First posted on 05 December 2009. Last updated on 06 April 2012.
All images are courtesy of Paul McCauley, Genesis Works © 2009.
Heaven is a first-person point-and-click adventure game released by Genesis Works in 2009. The game tells the story of an astronaut from Earth named Joshua, who is sent to Heaven "alive" after a near death experience while piloting a space shuttle to the moons of Jupiter. In Heaven, Joshua meets his guide Axis and discovers his own spiritual (and familial) roots to God.
For more information, visit HEAVEN PC game.
Religion is not an uncommon theme in adventure games, but few adventure games dare to adopt religion as its narrative focus. Paul McCauley, founder of Genesis Works, is an independent game developer who is not afraid to instill his Christian beliefs into the games he develops. Founded in 1994, Genesis Work has a mission, as claimed by the company, "to create interactive games that stimulate Christian spiritual growth".
Heaven is the first adventure game project from Genesis Works and is a literal adaption of Heaven as described in the Bible. The game delivers strong biblical teachings and messages about faith and religion—a fact which McCauley makes no attempt to hide in his game. Rather, McCauley intends to use his game not only to entertain but to educate his audience who may be open to consider such teachings. Undoubtedly, McCauley has met (and will meet) many of his critics, and he has admitted that the mainstream media have reacted to his game with bewilderment.
We are pleased to be given an opportunity to interview Paul McCauley about the game Heaven. In the interview, McCauley speaks candidly on the biblical inspiration behind the game, the long development history of the project, the biblical messages which he wants to convey to his audience, and perhaps most importantly, what truly lies in Heaven.
Check out our gallery of previously unpublished concept art from Heaven!
- What is the reasoning behind Genesis Works' mission to base a game upon biblical teachings? How do you answer your critics that the game is merely religious preaching in disguise?
- The game is not a disguise at all. It is a game about Heaven. All the concepts and ideas come directly from the Bible. It has strong Biblical teachings and messages in it. I make no excuses for its content. I am actually quite proud that it was so literal. In making a game or any product for the general public, so often we want to "water" down some important essential concepts and beliefs in hope of not scaring off anyone. Well, my intentions were to be as true as I know how – no watering down – it's full throttle or nothing.
- Heaven has been over 10 years in the making. Why has the game's development taken so long? How has the game changed over the years compared to its initial inception?
- God first told me to make a game about Heaven. That was in 1997. After trying to make the game by myself (3d, programming etc...) I finally realized I would need help in achieving this goal. I then hired outside help to make the game more professional looking. It first started with me making my own concepts and ideas. A lot of that was limited to what I could do technically and artistically. So there is a whole game developed by myself, which is actually the predecessor to the current game. I spent a good 3-4 years working on it. It was when I got to character animation that everything changed. I then hired real 3d artist and animators to do the job. Once I started down that road, we then ended up changing everything. I actually look at some of the "old game" and wonder what it would have been like – some of it actually looks pretty good.
- The game's graphics look stunning. What underlying framework (or engine) does the game use? How are the game's graphics being rendered? What techniques (such as motion capture) are used to animate the characters, particularly Axis?
- The game's engine was built from the ground up using Bink video technology. All the graphics are pre-rendered cubes or "nodes" as we call them. To get the best possible animation, we used motion capture for Axis' movement. We did all the motion capture at House of Moves in California. All the other creatures and characters were animated by animation artists. The girl who did Axis' mocap worked on many Hollywood movies and was a trained stuntwoman. We spent a lot of time and money on developing Axis moves and motions. Looking back now, we should have simplified her outfit for animation – take out all the laces and strings and sash pieces. All her hair movement was key framed by an animator.
- The game's protagonist, Joshua, is a shuttle pilot who has been sent from Earth to explore the moons of Jupiter. To what extent are elements of sci-fi present in the game's story? Likewise, to what extent does the game explore the dichotomy of science versus religion? What is your personal belief in the seemingly contradictory role of science in religion?
