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 darthwarmonger

RDR was a ton of fun. I might get this.

Avatar image for lampshade820

I can't wait to play this. Red Dead Redemption is literally on par with Mass Effect 2 for me in terms of my favorite game ever. I will buy any DLC, sequel, or other media related to Red Dead Redemption. I sound like a fanboy, but trust me, I'm not.

Avatar image for Markaleto

The one type of game that never gets old. Zombie Games.

Avatar image for metalkid9

@F-R-Y-E-R, On the official site here says that it's coming soon. Not sure what that means though. I hope it is on the 26th. << LINK REMOVED >>

Avatar image for ChiefFreeman

@Stormraven40 It will be in a standalone disc form too, from what I heard.

Avatar image for zooltan

only $10?? im sold

Avatar image for RadicalToenail

I can't wait.

They should also try to do it for GTA IV. Put some more life (or lack of) back into it, ya know?

Avatar image for Dark_Infinite

hurry with GTA V and make it right this time.

Avatar image for F-R-Y-E-R

@metalkid9 erm, yeah. Im thrying to think. I believe there was a news article on Gamespot a few days ago (i think it was one of the first ones aboutthe pack) which mentioned that there would be a disc pack. Ive just been searching the site, but i cant find it now. Also, if you are in the UK you should be able to see these links, I hope they also work in other countries but im not sure. there is a link here to preorder the game, but unfortunately there is no date on it: << LINK REMOVED >> here is a wiki site that mentions it: << LINK REMOVED >> click on the 'retail versoin' and it says that it will be released as disc with other DLC content, but again no specific date, but the way it reads it would seem to me that they are implying that it is released on the same day. Sorry I couldnt find ay specific dates, but as I say there was a gamespot article that definately said the date, and these above sites mention it and imply that they are released on the same day. Hope this helps EDIT: the site i said you can preorder it. I didnt mean that you should preorder from here, just that you can see there is a retail version that will be available to buy. Just re-read it and it made it seem as though i was telling you you should preorder it, not actually helping you. Sorry about that

Avatar image for Stormraven40

Will this be released with a "disk" version like Dragon Age Awakening or will it only be available through LIVE?

Avatar image for metalkid9

@F-R-Y-E-R, do you have the source for that by any chance? I've been looking all over and haven't seen the release date for the standalone disc :s

Avatar image for F-R-Y-E-R

@metalkid9 A disc bundle of all the DLC comes out on the same date as this is available for download. Also, I have wanted RDR for a long time, now this has been announced it might be the thing to swing me to buying it. Looks great. 2 stories, 1 setting,completely different themes. Really considering getting RDR thanks to this

Avatar image for kilgore456

I love zombies. I love RDR.Though I have killed thousands of zombies, I don't think I've ever shot one while riding a horse.

Avatar image for mergulho456

you gotta love the nerds who come here just to notice grammar errors... -.- plz get a life :) ROCKSTAR RULEZ!

Avatar image for GamerLegend10

@ peanut-butter shhh your ruining there next dlc plan. although i actually think vampires could be pulled off by Rockstar

Avatar image for GamerLegend10

@ greivous549 yeah i wanted bigfoot and area51 :( But its a great game anyway and now we will have zombies :)

Avatar image for Mrod1212

Zombies FTW

Avatar image for GamerLegend10

@TheDarkCrucible zombies can never get old

Avatar image for peanut-butter

For those who see the zombies as cliche, just be glad Rockstar didn't go all "Twilight" vampires on Red Dead. Problem solved.

Avatar image for greivous549

Not that I'm not excited for this but this really caught my eye "I don’t think we ever saw the phrase ‘what this game is missing is the super natural’" Really? I see and hear all the time that people wanted some kinda supernatural easter eggs in there. Like big foot or something like that.

Avatar image for Dschadir

Even more zombies. What is it with zombies. Why does everything have to have a zombie 'mode'? I will probably pass. On the other hand it is Rockstar and I can't imagine them putting some half-assed product out there. It looks pretty good. And zombies in a western is kind of creepy. We'll see. Who knows, maybe this will be the first game with zombies that I actually like.

Avatar image for gamedragonshi

I also dig graves!

Avatar image for gamedragonshi

I dig this.

Avatar image for tehepicpwnzor

I must buy this please now thank you.

Avatar image for archelius


Avatar image for LonelyHippie27

I dunno why people think this is a retarded idea. I think adding Zombies to RDR is one of the greatest ideas next to inventing the Wheel

Avatar image for zeeshan810

Rockstar Games FTW! :P

Avatar image for New-Vegas-Fan

"DH: The underlying goal with both The Lost and and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony was......" I detect bad grammer lol ;)

Avatar image for ethermay

amazing game. cant wait.

Avatar image for Dtrav

Glad I didn't sell this game.

Avatar image for Philsy34

Apostrophe catastrophies all through this article. Did a zombie write it? LEARN YOUR LANGUAGE.

Avatar image for deactivated-59f9ba1e8a7c0

Genious DLC ever, this DLC makes me wanna buy red dead redemption .. sry i don't like the original (my opinion)

Avatar image for TheDarkCrucible

is anyone else starting to think this zombie crap is getting a bit ovewrrated? seems every game coming out has zombies in it or some kinda undead thing. not that im complaining some of its pretty good but it is getting a bit old quick. this none the less looks good tho :] I still need to get RDR but this makes me want it even more!

Avatar image for GamerLegend10

i really like the idea of zombies on this game. Rockstars awesome. although i would like to know how long it is and how it will play out.

Avatar image for metalkid9

you forgot to ask when will the standalone disc for all the dlc's will release. I never bought the DLC's so I'd rather get that

Avatar image for dinosaur-123

WTF jonh´s wife is geting killed at 1:32 what are you thinking ROCK STAR?

Avatar image for menace420

way to make an awesome DLC thumbs up

Avatar image for KERNELPOTTER

Uh....all I can say is...uh...I can't freakn' wait!!!!!!!!!!

Avatar image for jnjreams76

should be a fun addition to the game right at halloween. and for $10, it seems like a no-brainer...

Avatar image for nonfanboygamer1

Looks awesome!

Avatar image for 19Gam3NErD91

i just say it's a really cool idea to bring something fresh to this awesome game , although it doesn't make any sense at all.

Avatar image for Ismaelkf

The day of my birthday, I can't double wait!!!

Avatar image for JoeDivision51

sweet man , great DLC ... definitely a must !