|IMG: Postal's Designer Steve Wik Talks Game Design, & More
October 20, 2006 | Jean-Luc Dinsdale
IMG: Apart from the humour and the over-the-top violence, I really liked the structure of the game in Postal 2. The story revolved around a week in this guy’s life when things start to slowly unravel and spiral out of control to the point of the absurd.
Steve Wik: Postal 2 was a tough design because our goals were so lofty. One of the virtues I always look at, even today as you compare the game to other titles, holds true: in Postal 2, we have more gameplay tied up in what you can do with the dogs in that game than most games have in their entirety. I figure we’re insane, because any sane person would say “You can’t make that game, there’s too much content in it, you guys have to pair it down.” But we went for it, and in the end we still cut a lot of things out.
IMG: Like the pigeon scene in Apocalypse Weekend.
Steve Wik: In that case it really was cut for budget reasons. For us it’s always about the gameplay. Unfortunately, that’s been one of the biggest drawbacks to the whole thing – we put so much into our games, and we were so focused on the gameplay, that we weren’t able to put that layer of glossy “polish” on it that could have pushed sales over the top. That’s what we’re really going to try to do with our next project – take all the concepts and ideas and fun gameplay that was in the sequel and build on all of that, but also have that “sheen” on it.
IMG: I’ve seen many games that have gone the opposite way. Any concern about putting too many resources into the sheen and not putting enough into content or gameplay? Any concerns that the humour of the game will get lost if you get too tied up in the sheen?
Steve Wik: I don’t think so, because the game will feature the same kind of humour, and the same kind of gameplay, just with visual enhancements. Nicer cinematics, smoother animations, and just better-looking graphics in general. I think all the good stuff that make our games popular will still show through. If anything, the extra sheen will help get the game in more people’s hands - people whose first reaction to the game might have been “I would never play that, it’s crap!” Most people who actually play our games realize that they’re cool and filled with great content.
The polish issue is the barrier we’ve been constantly trying to break through. One of the things we noticed when Postal 2 first came out was - and I’ve seen this in other industries, too - game reviewers will think of the best, the most smarmy, the most sarcastic punchline to end a review, and then they just write a bunch of filler that leads up to it. The people we work with, the reviewers who actually play the game, they always give us really good reviews, while other people didn’t bother to really play it - you could tell that those reviewers didn’t really play the game because, in some cases, they slammed us for content that wasn’t even in the game! That’s the barrier we have to get through – the average consumer usually looks at one review from their favorite website, and assumes that, if that one review is bad, then the consensus is that the game is crap. If our games had that glossy sheen, we would get through a lot of the opposition to our titles. We’re hoping we can sell our next title through screenshots – you get someone to try it out based on the look of the screen shots, the quicktimes, and when they sit down to actually play the game, they’ll realize that there’s actually something to the game worth playing.
IMG: You guys have been at it for a long time – Postal will be ten years old soon. You’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry. Games used to be made by one or two guys working in their basement. Now triple-A games have a staff of hundreds and a budget of millions. I’m sure your staff has had to balloon to keep up with the technology…
Steve Wik: Actually, no. On Postal 1, we had a staff of ten guys working, and with Postal 2 we also had a staff of only ten guys. One other gripe I have with the game reviewers who put themselves in the position of trying to dictate to gamers which titles they should buy is that they compare us with games that had three hundred people working on it for four years, while we had 18 months and only ten guys, and yet there’s so much more content in our titles.
IMG: Well, ultimately, all the studios are competing for the same consumer dollar, but I agree that the amount of content you have in your games is denser than some games I’ve seen from some of the major studios, but that’s almost…
Steve Wik: That’s the kind of thing that, when people actually play our game and get to see past the rough edges, they get to see the game for its content and how much good work has been put into it, and they really get to enjoy it. I think that’s what we’re seeing with the digital distribution of our games. We’re not making millions of dollars from those sales, we’re not rich, we’re still eating instant noodles, but the sales are steady. Month after month, three or four years after Postal 2’s initial release, people are still buying it, so I think there’s a large number of people still discovering the game for the first time, even this long after product launch. I feel that those are people who would have bought the game at launch had it gotten bigger press or had more sheen.
One of the things that’s interesting is that we continually hear from within the community that even the big name game designers and the movers and shakers in our industry are fans of Postal. (American television network) A&E was doing a show on John Romero and they called us up because they wanted to use footage of the game! John had said he was a fan of Postal. It’s cool. Like herpes, we’ve infected the people behind all the other games.
As we scratch away at the next one, I’m trying to look at what worked and what didn’t work with Postal 2. What people complained about, and what people really liked, and I’m trying to keep to that elaborate tightrope walk. We’re keeping the free roaming features, and we’re doing some linear gameplay, but the people who don’t like the free roaming aspect don’t have to amble across the whole map to get to where they need to be, but if they do like free-roaming, they can take the time to enjoy it. It’s almost like we’re trying to make everything for everyone without it turning into a boring game. The concept of the new game lends itself to that approach, we’re implementing those features in a way that I think is unique, and right now what I’m trying to do is to smooth off the rough edges and really focus on maximizing the fun factor.