Red Dead Redemption – it is what we miss that makes it so good

Good design of any sort is really effortless, or joyous for those on the receiving end of it. Something that has had a whole load of great design go into it is the new gaming classic Red Dead Revolver. Non gamers and “serious” types may just consider this as trivial as hula-hoop. A toy that a few grown ups enjoy playing with. Well…. it is. At one level of abstraction it is a football, a hoop and stick. On another level, it, and the current generation of well crafted gaming experiences are a fantastic example of good design and talent.
Red Dead Redemption is a cowboy gaming experience. It is an exceptionally large free roaming area interspersed with a plot that takes you from set piece to set piece. You can if you want just go for a ride and see what happens though.
The first thing that most people latch onto, with good reason, is the graphics and the animation in the game.
Red Dead Redemption
Given where we were only a few years ago the graphics quality, the detail on things like the horse animations, the size and scale of the terrain, the flora and fauna and even tumbleweeds is very good. Still pictures do not do it justice. Xbox 360 or PS3 though it just works. Just think for a moment the amount of graphic design time that has to go into both the size and scale and the intricate detail. The flowers on the plants, the mane on the horse. Even the bullets in your bandolier are all created by someone. So as a graphic design task, even with tool and middleware support this is a monumental undertaking. Of course tiling, and cut and paste comes into play, but just consider the person hours of skilled design tool usage then add to that the overlaying of the design of “where” all these things go and can go.
Under the covers there is of course code. Programming and detail in allowing things to happen, chaining effects together, determining where and when a bullet has hit. As a programmer I know that most people do not see the code under any of this, but it takes as much design effort and talent as the visuals. The system architecture and middleware combinations becoming the “where” all these things go.
However I think that many people in most enterprise businesses and alike will understand a little about IT (from using it all the time) and maybe a little about visuals from having to create the odd powerpoint. Clearly not the same but at least in the general area. People probably have a moderate understanding of testing (though not the mind numbing repetition and test case coverage that goes into knowing something is right)
The things that people don’t have to get involved with and that have really evolved so much and been taken seriously in the production values of high end games are things around the sounds and voices that you hear.
Red dead redemption good deed
The sound design is generally so well done, creates so much atmosphere and is in some senses more transient than the visuals that it almost melts away. Also the acting quality is just miles beyond the early fumbling attempts to read badly written dialogue we used to see and hear. When the characters in the game talk to one another in cut scenes or as part of atmospherics in a town it feels real. Of course the dialogue has to be layered with western style occasionally over the top elements, but films that we passively sit and watch have all sorts of over the top characters.
Threading all this together is the script, both a story arc and then the micro stories that form at key points in the game progression. Thrown in are also random events that happen around the place as you travel around, thefts and challenges which you choose to engage with.
Its all highly immersive, and very entertaining. That is without even engaging in what is in effect a completely different use for all these assets, the multiplayer games. These take place in the whole environment, fellow real people being cowboys and travelling the land living their own stories.
Now clearly I am a gamer, but I do not always feel compelled to complete a storyline. However recent months have seen Modern Warfare 2, Uncharted 2, Heavy Rain and Red Dead Redemption all making me want to complete the storyline and not ending up disappointed. There are lots of games but these stick in my mind for being good stories and for me wanting to, and actually bothering to complete them. Many people will of course not spend 40+ hours on a single gaming experience of this sort, though they will of course spend 40+ hours grinding on Farmville, or breaking jewels in Bejeweled and alike, or maybe watching Eastenders or Coronation Street repeat soap plots. It is though all good as far as I can see.
Games and gaming experiences, both ones we create for ourselves and ones we are directed through are as memorable as any traditional film or TV experience. The effort and design going into them warrants the time and attention to explore them. For me it is of course business and pleasure, research and a release, which makes it doubly valuable.
Well done Rockstar games (again)

6 thoughts on “Red Dead Redemption – it is what we miss that makes it so good

  1. 1. First post! 🙂
    2. Red Dead not Read Dead 😛
    3. Broken link in your nearly-last paragraph.
    4. Totally agree. It’s an astonishing experience. The graphics are stunning, down to the environmental details like the weather, and how that affects what is happening in the gameplay (I noticed the other day that creatures like coyotes and cougars hide away when it rains, for instance)… the story is compelling and varied through both the microstories that you can pursue at your leisure, the various things like gaming, trading, or sheer chaos that you can involve yourself in, and the reputation system. I’m still only ~40% through the single player as I’m playing in pieces, and sometimes dive in to the multiplayer as well. Totally immersive entertainment.

  2. Thanks for the spot, I thought I had corrected the read/red but had not before I posted ! Still the web is easily fixed. There I am talking about production values…. Well in good online gamin tradition I have issued a patch 🙂

    The details with things like the weather are indeed stunning. I loved the bandolier showing a lot less bullets as you are running out. It was in a cut scene that I thought “oh it looks like I am out of bullets” rather than the inventory screen.

    Some of the incidentals that are not even game elements are astounding, and some are really quite unpleasant. I witnessed someone take their own life over whilst grieving over a body !

    I did not even write about the true game mini-games. Poker, Liars dice, BlackJack, Five Finger Filet, Horseshoe throwing and arm wrestling. Or the wonderful treasure maps that pop up too. I still have a few flowers to collect on the legend of the west challenges FLOWERS! oh and take a cougar down with a knife…. it goes on.

    I will be doing more multiplayer now, its fun to not have to worry about your characters reputation (not that you have to but once you start to be honourable its hard to stop)

    You have dived into consoles at a golden time 🙂

  3. … dived *back* into consoles… having got lost somewhere toward the middle of the PS2 era.
    The thing that amazes me aside from the production values of this game is the stickiness of the social aspect of Xbox Live – they really seem to have gotten that right. Obviously we’ve been talking about this for years but it’s quite a rush to be experiencing it too!

  4. Ah a prodigal son returns 🙂
    Have you also seen that games like Blur now feature twitter clients in them. Its wrong to tweet and drive normally but cool implementation of everything being connected everywhere.

  5. Pingback: Living in a social Blur – AAA games heading the right way « Life at the Feeding Edge

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