Interview with Wisdom Tree Owner Brenda Huff

Wisdom Tree games have become a punchline in the modern gaming era, due in large part to their exposure in AVGN episodes. Subsequently some gamers will judge these games, and the company who made them, solely on what they see and never give these games a try, for personal experience. Although AVGN is a character, and mostly reacting to these games for entertainment value, Wisdom Tree is a real company, with a real purpose.

Wisdom Tree was the first and only publisher of Bible based, educational games designed for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Founded in August of 1990, under parent company Color Dreams, Wisdom Tree sold over one-quarter of a million games in the first year of business. As systems advanced Wisdom Tree added games for the GameBoy, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and PC to the product line.

Without question Wisdom Tree’s games were based heavily on top games of the day, and are often mocked for never reaching the refinement level that those games did. Although I’m not drawn in by the religious aspect, I still respect the company, and games, from a business standpoint. I’ve always been interesting in the history of Wisdom Tree, knowing they worked around Nintendo’s heavy hand, so I sent an email off to the current owner of Wisdom Tree games, Brenda Huff, to see if she could give me a little more insight into what the company behind these games was about.

Brenda started by giving me a brief history of her time with the company.

I joined the Wisdom Tree sales team on January 15, 1991, just in time for the initial sell in of their first game, Bible Adventures for Play on Nintendo®. In 1992 I was promoted to the position of sales supervisor. As supervisor, I was head of the sales team, managed the major accounts, worked on product development, and was in charge of all trade shows and convention operations. This included the CBA (Christian Book Association) Regionals and International convention, as well as several denominational conventions each year.

TVG: Did Color Dreams shut down or did it kind of dissolve into Wisdom Tree?

WTG: Color Dreams was always the parent company until my husband and I bought Wisdom Tree. They were the development and manufacturing side. When we bought Wisdom Tree they had moved on to digital camera development.

TVG: Did Color Dreams ever approach Nintendo for a license or was the idea to get around that in the first place?

WTG: As far as I know, Color Dreams opted to work around Nintendo. I do know that Nintendo had a list of subjects they would not license. Religious games were on that list, so Wisdom Tree had no option.

TVG: Why did Wisdom Tree decide to create strictly Christian games?

WTG: Wisdom Tree was created to serve a niche market, the Christian Bookstore industry. The Bible-based games gave families an alternative to the sex and violence present in so many secular games. It was also an industry that Nintendo had no interest in.

TVG: Did Wisdom Tree ever distribute internationally? Or even Canada or Mexico?

WTG: Wisdom Tree did distribute all over the world. Some of the larger accounts were in Canada, Australia, UK, Brazil, Germany and France. Bible Adventures and Exodus were even translated into German and French.

TVG: Did Wisdom Tree have any unfinished or unreleased games?

WTG: No. We had a few basic concepts, but nothing serious. Color Dreams had moved on to digital cameras by then.

TVG: Although most famous for NES games, a few Game Boy and the 1 Super NES, were there any games released for any other consoles?

WTG: Game Boy – Exodus, Joshua, Spiritual Warfare, KJV Bible for GB, NIV Bible and the 20 Lost Levels of Joshua for GB, Sega Genesis – Bible Adventures, Exodus, Joshua, Spiritual Warfare.

TVG: Can you tell me much about Super Noah’s Ark 3D and if there was any involvement from id Software with the source code or anything from Wolfenstein?

WTG: Color Dreams originally licenced the Wolf engine from id Software to do a game they were planning on calling “Hellraiser”. They also licensed the rights to use the name and story line. Many problems arose and the project was never finished. Color Dreams finally used the license and the engine for a Wisdom Tree game, Super 3D Noah’s Ark for SNES. See below for more info on this game.

TVG: I’ve seen Wisdom Tree games in both blue and black versions, were cartridge colors random? Were there any additional cartridge colors that didn’t make it to production?

