Red Dead Redemption 2 (opens in new tab) is shaping up to be the most ambitious game Rockstar has ever made. It certainly has some impressive numbers behind it: in a new interview with Vulture, studio co-founder Dan Houser said its main story is 60 hours long, featuring a massive cast of characters with 500,000 lines of dialogue and 300,000 animations between them.
To put all that together, Rockstar hired 1,200 actors from American labor union SAG-AFTRA, with 500 actors recording motion capture (for six years, according to Houser) and 700 more recording dialogue. Houser said Rockstar focused on using "talented actors whose voices you don't recognize" in Red Dead Redemption 2 in order to provide "a better sense of immersion."
Rockstar has also bolstered the game's cast in other ways. For instance, Houser said women play a bigger role in Red Dead Redemption 2 than some of Rockstar's previous games, pointing to an "old intellectual" named Lillian Powell, who he likened to American poet Dorothy Parker. "There are also [women] who are weak and ones who are weak and become strong and ones who think they’re strong but are not," he said. "And that goes for men, too." The women's rights movement also ties into the story's main theme: defining and discovering one's role in a rapidly changing world.
The main story was previously 65 hours long, Houser said, but roughly five hours of content was cut relatively recently. The romance options for protagonist Arthur Morgan were reduced from two to one because "one of them didn't work," and a few missions were cut because "they were never going to work technically or be quite slick enough." Houser highlighted a mission where you fight bounty hunters on a train as an example of cut content. Meanwhile, scenes for Red Dead Online are still being written and recorded, Houser said.
A massive undertaking
There are also some concerning numbers behind the game. Houser told Vulture that the Red Dead 2 team worked "100-hour weeks" at several points in the past year. He described this extreme schedule - which amounts to roughly 14 hours a day - as pouring "everything we have" into "the hardest" project Rockstar has ever undertaken. However, it's also indicative of the untenable and caustic labor practices of crunch culture which are especially prevalent in the games industry, albeit not exclusive to it.
Houser clarified this point in a follow-up statement sent to Kotaku:
"The point I was trying to make in the article was related to how the narrative and dialogue in the game was crafted, which was mostly what we talked about, not about the different processes of the wider team. After working on the game for seven years, the senior writing team, which consists of four people, Mike Unsworth, Rupert Humphries, Lazlow and myself, had, as we always do, three weeks of intense work when we wrapped everything up. Three weeks, not years. More importantly, we obviously don’t expect anyone else to work this way … that additional effort is a choice, and we don’t ask or expect anyone to work anything like this."
This is hardly Rockstar's first taste of crunch. As GamesIndustry reported, during the development of the original Red Dead Redemption, several anonymous writers claiming to be the spouses of Rockstar employees sent the studio a letter decrying its poor working conditions. The letter claimed employees were expected to work 12 hours a day six days a week and were reprimanded if they fell short, which had led to mental and physical health problems among Rockstar's staff. Responding to these claims, Rockstar said:
"We’re saddened if any former members of any studio did not find their time here enjoyable or creatively fulfilling and wish them well with finding an environment more suitable to their temperaments and needs, but the vast majority of our company are focused solely on delivering cutting edge interactive entertainment. We’ve always cared passionately about the people working here, and have always tried to maintain a supportive creative environment. There is simply no way Rockstar could continue to produce such large scale, high quality games without this."
The Red Dead Online beta is just around the corner. Here's everything you need to know about when it starts and how to get in.