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Red Dead Redemption

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What a beautiful game this is. I rarely play games but loved it when it came out and ended up selling it. But I bought it again recently and just fancied something I could pick up and play, and it's just stunning. I can't think of another game where you can just sit there and look at it the way you can with this, but the sight of Marston on his horse just wandering through the prairie is jaw dropping. 

 

Love this song too, from when you first get to Mexico.

 

 

Also, what did people make of The Strange Man? Do you reckon he was Marston's conscience or the Devil/Fate?

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I love the game, up therw with the best I have played.

 

 

John's son is a whinging bitch.

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What a fucking game, that song is amazing, that whole crossing the river and getting to Mexico sequence is one of the best in gaming history, just magical.

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Great game. I used to ride the wagons and instead of pressing the auto-arrive I would listen to the conversation on the journey.

 

I hated the final scene though. Found out what happened and didn't play it.

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Games like this don't get the credit they deserve. There's a lot of lazy games out there for my money, shoot em ups especially, where the stories get shorter and shorter replaced by bigger online elements, but some of the dialogue and character building in Red Dead shits all over most films. It's a gem, right up there with Deus Ex, Street Fighter 2 and Final Fantasy VII in my all time greats.

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Games like this don't get the credit they deserve. There's a lot of lazy games out there for my money, shoot em ups especially, where the stories get shorter and shorter replaced by bigger online elements, but some of the dialogue and character building in Red Dead shits all over most films. It's a gem, right up there with Deus Ex, Street Fighter 2 and Final Fantasy VII in my all time greats.

 

The greatest game ever made.

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Fantastic game. One of my favourites ever too. And not just because it is stunning to just watch.

 

Hated Johns son too. Next time I buy a console I'll definitely get it again.

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One of a handful of games I still revisit my xbawks360 often.  It really is a gem.  At the time I was big into HBO's Deadwood (still am, but its over innit) so I was loving the life roaming the plains.

 

The zombie DLC is excellent too.  

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One of a handful of games I still revisit my xbawks360 often. It really is a gem. At the time I was big into HBO's Deadwood (still am, but its over innit) so I was loving the life roaming the plains.

 

The zombie DLC is excellent too.

Strangely, I've never liked Westerns but have started to give Deadwood another go after playing this again.

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It's my favourite game of this gen by a distance. It was a time sink for me and I just had to 100%, just used to like wandering around, taking in the sights.

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It's my favourite game of this gen by a distance. It was a time sink for me and I just had to 100%, just used to like wandering around, taking in the sights.

Same here. I think a lot of open world games lack the quality of storytelling that the truly great on-rails games had; you're almost told to create your own.

 

But Red Dead gripped me from start to finish, and I was genuinely gutted when I completed it. While part of me wants a sequel, I can't help feeling they nailed the original in terms of the period they set it in, and I'm not sure what they can really add with another iteration.

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But Red Dead gripped me from start to finish, and I was genuinely gutted when I completed it. While part of me wants a sequel, I can't help feeling they nailed the original in terms of the period they set it in, and I'm not sure what they can really add with another iteration.

 

I wouldn't want a sequel, but how about a prequel? Marston's bad boy days could prove to be an interesting storyline to follow and it wouldn't be hugely different in terms of the time period.

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I think I need to go back to this one. I started it, but it never really got its hooks into me, it felt like something everyone else was seeing in colour whilst I was looking at black and white. It doesn't help that I usually struggle to get into open world games.

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So do I. I really didn't enjoy Arkham City despite Arkham Asylum (which was on rails) being my second favourite game of the generation. I'd definitely give it another go mate, it's a truly beautiful bit of game making.

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I think I need to go back to this one. I started it, but it never really got its hooks into me, it felt like something everyone else was seeing in colour whilst I was looking at black and white. It doesn't help that I usually struggle to get into open world games.

 

Do it, you won't be disappointed.

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Yeah, I'll give it another go. It's the kind of thing I should appreciate as I enjoy Westerns and Rockstar games.

 

My problem with open world games is that the first few hours are usually filled with simple fetch quests and text explaining the world and the mechanics. This onslaught of information and hand holding tends to turn me off long before anything's really happened. 

 

I felt the same with GTA V, then got really into it after about 10 hours.

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Rockstar's Western-themed shooter boasts over 14 hours of original music, written and performed by cult US musicians Bill Elm and Woody Jackson. Here, the duo explains the offbeat sessions that led to this utterly evocative score...
 
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On a remote mountain pass, with a reddening sun disappearing over the vast horizon, John Marston spots the criminal he's been paid to track down. As the reformed outlaw spurs his horse to give chase, a rumbling bass guitar groove starts up, the tempo seemingly accelerating to match the animal's galloping hooves. It is exhilarating stuff, a perfect matching of action and audio that recalls the partnership of Leone and Morricone. But this is a video game, and the choreography of soundtrack and story is happening on the fly. Red Dead Redemption is awash with moments like this.