- There is very little sci-fi present in the game. It was used only to get the player from Earth to Heaven. Apart from the opening cinematic, we originally were going to do nothing with it. I liked the shuttle design so much that I insisted on making some kind of game play out of it. There was going to be a whole game play about the shuttle, but as with all things, it got stripped down to a shadowy reflection of the original idea. Actually in the game, Joshua has not died; he merely is a visitor with a rare glimpse into heaven. He eventually goes back to Earth. He is given a look into heaven in hopes of telling others about his experience.
As for science versus religion – again, the game takes a very literal approach to this. The Bible describes God as creating all things within six days – hence the game says the same thing. There is actually a whole level dedicated to this concept.
I think there is something refreshing about actually believing God created everything. We tend to look at science to answer our questions, but in the end it falls short and can misguide us about life. To think that something comes from nothing (evolution) doesn't make sense. Even in our own lives, we inherently believe in cause and effect. The world couldn't come from nothing as that breaks all the laws of thermodynamics. Evolution is in direct conflict with the science it upholds. Evolution is actually a belief/religion instead of science. For example: if a tornado went through a junkyard, would a F-22 fighter plane come out? – I don't think so. God creating everything just feels right.
- There were a number of famous film concept artists who worked on the game. Who were they? How did they come to be involved in the production?
- The concept artists involved were Stephan Martiniere and Dylan Cole. There were others, but these two really shaped the game. I combed the internet looking for concept artists – I liked their work and just called them. They were excited to work on the project.
- Why do you believe that the game will be enjoyable by gamers of any religious background?
- I can't speak for all people, but anyone who has an interest in Heaven will enjoy it.
- What kinds of puzzles can players expect in the game? What roles does the character Axis play in the game? How many hours of gameplay will the game offer?
- The game plays a lot like Myst 3. It was the template we used for the game play. Axis is your help in the game. She tells you where to go and what you must do. At times, she and you together solve puzzles. She is very integrated into the game. The game play is anywhere from 10-20 hours, depending on your skill level.
- Aside from the Bible, from where did you draw your inspirations to create Heaven?
- Other than the Bible, most inspiration came from logistics - meaning, when something worked, we did it. When something didn't feel right, we took it out. It was difficult to make a game about Heaven. We only had about 5 or 6 main ideas to work from. The game is actually a lot longer, but due to budgets and the size of the game, it was cut down by 1/3, so we have a lot more to go.
- Many of the game's characters are from the Bible, at least by name. How do they differ from the original biblical characters? To what extent are the game's dialogs taken directly from the Bible?
- All the characters come directly from the Bible. All the details about them are biblical – even Axis. Most of the dialog outside of game clues comes in some way from the Bible. It talks about God's love, Jesus, healing and prosperity – all direct Biblical teachings.
- Why did you choose to self publish the game? What challenges had you faced so far in trying to market the game? How receptive did you find the media press to be towards a video game with heavy religious overtone?
- We self-published because it sounded like fun. The idea of handing a game off to some publisher who then would hand it off to some retailers just didn't sound very fun to me. I felt out of the loop. I think self-publishing in today's world will become the norm. We have had a great reception from the public. We are selling games every day. The biggest challenge in self-publishing was just doing it. You have to make a website, a web store etc... all the details that go into it. All the games ship out via USPS and deliveries have been excellent. As for the media's take on a "religious" game – well, they're kind of bewildered. They're not sure what to make of it.
- What is the message, biblical or otherwise, that you want players will take away from playing Heaven?
- The game was made to give people a glimpse into Heaven and to expose people to some life changing ideas about Jesus and the Bible. To know that there is a beautiful, eternal place that will someday be their home is a nice feeling. God directed me to make this game. I believe we are living in the last days before all this comes to an end – people need to start thinking about Heaven – not as a mystical fiction but as a real nearby future home. This is the purpose of the game.
- What other game projects can we look forward to seeing from Genesis Works in the near future? What can we expect from Paul McCauley in the next 5 years?
- Well, I would love to make 3 games total, but we will see how the Lord directs me. Seriously though, I believe time is too short to tell what might happen. 5 years from now seems like an eternity.