Q&A: Left Behind Games' Troy Lyndon

With an expansion pack and a sequel on the way, the publisher's CEO and cofounder talks about enlisting Big Huge Games and dealing with critical and cultural adversity.

After more than $27 million and four years of work, Left Behind Games shipped its first game to retailers last month. A real-time strategy game based on a line of Christian novels, Left Behind: Eternal Forces was shunned first by reviewers and then by Christian organizations that claimed the game promoted violence and religious intolerance. The groups called for a boycott and asked Left Behind Games to recall the title.

Instead of recalling Eternal Forces, Left Behind Games announced that it was creating a sequel to the game. Earlier today the company also confirmed plans for an expansion pack to the original game.

To assist in creating the sequel, Left Behind Games signed a technology agreement with Big Huge Games, itself a specialist in the real-time strategy genre. In addition to creating the highly regarded Rise of Nations and its spin-off, Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends, Big Huge Games was founded by a quartet of developers who worked together on genre staples like Alpha Centauri and Civilization II.

Left Behind Games CEO and cofounder Troy Lyndon spoke with GameSpot about the details of the Big Huge Games deal, Eternal Forces' chilly reception from reviewers, and how he feels now that his game has joined the ranks of Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, and other titles to draw the ire of concerned watchdog groups.

GameSpot: What prompted you to go to Big Huge Games for the Left Behind sequel?

Troy Lyndon: Actually, we've been in discussions with them for more than 18 months. We are big fans of the Rise of Nations products, and we especially appreciate that they are making family-friendly games.

GS: What exactly are you licensing from them?

TL: It's the most sophisticated, advanced RTS engine available. And, in fact, we're licensing it before any other licensor. They do expect to offer it to other game studios sometime next year, but we are the first.

GS: Is it the same engine that powered Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends?

TL: I can't say that it's identical, but I will say that it's built upon the framework of Rise of Nations and Rise of Legends.

GS: Is it just technology you're licensing from Big Huge Games, or is there any kind of design work involved in the agreement?

TL: There is a small team of technical personnel that is a requirement of our agreement that will be working with us specifically on our project until it is completed. And that is one of the things that makes it far more comprehensive and expansive than a typical technology deal: The fact that we actually have Big Huge Games staff developing our game to ensure that the technology uses the very latest of what they have to offer. And personally, I think that's the only model for real success in technology licensing, when you get the licensor to buy in enough on your project to say "OK, I'll give you staff."

GS: After investing so heavily in creating the Left Behind engine from scratch, why switch gears and start using someone else's technology now?

TL: We have specially built our game in such a manner that the technology behind it is separate from what makes it work as an RTS. Accordingly, we can change from one engine to another without a complete rewrite of the code. And we don't suffer from a [fear of outside technology] that a lot of other studios do.

GS: What do you think of the reviews that Left Behind game has received so far?

TL: We understand that being a first-time company in a segment as competitive as real-time strategy, that we have something to prove. We didn't expect coming right out of the chute that we would have a megahit on our hands, but instead [wanted] to provide the framework by which we could come out with a better product.

Before March even rolls around, before Easter, everybody that gets the current game and does an update is actually going to see [substantially improved visuals in the] game world [without changing graphics files]. And it'll be a pretty significant download, but a lot of game companies would release that by itself as an expansion pack or some kind of enhancement that you'd have to pay for.

I'm so excited about it because it's visually stunning. I'm looking at the prototypes and we're developing those new light maps so that visually it really brings the game up to date. And that's only two or three months from now. And that brings the game pretty much up to date with other games in the same genre, visually speaking.

As well, we're releasing a 1.04 patch before Christmas that really fixes all of the objections that are not visually specific, including pathfinding and other issues. I would have to say that your criticism has really been well received, because it's a cause our developers who really have a passion to make a product to dive in and fix those issues before Christmas, when gamers get their games under the tree.

GS: What about the critical reactions from Christian groups?

I'm glad you mentioned that. Focus on the Family just came out with a review a week ago or so, and they basically gave us all thumbs up. They investigated all the claims made by the so-called "concerned-for-Jihad" people [laughs] and they were basically able to debunk it. The reality is that everybody who is throwing stones, they literally have never played the game because literally 100 percent of their claims are bogus.

We have distributed tens of thousands of demo discs that are being handed out by youth pastors at churches throughout the nation, and this is getting widespread approval across all Christian boundaries. And there's always a small percentage in any faith that like to speak out about things because they passionately believe in something that may or may not be true. I'd speak out too if somebody said "this game allows you to kill Jews and Buddhists" and all that. I'd be freaking out. I appreciate their concerns, but they clearly just haven't played the game.

GS: Being criticized by groups with these concerns who haven't played the game puts you in the company of games like Grand Theft Auto or Mortal Kombat.

