Gaming Today Q&A: Running With Scissors’ Vince Desi
Violence in gaming has become a really hot topic of debate over the last 5 years or so. The irony is that violence has been in games all the way back to the days of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D – perhaps even earlier (depending on your point of view). So why all the big hooplah these days concerning violence in video games? I’d like to think it’s because of the severe left turn games have taken, essentially hopping on to that freeway known as mainstream culture. Video games are no longer a niche genre delegated to the cartel of geeks and/or teenage boys. Games are now a social venue for all demographics, and as we have seen lately, an even more viable one at that.
Running With Scissors are certainly no stranger to irony. Since the release of Postal in 1997, RwS have been the whipping boy of the general gaming media, perhaps much undeservedly. In 2003, RwS released the sequel to Postal, Postal 2, which seem to best its predecessor more in controversy than the expected gameplay. Largely panned by the critics as being too violent and indulgent, RwS ended up on the defensive of its misunderstood title. It was no secret (to those who actually played it) that Postal 2′s gameplay allowed the player to choose a path of non-violence, one that ultimately allowed the player to finish the game in such manner. Choices be damned, this fact did not stop the “bull-ys“ from seeing red, so to speak. The temptation to focus on the “controversial issues” surrounding Postal 2 proved too much for most critics. It would seem Postal 2 that of victim of circumstance.
Since then, things seemed to have calmed down for the Arizona based company. RwS have been quietly developing a sequel to Postal 2 for some time now. Teaming up with the Russian publisher/developer Akella, Postal III is slated for a 2008 release on PC, Mac, and Xbox 360. Using the currently popular Valve Source engine, Postal III intends to bring the same sandbox gameplay found in Postal 2, with little to no compromise. And from little we’ve seen of the game so far, it looks like RwS are not holding back on any of its well established Postal themes.
Gaming Today found opportunity to submit a handful of questions to Running With Scissors’ CEO, Vince Desi. The questions cover topics such as the Postal movie, Uwe Boll, Postal III’s gameplay, the beaten to death topics of controversy, and of course our beloved Jack Thompson himself. So without further ado:
The interview that follows contains some adult content.
GT: Ok, let’s get this one out of the way. Due to a scheduling conflict, Mr. Gary Coleman was not available for the Postal movie (boo!). It seems Uwe Boll really wanted to have him in the movie too. So now the Postal fans want to know: Will we be seeing the return of Gary Coleman in Postal 3?
Vince Desi: Thanks for the chance to clear this up. I’ve received a lot of inquiries from POSTAL fans. To begin with, Uwe Boll is notorious for casting his movies near the start of shooting. He does this to capitalize on what talent may be available at a reduced price. Anyway, while we all assumed that Gary would be in the movie, it turned out that his agent told Uwe he was unavailable, and so Uwe went ahead and cast Vern “Mini Me” Troyer instead. Since then, I’ve had minimal contact with Gary’s agent, and I was falsely accused of being behind the replacement move, which is total bullshit. Anyway, I’d love to have Gary be an active part of POSTAL III, but that’s up to him at this point. I never understand people who profess to be agents and, in effect, are only deal breakers not deal makers.
GT: Aside from beautiful playboy bunnies, what other “Hollywood” celebrities might appear in the upcoming Postal (game) sequel? Perhaps Mr. Boll himself?
Vince Desi: Well, we have several that we’ve yet to officially announce, but yeah, Uwe Boll will be in POSTAL III. With such a high target rate how could we not include him? Next year we will begin the real marketing campaign, and I will make many announcements about celebrities participating… It will be very surprising and a lot of fun.
GT: Making Uwe a killable character would certainly appeal to the “I hate Uwe Boll” crowd. With the Postal movie arriving next month, the hype generated from that is sure to garner further interest in the new Postal game. Will Postal 3 be borrowing ideas from the movie? How influential (or inspirational) has Mr. Boll been in the development of Postal 3 thus far?
Vince Desi: The latest I heard is that the release of the POSTAL movie will now be early November in America, and I believe the same for around the world. The movie is largely based on Postal 2, and has nothing to do with POSTAL III the game. Uwe is really a funny guy in person, and he’s ok with us ‘using’ him for target practice, but otherwise he hasn’t had any actual input in the game design.
GT: As far as video game standards were back then, Postal 2 wasn’t known for its graphics. With Postal 3 being built upon the very popular Valve Source engine, there are certainly possibilities for *gasp* artistic beauty to creep in. Will Running with Scissors be dedicating a fair bit of resources hiring artistic talent for Postal 3? Or will graphics take a back seat once again?
Vince Desi: POSTAL III is already taking advantage of the Source engine, and we intend to keep at it right up to final testing. The circumstances were very different when we made Postal 2. First of all, we were using an older version of the Unreal engine. Then we had to customize the hell out of it to do things we wanted, like mixing indoor and outdoor environments; and of course, the AI in Postal 2 is to this day surprisingly creative to anyone that plays it. Also, we had a very small team… something like 7 of us actually worked full time. Now on POSTAL III, we have around 30 people devoted full time, so there really is no comparison. I would like to emphasize that RWS still believes the most important component of a great game is gameplay. So for us that means super character AI. Add superb graphics via the Source engine… and I’m very confident the reviewers will be pleased with POSTAL III.
