Arizona based developers Running With Scissors made a name for themselves back in 1997 with the release of their first title, Postal. The game almost immediately ran into criticism from legislators and censorship advocates Ė most notably Senator Joe Lieberman Ė and has regularly appeared on lists of the most violent or most controversial games, along with its 2003 sequel.
Company CEO Vince Desi has always maintained that the series has allowed players an immense freedom of choice: that, although possible, violence is never necessary within the games. ďWe've always maintained since publishing the original Postal that the game is only as violent as the player wants it to be,Ē he notes.
Late last year, the company announced that a film adaptation of the franchise would be directed and produced by Uwe Boll, with a release date set for 2007. More recently, Running With Scissors has confirmed that Postal III is in production for PC and Xbox 360, marking the seriesí first foray onto consoles.
Gamasutra contacted Desi recently to ask in detail about the franchiseís controversial past, its future and the upcoming movie.
Where did the original idea for the series come from?
The original RWS team was working under another label doing educational games, and we were really bored so we decided to create our own original. It started as a relentless shooter, like the arcade game Robotron. We just wanted to make a simple, no manual required shooter. And that evolved into Postal.
How have you felt about the response to the series from the media, and censorship bodies?
In the early days I was totally surprised, I mean we had the US Government taking us to court, we had Sen. Lieberman calling us out on the US Senate floor, not to mention endless groups calling for our castration. But Iím really glad how, over time, most our of early critics have come to realize that we really are about mature humor, and not reckless violence. The only thing that still drives me nuts is when a critic or reviewer actually tells me they havenít played Postal, or even seen it, and they go on and write a negative or misleading story or uneducated review.
How long have you been planning the third game for?
We started in earnest the beginning of this year, and because this is our first entry on Xbox 360 weíre doing a lot more early design testing and strategizing.
Why have you decided to go with Valve's Source engine for the third game, rather than continuing to use the Unreal engine?
We believe that the Source engine will be a much better fit for the type of game that Postal III will be.
What is the involvement of Akella in the title?
Weíve been working with Akella since Postal 2, and it was a natural evolution to develop Postal III with them. Akella is the equivalent to EA in Russia, they have many resources from experienced development teams, to publishing and distribution, and they love Postal.
Why have you decided to bring the series to the console market, and what do you think this will add to the game?
Weíve always wanted to bring Postal to console. You have to remember that Running With Scissors is a small indie studio, and we operate like a club, so it made sense for us to find the right partner, and Iím very glad that weíre now working with Akella. Clearly, Source and Xbox 360 are the basis and key motivators in our design and overall direction for Postal III. One thing we will be offering is multiplayer right from the start - it wonít be an add-on.
In what regards do you consider the series a "social satire", and what do you feel the message of the series is?
First, I think that game developers have forgotten weíre in the game business; we donít make movies or write books, we make games. That said, Iíve always considered Postal an expression in free will for both us as developers and for the people who play games. Our audience has always been somewhat older and more appreciative of our dialogue and general stab at American pop culture. In fact, I think the message is very clear and simple: you are responsible and held accountable for your own actions. Wouldnít it be nice if that was the case in reality?
To what point do you feel the fact that the series allows players to choose their own actions blocks you from criticism?
Blocks us from criticism? What planet are you living on? Running With Scissors has been the scapegoat of the game industry since we first released the original Postal in Nov 1997. In Postal 2 the player was totally in control of their destiny, and we will expand on that in Postal III. For some reason that I donít understand, we take more heat for making a game about free will than we would have if we made one about a street thug like everyone else.
How difficult is it to know how far to push things in terms of the game's content?
Not difficult at all. There really is only one topic that we consider off limits, and thatís children. Otherwise Iíve always seen what we do, the nature of our content, the options we give the player, and of course the violent content, all as a matter of justice. Justice to ourselves, our fans, and our critics.
For us the violent content or option has always been part of the entertainment Postal provides: itís always been about whatís fun to do in a game, and is it funny to watch some one else play, and I think we have accomplished both. I mean donít you think throwing a sledge hammer up a cow's ass is funny? Or do you prefer shooting a cat off the end of a gun? Either way, Iím laughing just doing this interview.
What is changing for the third title in terms of gameplay?
We are working hard on a design that will continue the open sandbox style of game play, and at the same time we are adding new elements which will help the player have a more entertaining experience. We learned from Postal 2 that so much of the content was never even seen, let alone played. Clearly the open sandbox approach can be a double edged blade when it comes to designing game play.
Bottom line is weíre designing Postal III to be a big game, an open game, a multiplayer game, a funny game, and most of all a fun game to play over and over. This requires not just a lot of content, but elements and features worth using and doing, not just eye candy; AI is critical.
What kinds of celebrity cameos will be in the game, and what level of detail are you going into with your motion capture?
We had a great experience with Gary Coleman in Postal 2, and so we decided early on in the design process of Postal III that we would work with new celebrities. In every case, we are looking at unique and entertaining ways to incorporate them into the game. I donít want Postal III just to be another game with 100 celebrity voices - boring! We will deliver celebrities in meaningful ways to support the story and gameplay, and yes, in some cases they may be only cameos, but even then we will utilize specific attributes to make the most of their presence.
What is a typical Running With Scissors development period like?
Itís always been different; weíre not set up like your average development studio. We did Postal while we were working on educational games, we did Postal 2 in about 14 months, and I think it will take about 2+ years for Postal III.
When will the game see release?
Weíre shooting for sometime in 2008.
How is the Postal movie coming along?
Great - I just got back from Vancouver, I was on set for 2 weeks. [UPDATE: We've added pictures of Desi's cameo on the Postal movie on sister weblog GameSetWatch.] I was most happy to see that the cast and crew were highly motivated. I think the choice of Zack Ward as the Postal Dude will be well received by our fans, he has the look and heís funny at the same time. Also, by not using big name actors I think it will work to the advantage of the film - Iíve seen too many movies where some famous asshole just basically plays themselves, thatís not what Postal is all about.
Why did you decide to go with Uwe Boll for the film?
I love this question. Actually, we were approached by others before him, but I didnít get a good feeling, and I was concerned that the movie rights would be tied up and the movie would never get made. While Herr Boll and I may have had our differences regarding the type of film and the script itself, one thing I never doubted was that he really was a Postal fan and wanted to make an over the top movie.