I recently had the chance to sit down with Kingdom Games, developer of the acclaimed Action-RPG, FIVE: Guardians Of David and its recent spin-off, FIVE: Champions Of Canaan. In our review of Guardians Of David we praised the excellent voice acting and the way the classic stories of the Bible were told via comic strips to offer further insight into both the characters and also the world of the game. During my conversation with Kingdom Games’ Community Manager, Sarah Walters, Marketing Director Eric Daniels, and Gameplay Designer, Joe Hanley, I was able to glean a bit more information on what exactly goes into making a good game based on the familiar characters and stories of the Bible while staying true to one’s faith. For more on Kingdom Games and the FIVE series please visit the studio’s website at www.kingdomgames.com or check out their Facebook page here.
GUG: Did the studio start out from the ideas of just one or two developers or was it a group effort from the start?
KG: Eric: That is a good question. To give you a good background, I joined Kingdom Games a little over a year ago. We started back in 2013 and I guess to give you a little insight into our genesis: our main investor—his name is Phil —he really had a vision for a game which many now know as FIVE: Guardians Of David. He had a vision for this game prior to 2013, but that  is when the project really started to move forward in earnest as he build a relationship with Kingdom Games Studio head, James Parkman. He of course had the game knowledge and worked on a ton of games in the industry. Really those two worked together to really formulate the idea for Kingdom Games and our first title. In a short matter of months, additional staff came on board specifically, Mike Madden, Director of Development. It really went from Phil’s inspiration and idea to a small group of about half a dozen who really started working on FIVE: Guardians Of David and of course the development team grew from there. Right now, we are a group of about 15-20 developers with some in marketing and other positions.
GUG: What inspired you to go out and make these exciting, Bible-based games like FIVE: Guardians Of David and your most recent release FIVE: Champions Of Canaan?
KG: Eric: I know that what Phil wanted to do. His original idea for Guardians Of David, was to tell an amazing, compelling story. I mean, everybody, or at least a lot of people globally, are at least somewhat familiar with the classic underdog story of David, a shepherd boy, small, young, undersized, versus giant Goliath. It is a story that’s still told and a euphemism that is used even today. I mean, that story is something that we felt was really good content and a really good story for a video game that most anybody would enjoy playing. That was really the initial impetus to say, “Hey, let’s take some of these amazing stories that are in book form, old testament, and put them in a different, more modern medium where people can experience them in a new way and enjoy them in a new way.” When it comes to gameplay, I don’t know that there is anything more immersive, or engaging and memorable, than actually playing through a story and participating in an active way like you can in a video game. So that was really his desire, let’s take this amazing story that people kind of already know about and put in this new medium, a video game, and tell the complete story honestly, from beginning to end, and tell what most people don’t know from their early reading or what they hear in conversations.
GUG: In your experience, how has the reception been for both FIVE games so far?
KG: Eric: So far the reception has been positive. Ya know, we’re not a huge studio, but a decent sized independent studio, and initial coverage of FIVE: Guardians Of David that was released back in Thanksgiving of 2015 last year indicated that it has been a solid, well-received game. Certainly could be better, certainly could be worse. Overall, what we have provided is an amazing perspective and view into this story that is thousands of years old. For the most part, people have responded positively, played the game, enjoyed it, and that is one of the reasons why we decided to come up with this historical fiction, this fictional off-shoot in FIVE: Champions Of Canaan, which is a companion, next chapter where you play the son or daughter of one of the FIVE heroes introduced in Guardians Of David. You now create that son or daughter and step in to this kind of fictional, off shoot of cultures, subterfuge, story, and how do you go about trying to prevent further war in this region. Joe, maybe you have something to add in regards to story. To say that you had a major contribution there is putting it lightly.
Joe: Right! Well, with Champions of Canaan, a quote-unquote off-shoot of the original story, one of the last scenes in Guardians Of David hints at a follow up. We took that idea and instead of giving players the standard classes that you might be used to in an RPG we did something more centered around a familial bond and your character’s heritage. Your actions are guided by the actions of those men from a long time ago and you are existing in this world that they helped craft and create. Your actions in the game are the consequences and ramifications of events that happened in Guardians Of David.
GUG: I really liked how based on the chosen lineage your character would get certain skill and stat boosts. I thought this was a nice touch and offers something different from other Action-RPGs.
