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 HectorFAO

nice im getting it!

Avatar image for jadefury27

Ha! gamespot gets a fail for getting punked by Dan Houser at the beginning of the interview. toils1981 gets a fail for misspelling a word when there's a spell check option right below.

Avatar image for Jawdog49

i guess this is why it's called red DEAD redemption :P (yay cheesy joke time!!!)

Avatar image for tolis1981

Buzzkill1001 With your logic, games such as Resindent evil and fallout 3 should include 300 Spartans campain or would be fun (Im kidding). Most people do not realise that some senarios must fit well with the whole storyline in order to have goods results. You can not mix indiferent senarios. How about a DLC with Aliens in RDR??This conversation is just a joke...RDR must maintain its character and Rockstar should not only focus in profits from zombies senarioes because they sell...unacceptable

Avatar image for Sagem28

Rockstar I freaking love you, everything you touch turns to gold You even got me exited for a zombie DLC, and I hate zombies.

Avatar image for manveer27

so regret selling my RDR

Avatar image for Phil-teh-Pirate

Every year seems to have its own shoe-horn concept. Pirates, Ninjas, Zombies, next year will probably be something equally as random.

Avatar image for Krinnium

man i cant believe that people would actually say how out of place zombies are in this universe when most of the Q&A is focused on the topic of how they're trying to fit something fantastical into a known universe. sometimes, it actually pays to comprehend what you read, and THEN comment.

Avatar image for Rhino53

Ahh, John Marston can't catch a break, can he?

Avatar image for Buzzkill1001

@tolis1981 I hear what your saying but it's just a game and this is just a fun DLC with a spin on it, stop taking things so seriosuly, so what it's the wild west, this game is not of historical accuracy anyway,RDR is made up of three fictitious states: New Austin, Nuevo Paraiso and West Elizabeth. Besides the game is a western, this is just a fun add on so stop moaning and have fun playing it. Zombies are cool, there's a reason after how many years they are still popular.

Avatar image for NoBullet

"We used the other DLC to put into the game things people felt were missing (like minigames into free roam, for example) " Ha. Thats some major BS. People were asking for this way before the game was released. In fact a RDR dev goofed on a podcast and said that mini games would be in free roam. Of course we find out that was false and that something that was so sought after from fans should have a price put on it instead. Pathetic.

Avatar image for tolis1981

Im a huge fan of Rockstar and as an experienced gamer (20 years playing video games) have one more time to say that this scenario is out of order. What zombies have to do with wild west? This is a HISTORICAL game not a fantasy game, so this senario is not fitting well with the whole game consept. I like games with zombies, but this is not resident evil or dead rising, this is Red dead redemption!

Avatar image for noigel

The zombies on "28 days later" were not Zombies, they were infected people... :). Sorry I had to say it... As for the game, I find it interesting and somehow original, and R* never disapointed with the story... so it'll be good and solid (I have no reason for not trusting them). As for the fact of using John Marston, IMHO he is the best character they could have picked, it's a solid and strong character, with personality, and as Dan Houser said we'll be able to understand better how he responds when he sees zombies threatening his wife or his kid...or worse... the fact of knowing the character can make decissions more difficult and consequences more dramatic... We care about John Marston because he has a deep background... who cared about Jill Valentine or Leo...whatever?

Avatar image for eddyoshi

(SPOILER) i hope u get to play as jack at some point so u can see his dad xome back to life

Avatar image for eddieham13

Hey at least Seth will finally meet some people he actually likes.

Avatar image for lorddaggeroff

What i find strange is that your subjected to either john marsten or well the other character. wouldn't it be wise to make 2 seprate storys for example john is aware of the plague while fixing the cabin. and he's other sibling who you ???????? has another story that gives you the option to know some one you knew that was building the cabin vanished by zombies. so it tells the story on different levels with out forcing you to play as john marsten. becuase in the end we shouldn't have to be forced. if you end up with your favourate character why go back to it when it feels unatural for those who finished the game.

Avatar image for jee_joo_two

although i have only had a small play of RDR and i would of never incorporated it with a zombie game it look like a bit of late night fright fun. :/

Avatar image for tolis1981

Sorry guys but I dont think this scenario is a good idea. Ok It looks good with graphics, but if you play RDR you re expecting an expantion with indians and native camps or something not fantasy zombies...

Avatar image for deadesa

Rockstar usually doesn't disappoint and from the content of the interview the DLC appears to be coming together nicely . It's definitely an interesting premise, I mean how often do we get a zombie western?? I just hope they don't go to over the top with the zombie madness I hold a special place in my heart for the character of John Marston. Just hope it doesn't come out to campy

Avatar image for CruiserCaptain

@supernaught360: I am sorry, from what I see DR isn't really open world. It appears you are highgly restricted to the "Mall" and there is a great number of load screens. I mean truely open world, no loading. And to clearify, when I say Zombie FreeRoam I am refering to MultiPlayer "FreeRoam" not specifically OpenWorld which is the Genre itself, FreeRoam being a game type for MultiPlayer.