TL: Well the reality is that Grand Theft Auto is successful because it's a great game to play. The fact that it has a storyline that's less than parents would want their kids to play with is secondary to the gaming experience. It's my belief that five years from now, when the graphics are no longer cartoonish, then it will really be potentially [worrying]--including images that are so real that it could really mess up a kid. But until we're there, I think kids are smart enough to know the difference between reality and fiction.

We may not always agree on the idea that our games are impacting the culture, but once you create something that looks as real as a special effect in a movie, we do have some responsibility to realize that kids below a certain age shouldn't see certain stuff.

I don't believe that government should be involved in articulating what we do, but I think we need to crack down harder on people that allow kids to play games that are Mature without parental consent, if there is a way to do that. But politicians just take the whole thing and blow it out of proportion. There's something a lot worse in the world--pornography on the Internet--that kids have access to. It's a lot more damaging I think to the sexual development of a kid than seeing some cartoon violence in a game. But because it's politically correct to speak out about a video game, they'll do that and ignore this issue of kids having access to pornography literally in 30 seconds or less if they want it on the Internet.

GS: How's the commercial reaction been to the game so far?

TL: Sales have been--for a PC title--very good. I would say there's only one other reason they haven't been better than very good, and that is simply education. We're having to educate the Christian retailers that have never seen a quality game that will actually sell that they should take this into their store. And we're doing it one store at a time.

Down the street, a guy who owns a Christian book store sold more copies of our game than literally all the major retailers combined in the same region. If that's indicative of our future, I think we're going to sell more copies than you can imagine next year. We've already started a campaign to other Christian book stores, and we're getting a similar reaction. People are ordering 18 at a time.

GS: What kind of luck are you having with the more mainstream retailers?

TL: According to Target's buyer, they are very satisfied with the results of the sale of our product. I can honestly tell you every week we're getting reorders, and that's a tremendous sign of confidence that we've created something that the mainstream is accepting and buying.

GS: When can we expect the second Left Behind game to come out?

TL: Right now that's scheduled for July of '08.

Written By

Want the latest news about Left Behind: Eternal Forces?

Left Behind: Eternal Forces

Left Behind: Eternal Forces

Follow

Discussion

43 comments
Genesis112
Genesis112

Atheism is not a religion. It is a title that is given to people who do not believe in a theist (a.k.a. "GOD") Hense the title A-Theist(A means the opposite or against). Another thing the game sucks and it has the dumbest idea for a story line. And they want an expansion pack and a sequel. yeah right, the company is just wasting money. Religion should stay with the people of faith and no one else and no where else. Not games, not politics, not the government, not school, NO WHERE. Religion is between the person and there "GOD". and if you don't already know I'm an ATHEIST.

Max_Hydrogen
Max_Hydrogen

Mr.Saturn_26: How is atheism a religion? Sorry, kinda a religion?

jakob_187
jakob_187

I can't say I'm a religious person, but I do have faith. In what, that's something entirely different from this discussion. Regardless, I've got a copy of the game...and it's just not that good. Actually, it almost flat out sucks...and it's not the thematic elements of religion and faith, and it's not even the gameplay itself. IT'S JUST BUGGY AS HELL! Hopefully, that 1.04 patch they are talking about fixes a LOT of the problems...as the whole game is basically an entire problem. Now, getting to the controversy...here's what I'm thinking: it's a gimmick. How do you get a first-time developer's Left Behind PC title to sell? Get some controversy going. The Christian watchdog groups, if I had to give an opinion on it, are using this as a way to boost sales of a Christian-themed game. As for people being offended...it's religion. Someone, somewhere, somehow will ALWAYS get offended. Nothing you can do there. Just let people get all whiny. Most of them haven't played the game, so most of them don't know. I like what this guy had to say about Grand Theft Auto, as well as the overall problem with politicians sticking their nose in this business too much, as compared to something like, yes, internet porn!

npramsey
npramsey

I'm a Christian, and if a quality game with a positive message would come out, I would support it. I don't know enough about this one to make a fair judgement, other than the fact that it's shoddily made. Of course, if a good game representing other beliefs came out, I'd try that too. Diversity makes the world a rich place to live. If only more people would appreciate the differences in others, rather than grow hateful...

Mr_Saturn26
Mr_Saturn26

maxxorz well i personally think that any and all religion or faith should be ILLEGAL and BANNED everywhere in the world, and that everyone should be ATHEIST..... but even with my bias aside, i found a demo on the net of this game and i just generally thought that it sucked. it just wasnt good.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The thing is atheist is kinda a religion, i personally agree with u, but how about no religion at all including athiest. :)

maxxorz
maxxorz

well i personally think that any and all religion or faith should be ILLEGAL and BANNED everywhere in the world, and that everyone should be ATHEIST..... but even with my bias aside, i found a demo on the net of this game and i just generally thought that it sucked. it just wasnt good.

