Red Dead Redemption Exclusive Q&A

Rockstar San Diego talks about the creative and technical process of building a free-roaming shooter set in the Old West.

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If there's one type of game that Rockstar has left an irreversible mark on, it's open-world action. The publisher-developer's Grand Theft Auto series has grown to become the ubiquitous benchmark of the genre, but the company has got another promising game coming up with a similar structure but an altogether different look and feel. That game is called Red Dead Redemption, and it's set in a wide-open stretch of American West frontier during the early days of the 20th century. We recently exchanged some questions with Rockstar San Diego's Ted Carson, the game's technical director, on the development process.

Welcome to the Old West.

GameSpot: Talk us through the early creative process on Redemption. What were the key features from the original game you wanted to carry over? What were the big, original ideas being thrown around?

Ted Carson: As the studio was working on Red Dead Revolver, the potential for a Wild West game on the scale of Rockstar's other games became obvious. The setting was so strong, and the possibilities in an open-world setting seemed endless. We clearly weren't going to be able to fit all those ideas into the original game, which was very much a shooter. So, the fundamental challenge for Red Dead Redemption was to keep that core shooter experience and expand on everything else. The big ideas started with the goal of an open-world game in a rural setting and then layered the really challenging, but must-have, features to make that environment successful--horses that felt right, lassos that behaved properly, a massive ecosystem of animals, and a world that was both beautiful and full of things to do.

GS: Open-world action games have exploded over the past decade. What are the major pros and cons of working within such a popular genre?

TC: Luckily for us, Rockstar has a tremendous amount of experience in making some of the most successful, popular, and critically acclaimed open-world games, from the Grand Theft Auto series to Bully to the Midnight Club series and even Smuggler's Run. Unluckily for us, Rockstar also has very high standards! We knew we would have to make the game something really special for it to stand up alongside GTAIV.

As a company, we have a very clear idea of the kinds of worlds we want to make and how to make them, what works and what does not work, and that gives us a great advantage in building these kind of games. Within Rockstar as a whole we had access to a lot of people with a lot of experience about how to approach the countless challenges that must be solved to make this kind of game--from how to give the player a world that has variety and feels seamless, to how the world must serve the story. Equally important, access to this experience served as an invaluable sounding board when solving the unique challenges of Red Dead Revolver. The only "con" of making open-world games is that by their nature they are challenging--simply the scale and variety of everything you have to include is a lot of work. But, the real challenge is ensuring that everything works together--huge numbers of mechanics, environments, behaviors, dialogue, characters.

GS: The American West takes up a tremendous stretch of diverse geography. How did you settle on the specific locales of the game? What is it about these areas that made them so compelling compared to other geographical options?

TC: So much of the power of a Western comes from the tight integration between the environment and the people in it, so the three large territories had to represent the most iconic parts of the West in every way, from the landscape to the architecture to the people you would find out there. New Austin covers the American frontier and all of the small towns, outposts, and military encampments that came with it. Nuevo Paraiso is further south, across a river into the Mexican border territories, filled with rebel outposts, forts from the Mexican army, and the classic adobe architecture in the Mexican villages of the period. Port Elizabeth, which we have kept fairly secret so far, represents the more civilized areas of the northwest--full of tall redwood trees, some mountains, and the beginnings of the kinds of cities we know today. We felt that this variety, along with the way the flow is experienced by the player, gave us great visual variety and a sociological variety as the player moved from wilderness to Mexico to more developed environments as the story unfolds.

From the mountains to the Mexican desert, there's a lot of ground to cover in Redemption.

GS: Redemption isn't a typical Western when you look at how late it takes place in the genre's historical window. Why the decision to set the game in the years leading up to World War I rather than the peak of the Wild West?

TC: What appealed to us about that specific place and time was the opportunities it presented to explore things in video games that had never been attempted before. By the early years of the 20th century, the frontier was already conquered, and there was a great deal of social upheaval. The cowboys, gunslingers, and stagecoaches of the mid-1800s were literally disappearing with each passing day.

At the same time, tremendous advances were being made in technological endeavors, from weapons to communication to transport and medicine. It was the perfect environment for the kind of open-world game we had in mind: it was rich in characters, socially complex, incredibly beautiful, and, of course, presented a really wide range of really interesting weapons, along with a civil war that is brewing in Mexico!

GS: Tell us about how the protagonist, John Marston, came together. What is it about this person that makes him a good fit for this style of game or the center of this story?

