarts/Bioware production "Knights of the Old Republic". In terms of gameplay, feedback from the testing phase has compared it to the Blizzard phenomenal success "World of Warcraft" with familiar mechanics such as quests and other popular systems of the RPG (Role Playing Game) format. But with its single player and open world format, comparisons to the "Assassin's Creed" franchise are to a certain extent inevitable, however that has been something the designers have wanted to play down.
The game is hoped to be the first in a series, and so far levels of success are looking promising. The Kickstarter campaign was launched on January 7 with a target of $100,000. It has so far attracted 14 backers, who have pledged a total of $770.
The game has also been voted onto the PC game service, "Steam", a kind of iTunes for the gaming world in which consumers can select the games they think are worth buying.
If all goes well, this will be the first game in a longer series. The game's full title is "Bible Chronicles: The Call of Abraham" and Phoenix Interactive have all sorts of exciting plans for the future.
"When we think about other parts of the Bible to focus on, our heads reel," they say.
"I mean, we could do a thousand different stories. Joseph or Joshua would be amazing. Esther's a great one with a female protagonist.
"And of course, Jesus would be an incredible title."