Evenios
Evenios

Ill be honest i thought the game was a joke. I think they are not really caring about producing a "good quality christian game" but basically just throwing in a cheap cash in. If they really wanted to create a good solid Christian themed game they sure as heck could have done a lot better than that. The reason it has a sequal even though its so...bland is because that theyd led us to believe that since its a new cool christian game it MUST be good. I am a christian but i dont agree this is a good game. We could do much better than that. we have the technology and i think we just let the creativity and talent go to waste on games like this.

FallenAngel
FallenAngel

I'm actually quite impressed with the interview. Especially him being the developer of a Christian game and all, I would've thought he'dve blasted games like GTA and be a Jack Thompson apologist. But I was pleasantly surprised to see his well articulated and intelligent view on games such as those. He's so right, the government should keep their nose out of regulating games, it's just something fashionable for senators/reps to do. Rather than the government regulating games, maybe it's about time parents were a little more vigilant about what games they buy for their kids. If they're cool with their underage kids killing hookers in videogames, who is the government to say anything?

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

I'm a Christian, but I expect from games good gameplay, graphics, etc. A Christian game doesn't receives a bonus in my book.

HumanTorch101
HumanTorch101

After reading these comments, I realized that this site is populated by people who are just as intolerant as the far right Christians. I am a Christian, but I let people say what they want to because we have laws in this country that allow people to voice their opinion. I hope that you close minded people will learn to open your minds and at least listen to what others have to say. You may actually learn something, God forbid, from them.

chevydriver1123
chevydriver1123

I figured that the group headed by right wing wack job James Dobson would give a game that has people wage war and kill in the name of christianity would give it a thumbs up

Witchsight
Witchsight

So lets recap... Theyve dug themselves a multimillion dollar hole, and now they are digging deeper? I hope thier pockets go down just as far.

360guy
360guy

I still dont like the idea of religion and gaming being mixed. Not that its completely bad, some games already have built in religions but they are not anything like the real world religions sort off. The idea of a christian game is odd. Basically christianity does not mix with gaming.

Kravyn81
Kravyn81

Hell, I might be tempted (no pun intended) to check out this game with all the hooha it's getting.

K1LLSWITCH
K1LLSWITCH

rsjet "I think its awesome that a game has come out based on the Christian faith. It's cool to be able to see stuff that you believe in a game. I think its even better that the developers are willing to fix their mistakes and take the huge risk of licensing a great (and probably expensive) game engine. Also, I hope they fix the gameplay issues and this game becomes a good seller. Lastly, I hope people realize that bashing Christianity is just as bad as bashing any other faith. So before calling people intolerant, take a look at yourself."

I also think it's cool to see what you believe in become a game. Refreshing to see and new. I just have to see how it'll play out. With the whole bashing on Christians thing it is a bit frustrating but what does the world know anyway?

SmallPower
SmallPower

Not long ago I voided some wafers I'd eaten for lunch; the remainder miraculously resembled the sublime visage of the Son of the Ultimate Lord. This redolent instance of fecal transubstantiation left me trembling in awe of the puissance and mercy of the King of Kings. The digested-yet-reincarnated third of the Trinity briefly wept tears of blood (wine dregs?) before exhorting me to purchase each and every product in the Left Behind brand of games, novels, adult undergarments, baby wipes, acne creams, erectile dysfunction medications, antidepressants, and firearms that I could find. I heeded my infallible master's call from beyond; I fully intend to support the Left Behind franchise in all its sub-heavenly incarnations. VIACOM

mk_2
mk_2

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

mk_2
mk_2

Osh! $27m and 4 years developing! and results in a game that rated 3.4. I feel sorry for stakeholders... @nappan "What a crock. A sequel to an abysmal game based on laughable books read by psychopaths." That sounds pretty extreme but somehow I agree that it's "laughable". I studied genesis chapter in English Literature course. It's a total rip-off from Greek mythology. Well, it's a book of fiction anyway.

rsjet
rsjet

I think its awesome that a game has come out based on the Christian faith. It's cool to be able to see stuff that you believe in a game. I think its even better that the developers are willing to fix their mistakes and take the huge risk of licensing a great (and probably expensive) game engine. Also, I hope they fix the gameplay issues and this game becomes a good seller. Lastly, I hope people realize that bashing Christianity is just as bad as bashing any other faith. So before calling people intolerant, take a look at yourself.

Lumenadducere
Lumenadducere

Gotta agree with Generic_Dude, Andy639_basic, and Sargus. It is definitely refreshing to see a Christian who actually knows what he's talking about instead of the usual fanatic kind that gets all the media attention, despite being a minority... Coming from a consumer's standpoint, it's great to see a developer actually react well to such criticism as this game has gotten. Many companies don't actually go and try to fix what's wrong with their game post-release, and it seems that these guys are committed to doing it right, even if it takes them a couple of tries to manage it.