KG: Joe: Right! We tried to give it something new and the same thing with the weapon system. We didn’t want our Abishai archer players to only be stuck with bows unless they created a new character. There is some investment and there are some pros in being in the Abishai lineage and fighting with a bow but you have that freedom to expand and create and that is one of the things that I think has been received very positively. We try to give players an easy start in the first arena, the Jerash arena, because it is the starting arena and we want players to come back to it to farm for gear. It does progress in difficulty as time goes on. Once players get to other arenas we really up the ante with enemies and difficulty. The player will really have to start thinking creatively every round about how they will attack and adapt to the changing situations in combat.
GUG: I noticed too that the arena’s environment changes as players advance through the different waves.
KG: Joe: Yeah! We have those obstacles; that’s we started calling them. They change randomly depending on which round players are participating in and sometimes it will be filled with walls while other times there will only be a central pillar to kite enemies around.
Eric: I think with regards to the mixture of ranged and melee characters and other types of foes, the topography inside the arena really gives a different sense of strategy in what you can and can’t do to be more successful.
GUG: Was FIVE always set to be a trilogy or series of games or did the success of Guardians Of David bring about the desire to turn it into a franchise?
KG: Joe: There was always a desire to expand into the FIVE saga. Based on critical reception and what we saw of that, we definitely wanted to push into this larger universe. There was a little of a question as to what Champions Of Canaan would be. We knew we wanted an expansion of the saga, but didn’t know if we should do a full on sequel right now or something different. We decided to do a sort of spin-off game to focus on gameplay. One thing we definitely wanted to expand upon was combat. We had this big story in Guardians Of David that we told and then we wanted to make it almost a Guardians Of David 1.5. We wanted to focus on gameplay and make it a really fun system that players would keep coming back to. On release day, after testing for hours, I actually went home and downloaded it and just kept playing.
Sarah: The gameplay is very addicting. I find myself just playing it for hours on end. The combat is just so fluid that it makes for a very, very fun game. Fluid gameplay is something that I find to be very important to me when I play games.
GUG: The first time I played it I didn’t realize there was a whole segment of gameplay in the City of David outside of the arenas. Here you find the storyteller with the comic strips that offer backstory on the characters and environments of the game which offers non-believers a way to get more from those stories where they otherwise may not.
KG: Joe: Yeah! Right! That was definitely the desire when we created those segments. We are referencing Guardians a lot throughout Champions Of Canaan so anyone who hasn’t played Guardians first may be a little lost as to what some of the dialogue and comic panels are talking about. We wanted to let players get a taste of what Guardians had to offer. We really wanted people to get the feel of the storyteller sitting with the town’s children and telling the tale, of really your character’s father. It helps the game get back to that theme of familial bonds. We really wanted the City of David to feel like a home that you can go back to at the end of the round. That even extends to our donation system. Instead of a typical kind of loot system that you have in other action-RPGs, like Diablo, everything is tied into building up a community and really strengthening this city, this kingdom that David and his five guardians from Guardians of David wished to create.
Eric: I think giving Joe and his designers credit, I have to say I think they did a really good job of balancing Champions as a stand alone game. I think most anyone can load up Champions and play it. They might not know the backstory but I think if they just allow and trust the story they will find that it can stand on its own. They can play it exclusively and have a fantastic time. But I think there is also a little bit of curiosity and I think that once players realize their character is the son or daughter of one of the previous game’s heroes they will really have that desire to explore the familial ties in the game. I think there is good balance between jumping into the arena and having a fantastic time for hours on end and meanwhile there are these little breadcrumbs for the curious and for those who are maybe interested in the backstory and gaining more understanding into Guardians Of David and how it all started for their character’s lineage.
GUG: What do you think the future looks like for Christian developers and studios, or for Christian gaming in general based on the reception for your games?
KG: Joe: I’ve actually played a decent amount of those kinds of games in the past and I feel like we have reached a good point. One of the most exciting things about working on Guardians Of David was that we tackled the subject matter with the right direction and frame of mind. We wanted to tell this great tale that not everyone may be familiar with. Everyone usually knows David and Goliath but then you might ask “Who is Abishai? What was his life like?” Games I have played in the past sometimes get too hung up, I feel, on trying to inform the player about the back history in the most literal sense. So one of the most exciting things about joining the team for Guardians Of David was that we are telling this story and offering the option for players to learn more about the back history but we wanted to focus on the gameplay and main story first. One of the big successes with Guardians, and Champions too, is that we are informing these players of things they may not be familiar with. We want the player to get immersed into the gameplay and story and to experience it naturally.
