I've had a few things on my mind since playing Red Dead Redemption 2, by Rockstar Games, for the second time. I'm amazed by the storytelling and planting of seeds that will take root and emerge dozens of hours later. I'm once again impressed by Rockstar's decision to give us a brand new protagonist (Arthur Morgan) for a prequel to a game that had a strong protagonist (John Marston). And I'm wrestling with both sides of the developer crunch coin; it's hard to argue for crunch, and it's hard to argue against the completed game that resulted.
Let's tackle the crunch issue first. Rockstar has become one of the poster children for the pervasive issue of crunch in video game development. As reported by Jason Schreier, some developers at Rockstar crunched for "months, even years" as the game's final release date drew near. From a human perspective (and to be clear, this is the more important perspective), it sucks to hear that some people have burned themselves out, missed family events, birthdays and the like, and I will always take a lengthy delay if it means that the people making the game can live normal lives. The other side is that Red Dead Redemption 2 already took 8 years to make, was delayed several times, and all of that crunch still happened. You can blame poor project management if you'd like (I don't know enough about that to make a real comment there), but the results speak for themselves- this is one of the greatest games I've ever played. All of the realism, animations and simulation elements that we praised in the podcast were the result of all of those overtime hours. How do you reconcile hating the process but loving the result? Can both of those feelings coexist? I don't have the answer, but with a game like this, it's certainly going to be part of the conversation.
The other thought that has been rolling around in my head is both how great the choice to introduce a new protagonist for this prequel was, and how well they subverted our expectations with how it would all play out. John Marston was the protagonist of the original Red Dead Redemption, and he's present in the prequel as well, but the player controls Arthur Morgan. You still get to see John become the person that he was at the beginning of the original game, but you see it through somebody else's eyes this time. The brilliant part is how Rockstar weaved John's story into Arthur's, while also putting so much work into Arthur's own narrative that he is now one of my favorite video game protagonists of all time. It was a bold choice to shift the main character focus onto Arthur, who was not in the original Red Dead Redemption, and it paid off in all of the best ways. It is truly masterful storytelling.
Joining me in episode 70 to discuss Red Dead Redemption 2 are Alex & Luke, hosts of Low Five Gaming. Low Five is a monthly video game book club podcast. On the 15th of every month they release an episode, containing a full discussion of the game, and announce the game for the 15th of the next month. I love chatting with the guys in their Discord server in the month leading up to the episode while I play along with the show, and then listening to their fantastic and entertaining podcasts. You can check out everything Low Five at their website!
You can listen to episode 70 of Tales from the Backlog (Red Dead Redemption 2) in the player below, or you can follow the links to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podcast Addict, Stitcher, Google Podcasts or search "Tales from the Backlog" in your favorite podcast app!