During a masterclass lecture held at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris, Red Dead Redemption Lead Game Designer and Co-Writer Christian Cantamessa talked about the difficult decision that led to the ending of the game that fans know and love.
Keep in mind that what he mentioned includes heavy spoilers about the story of the game, so if you’re still planning to play it in preparation of Red Dead Redemption 2, you should probably go right back to the front page instead of reading this article.
At the end of Red Dead Redemption protagonist John Marston dies. It was a controversial decision for the studio. Cantamessa “desperately” wanted it to happen, and Sam Houser (Rockstar Games Co-Founder) wanted it to happen as well, but there were complications due to gameplay reasons.
In Grand Theft Auto games (especially those made up to that point) you can keep playing after the end, and killing John conflicted with that. There was the possibility of not killing John at all, but Cantamessa didn’t think it would work. The story needed to go somewhere, and John’s death was where it needed to go.
That’s how the idea of giving John a son came up, letting players continue to play as him. That appeared to be a quite powerful solution, but it was daunting at the same time. It was powerful because it gave the team a lot of ideas, and gave the story a “hopeful” epilogue. It was also meaningful in relation to the “death of the West” theme. It gave the player somebody to root for and to save at the end, and an additional reason for John to do what he did (before this idea come up, he was just doing it for his wife).
On the other hand, Cantamessa did not initially realize that everything that John was doing that had a line that for instance said “Hey John,” also needed to have a “Hey Jack” version, and this applied for all the open world activities and minigames like Poker. It required everything that John could do to be re-recorded as Jack, while all the dynamic cutscenes that involved minigames and similar activities had to be motion captured once more. This added “a ton of work” close to the end of production.
It was “a tough choice,” and Cantamessa takes responsibility for the extra expenditure and the extra work it caused, but he feels the need to give credit to Co-Founders Sam and Dan Houser and former President Leslie Benzies, because they bankrolled this process.
According to Cantamessa, they could have said “yeah, good idea, but no, John lives. Change the story. Who cares, it’s just a game.” instead, they supported the idea 100% and approved the additional costs, time and workload.
Cantamessa feels that this is what makes Rockstar special, since they have “the balls” to do this sort of thing.
Red Dead Redemption is currently available for PS3 and Xbox 360 (also playable on Xbox One via backward compatibility), while its sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2, has recently been delayed to Spring 2018, with publisher Take-Two Interactive Software “utterly confident” of the wisdom of the choice. Considering what Cantamessa just revealed, it certainly isn’t much of a surprise.
The Video Game masterclass event in Paris was organized by Jeux Vidéo Magazine and Cité des Sciences.
[On-Location Reporting: Morgane Bouvais]