GUG: How have sales been so far for FIVE? Have they been what you would like to see? Is there a certain milestone where the games might come to consoles if they do well enough?
KG: Eric: Predicting game sales and where expectations lie is always a challenge and maybe more of an art than a science. I would say, just to put it generically, we’ve been satisfied with the way things have gone with Guardians. Overall, we tried to provide an amazing experience at a competitive price point. People have definitely responded to that. Also, the gameplay is incredibly addicting and entertaining. A lot of the comments that are out there, indicate that some players are surprised at just how good the game is. You read things, you have experiences with games of a similar genre. Overall, the response has been very positive and we feel really fortunate and blessed in that regard. With regard to next steps, we are on Steam right now exclusively. One of the things currently on our road map is to bring Champions Of Canaan to consoles and we are working diligently to realize that.
GUG: Is the plan just to bring Champions to console or possibly Guardians as well?
KG: Eric: Right now, the focus is on Champions. There are some elements that make that more realistic from a near term perspective. However, we are certainly viewing the saga as a franchise and want to make it available to as many gamers as we can on as many platforms as possible. As you know, with a studio of our size, you have to prioritize things. So right now, we are focused on Champions first and foremost. Also, Champions’ format lends itself well to what we would hope to be able to do on consoles. I have really grown to become a controller guy. I find that I get more involved and immersed in the game with a controller in my hand than with keyboard and mouse. I know keyboard and mouse are more accurate and refined but just being able to hold a controller just allows me to focus more on the game, story, mechanics, combat—all of it.
Joe: Playing Champions with a controller is actually my preferred way to play.
Sarah: One of the things I do frequently when playing with mouse and keyboard is tap the F1-F5 keys by accident. I get too excited and move my hands accidentally so I definitely prefer to play with a controller as well.
GUG: What other Christian games or developers have you discovered recently that you would recommend to either your fans or our readership?
KG: Eric: So, there are a couple of studios and games that I think are doing really good stuff. There is Aetherlight, which caters to a bit of a younger audience. It has a fantastic, allegorical story and is just a fun game that you can play on a light platform. Anything from SOMA Games is amazing and they have some neat plans for the future. Those are two that come immediately to mind. It is really exciting to see the success that these studios and games are having.
Sarah: We also have a recent article on Games Without Gore that mentions some other great games that we’ve found that don’t have any guts or gore. Have you by chance heard of Scripture Champions? It is a game we recently acquired to fix up, and is available on iOS and Android. It is more geared towards adults. Gameplay is more trivia like to help players learn scriptures. It is a very enjoyable game if you enjoy scripture.
Joe: A good one that has just come back on Steam recently is Super Noah’s Ark 3D. There is a history with that game and originally Wisdom Tree developed it. It is still a really fun game.
GUG: What games, Christian or not, have you been addicted to lately, and what kind of mechanics have you noticed that you maybe have thought of adapting into future projects?
KG: Joe: I enjoy Grim Dawn, another ARPG. It is a really fun time. The last real , new game I played was DOOM. We probably won’t be incorporating a whole lot of that into future FIVE titles. [Laughs] I actually play a lot of classic games too. I have spent a lot of time playing Metroid: Prime, the classic 2D Metroid games, and the Castlevania series.
Eric: On the PC, Sarah turned me on to a game called Ember. It is a real time RPG with pausing, strategy combat. I like slower, less fast paced games. On the consoles, and I will admit when I first heard about this game I thought it was stupid, but Rocket League… that game is a blast! I think it is the design and the development team that has made it so addicting and fun. The spin they put on it, the flavor, the balance, all of that goes to make the game this incredibly addicting and fun experience. I just was shocked at how much I wanted to play that game.
Sarah: For awhile I was at Trion Worlds so I would mostly play Trion Worlds’ games. During my time there, I was able to play Terraria, Torchlight 2, and Diablo. Diablo 3 disappointed me a bit. It wasn’t what I expected it to be. But Guardians is, just saying. [Laughs] I am also a Rocket League fan and have been playing StarDew Valley. It is very similar to Harvest Moon that I played growing up.