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Page 1:
Super 3D Noah's Ark
The War in Heaven

Page 2:
Saints of Virtue
Catechumen
Ominous Horizons: A Paladin's Calling

Page 3:
Eternal War: Shadows of Light
Analysis

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Saints of Virtue - Windows (1999)

American Windows Cover

Of all the games in this rundown, Saints of Virtue is probably the one with the most information available about its development and content. The developers - a trio of ex-industry professionals who named themselves Shine Studios - put out a handful of newsletters on their website that included tidbits about the making of the game. The game was also a minor hit among the proper audiences, even managing to avoid abandonware hell via a downloadable re-release in 2008. And while it is neither the best-selling Christian FPS game (nor the best looking), it can lay claim to some huge (compared to the competition) game worlds and fairly deep levels of symbolism and allegory. Let this set the record straight: though Saints of Virtue has been used as a punching bag by many an internet comedy site and YouTube "Let's Play", there is a quality game here.

As mentioned, Shine Studios was a three-man effort composed of Michael Ulrich, Dave Slayback, and Bud Gillian. Slayback worked for Sierra as a systems developer and programmer on Police Quest II and Quest For Glory IV, among other games. Ulrich had been employed at Sculptured Software as an artist and animator and was carried forward into Acclaim when Sculptured was bought out by that company. He is now on the art team at 2K Sports. Bud Gillan was a teacher, and that's about all we know. Shine Studios had no office or company headquarters - Slayback, Ulrich, and Gillan lived on opposite sides of the country and used remote conferencing to collaborate.

We can assume Slayback and Ulrich's combined experience were what landed Shine with a publishing agreement through Cactus Game Design - a company which still publishes Christian games of various descriptions. While it had a publisher, Shine was apparently lacking on capital. When they began development on Saints of Virtue in late 1997, the only polygonal engines for license were out of their price range (id Tech and Unreal), and they had no time to develop a new one from scratch. Instead they chose to go with a basic 3D engine that offered cheap licenses and royalty-free publishing agreements. The engine was ACKNEX-3 (now known as 3D Gamestudio, currently in the 8th iteration), and offered a tech level somewhere between Doom and the original Quake.

The development cycle wrapped in 12 months, and Saints of Virtue hit bookstores and online retailers in December of 1999 - running on an engine from 1997 that used tech from 1995. That said, Ulrich's art direction saved Saints of Virtue from what could have been a disaster on par with The War in Heaven. Instead of ungainly low-poly models and garish textures, Saints of Virtue uses 2D sprites for all of the enemies and objects in the game (much like Doom), yet still retains 3D geometry for the game world itself. Unfortunately there are no control mapping features and the mouselook feels all wrong. You'll be playing this with arrow keys, and God help you if you're using a laptop without a numpad. As a result even walking and jumping - much less combat - can be a chore.

The storyline concerns a young Christian's internal struggle and the game itself takes place in the "Kingdom of the Heart", a sort of nightmare world thick with allegory. There are four levels, each representing some sort of worldview - The Amphitheater of Apathy, the Labyrinths of Legalism, the New Age Nirvana, etcetera. There are no bosses and few scripted events; most of the game involved battling enemies and solving various puzzles. The enemies are Masks of Humanity - various vices represented abstractly as floating heads: Guilt, Fear, Vanity, Arrogance, and so on. As in The War in Heaven, you're armed with the Sword of the Spirit, except that here the sword shoots projectiles. So it's your basic shooter, except that it's so hard to aim and move at the same time that most fights are just toe-to-toe drag out fights between you and a roaring Mask.

The rest of the gameplay involves a lot of really cryptic puzzle solving involving inventory items and in-game traps. You might have to platform your way across moving tiles or work your way through a maze with rotating rooms, using rocks to mark your path. Each of the four levels requires you to collect X amount of some sort of item in order to open the portal to the next level, and you can generally collect these items in the main level's multiple sublevels. This involves a lot of backtracking, e.g. the Rusty Key found in the Media Maze goes to a door on the second floor of the Mall of Distractions... Luckily the enemies stay dead so you don't have to wade through them again. Also helpful is the developer tip guide, which contains everything you need to know to get through the game.

It would be worthwhile to note here that the game - and this is a trait that our games from here on out will share - has a fairly dark feel. Most of the landscapes are blasted wastelands and the enemies themselves have a sort of torture-horror vibe (shackles, cracking skin). There are no NPCs or cutscenes, just miles of surreal corridors and wide-open spaces and grunting, groaning Masks. The interstitial music are hair-metal tracks by a Christian group called New Jerusalem, but the actual game music is all moaning, creaking, minimalistic ambience that can get to you after a while. Much of the time the only sounds are the slap of your own boots on baked earth. The Kingdom of the Heart is a fairly depressing place.

The game is still for sale from the Shine's website as a downloadable .EXE, with absolutely no DRM, for $9.99. One caveat: although you can get it to run on Windows 7 x64 and other modern Windows systems in Windowed mode, there are a few framerate-dependent glitches. If your framerate exceeds 60FPS, your jump height will be four or five times higher than it should be, and the second weapon you acquire will fire far too slowly. Use an FPS limiter to bypass this issue.