TC: What makes Marston the perfect protagonist for this game is that he has a foot in both the old world and the world that was to come. As a former outlaw, Marston is someone who is used to the risks and struggles of survival on the frontier. But that's a life he left behind when his gang left him for dead after a heist gone wrong, and in the years since, he's worked at being a man of peace, working the land and raising a family.

At the same time, the government was working ruthlessly to bring the outlying territories under the rule of law. Marston's former gang were still out there, and Marston had a history as a ruthless and violent man--just the kind of tool the government needed on the frontier to finally assert the rule of law and order. The combination of good and bad and of cynicism and idealism that he represents is what made him interesting as a character. For a game of epic scope we felt that you needed a nuanced character, as opposed to a straightforward hero or villain, to provide enough interest for the player through the full experience. We are really pleased with how he evolved as a character--he's a good guy in a very difficult situation, but at the same time, he's a coldhearted killer.

John Marston is just trying to find some way to be redeemed.

GS: Rockstar games--and the Grand Theft Auto series in particular--have famously paid tribute to a lot of films over the years. Some famous movies and some obscure ones. Have those cinematic nods made their way into Redemption?

TC: Of course! It's a Western. We really wanted to explore the myths and realities of the Old West--we did plenty of real-world research, from visiting the Library of Congress to road trips to photographing real environments. But we also wanted to look at the myths of the Old West, and so many of those myths are from movies. The one thing we really focused on, above all, was to make sure that we provided, in gameplay, as many classic Western situations as we could think of. These were things we had all seen, but never experienced interactively in a game before--things like Mexican standoffs, driving stagecoaches, taming wild horses, lassoing bandits who are trying to escape, riding with the cavalry, blowing up bridges, hunting buffalo, and so and on. We really wanted the game to offer the complete Western experience interactively and stylistically to show both the idealism and brutal cynicism of the Wild West.

GS: Open-world games tend to live and die by the amount of content they offer up outside of the primary story missions. It's no small feat that Redemption seems to offer a lot of potential for side pursuits when you consider the mostly rural landscape between towns. Tell us how you went about populating this world with gameplay options when so much of it could have been barren Western frontier.

TC: Filling the vast wilderness between the townships and outposts was one of the greatest development challenges of Red Dead Redemption, and we're really excited about the results we have achieved. Unlike a city-based game like Grand Theft Auto, there are vast expanses of unpopulated open space, which we had to bring to life in a believable way, but was also full of cool things to do from a gameplay point of view. Of course, we started with a complete ecosystem and food chain with over 40 in-game animals, all of which you can hunt and skin.

Dueling: the gentleman's sport.

In addition to that, more than any of our other games, there are countless ambient, completely dynamic events to discover. You might meet an official needing help apprehending escaped criminals that were being transported, or a woman being attacked by an unwanted suitor, or you might be attacked by a bear. All of these are contextual, depending on where you are in the world, the time of day, even what you may be wearing at the time (some outfits aren't just cosmetic and play a very important part in the way the world reacts to you). Luckily, the setting, the time period, and the subject matter, once we really got our head around them, gave us a huge amount of material to make into side missions, side characters, minigames, and things to see and watch.

All of these activities are optional, with their own specific risks and rewards. They make journeying from place to place more eventful, if you choose to stop and take part. But if you are in a hurry to move from place to place, you can ignore them completely, or just flag down a passing stagecoach. You can also quick travel to any town you have visited straight from your campsite. We really wanted to focus on giving the player a massive array of content and the choice to do what they want when they want, which we believe is at the heart of the open-world experience.

GS: Can you explain the honor system to us? What was the reasoning behind putting in a persistent system that tracks a player's moral choices when so many open-world action games go out of their way to let people wreak havoc on their surroundings?

TC: The concepts of honor and fame seemed like a way to push beyond concepts we'd explored in our other games, and these concepts are very much in keeping with the idea of morality and notoriety that the West was associated with at the time. Honor indicates how lawful and respectable a player is, while fame is an indicator of how much experience the player has had in the world. So whatever you choose to do, the more time you spend being active and making decisions in the world--whether it's through completing story missions, side missions, killing a criminal (or civilian!), or simply getting arrested--you will become more famous. People will respond to you differently depending on your level of Fame--instead of ignoring you, they might ask you for help, or challenge you to a duel in order to make a name for themselves.

Honor will fluctuate based on the choices you make. Killing a criminal is more honorable than killing a sheriff's deputy, for example. Saving a prostitute from being attacked by someone in a local bar is an honorable thing to do, but killing a merchant in order to steal from his wagon is not. A more honorable man might be offered discounts by the town's merchants, while behaving dishonorably might intimidate civilians into turning a blind eye to your crimes.

