Just over a week ago, Dan Houser, head writer and co-founder of Rockstar Games, came out and said that in the final stretch before the upcoming release of the highly anticipated Red Dead Redemption 2 some of the more senior members of their massive workforce as well as the main writing team have been “working 100-hour weeks”. This has blown up in the gaming media with it being another addition to the ongoing “crunch” discussion that was recently given a huge breath of life with the total closure of Telltale Games. Rockstar were quick to follow up their original statement with the specifics of who that original quote was in reference to and also stressed that no one at any of their studios is forced or expected to do anything they don’t want to. This seems like a misunderstanding that has been quickly corrected, but it got me thinking about how much work really has gone into this game and what Rockstar’s intended vision for their newest project is. So I’ve decided to take a further look into their development process and see whether or not we have the information to make a decisive call about this game being built for next gen hardware.
Grand Theft Auto V is undoubtably the biggest success of the studios as well as being the biggest success of any type of modern media, having made over $6 billion and it still receives consistent updates. It took Rockstar about 5 years and reportedly 1000 employees to make it and roughly another year before it came to next gen consoles. Red Dead Redemption is of course a much smaller franchise with only 10% of players seeing the original installation (excluding Red Dead Revolver) through to the end. This newest entry, however, has got a lot more traction pre release; grabbing the attention of old players and new alike. There was no doubt that this was to be expected from the next game Rockstar developed after GTA V, and for good reason. Not only was that game successful through the extended online lifetime but it was also a big leap forward from their other titles, with improvements to the RAGE engine, multiple mechanics and a huge overhaul on graphics. The latter of those changes was impressive considering it came out only 3 years after the original RDR and on the same generation of consoles. Compared to the next gen versions further down the road, it still looked good. That’s not to say the versions we got later weren’t beautiful, but for its time, it looked amazing. Having said that, when the game was brought up to date for next gen consoles it had a lot more to it. There were environment textures all over the place that hadn’t even been attempted in the original versions, and more consistent frame rates. The lighting was a lot less gloomy and on top of all that, it had a new first-person mode. I’m no expert when it comes to game design, but from what I know about the time it takes to make games, it seems like all this would have taken longer than 14 months. If that is correct, does it mean that all of those changes had been built alongside the original release with the intention of dialling back portions of the game so that they could release on both generations to maximise sales. Could this potentially be a business tactic they have opted to use again?
Sony’s Kenichiro Yoshida has said, “At this point, what I can say is it’s necessary to have a [sic] next-generation hardware”. This means the newest Playstation is on the way, but unless they have a big development to announce very soon, it’s highly likely that we have longer to wait for the next iterations as well as the Xbox Scarlett, which is also on the way but likewise has no definitive dates set. Does that mean this game hasn’t been future proofed? It would be silly to think that after the massive success of GTA online they would limit their game’s lifespan and revenue stream to what can be speculated to be about two or three years. In this timeframe, with the experience they’ve gained, Rockstar would be at fault to have not worked with more scope and more efficiently.
We all know what they say about assumptions, but when you think that they could be focusing their attention into online content, DLC or new projects over the next few years instead of improving or updating the content they’ve already made, I’d say it’s fair. After all, this is the first time that they’ve brought all of their studios together and the sheer manpower and time this project has had is something that is rarely seen in gaming. They must be expecting it to do well if they’ve had the majority of their eggs in one basket for so long. Is any of this enough to say definitively that this game already has a scaled up and more powerful version of itself waiting for more advance hardware? Simply put, no. The only people out there who truly know are the hardworking employees at Rockstar Games and maybe not even all of them. What I do know is that I that I’m very much looking forward to spending time with the game, ignoring the vast and beautiful world after I find the first saloon where I can play poker.