Critical Analysis of a Game: Red Dead Redemption Professor Shawn Graham Jad Slaibeh 100804020 Submitted: Thursday February 7th 2013 The game I have chosen for my critical analysis is Red Dead Redemption. Red Dead Redemption was made, published, and engineered by a company called Rockstar Games (Rockstar Website). The major distributor of the game is a company who happens to own Rockstar, Take-Two interactive. Being one of the most successful video game developers to date, Rockstar is famous for creating the popular and controversial game series Grand Theft Auto.
Rockstar differs very much from other video game developers because they are one of few who have grown and experienced the advancement of video games in terms of graphics and gameplay. Rockstar is known for revolutionizing the concept of having an open world in console video games. This was not originally the case and happened over years of expansion. Rockstar’s first game was released on the original PlayStation. The game is called Grand Theft Auto. Its camera was in a bird’s eye view with basic 3D graphics consisting of repetitive player movements. In comparison to today, the game was really quite simple in terms of graphics and game play.
The game lacked a larger narrative. Its gameplay was based mostly around the options of stealing cars, doing hits for gang members, killing civilians, and evading the police. This lack of narrative and focus on violence may be one of the reasons why Rockstar dealt with a lot of controversy from the media. As Rockstar grew and released multiple titles, their video games utilized the advancement in technology to create a larger narrative. Using Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE), Rockstar developed third person 3D modeled sandbox game (Ogilvie, 2010). With this new open world, the game developers were able to explore more narrative options.
Red Dead Redemption used their graphical improvements to allow for new historical representations such as: talking NPCs with their own ethnicity and culture and NPCs who show facial emotion and body language. This allows players to connect better with the world Rockstar has created because they represent what people are familiar with. Rockstar had greatly passed simple storyline of Grand Theft Auto. This is why I chose Red Dead Redemption. It excels in the ability of experiencing a fun and highly skilled game while having improved representations of people, stories, and histories.
They do so through implementing character traits in certain NPCs. The NPCs are programmed primarily in two ways. One is to help the player in their quest by providing information to solve the main problem space. The other is to try and stop the player; this creates another problem space that the player must solve. The addition of these advanced NPCs really helped Rockstar deliver a story to their players. They force the player to constantly see familiar NPCs which creates a bond between them and the player. These NPCs force you to make many moral decisions throughout the game.
These moral choices the player has to make adds a great deal of advancement to the narrative because the game is programed to change based on these decisions. If the player was to help a gang of thieves raid a site in order to get money, civilians would remember due to the decrease in honour and news would spread. Decisions the player makes affect how NPCs, such as townsfolk or sheriffs, approach the player in the game. If the player was riding their horse along a prairie road and happened to see a gang of thieves taking someone hostage, the player could kill or hogtie the bandits and their honour meter would go increase.
These decisions program NPCs to now feel safe around the player by cheering for them. These cheers can often make the player feel happier because of the heroic role they are playing. This social value is what makes Rockstar games a fan favourite. Another reason Rockstar advanced so quickly was the positive change in hardware. The game was originally released on both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 on May 18th 2010. I played the game on my Xbox 360 console. To capture the experience of the Wild West, Rockstar consulted some historical experts in the field, along with channelling a lot of time and money into the graphics of the game.
According to a New York Times online article, Rockstar spent between 80-100 million dollars on developing the game (Schiesel 2010). I mention this statistic because this comes to show the new era of devotion Rockstar brought to video game production. In any video game, soundtracks can be an incredible boost in its overall character. The soundtracks in Red Dead Redemption are authentic; it gives the game historical flavour. What I mean by this is you truly get a feeling of the Western experience. Rockstar brought on composers Woody Jackson and Bill Elm.
In a behind the scenes video, the composers explain that it is essential for them to “find a balance, paying homage to what was there but also trying to add our stamp to the music” (GamerSpawn, 2010). Another interesting fact they mentioned was the ability for the game to launch certain lines of music to start based on your actions. For example, if you jump on a horse, a bass line rolls in. If the player is in a shootout, the music intensifies. The music helps reinforce the player’s connection with the historic west by creating familiar sounds associated with the Western era.
Before I mention the problem spaces of the game, I would like to continue back to explaining some of the hardware information behind Red Dead Redemption. First we will talk about the controller/controls. Controls have the potential to play a big factor in how we experience a video game. The way the controls are programmed correlate directly with your character’s movement. This gives the player a bigger sense of control. This control makes for a better physical connection. Red Dead Redemption’s controller functions do a great job in the ability to allow the player to become immersed in the game world.
If you were not aware of the classic Xbox 360 controller, here is how it is laid out: Some basic controls of the game are: left stick controls which direction your character moves in, right stick controls which direction your character looks, pulling the right trigger will fire your weapon, and pulling left trigger starts the aim mode which makes it easier to hit your target. The Xbox 360 controller, along with the Red Dead Redemption controls, allow the player to control what we are familiar in our everyday lives For example, to shoot a gun in the real world you have to pull a trigger.
This is emulated when pulling the trigger on the Xbox controller. When driving a vehicle and turning in a certain direction, we turn the wheel. This is emulated by moving the left stick in order to direct your character. This makes the experience more enjoyable and recognizable. Throughout the game you are only controlling one character, the protagonist. The name of this protagonist is John Marston. Marston is a former outlaw who makes a deal with the state to bring justice to his former gang of outlaws in order to get his family back.