Avatar image for nazhoyuriar

@kennythomas26 thats so retarded..

Avatar image for coldwar26

So Many Awsome Games Comming Out-New Vegas, Force Unleashed, Fable 3,Black Ops And AC Brotherhood I Love October And November

Avatar image for tehepicpwnzor

As someone who actually read this interview, I have to say - this looks amazing.

Avatar image for kennythomas26

I'm gonna get the stand alone disc that is coming out with the undead nightmare and all the other dlc for RDR cause I won't need the the original copy of RDR.

Avatar image for MJ12-Conspiracy

Rockstar has lost their minds. There is more than a place for zombie games in the world but this should be it's own game, not some hacked addition to a game that prides itself on being historically accurate to a point. Red Dead is fairly accurate to history but like many films it's fiction and takes a few liberties, adding a zombie outbreak to this setting is dumb, it makes no sense regardless of context to canon.

Avatar image for supernaught360

@CruiserCaptain Ummm... you want "Zombie free roam, yes... lemme see... oh...okay found it: DEAD. RISING. 1. AND. 2. You seriously don't consider those "free roam"??? I mean, I LOVE RDR, and can't wait for this DLC, but let's face it: DR:2 has more actual GAMEPLAY and interactivity in it's world than the vast empty landscapes of RDR, or even GTA with it's largely non-interactive cityscape.

Avatar image for supernaught360

Lol - is the interviewer serious with these questions?? " Undead Nightmare fits into the overall narrative of Red Dead Redemption. Should we read this as Red Dead canon...?" "...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...?" Who is this guy, Bill f***ing O'Reilly?? Gimme a break - if anyone is actually interested in how this DLC "fits into it's canon" you're just taking RDR way too seriously! This is possibly the best DLC concept BECAUSE it's ballsy, and at least an interesting take on Zombie lore from an Old West perspective. Can't. Wait. For This. DLC. Was looking for a reason to revisit Marston and the ole' territories, this is p-e-r-f-e-c-t! And just in time for Halloween!!!

Avatar image for Artithan

"...whatever the setting. The challenge with red Dead Redemption, from a narrative standpoint..." FAIL, i found a typo. :D

Avatar image for GREENSLIPPERS


Avatar image for metaltorn

i wish i could connect to LIVE, i want this so bad and the other DLCs too.

Avatar image for K-E316

All this for $10? I love you Rockstar....

Avatar image for howie1926

Can't wait

Avatar image for Tano218

i want it now :)

Avatar image for uglypinkmoose

looks kinda awesome

Avatar image for alzeer1

am bored alrdy of these game

Avatar image for CreedMasterXP

Man! Now I'm buying Fable 3, Rockband 3 AND Undead Nightmare!

Avatar image for skrotzki

looks fun

Avatar image for dkyletaylor

@ MrBubbles59 October 26th

Avatar image for that1guy67


Avatar image for that1guy67

i just wanna ride the zombie horse i saw in a screen shot. i hope it has different types of zombie animals like a zombie turtle..... ,=,e

Avatar image for socky1101

red dead needs bows and arrows

Avatar image for syler4815162342

:lol: it should be fun

Avatar image for Alyxm1

@CruiserCaptain, he says at the end... An open world zombie game... -_-

Avatar image for THRILLHOE

Rockstar never dissapoints. I'm not into zombies but if rockstar does it. I'm in!

Avatar image for CruiserCaptain

No mention of Zombie FreeRoam... it's all I really care about in the end. This really does sound like a great DLC, but man, I really want Zombie FreeRoam

Avatar image for MrBubbles59

When does this come out!?

Avatar image for dxBIGBOSSxb

Hmmmm? Another zombie game you say? well lets see here: I have played zombie games in a mall, in a mansion, under the sea, on a space station, in Las Vegas, another space station, in a war, another space station... again, from a cult, in a barren city, caves, wave after wave rail shooter, 2D sidescrolling, in the future, in the bayou, silent hill, and my most favorite NAZI ZOMBIES! :D well I'm sold, after all I haven't played a zombie game that takes place in the wild west... yet. XP

Avatar image for sony_is_my_idol

dam fable 3 is coming out the same day

Avatar image for H-Revolver

I think a zombie-apocalypse setting for GTA would've been cool too. I mean imagine a bleak destroyed Liberty City setting. It would be like 28 Days Later. Anyways, I'm really excited for this one. R* never disappointed me.

Avatar image for Beastcake

I'ma be killin' me some zombies. Yeehaw.