Sunday, January 4, 2009

Religion Industries: Wisdom Tree

American Christian Culture tries to "live up" to standards of the world. So now, there is a whole Christian industry. The problem isn't the fact that there are Christian companies, it's the fact that the products aren't made for the purpose of being a good product, but simply to be a "Christian alternative" to everything else (I mean, seriously - do we really need "Testamints"?)
I suppose I could become vehemently angry about these things. Yet, it would be a waste of energy. Instead, I think I will study the things that are somewhat laughable, and point out what makes them so.

Being in the video gaming industry, I have to bring up Wisdom Tree. (Formed by the developer known as "Color Dreams") This was a "Christian" video game licensing company, that "opted out" [a.k.a. refused to follow] Nintendo's licensing program - including a rather skeezy workaround for the lockout chip used in Super Nintendo games. Please note that this licensing program was set forth to ensure that a certain standard would be met for video games.

The whole selling point of Wisdom Tree was that these were to provide a Christian influence in a video game. Unfortunately, they fell pretty short with providing much content for anybody. In an overview of these games, Nick Gibson states:
"Their original purpose was to 'take the garbage out and put Bible content in.' They did, but the way they artificially injected Bible content-combined with the fact that it's in such small quantities-makes it easy to pass over or simply ignore it." 1
To top it off, most of these games are near blatant rip-offs of more popular games, or re-hashing of games earlier sold by Color Dreams. Spiritual Warfare is described as a "Zelda-like clone" by And, of course, there is the monster known as Super 3D Noah's Ark. It has all the markings of a game called Wolfenstein 3D. And why wouldn't it? It uses the Wolf3D engine created by id Software. There is a rumor that the developers at id Software gave the coding to Wisdom Tree as revenge for Wolfenstein 3D not turning out as well as expected. This article on further explains:
"The level layouts, weapons, and enemy behaviors in the SNES version is identical to Wolfenstein 3D, but the graphics were changed to reflect a non-violent theme, with enemies simply going to sleep instead of dying. It is unclear whether or not the game was actually officially licensed from id Software, or simply an illegal bootleg."2
It is also an interesting note that Super 3D Noah's Ark was the only SNES game that was not given the Nintendo seal of approval. For the SNES, Nintendo created the "lock-out chip", thus making unapproved (i.e. games that couldn't match the level of quality or legal standards) unable to work in SNES console. However, Wisdom Tree found a way bypass the chip by fashioning a cartridge in which the user had to insert a licensed SNES game into the top. And this was not some random information that those at Color Dreams had happened upon. Wisdom Tree worked very hard to keep a step ahead of Nintendo to continue making these games without Nintendo's approval. When interviewed Brenda Huff, from Wisdom Tree, she had this to say about the lack on Nintendo liscensing:
"Since Wisdom Tree games were licensed by Color Dreams who had legally reverse engineered the NES system and then created the game boards and plastic, we did not have the legal issues so many other developers had. Our major problem was circumventing the lockout devices Nintendo put in their game systems. We actually had 6 versions of our games to keep ahead of the lockouts."3
I really have a problem with how skeezy that is, considering that this was supposed to be a Christian developer. I understand that being grandfathered in through Color Dreams kept them from being sued by Nintendo - so what they did was not completely illegal. However, it is the sense that the company bypassed these regulations simply because getting the products up to snuff just was not profitable enough. After all, doesn't the life of a Christian implore excellence? Shouldn't we deal with everything we do as if it were important enough to work our very best?

Again, there is nothing wrong with a Christian based video gaming company. The problem is that these games are very poorly made. I understand that there may not be as much money immediately pumped into these projects as the mega companies, but in this case, the problem isn't so much the funding.

If Wisdom Tree were founded by people that were Christians that had an honest passion for video games, the games would be awesome! But it's a company that was founded to provide a "Christian alternative" to everything else. It wasn't about the games, it was about the Christian image meeting the standards of the world - in this case the growing interest in video games. Unfortunately, when that became the main focus, Christian and non-Christian video gamers alike got burned as the titles fell painfully short.


1. Wisdom Tree: Developers without a License
2. Super 3D Noah's Ark Wikipedia
3.'s interview with Brenda Huff of Wisdom Tree
4. Wisdom Tree's Website

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