Author Harold Goldberg sat down with Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser recently for a chat about Red Dead Redemption 2, and there are a number of notable takeaways. [Update: Houser and Rockstar have now clarified some of these comments, saying it was only a small handful of people working such long hours and that other employees are not expected to do the same.]
Starting off, Houser discussed the intense production of the ambitious western, saying in a piece for Vulture that some people on the development team worked 100-hour weeks several times in 2018 to finish the game. This is an alarming figure, though it is not entirely surprising. In 2010, the spouses of Rockstar San Diego employees wrote an impassioned blog post in which they criticised Rockstar's management for overworking employees on Red Dead Redemption 1. Rockstar responded to the post by saying it was "saddened if any former members of any studio did not find their time here enjoyable or creatively fulfilling and wish them well with finding an environment more suitable to their temperaments and needs."
Going back to the Vulture piece, Houser said, "We were working 100-hour weeks" for several periods of time in 2018. Oftentimes at the end of a project, developers will "crunch" to finish a game, and it appears that was also the case with Red Dead Redemption 2.
Red Dead Redemption 2 appears to be a massive undertaking. The Vulture report says the final game has 300,000 animations and 500,000 lines of dialogue. It is estimated by the author, presumably based on information from Houser or other Rockstar representatives, to be a 65-hour game, and it could have been longer. The report said Rockstar cut five hours from the game, one part of which was scaling back a love interest for main character Arthur Morgan. Apparently, the writers intended for Morgan to have two love interests, but Houser explained that "one of them didn't work," and as such, this story element was removed. Additionally, some missions got axed because "they were never going to work technically or be quite slick enough, or they felt superfluous."
One mission that got removed had Morgan on a train trying to take down bounty hunters. "It was fun at first, but then it wasn't," Houser explained. "This part of the process is always about compromise and horse trading. Everyone always loses bits of the game they love."
Regarding Red Dead Redemption 2 being a 65-hour game, this is only one estimation for its length. Everyone plays games differently, so your mileage may vary. And then of course, Red Dead Redemption 2 has an online mode that seemingly offer plentiful opportunities to keep playing after the story credits roll.
As Houser said, game development is a fluid process, and things change all the time. What's rare is for developers to talk about this, and even more rare for one of the higher-ups at a secretive studio like Rockstar to be talking about it.
The Vulture story goes on to claim that Red Dead Redemption 2's final script for the main story alone was 2,000 pages. Rockstar reportedly paid 1,200 actors to do motion-capture work on Red Dead Redemption 2, 700 of whom also recorded dialogue. What's more, they were all represented by the acting union SAG-AFTRA, which asked its members to stop working last year amid a strike that was eventually resolved. It's not immediately clear if Rockstar had to pause production on Red Dead Redemption 2's voice and mo-cap work as a result of the strike. "We're the biggest employers of actors in terms of numbers of anyone in New York, by miles," Houser said.
Also in the interview, Houser said Rockstar might make Red Dead Redemption 3, but he isn't committing to it yet. Rockstar will only do it "if [Red Dead Redemption 2] does well enough and we think we have other interesting things to say."
Red Dead Redemption 2 launches on October 26 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The multiplayer mode, Red Dead Online, is set to debut in November, and Houser said Rockstar intends for it to be "as robust as Grand Theft Auto Online."
You can read the full Vulture story here.