A later setting relative to other Westerns means more advanced weaponry.

GS: The duo of Rage (Rockstar's internal engine) and Euphoria (an animation system from Natural Motion seen in games like The Force Unleashed) combined to make Grand Theft Auto IV look and feel very natural, in terms of graphics and the way things moved in the game. Can you tell us in layman's terms what sorts of improvements you've made to that tech during the development of Redemption (the immediately noticeable improvements as well as the more subtle ones)?

TC: When we first saw Natural Motion's technology, we felt that it represented the future of character physics for any shooter and knew we had to have a system like that in our games. Natural Motion provides us with a physically based character performance system that we have tightly integrated into Rage's proprietary physics engine. Instead of using canned animations, key injury and death reactions can now be accomplished entirely within a physics simulation. While staggering and falling, characters will realistically collide with nearby props and tumble down slopes. Because of its tight integration with Rage physics (rather than a third-party physics package), we are able to leverage all the benefits that our own highly optimized physics engine provides.

For Red Dead Redemption, we invested a great deal of effort into creating a natural-looking stagger/fall performance--critical to dramatic and unique gunshot reactions in a classic Western environment. Instead of fighting to maintain upright balance like characters in GTAIV, characters who get knocked over will "ride the momentum" of the impact like a real stunt man would. When colliding with the environment, the resulting reaction is not just physical, but performance-based--for example, glancing impacts with walls use true body mechanics to spin the character away, flip over a railing, fall down the stairs, get dragged by a horse, or whatever the environment calls for.

Enhancements to GTAIV's tech have allowed for more-realistic animations.

Also new to Red Dead Redemption are body-part-specific gunshot reactions that were created specifically for this game. Characters will react differently to gunshots to their gut, back, legs, arms, and torso. Characters who are suffering from a gut injury will physically crawl away from their attacker until they eventually bleed out. You can shoot their legs as they crawl away, and the legs will lose strength. Even horses have physical death behaviors in Red Dead Redemption--to mimic stunt horses from Western films. When they fall, they raise their heads to avoid the ground, and a realistic tendon simulation keeps their hind legs in anatomically accurate poses. Our proprietary animation tools provide us with the ability to dynamically mix and match Natural Motion behaviors and tightly integrate Natural Motion behaviors with the game engine like never before.

GS: Thanks for your time.

Discussion

225 comments
Goldrock
Goldrock

dude i love red dead revolver i loved gun and the call of juarez series i know for a fact ima love the hell out of this game im gonna go pick it up as soon as gamestop opens in my area cya all in game my tag is infernalrmeans if any wanna start a posse or anythin.

irwin888
irwin888

What would really be awesome is if they have an O.K. Corral reference of sorts! Either way, after looking into this game a little deeper I'm about ready to just say "screw waiting for the review" and buy this thing!

eyebrowless
eyebrowless

gotta find money before this comes out. can't wait

Demi-jack
Demi-jack

This looks like an awesome game i've preordered it already (Y). anyone know what you can do with the animal pelts when you get them?

skinyman26
skinyman26

Birthday is May 20 so I'm pumped to get this f****** amazing game Can't WAIT!!!

Dominicobaggio
Dominicobaggio

Ordered weeks ago and it doesnt seem to be getting any closer to release!! Arrggg i cant wait till the end of the month :P

Rekunta
Rekunta

Damn I'm looking forward to this one, I just hope it turns out to be decent. Little worried but not too bad.

SkeetWeetSlappy
SkeetWeetSlappy

@lewilewi416 to say the least bro i don't think GUN had the best horse mechanics because when your running with a horse it's ok but when the horse is ''walking'' he goes too fast peace ;)

lewilewi416
lewilewi416

if its anything like "gun" it should be pretty amazing, gun has the best horse mechanics

KILLROYIIII
KILLROYIIII

man i can just picture me trying to 100% this game :D

WoodzHorizon
WoodzHorizon

The horse riding in most western games can be pretty weak. Then again if its decent itl make the game pretty brilliant

Keirnzyboy
Keirnzyboy

I will be there at midnight. May even have to wear my cowboy hat & boots. :P

ElMeerkat
ElMeerkat

pre-ordering this game and getting on release partner

Tha_DRP
Tha_DRP

I WANT TO PLAY THIS SO BAD! CAN'T YOU TELL FROM MY CAPS LOCK!?

