Vulture Interviews Dan Houser

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No, not the animal. Vulture - part of NY Magazine - got the chance to interview the man at the top. As with every game release eventually Dan Houser gets thrown into the spotlight to give some insight into just how big and how much work was put into the new game. Spoiler alert: it's impressive.


Some quotes including stats for the game's size:

The final script for Red Dead Redemption 2’s main story was about 2,000 pages. But if he were to include all the side missions and additional dialogue, and stack the pages, Dan estimates the pile “would be eight feet high.” Bringing the script to life meant 2,200 days of motion-capture work — compared with just five for Grand Theft Auto III — requiring 1,200 actors, all SAG-AFTRA, 700 of them with dialogue. “We’re the biggest employers of actors in terms of numbers of anyone in New York, by miles,” says Dan. Before a motion-capture shoot that would last two or three weeks, there were meetings “four hours each day for four days. We want it as tight as possible for motion-capture because we’re burning a lot of money very quickly [at those sessions].”

The polishing, rewrites, and reedits Rockstar does are immense. “We were working 100-hour weeks” several times in 2018, Dan says. The finished game includes 300,000 animations, 500,000 lines of dialogue, and many more lines of code. Even for each RDR2 trailer and TV commercial, “we probably made 70 versions, but the editors may make several hundred. Sam and I will both make both make lots of suggestions, as will other members of the team.”

In late August, I get an invitation to play nearly six hours of Red Dead Redemption 2 from the beginning, the first time a North American journalist will be allowed to do so. In Rockstar’s reception area, I see Lazlow Jones, a former tech journalist who has been writing for Dan since Grand Theft Auto III. He tells me that “even the peds [RDR2’s non-playable characters] have 80-page scripts — each.”

The soundtrack helps, too. You hear sounds of nature, long ambient notes in the wilderness, or the Irish-influenced strain of an antique banjo from a nearby campfire. “We have 192 interactive mission scores, and we thought about the music constantly from the time we brought in [composer] Woody Jackson in 2015,” says Ivan Pavlovich, Rockstar’s music supervisor. “Sam was always asking early on, ‘What’s the feel [of the game]?’ ” The feels are many: Pavlovich says players can hear entire concerts at town vaudeville shows, as well as more atmospheric music when they explore the open world and encounter some 200 animal species, each of which makes its own sound.

Rockstar has been criticized for the lack of empowered women in its games. Dan believes that won’t be an issue in RDR2, which features, among others, “this old intellectual called Lillian Powell, who’s come back to the South from New York, who’s almost like a Dorothy Parker character. There are also ones who are weak and ones who are weak and become strong and ones who think they’re strong but are not. And that goes for men, too.” The burgeoning women’s suffrage movement also figures in the story. “It was a time when women were beginning to question [their roles], and the Wild West was an area where people could invent themselves for the first time; many of the people who were inventing themselves were women,” says Dan. “They were no longer constrained by society, because there was no society.”

We pass a cat, then another, Rockstar’s official mousers, before stopping inside the studio where many of the game’s 700 voice actors have recorded lines for Red Dead Redemption 2. Near the control panel, Dan recalls a time when he directed actors himself. He and Burt Reynolds had an argument about the direction of a scene from 2002’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. It ended with Reynolds yelling, “Get the limey out of here.”

The acting for Red Dead Redemption 2’s story mode is now complete, but as release day approaches, five hours of the 65-hour game are dumped. At one point, protagonist Arthur Morgan had two love interests, but “we decided one of them didn’t work,” says Dan. And whole missions were removed because “they were never going to work technically or be quite slick enough, or they felt superfluous. We removed a mission on a train where you had to deal with bounty hunters, because it was fun at first, but then it wasn’t. This part of the process is always about compromise and horse trading. Everyone always loses bits of the game they love.”

It’s after 8 and Houser is leaving the office with Iggy. He knows there’s plenty more work to be done. He says Rockstar might do another Red Dead game, “if this one does well enough and we think we have other interesting things to say.” But for now, his focus is on this game’s multiplayer mode, which will debut in November, for which scenes are still being written even as they are being shot in Rockstar’s mo-cap studios. Dan says “We want it to be as robust as Grand Theft Auto Online, once it’s found its feet creatively.”

Full article here.

The "100-hour weeks" comment generated a little controversy among gaming media but was clarified (as said in the interview) that it was not every single week. Rockstar also stated it was more for higher ups like the Housers in order to finalize scripts and such.

Hit up the RDR2 forums!