Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare Q&A

Dan Houser sheds some light on the zombie-filled downloadable content pack shambling its way to Rockstar's Western masterpiece this month.


Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption married the company's peerless open-world game design with the Old West to spectacular results earlier this year. Since the game's release, Rockstar has released an assortment of downloadable content packs that have enhanced the game's competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes. The latest DLC, Undead Nightmare, is due for release on October 26 and promises a change of pace from what has come before. The upcoming content pack features an all-new single-player experience focused around main character John Marston's handling of a zombie plague that's wreaking havoc. We picked the brains of the VP of creative at Rockstar, Dan Houser, about the upcoming content pack to find out how you drop zombies in the Old West.

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GameSpot: One of Red Dead Redemption's biggest strengths was its instantly relatable story of one man trying to reunite with his family. It's probably fair to say that a zombie outbreak doesn't carry that same real-world familiarity. Why the decision to move in a more fantastical direction with Undead Nightmare?

Dan Houser: Personally, I spend far too little time racing around the country on a horse killing former business associates, so I don't know how much of Marston's story I could relate to in that way. Finding something that people can relate to is vital in any "quest"-type story, whatever the setting. The challenge with red Dead Redemption, from a narrative standpoint was to take the myths and motifs of the Wild West and arrange them in a way that felt like they did resonate with a contemporary audience, while still being very much part of the Wild West tradition, and one of the key ways we did that was, as you say, through Marston's family.

With Undead Nightmare, we have long wanted to find a way to make zombies interesting, and one of the ways that we thought we could do that was by putting zombies into an existing universe, so the player gets to see how characters they already know respond to the madness of a zombie outbreak. This is, we believe, more interesting than creating a world that people do not know and using it purely for zombies. So, the fantastical direction was something we wanted to impose on an existing nonfantastical world, and because of their shared American cinematic heritage, the beautiful landscape, and our love for the character set, we felt Red Dead was a perfect candidate for that. And, as this adventure comes together, we are really pleased with the results: zombies obviously add a new dimension to the world, and at the same time, the familiar world of Red Dead Redemption adds something from a narrative perspective to a zombie experience. It gives it context and depth it would otherwise lack.

GS: Compared to the frequently irreverent world of Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead felt a lot more straight-laced and consistently serious (though we did get some of that eccentricity with characters like Seth and Irish). Was that much of an influence on the decision to go a little more "out there" with this DLC? A creative change of pace, so to speak?

DH: That's an interesting question. We definitely take the tone of a game very seriously. For Red Dead, the goal was not particularly seriousness, but to make a Western that was not cheesy or camp, as Westerns have a habit of becoming cheesy or camp if played remotely for laughs. We wanted a game that had some humor in it, however, and I hope we managed that. Certainly, at the end of the game, we liked the characters and the mood of the world, and wanted to make more content for it. But I think as to why we chose to do a zombie game for Red Dead not GTA, the answer is a combination of factors--partly mechanical (we love the shooting mechanic and dead eye in Red Dead, and zombies lend themselves well to a world of dead eye headshots!), partly environmental (we wanted to see zombies running over the plains--it feels like a 1970s horror film), and partly narrative--for whatever ludicrous reason, it felt and still feels right using John Marston as a zombie hunter more than, say, Niko or CJ. Why that should be the case, it is hard to know, but it is. We wanted the gameworld to feel like a 1970s movie set in which by day people shot a serious revisionist Western, and by night some maniacs invaded the studio and filmed a somewhat insane horror movie using the same sets and cast.

Those zombies are persistent.
Those zombies are persistent.

GS: A lot of people are probably wondering how Undead Nightmare fits into the overall narrative of Red Dead Redemption. Should we read this as Red Dead canon, or more of an alternate reality or dream sequence scenario? Can you explain the reasoning behind that decision?

DH: The Undead Nightmare story takes place during the "home" period of the main game, while John is trying to rebuild his ranch but before the end of the game--a period that we imagined took several months. (If you've played the game to the end, please don't put spoilers in the comments.) You play Undead Nightmare as John, and it is an entirely stand-alone game that runs separately from Red Dead Redemption's main story and not part of any Red Dead Redemption canon, if such a thing exists. Red Dead Revolver is also its own universe, but the world of Red Dead Redemption was always meant to be a world in which the myths and realities of the American frontier collide. As for whether it's literally a nightmare or not--you are going to have to play the game and find out for yourself.

GS: What were the lessons you learned from The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony that you applied to this first proper single-player expansion of Red Dead?

DH: The underlying goal with both The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony was to make two games that felt very different from each other and from the main GTA4 experience--that changed the gameplay experience as much as possible, while providing different, intersecting narratives. We still believe in that approach; i.e. a story should be entirely separate, with overlap perhaps but not a direct continuation of a game's story, and the mechanics should be altered as much as possible to provide a new gameplay experience. We just used that same philosophy to do very different things this time (make a different genre of game within a world the player already knows), to turn a Western into a survival horror game. DLC and game expansions remain very much areas of experimentation for us, but we have enjoyed working both the interlinked urban narrative approach in GTA and the "change the world" approach for Red Dead.

