Saturday 28 May 2011

Bible Adventures

Are you ready for the potentially fourth best religious-themed video game ever?! It's Bible Adventures for the Sega Mega Drive. Unlicensed 1995 tripe by Wisdom Tree, Bible Adventures was aimed at crazy people in American society and failed to take note of important industry standards. Sounds like a blast!

The Bible is a book of stories. Pretty good stories, hence one of the reasons it's one of the oldest books still in print, but not what I would consider a factual depiction of life several thousand years ago. Translations, politics and basic human errors have led to it being a bit unreliable as your primary source of the word of God. Lest we forget the good lord pre-dates the English language.

I generally take the view that religion should be taught but not hammered down the throats of people, because there are too many questions that arise from taking this book as a work of non-fiction. The Bible is very good at conveying nice ideas of how to live your life, but double meanings and contradictions means to me, it's not the strongest of texts. Apparently the Quran thinks the same way... though I hardly imagine that one's flawless either. Pick the religion that suits you, take everything with a pinch of salt and don't try and force your views on others. Simples.

Wisdom Tree didn't get that memo. I can't really say if making video games like Bible Adventures is a good or bad thing, but video games doesn't strike me as the medium to get your point across on religion, especially when you plan to heavily tweak it for the kids. I'm not even sure why there's so much desperation to get said point across - society frowns on breaking many of the concepts taught in the Bible, and most of it is common sense. Killing people isn't very nice, and the fears that video games may lead to more deaths has yet to be justfied with concrete evidence despite twenty years of trying.

But don't worry, Bible Adventures fails to do its job at creating the model citizens of tomorrow, as the focus tends to shift from whatever points it's trying to make to the dodgy gameplay, sub-par graphics and hideous music. If you shove your code onto a game cartridge and sell it, it will be treated as a game, not an educational tool, and be compared to other games, because you're dealing with what the public deems to be a video game system. If you can't get the basics right (i.e. read the box of the console you're abusing or recognise your audience) it's difficult to take your point seriously.

And "abusing" is the correct choice of words here. Bible Adventures is an unlicensed title - the Mega Drive version was not endorsed by Sega, the NES version was not endorsed by Nintendo. There was no quality control involved in the creation of this game and steps were made to circumvent the chips which helped keep the Mega Drive's library classy.

It's not a case of a Taiwanese group trying to market their product to a tiny market where the laws weren't as clear - Wisdom Tree (or Color Dreams, take your pick) could have easily obtained a license but they failed to do so. It's treating the video game industry and its supporters as a bunch of fools, neglecting the 1983 North American video game crash in which these sorts of tactics helped put thousands out of work.

I enjoy seeing what the disadvantaged can produce, but I don't like watching advantaged companies situated in the largest economy in the world take the view that these sorts of things don't matter. It's not something I plan to lose sleep over but it's not good to praise short memories. And It's very un-Christian... probably... I don't think the Bible specifically covers Sega consoles (APART FROM THE GENESIS).

That being said it is quite funny to see a full-on religious NES game on a system regulated by Nintendo of America, who spent their days removing crosses off tombstones in fear someone might be offended. Pointless censorship is pretty bad too so these sorts of games help to address the balance.

Anyway Bible Adventures is split into thirds, all loosely based on stories of the Old Testament. One third has you get Baby Moses out of Egypt (was this really the most important bit of that story?), another has you put animals in an ark, and the last has you move sheep while the game talks about David and Goliath. They all have the same basic gameplay, loosely based on Super Mario Bros. 2. You run around and pick stuff up, carry it, put it down, the end.

And each segment is broken in their own unique ways. I suspect the Mega Drive port stems from the DOS version which would explain some of its flaws. The framerate seems to be running at a stunning 30 or 40FPS (roughly half of what you want) and many of the music and sound effects sound very Adlib sound card-y. The colour scheme looks as if it were adapted from the 16 colour EGA palette too, which might explain the oddly bright colours.

Though I did track down the DOS port and that version includes a VGA graphics option, so it doesn't have to look as bad as it does. Ironically it's the NES port that makes the best use of the hardware, and that's saying something. There were clearly touch-ups between the three versions so if you're willing to change robes from white to pink you might want to consider scrapping the green pyramids too. But I guess making a game was a secondary objective here.

