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Rules Every Red Dead Redemption Game Has To Follow

While the Red Dead Redemption series shares some common ground with franchises from Rockstar and other developers, the Western influences, immersive world, and rugged gunfights give these games their unique identity. How did Rockstar manage to make Red Dead Redemption feel one-of-a-kind? It established rules for its design process and stuck to them. 


You might not notice the underlying structure of these titles while you play them, but Rockstar follows writing and development guidelines that keep the series consistent. From Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Redemption 2's scripts to their code, the teams responsible for them have an established workflow and vision.

The developers, designers, and voice actors behind Red Dead Redemption often bring these rules up in interviews with the press. Here's a look at some of their insights into the standards behind the Red Dead Redemption series and how Rockstar's approach applies in-game.

Red Dead Redemption games tell a connected story

According to Rockstar North co-studio head Rob Nelson, the stories in Red Dead Redemption follow a different format than the Grand Theft Auto games. During an interview with GamesBeat, he mentioned that his team had to approach Red Dead Redemption 2 differently than he would a Grand Theft Auto title because it was a prequel instead of an installment. While Grand Theft Auto games feature new characters and storylines in each game, Red Dead Redemption stays connected through the story and characters.


The Red Dead Redemption games continue the Red Dead series after the 2004 game Red Dead Revolver. Red Dead Redemption 2 comes before Red Dead Redemption in the timeline and tells the story of Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang. John Marsten, one of the NPCs in Red Dead Redemption 2, is actually the protagonist of the first Red Dead Redemption. During that game, Marsten hunts down the remnants of the Van der Linde gang.

Cinematic scenes in Red Dead Redemption games blend with the gameplay

Nelson revealed that his team tries to blend cinematic scenes with gameplay as much as possible in the Red Dead Redemption games. Rockstar developers aim to make cutscenes and gameplay as immersive as possible through seamless transitions between the two. The original Red Dead Redemption was the first time that Rockstar could create smooth cuts from gameplay to cinematics and vice versa.


While both games minimize their use of hard cuts between gameplay and cutscenes, Red Dead Redemption 2's higher processing power made transitions even more effortless. An example of one of these shifts from cutscene to gameplay happens during the Van der Linde gang's trip to the Horseshoe Overlook camp. You see gorgeous shots of the surrounding wilderness as the caravan journeys down the mountain and watch the dialogue between the riders. The scene slightly zooms out, and before you realize it, you're in control of Arthur again, and you see a prompt to hold a button to keep up with the caravan.

Red Dead Redemption games feature a mostly handmade world

In response to a question about open-world design, Nelson mentioned that his team focused on creating a human-made world over a procedurally generated one. They used some procedural tools, but they didn't rely on them.


"For it to make you feel anything, it has to be made by humans," Nelson said about Rockstar's approach to the Red Dead Redemption structure. When the team tried procedural techniques in early development, they found that the characters and world didn't feel real. This fact became especially apparent when they attempted to allow the player to take anyone fishing because the characters didn't have their distinct personalities.

The next time you explore the world of Red Dead Redemption, keep in mind that each environment's design was human-directed. Rockstar's designers put in the extra effort to make every area mean something to the player.

Red Dead Redemption games uses history to explore modern struggles

Rockstar creates Red Dead Redemption games with the goal of making you feel the grit, adventure, and social commentary associated with their Western influences. In an interview with Vulture, Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser revealed that, just as most Western movies reflect the eras they were made in, the Red Dead Redemption games use the experiences of the past to speak about the problems of the present day.


This doesn't mean the series has characters that directly correspond to real-life people. Houser stressed they wanted to pass on the sensation that the 19th century gave them in relation to today's events. How do you hold on to those you love when the world is changing around you? What do you do when someone you thought you knew suddenly acts like a stranger? Red Dead Redemption games look into the past to help players find answers to the questions they have about the present.

The world of Red Dead Redemption should feel like a place as much as a game

While talking with Hollywood Reporter, Red Dead Redemption 2 director of art Aaron Garbut said that the teams strive to make a world that feels alive. Red Dead Redemption 2 expanded on the first game's ability to promote this feeling with creative touches like the fan-favorite hat mechanics. During gunfights, Arthur can lose his hat, which you can then hunt down and retrieve. You can also buy or steal new hats and switch them out.


The game's improved graphics and technology also build on the sense of immersion. You can explore areas from Red Dead Redemption in Red Dead Redemption 2, and YouTuber ZacCoxTV directly compared each version. Detailed visuals and character AI help the prequel's world feel even more alive. Rockstar's human touch also comes into play in the differences between the two. Since Red Dead Redemption 2's story happens before the first game's, you'll see buildings from Red Dead Redemption under construction in Red Dead Redemption 2's environments.