GS: On the subject of those earlier expansions, why did you elect to stick with John Marston as the protagonist instead of shifting the focus to a previously minor character? Is that still something you're aiming to do with future Red Dead DLC?

DH: Without wishing to go into story spoiler territory here, because we loved John Marston as a character. And because, as I mentioned above, we felt a zombie plague was most interesting when imposed on a known world, a world and character set the player is already familiar with. At the moment, we are solely focused on Undead Nightmare.

The view just wouldn't be the same without the undead.
The view just wouldn't be the same without the undead.

GS: The world of zombie fiction spans a pretty wide gulf, from the humorous (Shaun of the Dead) to the legitimately scary (28 Days Later). Tell us about the type of tone and atmosphere you guys ultimately settled on with Undead Nightmare and how you arrived there.

DH: It's difficult because zombies are inherently ridiculous, but they also have to be frightening or the game would be very boring, so we tried to find a tone that was legitimately terrifying at times and somewhat silly or self-aware at other times. Again, using the character set and landscape from Red Dead Redemption made both easier. Using known characters gives you a shorthand for both humor and fear as players already know about the characters and their relationships and helps us mine them for satire, social commentary, or pathos, while the American countryside and its landscape is as much part of horror iconography as it is for the Wild West.

GS: Red Dead was a terrific hit on all fronts, but the Internet wouldn't be the Internet without some criticism of the game. How much did postrelease feedback on Red Dead factor into the development of Undead Nightmare?

DH: Not that much in the case of this pack. We used the other DLC to put into the game things people felt were missing (like minigames into free roam, for example) or title updates to fix bugs and make smaller changes. As a result of fan feedback, we will be releasing a title update at the time of release that lets all players play multiplayer free roam without friendly fire, should they wish. But of all the various bits of feedback we saw online, I don't think we ever saw the phrase "what this game is missing is the super natural," and that is part of what attracted us--it simply was not what people expected, and we felt we could make something that was interesting for us and would be very fun for fans. An open-world zombie game that we could sell for 10 dollars, and that we felt really transformed and enhanced the single-player experience in an interesting way.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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Avatar image for Pentuni

How much will it cost?

Avatar image for Sweendrix

Red Dead Redemption was easily the best single player experience this generation of consoles. I can't wait for this.

Avatar image for alexbartle

will it be playable with a friend in co op? that would be sweet!

Avatar image for Seifer-fx

Never bought DLC before for a console....this is the expection

Avatar image for TCIAL

you dont have to buy it so this can only be a good thing

Avatar image for AmnesiaHaze

i like the idea of wild west zombies, why not ? as long as it will be fun i dont see any problem , isnt the purpose of gaming having fun regardless if the game is realistic or makes sense , and you can never please everyone so i understand some may not like this dlc but imo its the best dlc so far for rdr

Avatar image for soapman72

Cant wait for it:)

Avatar image for hairybeanbag

Tank beats everything

Avatar image for kennythomas26

@nazhoyuriar yeah I traded my copy of RDR with the intension of buying it again, but again like said in my last comment it is still cheaper for to get the $30 stand alone cause it is going to have all of the same on-line features as RDR, and I did the same with the GTA4 stand alone pack the only thing I didn't get was the same what they are doing with RDR cause I can only play on-line with gay tony and L&theD, so it is still cheaper for me to get the stand alone pack so I do not need RDR copy to play cause it is a stand alone pack.

Avatar image for Gezo24

Yeah, I hope as youre traveling througout the land, theres ALOT of zombies. Not just a bunch of them here or there.. but.. scattered everywhere. But also not so much where its tedious to get by... Hmm..

Avatar image for MdN09graduate

I wonder how often you'll come across zombies just traveling from place to place? How will the hideouts play out? How long is the story? Don't care!!! It's friggin zombies in the Old West! This will sell, and I'm getting this for sure! I hate how it seems very easy to kill zombies in other games with more modern weapons, but out-dated guns feels like a challenge. They better make another DLC that extends from this one.

Avatar image for Woodford69

I'm intrigued.... I will have to get this before Halloween.

Avatar image for nazhoyuriar

@kennythomas26 is retarded cuz u selled ur RDR... and u anyway will hav to pay like $40 bucks atleast..

Avatar image for klasco

how hard is it for rockstar to put this game out for the PC

Avatar image for Jak_Napier

this looks to be like some great DLC to follow up on this great game.

Avatar image for GamerLegend10

@deathwish026 ha, cougars are deadly enough normally, but now their zombies you have the right to be scared :)

Avatar image for GamerLegend10

@razorzs Red Dead Redemption is an awesome game, and they are adding DLC because they have demand for it from their customers. Every business aims to make profit, but they are also trying to keep customers happy as well as improve a great game that they spent a lot of time and money creating. And Max Payne 3 is supposed coming out in 2011 (unless delayed), so stop your moaning. Rockstar are awesome.

