Red Dead Redemption 2 may have changed how Rockstar develops games in two major ways.
The first—and the one that will be most obvious to players—is about the game’s design. Normally, games revolve around the player, offering up events that are triggered only when the player completes a series of events or enters an area. Open world games and role-playing games offer up the illusion of a wide-reaching world, but Rockstar’s latest design principals seem to go even farther, creating a world that exists regardless of if the player participates or not.
“It can’t just be like a lot of open worlds are—the feeling of life going on around you but if you stop and stare at it you’re like, ‘you’re just wandering forever. You’re just standing there.’ Flying past it at 100mph it holds up, but if you stop and stare at it, it doesn’t so much,” Rockstar North co-studio head Rob Nelson told IGN.
Part of this was accomplished by giving the world a schedule that it operates on, independent of where the player is or what they’re doing. Nelson said that this idea really blossomed once the team hit upon the gang theme.
“The real world runs on a schedule is the idea,” Nelson said. “If you’re going to have a gang that exists, they need jobs. Everyone has a routine they go through every day… Once we decided it was going to be about living in a gang, working in a gang—they’re going to live in camps, and these camps are going to move arouacnd as this group of people gets pushed through the world. Then they need to be believable. How are you going to make the camp believable?”
To answer this question, Red Dead Redemption 2 attempts to be as realistic as possible, with NPCs performing all of the steps that they need instead of pulling food out of midair. Many games, for example, will have NPCs go to bed at night or eat food at certain times of the day. In Red Dead Redemption 2, though, Nelson states that the team tried to add in every detail of how how that camp gets set up or how food gets prepared.
“Regular camping… all sort of revolves around eating—so the fire, and the person preparing the food and who’s going to prepare the food,” Nelson explained, giving an example. “So we’ve got a cook in Pearson. Who helps him prepare the food? He basically prepares the stuff, puts it in the pot, takes the pot, puts it on the fire, calls ‘Chow,’ people go over, get some food, go sit down, eat it. So there’s a food chain. Once you get that working a couple of times a day, you have movement that if you watch it, it looks real. It looks like they live.”
It’s other details like this, layered over one another, that Nelson hopes will make the world feel alive. As a result, development has shifted to creating the massively complex schedule of the world at large, rather than an experience tailored directly to the player.
The second major change to Rockstar’s approach will be almost invisible to players, but it’s no less important. For Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar ditched its old approach of having a single studio take lead on the project. Instead, every Rockstar studio around the globe contributed to the project for a staggering eight years. As the company explained to IGN, when you boot up Red Dead Redemption 2, it won’t be billed as a Rockstar North or Rockstar San Diego title. Instead, it’ll just be a Rockstar Games production.
The same principles—both in terms of design and the mechanics of development—could conceivably contribute to Rockstar’s other large open-world games, including the Grand Theft Auto series, so if the new strategy works in Red Dead Redemption 2, we may see it in many other games going forward.
Red Dead Redemption 2 releases on October 26th for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.