 

Released last Friday, the open-world Western adventure from the publishers of Grand Theft Auto is being hailed by many as a game of the year contender. Following Clint Eastwood-esque lead character, Marston, as he charges through the dying Old West, it's a gritty, often thrilling ride, mixing the violent nihilism of the Grand Theft Auto series, with the panoramic beauty of a John Ford classic. And it's rendered even more immersive by the 14-plus hours of original music contained on the game disc. 

For Rockstar's soundtrack supervisor, Ivan Pavlovich, the challenge of scoring Red Dead was always the sheer scale of the thing: it is, apparently, just too darn big. Through the Grand Theft Auto series, the publisher defined the use of licensed music in video games; especially in 2002's GTA Vice City where the coke-addled action was inseparable from the eighties pop tracks that accompanied every brutal shoot-out and sun-soaked car chase. But the world of Red Dead Redemption is the largest the publisher has created, with players likely to spend hours riding the arid scrublands between towns and villages. It's also set in the early 1900s, which rather limits the options in terms of well-known contemporary recording artists. "There was no way that we could really use licensed music as we've done in the past," contends Pavlovich. "So we figured we'd need to write an original score…"

 

Bulging music biz contacts book in hand, Pavlovich starting scoping out potential contributors. The search ended with a cult band hailing from Tucson, Arizona. "We were actually turned on to Friends of Dean Martinez by their manager," he explains. "We started listening to them and thought, 'wow, these guys could do a great modern interpretation of classic Western music'. So we talked with [the group's co-founder) Bill Elm and the relationship grew from there."

 

For those who've missed out on wonderfully evocative albums like A Place in the Sun and Random Harvest, Friends of Dean Martinez is an instrumental collective that fuses alt rock with traditional southwestern sounds and instruments. Think Mogwai with slide guitars, or maybe Angelo Badalamenti in a Stetson and you're heading in vaguely the right direction. The music is laidback but also simmering with dark emotion, and it has an absolutely unavoidable sense of place. "Writing a review of Friends of Dean Martinez without mentioning the desert is like writing a book without the letter 'e'", began a review of the album Lost Horizon on influential US music site, Pitchfork. And that says it all.

 

There's been a rotation of members since the group signed to grunge label Sub Pop in the mid-Nineties, but the duo that came onboard the Red Dead project was Bill Elm and sometime member Woody Jackson, a multi-instrumentalist who's worked with everyone from Ry Cooder to Smashing Pumpkins. Importantly, perhaps, both musicians have experience with movie soundtracks. They scored Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation together, while Jackson has been involved with pictures such as Youth In Revolt and Ocean's 12 (alongside regular collaborator, David Holmes). But are there actually useful similarities between movie and video game work? "You know, it's really similar and then it'scompletely different," says Elm. "It's similar in that you're dealing with a visual medium, and you're dealing with emotion. I know it sounds pretentious, but you've got to have great, emotive music – you're really pushing for that.

 

"The obvious difference is that film music is written to fit a finite scene, whereas with the video game, we're working in five-minute loops. It's really wide open, but also very hard, because there are all sorts of things happening with layers. If the player shoots someone, suddenly the music changes, so we have to think, 'okay, does this work over the top of that?'. Also the big thing with a game is, you don't know how long you're going to be staying in that mood – you can't state too much, it's kind of like implying a mood. It's a balance between having it interesting, but not so much that you get sick of it, because you could be riding that horse for 15 minutes…"

 

There's also a difference in terms of commitment. While Jackson says he'll spend 12 weeks at most on a movie score, he and Elm worked on Red Dead for over fifteen months. It has been, they admit, a meandering, organic experience. For a while, they set about envisioning the project and laying down some creative guidelines. "There was so much conversation," says Pavlovich. "Just sitting down and talking about music, and planning it out, deciding how to record it and what musicians to bring in." "Rockstar have used a composer once before, but really it was all new ground," continues Jackson. "It wasn't like, 'you're supposed to do this.' It was more, 'let's see how this works'. And for months we were just trying things out. It was only at the end that it got really intense."

 

This insouciant arrangement seems to have led to a series of loose experimental sessions, with Elm and Jackson bringing in a whole range of friends and colleagues to jam around the key themes and motifs. "It was really creative and really open," says Elm. "The people we used just sound great, we didn't have to give them too much direction. When we hit the horn section, I gave [trumpeter] Mike Bolger a few references and all the melodies, and I said I needed this orchestrated, and he came up with these great horn parts for everyone to play." Other times, fortune would just throw up an interesting musician. During the recordings, Jackson happened to be in a session with another group who's drummer, Blake Colie, was providing some driving rocksteady rhythms. Turns out he was playing with this band as a favour. "I said 'hey, I can get you some money, if you can give me some of those beats!'" laughs Jackson. And Colie was soon onboard. "Music isn't super-lucrative at times, there are a lot of people doing favours, so that was nice. I know from working on film scores where they do have a budget, when they call it's like, 'great, now I can pay the rent!'"

