Postbug's Game Design Objectives
March 12, 2015
Featured on Gamasutra
In this post I reflect on the fundamental game design objectives behind Postbug.
These objectives include creating an emergent system and encouraging experimentation, exploration, and strategy building during gameplay.
An aim of Postbug was to create an emergent system consisting of objects with a diverse range of attributes and behaviours.
Grass, dirt, rock, water, lava, bugs, eggs, spiders, fish, and crabs are differentiated by whether they are affected by gravity and whether they crush other objects.
Living objects are defined by which environments they can survive (air, water and/or lava), who they feed upon, and how they hunt for food.
When these simple objects interact, an emergent system is created and the complex interaction of behaviours make it difficult to predict the outcome.
For example, it can be difficult to determine whether a spider egg will be cracked as lava burns through grass, triggering an avalanche of boulders, dirt and water.
Players may find themselves managing risk and constructing flexible strategies during gameplay.
In order to survive, the player will need to experiment with their environment to learn how objects behave and interact.
A player once asked whether fish are dangerous and another said they deliberately walked into a spiderweb to confirm their assumption they would get stuck.
Unlike common game design advice, Postbug doesn't guide the player through an incremental learning curve.
Instead, players are thrown into the deep end where they are faced with the many complexities and dangers of the game.
It is up to the player to learn how they fit into this world, and they are given the freedom to choose how they wish to engage.
While the player builds up their understanding of the world, they also have the option to venture out and explore.
Even though Postbug is a difficult game, I've noticed some players identify dangers and map out areas they feel comfortable exploring.
As they gain experience, they then extend their comfort zone and venture out further.
For me, this is the most fascinating aspect of Postbug's design.
From the player's perspective, the world may have areas which are too dangerous and hopefully this creates a sense that the world is bigger than their individual experience.
For the players who wish to take on the Postbug challenge to deliver 33 letters, they may need to develop a strategy to help them manage the game's difficulty.
This strategy may include the order in which to rooms are completed, a plan to avoid dangers such avalanches blocking doors, and the order to collect and use powerups.
Battledrone's humorous Postbug review described the experience as,
"Persistence, courage and 'going the one more round' will provide you the tools to get through a labyrinth of puzzle and death to give you the ultimate prize of a feat of significance."
Influenced from the '80s
The game design direction in Postbug has been influenced by my experiences playing games while growing up in the '80s.
James Crawford delivered an insightful talk at last year's Game Developers Conference titled Preserving a Sense of Discovery in the Age of Spoilers.
In his talk, he reflected on the mystery and intrigue found in games from the '80s,
and described these games as "an unknowable world operating on confusing rules where anything can happen."
In his advice, he talks about worlds that "feel like a real place and less like a clockwork puzzle constructed purely for the benefit of the player."
These observations resonate with Postbug's design objectives of creating an experience where players have the freedom to experiment and explore.
It was a fascinating talk and it confirms that there's more to our childhood gaming experiences than nostalgia, and our pursuit to understand this era is worthwhile for modern game design.
I'm interested to know what your thoughts are on Postbug's game design.
You might also be interested in James Baillie's in-depth Postbug review.
He provides some valuable insight and I share his game design concerns.
Once again, feel free to jump on James Baillie's Postbug thread or contact me via one of the social links if you wish to provide some feedback.