Red Dead Redemption games each have a single protagonist

In September 2018, Red Dead Redemption 2 art director Josh Bass told The Hollywood Reporter that Rockstar stuck with a single main character in both games because it felt more suitable for a Western than multiple protagonists. For example, Grand Theft Auto V had three central figures, and the creative team enjoyed that approach as a structure for the story and gameplay. But, with Red Dead Redemption games emulating the Western narrative, they felt they needed to center the story on a single character.


When you watch a classic Western, you'll notice it has a rugged hero (or antihero) surrounded by the brutal Wild West. John and Arthur have stories only they can resolve rooted in the Wild West's final years. While John has to chase the remaining members of the Van der Linde gang, Arthur must grapple with the fact his gang has a side he's never seen before. Like their Western inspirations, Red Dead Redemption games ground the changing world and narrative in a single character.

Red Dead Redemption games must feel consistent

Designer Rob Nelson brought up the Red Dead Redemption team's commitment to mechanical consistency during a talk with British GQ. He explained that Rockstar games like those in the Red Dead Redemption series need to have consistent quality in every element. If a team comes up with a beautiful graphic idea, it has to fit into the world seamlessly.


For example, the Red Dead Redemption 2 team reduced the graphical fidelity of flocks of birds so players could interact with them. The original flocks shimmered through the skies, but the player couldn't shoot or otherwise affect them. Through the decision to lower the quality and add this interactive element, Red Dead Redemption 2's developers ensured more consistent gameplay.

Granted, Rockstar's AAA status gives it the technology and resources to ensure even graphics will lowered fidelity look stunning. As you can see in YouTuber Jedijosh920's modded gameplay, the birds in Red Dead Redemption 2 meet high mechanical and graphical standards. The team's dedication to consistent quality allowed for gorgeous-looking birds with animations and mechanics on par with the rest of the game.


Red Dead Redemption characters should have lesser-known voice actors

If you look at the voice cast for the Red Dead Redemption series, you might notice the lack of any major voice actors or live-action celebrities. Rockstar made these casting decisions on purpose.

In a British GQ interview, Houser discussed Rockstar's typical choices for voice actors. Its later games, including the Red Dead Redemption titles, use lesser-known voice actors to avoid celebrity egos and increase player immersion. Houser also brought up this point in the interview with Vulture and mentioned his experiences working with celebrities. While these talents were masters of their crafts, they could also make direction difficult.


Choosing lesser-known voice actors allowed the Red Dead Redemption devs to improve the player experience. By focusing on the actors' skill over their fame, they could deliver high-quality voice acting that the player didn't recognize as a real-life person they knew. These actors also had better availability for long-term work, especially for the multi-year development of Red Dead Redemption 2.

Red Dead Redemption voice actors don't receive the full script all at once

When playing the Red Dead Redemption games, you see all of the cinematics and voice acting in their logical order, but things look much different behind the scenes. While reflecting on 10 years of Red Dead Redemption, John Marsten's voice actor, Rob Wiethoff, pointed out that he didn't get the entire script at once while recording for either game. In fact, he didn't even know he played the protagonist until he received a much bigger stack of pages than his fellow performers.


The voice actors often recorded scenes out of sequence and pieced the story together as they went. Wiethoff recorded John Marsten's dramatic final scene in the first game before the dialogue leading up to it. Recording these scenes out of order allowed him to understand the emotional gravity of the first scene much better and deliver heartfelt voice acting and motion capture acting.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Dutch Van der Linde's voice actor, Benjamin Byron Davis, compared it to acting inside of a painting while someone was painting it. He mentioned he and the rest of the cast often tried to figure out where the story was going as they recorded the game.

The Red Dead Redemption team writes the script in sections

During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, director of performance capture Rod Edge provided insight on why the cast received sections of the script out-of-order. Edge explained that the team writes as they go. The Red Dead Redemption games are huge, so writing and recording in sections makes the process easier for everyone. This approach also enables the creators to build the writing and voice acting on each other.


When writing a Red Dead Redemption game, the writers and performance capture team work back and forth to create an intertwined script and performance. They start the script with fencepost scenes, then add details to the characters in those scenes. Once the section of script gets funding, they flesh out the characters more and cast based on that information. Then, they have the cast members perform some scenes and base the next part of the script on that performance.

This process led to Red Dead Redemption 2 having more than 500,000 lines of dialogue so you can see how taking things one part at a time can make writing and acting simpler.