WTG: The blue carts were originally for the Color Dreams games. Wisdom Tree games were to be done in black. The remaining inventory of blue carts was used by Wisdom Tree. Nothing planned, just using up inventory. Of course back then, there was no thought of the games becoming “collectibles”.

TVG: Were there any other cartridge designs before settling on what we see now?

WTG: As far as I know, there was only one final cartridge design. When working with prototypes it is a trial and error process. Once the games were actually shipped I believe the cart never changed. To avoid copy right violations the cart and circuit boards had to be different than those on used by Nintendo.

TVG: No physical cartridges are available for sale, but all games are available in PC format on your website, correct?

WTG: We are not selling the original cartridge games any more. They are out of print. Five of the titles are available on PC. Bible Adventures, Exodus, Spiritual Warfare, Joshua and Super 3D Noah’s Ark are selling for $7.50 ea in the PC format. (Wisdom Tree Games Page)

TVG: Has Wisdom Tree always been based in Tucson, AZ?

WTG: Color Dreams and Wisdom Tree Inc. were started and run in Brea, CA. We moved WT to Tucson after purchasing the company in 1997.

TVG: Where was your manufacturing plant for the games?

WTG: Pre 1997 manufacturing was done in Brea, CA. After my husband and I purchased WT manufacturing was done by my son in Yorba Linda, CA. WT has been a family business since we purchased it.

TVG: Do you have any pictures of the work areas from the NES era that we can publish?

WTG: I have attached a picture of CNN reporter touring the manufacturing area at WT. (Photo Here)

TVG: With the recent waves of nostalgia have there been any thoughts about releasing Wisdom Tree games again?

WTG: Yes, it is certainly an interesting turn of events. First of all, Super 3D Noah’s Ark was the only SNES game ever released that was not licensed by Nintendo. Color Dreams was the licensee for the original game as well as all of the Wisdom Tree NES titles. Color Dreams is noted to be the only company who legally maneuvered around Nintendo’s lockout chips. This was established in testimony given by a Nintendo employee during a court case involving another developer.
 
As I am sure you know, retro gaming is a really big entity right now. All of our games are in great demand by collectors. Our games are some of the hardest to find. There are systems out now that allow gamers to play the older games. The idea actually came from Piko Interactive. You may want to contact them for more info. The release of the re-make of Super 3D Noah’s Ark has been well received.
 
Am I amused by its infamous reputation, or do I think people slagging it are way off base and missing the point? I believe everyone has an opinon. As the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have had comments from “the worst game ever” to “finally, a game the whole family can play”. Personally, I think it is a game that appeals to niche markets. To a lot of collectors, it is a piece of video game history. For the Christian community it is an alternative to the violence and sexual content present is so many games. I have customers who want to play the games from their childhood with their children. We are considering the re-release of some of the NES titles also. The fact that a Bible-based SNES game is back on the market in 2014 shows that nothing is impossible for God.

Wisdom Tree games may never be priceless relics, or even games that you will play, but one undeniable fact is that they are quite an interesting piece of video gaming history. From working around Nintendo’s marketing demands and serving the niche market they intended to serve, Wisdom Tree set out with a goal to do and made it happen. I would like to thank Brenda for taking the time to answer some of the questions I’ve had, perhaps additional questions may be asked later, if she is once again willing to participate.

Posted February 23rd, 2014

About the author

Samuel Floyd

first fell into video gaming with the Atari 2600…in the mid-90s! Always late into the system wars, Samuel enjoys that as he acquires them when they’re cheap and the hot titles of yesteryear are bountiful. Samuel loves RPGs, his favorite being Crystalis for the NES.


Comments

FacePalmerPro 4 years ago

Reading this reminds me of a certain bible story, one wherein Jesus trashes a bunch of market stands because the market is taking place in a temple. If Jesus trashed some stands just for making money within the temple then you might be very glad that God himself isn’t coming down to punch you in the face for making money out of his word….

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