Although this gives the impression of a formless improvisational process, because of the way the music reacts in real-time to the player's actions, the underlying structure had to be meticulously planned. If a dramatic sequence suddenly kicks off, the soundtrack switches to something with greater intensity, while a more foreboding sound is required during moments of suspense. All of these loops have to segue into each other as events evolve on screen.

 

To ensure a seamless sound, then, the duo decided on set criteria – the whole score is composed in A minor and at 130 beats per minute. It sounds incredibly restrictive, but as is often the case with creative limitations, there was also a sense of empowerment. "It seemed like the hardest problem at the beginning, but then it was actually really freeing," says Elm. "Just learning how different elements work together... It was very different from making a band record: just letting the instruments and the sound fill the space, without having to think about writing better chord changes. We were just letting the organic sound develop."

 

Red Dead was also a chance for Elm and Jackson to explore instrumentation. The game takes place in three major locations – New Austin, Mexico and, further North into the US, West Elizabeth – and each gets its own musical signatures. "When the game starts, it's the Frontier section, so we've got some whistles, some violins, a harmonica, some guitars – it provides a real sense of peacefulness," says Jackson. "Then you go to Mexico where we have more horns. And when you head North... That was a little bit of a struggle. We changed it a couple of times. We wanted it to relate to the Frontier, but to be totally different..." This apparently led to some of their more avant-garde experiments. "I even used a heart beat," continues Jackson. "We were having a baby girl and I recorded the heart beat and used that as a drum beat. I thought that would be kind of different. The people at the hospital thought I was crazy – I was there recording with my iPhone, saying 'just put the scanner on the stomach again'"

 

But then Jackson is apparently an obsessive collector of esoteric and vintage recording equipment, spending many an evening on eBay tracking down rarities. The Red Dead score, and the subsequent album (which comes free with the Limited Edition of the game, and is also available on various digital download sites) were recorded and mixed at his own studio in LA, which was built in 1931, making it the oldest privately owned studio in the city. "The mixing board belonged to this guy Wally Heider," explains Jackson. "Basically every rock record from the late sixties to the early seventies was recorded on it, everything from T-Rex and Grateful Dead, to Herbie Hancock."

 

Even when mastering the soundtrack, the duo managed to steep the process in musical history, selecting the Capitol Studios in Hollywood, where Frank Sinatra once recorded. "They were showing us the echo chambers beneath the floor that Les Paul made, which are 50ft under the ground," says Jackson. "It literally looks like a video game where you need to crawl into a hole and down a ladder. They wouldn't let us go down there, it's too far and too dangerous. But when we were doing the Widmore track, I was like 'put the chamber on!' and we did and it sounded great."

 

That's the fascinating thing about the Red Dead project – these are musicians steeped in traditionalist musicality, yet here they are providing music for a cutting edge piece of digital entertainment. Neither of them are gamers, and they've only just got their hands on the product they've helped to shape (throughout the recording process they were sent video footage of the game so they understood what developer Rockstar San Diego was putting together), but it has apparently been a rich experience for them. As Jackson explains, "With film music you can go outside the remit a little bit, but it's really constricting... it can't be too quirky. But with videogame music you can kind of go crazy – with sound design, with effects, anything you want – it's liberating in that sense. You can put it in there and as long as it sounds great, it's great." Jackson also draws interesting parallels between the era of the game and the state of the music business today. "There isn't really a music industry anymore. It's all homegrown. It's kind of like back to the Old West where everyone's trying to make their own way...."

 

Both Elm and Jackson are keen to work on video games again. Until then, they're considering performing some of the Red Dead album tracks live – they're just working out the best way to do it. When I ask Elm about his ambitions at the start of the project, he laughs it off - "Everything was like, 'Let's just make it so no one turns off the music'." But now he appreciates the important role the music plays in the experience. And it must be strange, surely, to know that million of people are creating their own personal Western movies, for hours on end, with his work at the core of it all? "I only thought of that yesterday!" he exclaims. "It's one of those things that I'm going to think about when I'm in the doldrums. Right now it's amazing, but in a couple of years if I'm down, I'll listen to it, it'll be a pick-me-up…"

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Not really been online since moving into the new house but I started this again on Saturday after another viewing of The Culpepper Cattle Co. One of the best games ever made, despite the saggy middle in Mexico.

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