GT: Postal 2, at the time, had a sandbox theme going for it. Thus, it is not surprising to see Postal compared to the Grand Theft Auto games, which seems to have taken the whole sandbox theme mainstream. In fact, GTA: San Andreas (at the time) had one of the largest “seamless” explorable worlds in a video game. Will Postal 3 be going “large” in the exploration factor? Or will it be more or less a grid of smaller cells that make up the larger whole, ala Postal 2?
Vince Desi: We’ve purposely made some major design changes for POSTAL III. We learned that in Postal 2 many players, even hard core Postal fans that played hours and hours, really didn’t explore as much as we would have liked, and, in effect, missed lots of the small treats it offered. So this time in POSTAL III we are offering a combo approach. Let me explain. We are using linear missions as training exercises, basically, affording the player the chance to interact with a host of features so they can learn how to use them in the open world parts of the game. We believe this will provide players with a much easier and natural way to grasp all the potential POSTAL III offers, and in turn will allow them to have a lot more fun and replay-ability.
GT: Postal 1 & 2 really pushed the envelope of what you could get away with in a video game. Since then, other games have come along, such at the Grand Theft Auto series, and themed themselves with similar controversy (Hot-Coffee anyone?). Games not necessarily centralizing themes of violence and gore (old games had that), but now mixing in language and sexual themes as well. Can this envelope really be pushed any further? Or is it [game development] now more about being “smarter” in handling such controversial content?
Vince Desi: It’s funny, but it seems I always get the questions about violence in video games and what’s controversial. The first thing you have to accept is that video games are an electronic medium, and hence, will be evolving technically for a long time to come. So I see no limitations on what will be possible in the future. That said, the issue of “handling controversial content” is more a financial marketing consideration than anything moral. This is why I’ve been so upset over the years. It’s a total bunch of bullshit and hypocrisy when you have games being pseudo-rated and banned. The whole process is flawed and misses the point. Major companies have millions invested and will do whatever it takes to protect their investments. Small independent companies like Running With Scissors don’t have the money muscle to ‘sway’ the political minds and corporate watchdogs, and actually we serve them just fine by being their scapegoat. I really think this is changing though. I just saw a TV commercial for the John Woo game, Stranglehold, and it point blank states you MUST engage in bloodshed.. blah.. blah.. Hey, I have no problem with it. But, it’s real hypocrisy when a game like POSTAL, which actually punishes you for violent behavior, is held up as the evil example of video games. The fact is today there are so many new games out and more to come that are nothing but violent, where as in POSTAL III it’s the humor that makes the violent content meaningful, and not so one-dimensional. Lets be honest here, if I had the backing of a major publisher years ago, I probably would never have been the go-to guy for journalist like you who want to know about violence and controversy in the video game industry. The sad thing is that the real story, the real controversy, should be the hypocrisy and ill politics that our industry is mired in.
Vince Desi: NO, and thanks for asking.
GT: Compared to its predecessors, Postal 3 seems a bit more ambitious. With ambition comes a bit of seriousness. Have Running with Scissors taken a more mature approach to the design of Postal 3? What lessons have RwS learned from Postal and Postal 2?
Vince Desi: As I said earlier, we are combining linear missions as training opportunities so that the big open sand box areas of the game will be more fun to play. We are also introducing several modes of play, all based on player choice. We see it as the Postal Dude can be played as the Good, the Bad, or the Insane.
GT: Do you feel Postal 3 will have some overall political statement? Or will it simply be a big “F-You” to the overzealous religious and political sects?
Vince Desi: I learned along time ago that in order to get respect you have to give it. So while we, as a company, and POSTAL, as a game, have been falsely misrepresented in the past, we strongly believe in doing our own thing, being who we are, and offering players a chance to have fun at everyone’s expense, including our own. That’s what it takes to be real. I can only control what we put in POSTAL III, not what people write about it. Let’s hope this time more reviewers will actually play it first before writing their review.
GT: Do you really think video games are the ultimate venue for emotional purging?
Vince Desi: Ultimate? That depends on the individual. For example, scoring a blow job is better than beating any boss for me. That may sound physical, but hey, the critics are always complaining that games are different. Games are an interactive experience. Well then, let’s keep it at apples to apples and balls to balls.
GT: In your own personal opinion, when is too far really taking it “too far” when it comes to games and gamers?
Vince Desi: For ten years I’ve been telling anyone that wants to listen that for RwS, kids are off limits. I see no need to incorporate children in anything we do; from game design to marketing, it’s not what we’re about. I am concerned that today as games become more and more sophisticated, and more dramatic in tone and style, that the worst is yet to come. This is why I’m so glad we make games that make people laugh. We never forget that games are something you PLAY for enjoyment. It’s not a holy experience.
GT: If there were anyone in the U.S. that anticipates the return of Postal (to the media) more than anyone, it is Florida’s very own Jack Thompson. Do you have any insightful words for the beloved self-googler?
Vince Desi: Is he still around? I thought Take 2 paid him off to go away. Oh, I guess they only paid him to stop bitching about their titles.
[Don't we all wish Wacky Jack would go away, Vince.]
We at Gaming Today sincerely thank Vince Desi for taking time to answer our questions. We will certainly be providing our readers with zesty Postal III information in the coming months. Here’s hoping that Running With Scissors gets the much deserved fair treatment come 2008. Best of luck, guys.