Christ Centered Gamer's (CCG) interview with Cloud 9 Games (C9G)

CCG: Tell us about yourselves and the company. When did you start the company and why?

C9G: I've been in the game industry since the mid 90\'s working on a variety of projects from children\'s titles for the PC to blockbuster titles (AAA) for the Playstation, Gamecube and Xbox.  While working for a large game company, the president came down to Austin for a meeting.  In that meeting he stated that he wanted "our games to be more like Hollywood.  I want more violence, more cursing, nudity and sex".  I can\'t explain how awful I felt.  I loved working there and loved the project I was on but knew I could not contribute wholeheartedly to a company that was going down this path. I soon left and began working as an Art Director for another company.  About that same time I was singing and playing a worship song I had written on my Roland keyboard.  Out of the blue, I heard "3 things".  I remember thinking "It\'s God speaking to me", and I questioned what 3 things?  I heard "music, art and computers".... "these are the 3 things I\'ve given you, use them for me".  I realized that God gave me a love for music, a talent for art and skills for the computer and I needed to make games for Him.  That\'s the \'why\'.  The \'when\' was a little over 4 years officially as we incorporated "Cloud 9 Games" in the fall of 2005.

CCG: Can you tell our readers about your games and philosophy behind them?

C9G: We started out with a couple of Bible Trivia games in a gameshow atmosphere. They are quite fun.  We wanted to create an edgy and fun series that challenged people to learn more about the Bible.  One thing people get out of playing the games is a realization that the Bible is very, very detailed.  You actually start reading the Bible differently once you realize the importance placed on seemingly insignificant details.  So, the hope is that people have fun, first.  However, while they are having fun, they are learning more about God and our purpose.

Our latest projects have been singing games, "karaoke" if you will.  Several years ago, I created a game design and presented it to a large game publisher and developer.  Their reaction was "this could be big".  I agreed.  The design I wrote was for consoles and PC\'s and had players singing and playing instruments to Christian music.   They of course, wanted the game to be something other than Christian music.  In the design there were several different instruments, character creation and several other key gameplay elements. This idea/design was well before "Rock Band" came out so I was a bit bummed to realize that someone beat me to it.  We\'ve still been able to create a Christian rock band game that has features that have never been seen so we\'re happy about that.

It is rewarding to watch children play the games and laugh and compete against each other, knowing that good things are going into their heart, not the kinds of things that the president of the former company I worked for wanted.

We received this email recently from Mary out of North Canton, OH, "...Thanks again for providing for us a safe, Christian alternative to all the nasty stuff out there."

This email illustrates what we are about.  We want our games to be a fun, uplifting experience that brings families together and people closer to God.

CCG: Have you implemented everything you wanted in Heavenly Harmony (Gold)? Is it everything you hoped it would be or better?

C9G: Heavenly Harmony Gold is a great game and given the limitations of the Personal Computer and the fact we have to deal with literally millions of possible hardware/software configurations, it has turned out very well.  It\'s a vast improvement over the original Heavenly Harmony game with features that have never been seen before in any game.  We also have developed a free expansion pack called JAMpak that lets you add either a guitarist and a drummer or two guitarists. This gives you the capability of having up to 6 players for a true Christian band experience.  That\'s something that has never been done before and it is quite taxing on a computer system.  Another cool feature of Heavenly Harmony is that you can record all four singers and playback/add effects to each individual track.  This is another first for singing games.  Yet another first is that some songs even allow you to choose a harmony part.  It\'s challenging, but when you nail it, it\'s quite beautiful.  One of the features I\'m most satisfied with is the fact that we only use the actual artists for JAMpak. This means that when you pick up your guitar or sit down at your drums, you are playing with Stephen Curtis Chapman as he strums his guitar or Avalon\'s drummer for instance.  Other game companies hire a guitarist or drummer to come to the studio and try to replicate what the actual artists do.   Many times this tends to just sound odd.  Because of our music licensing agreement, it allows us to get the actual studio recordings.  We feel it really makes a difference in the quality of gameplay.  Still though, there are many things I would like to see adding or improving should we receive full funding including, improved 3D engine & character animation system, support for bass and perhaps guitar, bass and drum support, enhanced career mode and many other things.

The day after Christmas we received this email from a Pastor Thomas in NC, "This was a great Christmas morning.  My kids love playing rock band in the store, but we often cringed over the music and the look of the characters.  It was a blessing on Christmas to hear our kids singing and rocking out to Christian lyrics.  They excitedly told their friends about this Christian version of Rock Band. What a great and simple opportunity for them to witness to neighborhood friends.  What a great product.  Thank you so much!"

When we receive emails like this, it makes it all worth while and we realize it IS everything we hoped it would be.

CCG: What are your current projects?  What shall we look forward to in the future?

C9G: I can\'t talk to much about our future projects for obvious reasons. However, if you like JAMpack you will love our next release!

CCG: What are your thoughts about the Christian gaming industry right now and it\'s future?

C9G: Well that\'s the million dollar question, or should I say 10 million dollar question.  That\'s really about what it takes to compete with the mainstream games.  You quite often will hear people new to the industry say "I want to make a triple A title" and off they go working on a game on their spare time.  While that might have been possible in the 70\'s and early 80\'s when games were very simple, (one pixel moving across the screen), the reality is that that just isn\'t realistic.  I worked on one single game that had a budget of 8 million dollars! When other game companies are making games that cost millions, how can a Christian company on a shoestring budget compete with that? It\'s very difficult, if not impossible because the consumer\'s expectations are exceedingly high.  I know, I am one.  I was thrilled with "pong" when my father built the Heathkit pong game.  We would play that game non-stop for months.  Now, I need a game with ultra-realistic physics and 60 million polys flying around the screen 60X per second on my triple monitor setup.  Consumer expectations are huge. Because of this, it\'s certainly not going to get any easier for Christian developers unless we are blessed with an amazing opportunity.

Despite the monetary disadvantage, we have certainly given our very best effort and will continue to do so.  It helps tremendously to know that we are impacting people\'s lives in a positive way.  My wife and I say that if we can make an impact with eternal implications on ONE life, then this will all be worth while.

CCG: Do you have any questions or comments to our readers?

C9G: I\'d like to throw out a big \'thank you\' to our distributor, EMI CMG.   One of the most important aspects of Christian gaming is product distribution.  We are very fortunate to self-publish our products and have the very best distributor available for Christian titles in EMI CMG. EMI is not only the largest distributor of Christian products but also the largest Christian music publisher.  They have nearly all the top artists so we are able to really benefit from this relationship since we also have a music publishing deal with them and can use these artists in our games. (Chris Tomlin, Jeremy Camp, Audio Adrenaline, Sanctus Real, TobyMac, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, ZOEgirl, David Crowder, and the list goes on)  Having EMI\'s support has been a real blessing.

Lastly, we really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and ask that you keep us in your prayers.

Thank you!

Curtis Ratica
Cloud 9 Games, Inc.


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