Wednesday, July 28, 2010

EXP Podcast #88: Red Dead Redemption Roundup, part 1

Saddle up, amigos. It’s time to ride into one of the year’s most high-profile games: Red Dead Redemption. Published by Rockstar, Red Dead Redemption attempts to convey the feel of the Mythic West by dropping the player into an expansive, beautiful, and dangerous world. It is a highly ambitious game whose plot and game systems both deserve in-depth analysis. Because of this, we have split up our conversation. This week, we mainly discuss the game’s structure and mechanics while avoiding specific plot details. We cover topics like morality, emergent gameplay, and the viability of the Rockstar formula. As always, we’re interested to hear what you all thought, so feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Some discussion starters:

- How much time did you spend on the side quests? Were they just a distraction from the main plot or did they offer you something

- Do you have any good emergent stories from your travels in New Austin? With all the angry wildlife, surly townsfolk, and wide-open spaces, strange things are bound to happen...

- Do you think the Rockstar, open world formula is a viable platform to explore other genres?

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Show notes:

- Run time: 39 min 36 sec
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. This is going to be sort of a grab bag but only because you guys get so many things exactly right:

    First of all, I think you're right about RockStar essentially bailing on dueling and what's in the game being something of a residual. I feel like they tweaked the mechanics as much as they could and ultimately concluded it wasn't going to work as a central feature of the game and only left it in as a novelty.

    Second of all, the morality system really is compromised by the complete disconnect between John Marston as a dude who has relative morality and John Marston as a dude who advances the plot through static, context and decision independent cutscenes. I flirted with playing as a bastard but it really made no convincing difference - in one memorable maneuver, I killed every man, woman and animal I could find on the McFarlane ranch, skinned all of the animals and then talked to Bonnie to start the next mission. The chipper chiding with which she greeted me wasn't game breaking by any means but it did put the idea of independent choice (elusive as it is) completely to rest. RockStar is out to tell an essentially linear tale and they do us and Marston no great courtesy by allowing us to savage his essentially immutable personality with our own lack of impulse control. Mass Effect essentially cloaks autonomy in a series of rigid binaries - at our present moment, this approach seems to be more or less state of the art. RockStar is (at this point in their development) totally unable to break out of linearity behind the curtain of the sandbox. And that's fine, but it's better when they don't pretend at something they aren't.

    And finally, the best moments in RDR are the non-sequitors. Your bear attack example is good. My favorite is running into people walking next to buildings in Blackwater - often, their heads go right through the window. You can mow people down like this over and over and over - they make hilarious noises and the ragdoll physics make for some unhappy landings.

    Again, I was sort of a bastard.

    (didn't matter, everyone loved me!)

  2. Hi interiacrept,

    Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words!

    It makes me curious to see where Rockstar will go next. With each game, it seems the scripted events and characters continue to improve, as does the complexity and potential for emergent situations in the open world. However, these two things seem incompatible with each other. Will Rockstar find a way to integrate them or will the disparity between the cutscenes and player action continue to grow?

    I'm not sure what this would look like, or if it is even possible, but I'd welcome the attempt.

  3. Haha, that beginning threw me off. I was at the gym and I really struggled not to laugh out loud.

    Sorry for not commenting for so long. But I assure you I'm tuning in every week and it's excellent as ever.

    I have played Red Red Redemption only for a couple of minutes so I can't really comment on your observations too much. I can confirm that the moral disconnect between what a character does in cut-scenes and what he does in the missions is also present in GTA4 to some extent. But in that game Niko is always a criminal no matter what you do. So I presume the contrast is not quite as high.

    Red Dead is certainly a game I will need to play very soon. I will let you know if I can comment anything about the interface. The problems with poor legibility were already present in GTA4 so it looks like a common mistake in with Rockstar games.

    Keep it up! I can't wait for the next part! :)

  4. @ Krystian

    Always glad to have you!