Upon Marston’s attempt to find and capture his former gang members, the plan goes wrong for our protagonist and he is left for dead. Luckily, you are approached by a local ranch farmer, Bonnie Mcfarlane. Bonnie saves your life and brings you back to her farm. That is our initial problem space. The player is immediately placed into the world with a want to defeat our twisted former gang of outlaws and get our family back. This creates an immediate sympathy for our protagonist which adds even more of narrative. Because the game represents plausible situations, players are more likely to sympathize.
Although we are placed in a world where there is only one end goal of killing the men who left you for dead and are in the way of getting your family; we have a wide variety of choices in the path of attaining this goal. This concept of beginning the game after being left for dead completely on your own creates an even bigger problem space. My big question was, what do I do first? The player has the ability to access this map in the start menu: [pic] In the Western era, maps would certainly be a way to represent space. Therefore the map gives us the ability to represent space in a way that people are used to.
This adds a historical flavour to it because it represents history with adding its own personalized flavour. This map is a fictionalized/representational map of Canada, Mexico and the US. Much like the real world, each territory has its differences. For example: certain NPCs with ethnic representations are present in each area, certain animals are associated with familiar habitats in different territories, and territories such as Canada have more green lands where as Mexico is represented as more dry. To travel to these different lands, we are immediately handed a horse.
When the player first gets their horse, it is quite slow. This is a problem and slow travel can become quite boring. Upon playing I thought there had to be some options to overcoming this problem. Like the real world, the player has the option of feeding their horse to increase its stamina. Another implementation is the trust bar that develops with the players’ horse. This trust bar adds narrative because we are familiar with gaining trust with living things in the real world. The longer the player has kept their horse, the faster it gets and the more risks it is willing to take to get you to your destination.
The game specifically promotes value by rewarding the players for keeping the same horse. In doing so, the interface encourages the player to behave a certain way with this virtual animal, representing a relationship common to real life. Even though this horse is merely a program in a video game, the power of the game and the value I had onto it made me have a connection to it. Unfortunately, it is quite possible for the player’s horse to die. For example, upon passing by a poor woman being harassed by drunk men just before entering a town, one of the men shot my horse dead while attempting to hogtie them.
After all the investment of money I had put into my horse to increase its stamina, the time spent together gaining trust, and the many missions we had completed together, my horse was now gone. Connecting to history, the video game allows the player to feel the pain that people must have gone through when their own horse died. Clearly their problem was much bigger than a video game can represent, but it once again brings out empathetic emotions. Although the game itself was not based off any real characters or real story lines, it still had the power to create a real connection.
The game places the character in an age outside of their norm. If a car breaks down, that person now has the ability to take out a cell phone and call a friend to pick them up. If in 1900 someone’s horse died, that is that until a new horse is acquired. This was now part of my problem space. With these newly acquired problems that I did not have just thirty seconds earlier, I clearly had to deal with these men who altered my path for the negative. Due to this setback I had developed, I quickly hogtied the surviving men and placed their bodies on the train tracks for the upcoming train to deal with them.
Although this was an act of immorality because the game gives you an option to return them to the sheriff’s station, I felt no sympathy for these men who, before shooting my horse, were attacking a lone woman. Looking at the game on a narrative level, this meant that a side of my true character was shown, one that let my emotions dictate my actions. At that exact moment the video game explained and taught me a lesson in morality. It also explained how, just like in the real world, others may have handled that same situation completely differently.
Moving forward in the game, I was forced to purchase another horse and develop a new connection between us. Purchasing horses is one of the many ways that money is used to solve problems in the game. Money is quite similar to how it is in the real world. The player needs to do work and complete services in order to gain it. It is quite hard to gain money, unlike the other Grand Theft Auto games, which enforces the player to spend wisely. Some examples of situations where you need money are: to buy weapons, ammunition, houses (in order to have multiple save points), and medicine to heal.
The player may also acquire money through selling items they find and doing favours and missions for locals and friends met along the way. There is one final question to be answered: was the game historically accurate? The answer to this question is: it depends what you classify as “historically accurate”. The term is thrown around quite often. Unfortunately, based on the game play, there is far too much fantasy to consider it a game that accurately depicts the lifestyle that people lived in the early 20th century.
The game is based off a completely fictional story with fake characters in a fake world. However, the game did a great job of showcasing some aspects of the time frame by utilizing: the advanced RAGE physics engine, the programmed NPCs with character traits, a familiar map system, the player’s horse that rewards you for your loyalty and protection, and the advanced controller settings. Overall, the narrative behind Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Redemption will be remembered in history as one of the most advanced video games for its time. Reference List: 1.
Rockstar San Diego Official Website – Available from: http://www. rockstargames. com/reddeadredemption/ 2. Ogilvie Red Dead Redemption: All the RAGE – Available from: http://ca. ign. com/articles/2010/01/28/red-dead-redemption-all-the-rage Jan 28 2010 3. Schiesel Way Down Deep In the Wild, Wild West – Available from: http://www. nytimes. com/2010/05/17/arts/television/17dead. html? pagewanted=all=0 May 16th 2010 4. GamerSpawn Red Dead Redemption: Soundtrack Behind the Scenes – Available from: http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=vEsknPy5rvg July 29th 2010
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