The gameplay is clumsy. I think the basic engine probably works, but the level design certainly stains the experience amd the collision is certainly off. Enemies like to pop out of nowhere, platforms aren't always immediately obvious and the graphics don't give out a lot of clarity. And the camera goes off centre. And it runs in the lesser 256x244 graphics mode which it shouldn't need to. In fact, Bible Adventures on the Mega Drive actually looks more like a Sega Master System game, as none of the system's strengths are utilised at all. It's certainly not cutting edge stuff for 1995.

The first third of the game tasks Noah with picking up two of every animal by hand and carrying them to the ark. Some animals have different properties, but you can still carry four animals at once over your head. Occasionally you're forced to knock them out with force before the rescue process can begin. It's odd, but inflicting brain damage on these creatures is apparently the will of god.

In the second game Baby Moses has to be carried to the right of the screen. He can be picked up and thrown about in a similar fashion, though holding him generally leaves you defenseless from those nasty Egyptians who live within cracks in walls. It's the hardest of the three games - the other two are just tedious and repetitive while this one shows you no mercy.

And finally David and Goliath has you move sheep about in a similar way to Noah. It's the glitchier of the three I find, though none are perfect. I also suspect from my skim-reads of Wikipedia that they're not really all that accurate in depicting the stories from the book (I think "sheep" was supposed to be a metaphor for Israel or something), but it's best not to think too deeply about it. It's clear Wisdom Tree didn't think too far ahead when designing it, and maybe lifting the state of Israel above your head and throwing it around will satisfy some fans of Palistine.

One positive note in Bible Adventures is that a lot of the quotations are optional. You're not forced to read them every five seconds, or quizzed at the end like a mug. Though it's not all avoidable, the game generally isn't surrounded by garbage like the majority of Bible-related releases, and that can only be a plus.

What really drags Bible Adventures down is its limited selection of music. Top marks for the option to turn it off, but perhaps if it had been orchestrated properly that option needn't be there. Each game uses the same music, and the music is terrible, composed with what appears to be a single harp sound. Some of the tracks are public domain works. It's not the game's strong point.

It's of course very easy to look at this game and brand it as terrible, but surprisingly it isn't as bad and stupid as it sounds. Glitches occur from time to time, the presentation is lousy and I've never understood the purpose of thrusting lines of the Bible in our faces, but it's playable... just about. There are worse "16-bit" branded titles than this one, several of which were also tied to Wisdom Tree, but I just have to question why someone felt "BIBLE ADVENTURES" was a brilliant business venture rather than investing in something the mass market might actually want.

Overall, it's an interesting game. Not great, but after Super Noah's Ark 3D, Noah's Ark on the NES and Onesimus: A Quest for Freedom), it's probably the best video game to be loosely based on the book. What's more worrying is the fact I know so many religious-themed video games from the early 1990s, and that so many of them featured Noah and his ark.

Basically, nobody should buy this game unless they're mad, but it's worth noting you'd have to be more mad to invest in the NES set.

1 comment:

  1. It's nice to see some even handed commentary on this game. Generally, anytime anyone mentions it, they seek only to harass it beyond any rational measure. You pointed out everything wrong with it in a way that I feel is precisely on the mark.

    I'd also like to suggest some of the possible reasoning that could have contributed to its inception. You're probably already aware of the sort of feud between Nintendo and Color Dreams which may have lent some personal desire for them to undermine Nintendo's licensing policies, but I think there was some real business logic behind it, too.

    Changing their business image to Wisdom Tree might have been an attempt to immunize themselves from further legal attacks by Nintendo. They may have gambled that Nintendo wouldn't want to harm their reputation by litigating against an overtly religious themed company. That gave them the cover they needed to proceed working around the 10NES lockout chip without further interference, thus sidestepping Nintendo's license fees. That alone makes financial sense.

    Bible themed games are also a market to themselves, with little competition. Plus they ostensibly provided what concerned parents of the time could consider a wholesome alternative to the perceptibly hostile and (to them) intellectually confounding mainstream games. To a parent, Noah manually hoisting animals into his boat must be a placating relief after witnessing their kids command a fat, ugly man with a mustache doubling in size after he eats mushrooms and then stomps on turtles and smashes his head into bricks.