Shine Studios was working on another Christian game, albeit not a sequel to Saints of Virtue, when they folded. No other information is available on it, and it seems to have never gotten past the initial concept stage.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Shine Studios

Publisher:

Cactus Game Design

Genre:

Action: 1st Person

Themes:

Kusoge
Period: Ancient History


Saints of Virtue (Windows)

Saints of Virtue (Windows)

Saints of Virtue (Windows)

Saints of Virtue (Windows)

Saints of Virtue (Windows)


Additional Screenshots


Catechumen - Windows (2000)

Ominous Horizons: A Paladin's Calling - Windows (2001)

American Windows Cover

American Windows Cover

N'Lightning Software Development holds the honor of being the most enduring developer of Christian FPS games by virtue of having published two of them. They are similar enough to be looked at together as a single unit. What's nice about these is that they are more modern than the others in our list - they support high resolutions and have conventional mouselook controls and full keybind features.

Modern performance came at a price: both games run on the open-source Genesis3D engine, using the $10,000 closed-source license for commercial releases. All told, N'Lightning spent $830,000 on development of Catechumen and 1.6 million on Ominous Horizons, by far the highest budgets of any Christian games according to known data. Unlike Shine Studios, N'Lightning also had a full team of developers. The secret "Hall of Fame" level in Catechumen (unlocked by beating the game on Impossible) reveals the development team to have been about two dozen strong. In return for this investment, Catechumen sold somewhere more than 80,000 copies and Ominous Horizons was pushing past 50,000 at the last known report. Apparently those sales weren't enough. N'Lightning's website is now defunct and the company is disbanded.

Company founder Ralph Bagley said in an interview that the company's first game, Catechumen, had been turned down by investors repeatedly until the Columbine shootings of 1999. In the aftermath of the massacre, violent video games were presented by some as contributing influences for Harris and Klebold's rampage. In that climate, a religious shooter advertising a no-gore alternative to Quake and Half-Life seemed like a better investment, and N'Lightning found its funding. Catechumen and Ominous Horizons both took the market head-on, releasing in retail channels through Babbage and Software-Etc in addition to Christian catalogs and bookstores.

Catechumen tells the story of early first-century AD Christians in Rome. Your mentor (perhaps an apostle, although he is never explicitly named) is thrown into prison along with many of your Christian brethren. It seems that Satan and his demons are working behind the scenes of the Roman Empire; creatures from hell roam the catacombs and underworld of Rome and some have even possessed the Roman garrisons. Your mentor sends out a plea for help, and your journey begins. Again, your arsenal in Catechumen centers on swords and holy weapons. In addition to the default pea-shooter, there are rapid-fire swords, drill guns, lightning guns, grenade launchers, chain guns, and BFGs.

Your enemies are various demons and hellish underlings, in addition to the possessed Roman soldiers. The soldiers are actually quite dangerous, since it's an instant game over if two of them grab on to you at the same time. "Killing" them with your holy weapons causes them to drop to one knee and begin to pray amidst shining light and Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. In general Catechumen centers on the combat - there are few key and button puzzles here and there, but nothing like the maddeningly brain-twisting ones from Saints of Virtue. And that's not bad - the combat is fast paced and difficult; the demons are constantly ducking and dodging from your fire and you in turn are encouraged to keep moving and have good aim. Enemies have varied attacks and are usually devastating up-close. It gets somewhat repetitious, but Catechumen keeps throwing in new enemies and weapons often enough to stay fresh.

Ominous Horizons again casts you as a follower, this time as Johannes Gutenberg's assistant. If you remember this from grade school, Gutenberg was the inventor of the first Western printing press and the learning revolution that his press initiated is considered the most important moment of the modern era. Well, the first thing he published was the Gutenberg Bible, and in Ominous Horizons the master copy for the Bible has been stolen by one of Satan's Lieutenants, and Gutenberg's faith in God is shattered. It's up to you to travel the world to find the pieces of the printing master and prevent the fall of Western civilization before it has a chance to flourish. You aren't armed with as many weapons this time - just an upgradeable Sword of the Spirit, a crossbow, and Moses' Staff. Each weapon has multiple firing modes so the variety is still there - it's just put into the ammunition instead of the weapons themselves.

Ominous Horizons has a different tone from Catechumen; there are many NPCs throughout the levels and the combat is a slower pace. The graphics are also (bizarrely) a major downgrade, partially due to the preference for outdoor scenes and nature instead of winding catacombs and sewers. What's upgraded from Catechumen is that the locations are much more varied: you can travel from the Great Sphinx in Egypt to the Stonehenge to Mesa Verde in the United States. Each level has a few scripted events, and at each location you can find pieces of armor that change your abilities (super jump, faster firing, etc). The enemies vary to keep in theme with the level, so in general there's more to see and do than in Catechumen.

Catechumen and Ominous Horizons take a cue from Saints of Virtue and sport eerie, borderline horrific environments. They use a constant moaning ambience and Genesis3D's extensive colored lighting support give a sort of "hell on earth" feel. Most of the enemies are demon-possessed or just straight up demonic, so it might be that the games aren't as far removed from Quake as Bagley had hoped. Still, with no gore or blood to speak of they're still pretty tame by any standard. Catechumen and Ominous Horizons have never been glitch-free but they can be made to run on modern Windows 7 x64 systems with a little prodding. Since the N'Lightning site is seemingly gone, the patches for both games are including here for the curious.

Quick Info:

Developer:

N'Lightning Software Development

Publisher:

N'Lightning Software Development

Genre:

Action: 1st Person

Themes:

Kusoge
Period: Ancient History


Catechuman (Windows)

Catechuman (Windows)

Ominous Horizons (Windows)

Ominous Horizons (Windows)


Additional Catechuman Screenshots

Additional Ominous Horizons Screenshots


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Super 3D Noah's Ark
The War in Heaven

Page 2:
Saints of Virtue
Catechumen
Ominous Horizons: A Paladin's Calling

Page 3:
Eternal War: Shadows of Light
Analysis

Back to the Index