DCFanatic
DCFanatic

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Generic_Dude
Generic_Dude

The amount of religious intolerance on this site is astounding... I mean if Christians ganged up here and did nothing but knock on atheists or Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists, you'd be calling them fascists. But somehow it's alright to bash Christianity? You don't have to buy into it, but stop being a bunch of scumbag hypocrites. These people are doing something based on a structure of belief that moves them, as it does a large amount of people in this country and worldwide. Given that Christian rock music (as much as it's not heard on the radio as much as secular rock music) is a market with a great deal of money flowing into it, it's only a matter of time before you start seeing more Jesus-oriented schwag like this getting peddled, of varying quality. Am I going to buy it? All signs point to no. Am I better than other people who do? If I am, it's not for that reason. You see, just because a person is Christian, that doesn't give you license to spread your hatred. This is a sad trend... even if I reported abuse due to all of the comments in this section, they probably wouldn't even censor a quarter of them. And I think that's just plain bulls---.

pjgarth
pjgarth

The claims that people are making against the game are NOT 100% wrong. This game is sexist and promotes religious discrimination. Gamespot, I understand there is a story here, but please think twice before giving dudes like this even more attention. You're a respected gaming site, so cover respected games. Let this guy get all the press he wants from Focus on the Family and ignore him.

Riverwolf007
Riverwolf007

With all the great RTS games out there why would anyone bother with this title? By the way, good job Gamespot on getting an interview with this guy after giving his game a rating of 3.4. Then again I'm pretty sure Lynden would prolly eat glass if it kept this dog in the spotlight a few more days.

Andy639_basic
Andy639_basic

It sounds like they're being reasonable about the criticism the game got. Let's just hope they take it to heart and do a better job in the future.

pal3_99
pal3_99

This game starts of slow, with all the converting and stuff, but overall it's not as bad as people make out to be. On a side not who cares if it supposedly promotes "religious intolerance." I can think of some games, if they were not set in the future or past with non-humans do the same thing.

comthitnuong
comthitnuong

i dont really find this kind of game necessary but the people discriminating about this game arnt any better...theyre kinda worse imo

infinitys_7th
infinitys_7th

Siting prisonplanet.com as a source automatically loses you all credibility. Same goes for infowars.com or any of those other Alex Jones run sites. Alex Jones is a moronic windbag who is also involved in the same oil business as Bush and the rest of the "neo-cons". Nice to see at least that he has stopped disgracing C2C AM with his present as of late.

Ace513
Ace513

josephmadde2005 just wow.....go back in your hole. I guess 1/4 of americans really are retarded. Anyway I hope they do make a really good game sometime.

josephmadde2005
josephmadde2005

I have no problem with people who read these books and play the games, but as a Christian they are not Biblically accurate. Most of the people who read these books still believe Bush is a good "Christian Conservative" who loves us all and would never do any wrong. I have had Christians tell me that if we question the war, 9/11, or the president we should be put in prison. That is like Nazi-ism/communism 101 people. They cannot accept the fact that their boy Bush is helping bring on the New World Order crime syndicate they hate the democrats for so much. prisonplanet.com

7_armageddon_7
7_armageddon_7

"What a crock. A sequel to an abysmal game based on laughable books read by psychopaths." Talk about intolerance...

RaiKageRyu
RaiKageRyu

Well, the game really isn't that great.

TheChronoMaster
TheChronoMaster

What a crock. A sequel to an abysmal game based on laughable books read by psychopaths. People like you are just as bad as Jack Thompson, you know?

ivan_the_one
ivan_the_one

the developer seems to know his stuff. I hope they can make other christian games besides left behind.....

runstalker
runstalker

Wow, what an ambitious developer [not]: No, the main reason is execution. You assembled then knowingly gave the greenlight to release a poorly executed video game. No amount of "education" can convince someone otherwise. Reap = Sow. First impressions.

Sargus
Sargus

I'm actually a bit encouraged by this interview, as this is one of the first "Christian developers" who actually seems to know what he's talking about concerning the industry. That's nice to see, even if this first game sucks. And yeah, the Big Huge Games' involvement, you'd think that the sequel could turn out alright... But I'm still wondering why they're making RTS games based on Left Behind in the first place... It's a great property, yes... But RTS? I don't see why...

nappan
nappan

What a crock. A sequel to an abysmal game based on laughable books read by psychopaths.

dominae
dominae

With Big Huge Games' license, I'll actually try out the sequel.

thorsen-ink
thorsen-ink

Well, I guess we now know the Rapture isn't coming until August 2008 at the earliest!