MagicMarker44
MagicMarker44

@MonkeyMan743 I hope that you are right if they don't let you get these costumes outside of preordering at gamestop that would be really lame. I hope they will be in game unlockables. DLC should be reserved for bigger stuff like how they did the DLC for Fallout 3. That worked out pretty well aside from some small freezing problems.

BoaMo121
BoaMo121

@MagicMarker44 "Pale Rider" and "The Outlaw Josie Wales" arent bad choices either.

Dolohov27
Dolohov27

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

yoyoman500
yoyoman500

can u break a horse in this game? i rly want to try that.

MonkeyMan743
MonkeyMan743

heard about the 3 diff costumes that u vote 4. why not have all 3 as DLCc or unlockables???

jalfrezy
jalfrezy

I hope they keep the quick-draw from the first game, so much multiplayer fun!!!

lindallison
lindallison

looking good, very good... kind of sad that Rockstar makes the best RPG's these days....

majergameplayer
majergameplayer

I love rockstar and I loved Gun, so this will be like a 10 times better version of Gun. I need a massive open world western!

candyman305
candyman305

I guarantee that this game will receive at least a 9.0 to a 10.0 by gamespot and plus most epic rockstar openworld games recieve at least a 9.0 or above and if you dont agree with that then agree with this "its going to be the best western game ever created"

xtoda7
xtoda7

I think most of us here are capable of making a decision weather a game is good/bad based on our own judgment, its more then just oh he said its good so it must be good. Watch the videos. Read about the features. This interview details a lot of what will be included. If you cannot see that this game is good then I'm sorry my friend, but the fool is you..

MagicMarker44
MagicMarker44

I highly recommend "The Good The bad and The Ugly" and "A Fistful of Dollars" and "A Few Dollars More" and "Hang em High" Classic Eastwood

MagicMarker44
MagicMarker44

The Rockstar people are great at creating huge open worlds. I hope that with this game they with allow the player to interact with a large variety of things like they did in San Andreas. The reason GTA 4 was not as good as I hoped was because they did not have all the small things San Andreas had. I am a big western fan. I can't wait to see this great looking game.

KO4U
KO4U

@crashrouge I understand and most times would agree, but this is a triple A western game. I am huge western fan and I want this bad (although I should mention I've never cared for GTA).

KO4U
KO4U

Going through a marathon of Western movies right now in preparation of this game. (I mean there aren't enough western games to get hyped on). Just watched Open Range, Appaloosa, and Stagecoach for the nth times. Gotta buy a copy of Tombstone! Best Doc Holiday EVAR! @joedog05 Whoa, "not leading up to WWI"? I'd play something like that! what are you talking about?

crashrouge
crashrouge

Well, according to most of the folks here, this game is outstanding. How the hell can any of you say it's a great game when it's not even out yet? Because the person interviewed says it is? Please! What do you think they're going to say? First, let the game come out then see what is said. Then you can comment, until then, all this "great game" is just a lot of hot air by those who are easily fooled.

joedog05
joedog05

Finally a wild west game that is not based on the lead up to world war 1. Certainly looks like rockstar have outdone themselves again.

surikik
surikik

Looks like a must buy... Great game!

Shipppy
Shipppy

Looks awesome, about time there was a great western game!!!

Balthasaur
Balthasaur

if they give the prayer some freedom in choises in the game its gonna be one of the best in ps3. cant w8!!! hey...( plz make revolver ocelot a playable character :P)

charles-lee-ray
charles-lee-ray

this is gonna be awesome because you can get a colt 1911

hrothgar99
hrothgar99

will this by the grace of lord almighty come for the pc??

LOVERPS3
LOVERPS3

I loved Call of juraez:)SO:arrow: i will love this game:)

xtoda7
xtoda7

hope it turns out better then expected,if so this will prob be my GOTY.Hope they include some gambling.Wouldnt be the wild wild west without a lil bit of Poker now ;)

sportwarrior
sportwarrior

Cannot wait for this game. Like at all. I've been absolutely craving a game like this after burning through GUN twice years ago. I need April 27 to be yesterday.

yodathewise
yodathewise

Looks awesome. I loved the first game. Speaking of which, I really need to play that again some time.

candyman305
candyman305

oh and im hoping that theres going to be some online play because i do know that red dead revolver had multiplayer

candyman305
candyman305

i guarantee that regardless what anyone thinks this will be the best western game ever made because face it theres not any real good western games and this looks like it will surpass any western game ever created but thats just what i think

taj7575
taj7575

Game looks superb! :D