Avatar image for GreatWhiteN0rth


Avatar image for foxinator59101

everything better when you put zombies in it

Avatar image for Freethinker101

While I am looking forward to this dlc, and I loved playing RDR. I am glad that Gamespot tackled the sombreness of the game. While it wasn't cheesy the lack of laughs did make it hard going. I hope the Zombies lighten it up a little...

Avatar image for Alex_09

Anyone else amazed gamespot and all those other sites gave GTA 4 a higher score than Red Dead Redemption? That will never make sense to me.

Avatar image for Zerosumgame

This is a very entertaining add on for the game I like this year, so far so good!

Avatar image for TedBundyFan

@razorzs I totally agree with you, I mean, I can't wait for Undead Nightmare to come out it will be a blast, but why is there no news about Max Payne 3?? I've been waitin' for this game for so long.....

Avatar image for Cloud-Zehro

" It's probably fair to say that a zombie outbreak doesn't carry that same real-world familiarity" Toxoplasmosa gondii, more than half the world has it... Flip a coin, you might have it too, zombie outbreaks if ANYTHING are the only familiar kind of disaster that we would know, as it would be our friends/family/neighbors only a switch in their head was flipped and now they're monsters, It brings people together in a fight for survival, you don't like the zombie theme? Don't buy it, that's you solution to this issue.

Avatar image for GameFox74

Let's pop in and crank up MJ's Thriller and start shooting those deadheads. Yeehaaaww!!

Avatar image for deathwish026

please no zombie cougars!!!! now i am scared!!!!

Avatar image for aGOODdude

Rockstar - "This game is too serious, we're not selling enough!" Dan Houser - "How about zombie DLC?" Rockstar - "That would make the game a JOKE! WE LOVE IT!" loses 100+ in soul

Avatar image for chainsawscourge

lol wild west zombies on RDR world war 2 zombies on cod5 space zombies on dead space (i know those arnt exactly zombies) whats next? midle ages zombies (not that im saying i dont like zombies!)

Avatar image for Sorkvir

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Avatar image for funnysplay

western zombies. this has never been done before but ive always thought it would be an intresting concept. now i get to try it out, and i like the RDR gameplay and for only 10 bucks im in.

Avatar image for BallisstiXXX

I think Red Dead is better than Gta 4. I also think zombies are more interesting and fitting for Red Dead than Gta 4. Anyone agree, more like does anyone disagree?

Avatar image for AVPfacehugger

There's only one way to stop the undead and thats with guns and tons of bullets

Avatar image for Ignition93

It doesn't matter, friends and fellow gamers. This game has Zombie bears. Therefore, we are screwed.

Avatar image for tehepicpwnzor

Red Undead Redemption. Best expansion evar.

Avatar image for razorzs

i'm still waiting max payne 3 for years, and you see R* just stucked with red dead for making more money and profit. no any plan and news for maxpayne 3.

Avatar image for babasparks11111

AHHHH this is going to be the hottest open world game ever!! :) RED DEAD is way way better than GTA IV. GTA IV is just lacking that............Vibe that older GTAs had like San Andreas. But when RED DEAD came along it certainly does have that vibe!! If you guys like Red Dead, than give this a thumbs up :) ;) RED DEAD BABY YEAH!!!! :) :)

Avatar image for dawnofhero

Vampires were all the rage prier to zombies, which are now the most popular thing. Just go into bookstores and you'll see what I mean :)

Avatar image for RamboStyle84

wonder how many hrs worth u get out of the single player? prob pick this up

Avatar image for gamehog5

I must admit for the first time in years i feel the joy and anxiety felt by small children in december thank you R*

Avatar image for blakout3

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Avatar image for masoodtext


Avatar image for kennythomas26

@nazhoyuriar What so retarded about me getting the stand alone disc, it will be cheaper for me to buy that than re-buying the full RDR game which will cost me about $60-$70 dollars and buying msp which I have to spend a minimum of $20 to get 1,400 msp cause I can't get 800 msp, so yeah it's a lot smarter and cheaper for me to get the stand alone disc and with it I just don't get the undead nightmare and all of the game's dlc and I'm gonna have all the on-line features that the original has. So what's so retarded about that.

Avatar image for kevorksalloum

I wish if it was still summer :P I'll get to play it :P

Avatar image for woper93

Maybe one of the most interestings add ons ever. I'll be looking forward to it

Avatar image for embo25

it looks stupid

Avatar image for Morphine_OD

Dan Houser has a talent.

Avatar image for omegazx100

hmmm interesting ill looking to it

Avatar image for Sticker704

I think what will make this DLC intresting is that they've taken a hell (Somewhat) and made it into a bigger hell. I think the best (or worst) ending is that West Dickens finds a cure and saves everyone (unlikely but then I'd forgive him for wasting time) Bah, who am I kidding? Save the day John!

Avatar image for cmcca

No doubt first thing on Tuesday, just gonna have to put down New Vegas for a little while...

Avatar image for WafflePrime

Zombies plus a chance to play as John Marston a little more I am definitely downloading this one