Two weeks or fourteen days if you prefer. Hell, you could even say a fortnight. Either way, Red Dead Redemption II is almost here. It will soon be time to head into the Wild West once more – but how did we get to RDR II anyway? Well that’s what this article is all about, from the very start before Red Dead Redemption even existed to the release of the latest game in the franchise. This is The History of Red Dead Redemption.
In 1984, a Colombian artist by the name of Diego Angel set up his own visual effects company called Angel Studios, Inc. By the 90s, the studio specialized in computer generated effects work for movies, music videos and the like. You know all the CGI work in the film The Lawnmower Man? Yup that was Angel Studios.
In 1996 Angel Studios worked on the cut-scenes for the game Mr. Bones on the Sega Saturn and got its first taste of the gaming industry. From then, they began developing their own games – Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. was their first title released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998. They also handled the port of Resident Evil 2 for the Nintendo 64 too. But it was their driving games that really got them noticed, games such as Midtown Madness, its sequel Midtown Madness 2 and Test Drive: Off-Road Wide Open were well received at the time. But it was a relationship with a certain developer/publisher where things really changed.
Enter Rockstar Games who stepped into publish Midnight Club: Street Racing as well as Smuggler’s Run and Smuggler’s Run 2, all developed by Angel Studios in the early 2000s. But Rockstar were not the only company impressed with the studio. Capcom loved how Angel Studios manged to port Resident Evil 2 back in 98 and wanted to team up on a new game. A few ideas were brought up before it was decided that Capcom wanted to revive one of their arcade classics, a scrolling shooter from 1985 called Gun.Smoke.
This was a top down scrolling shooter Wild West inspired game where you played a bounty hunter tasked with bringing numerous outlaws to justice. This new version would make use of 3D graphics and in the early 2000s, Red Dead Revolver was born. The game was not finished but an early version was shown around 2002 as a work in progress. The plan being that Angel Studios would develop the game and Capcom would publish it. Revolver was set to be a third person shooter with its heart still firmly in the arcade, an O.T.T., non-stop, action game with little regard for realism. This is where things began to fall apart. While Capcom wanted a straight up arcade style game, Angel Studios wanted to make something with a little more depth, they wanted a story and characters. A divide began to form between the two as they just could not agree on the direction of Red Dead Revolver and so development ground to a halt.
The relationship between Rockstar Games and Angel Studios a few years previously continued to grow as Angel Studios were working on Midnight Club II to be published by Rockstar while the whole Red Dead Revolver debacle unfolded. In 2002 Rockstar Games parent company, Take-Two Interactive bought Angel Studios outright and renamed them Rockstar San Diego. Now a part of the whole Rockstar Games umbrella of studios, the ex-Angel Studios and now newly named Rockstar San Diego could no longer develop games for anyone else other than Rockstar Games… so Red Dead Revolver was finally put in its grave. However, it was a short death as Rockstar co-founders Sam and Dan Houser had been keeping an eye on this Wild West game Capcom had asked Angel Studios to develop, they liked how it looked and felt there could be a good game under all that ridiculous arcade crap. So Take-Two stepped in and bought the rights to the game from Capcom with Rockstar Games taking over publishing duties. Development of Red Dead Revolver was back on track and this time developer Rockstar San Diego and publisher Rockstar Games shared a vision. This wasn’t going to be the all action, arcade title Capcom originally wanted it to be. Now with the backing of Take-Two and Rockstar Games, with the massive success of the Grand Theft Auto series with their character and story driven gameplay – the development team finally had their vision for the game respected.
Rockstar San Diego got to work cutting out most of the more ridiculous moments Capcom insisted on including (there was a flying character at one point) and began replacing them with gritter and grounded elements. While the game was reigned in from its more outrageous origins, Revolver still maintained a level of humour, a style Rockstar had become famed for with their previous games. There was a level of realism and maturity without losing a sense of fun.
After a troubled development cycle and even a short stint of being all but dead only to be revived by Take-Two/Rockstar Games – Red Dead Revolver finally saw the light of day in 2004 when it was released for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Telling to story of Red Harlow who, as a child, sees his parents murdered over the discovery of some gold. Years later, Red has become a bounty hunter who sets out to track down and extract revenge on those who killed his loved ones.
The game was a moderate hit for Rockstar selling less than a million copies in North America, it didn’t set the gaming world alight as their previous GTA games had done – but Revolver still saw positive reviews and a loyal fanbase was created. The future of this new IP was uncertain for a time as Rockstar San Diego concentrated on the Midnight Club franchise instead. But that little cowboy game still left an impression on the Houser brothers, they saw something in the game they wanted to explore. When Rockstar got to create a title from the ground up, installing their trademark DNA and not just take over a failing project, that’s when the RDR franchise was truly born. The next game began initial development the year after Revolver was released in 2005 and this time they raised the bar. No one expected much of it and hardly anyone really remembered the previous RDR title with some thinking that the new game was an all new IP.
It was six years between games but the sequel, Red Dead Redemption was released in 2010 and the series underwent a drastic direction change. Revolver was a pretty linear game, yeah there were slight elements of openness and freedom. But by and large, Revolver was restrictive… bloody good fun but it lacked that open-world environment other Rockstar Games had and were famed for. Redemption changed that as its basically GTA wearing a cowboy hat and just for the record… I think RDR is better than GTA. Still being developed by Rockstar San Diego for the most part but also enlisting help from other Rockstar Games studios, Redemption took the ideas from Revolver and cranked up the volume. The game is a work of art, but that’s not to say it didn’t have problems along the way.
Development for the game was strained to say the least. It was the first time Rockstar had tired to develop a game via multiple studios and the logistics were a nightmare. The building of the map itself was also a major problem. See with games like GTA that are set within cities, developers can use tricks to hide elements behind buildings or not even program graphics at all and use a lesser draw distance. With RDR being set in a large and open world with a lack of skyscrapers, etc this meant the map had fewer restrictions so the player would see more of the world and would need a bigger draw distance which proved problematic. Plus there were various issues with the impressive horse models in the game that took over a year of development alone. The recent Leslie Benzies lawsuit saw all sorts of accusations come out detailing the many, many problems while developing Redemption. And yet despite the numerous obstacles Redemption was released after a few weeks delay in 2010. With you playing as John Marston who is forcibly working with the government to track down ex-members of his old gang. The whole game is just a joy to play and leads up to
one of the greatest endings to a game ever. There was some fantastic DLC released for the game too in the shape of Undead Nightmare and a handful of online extras, but nothing was ever mentioned of another RDR game for years.
Redemption was a much bigger hit than the previous game shifting a little over 14 million copies and fans were screaming out for a sequel. Then in October 2016 and after several rumors, Rockstar announced Red Dead Redemption II via a teaser trailer saying the game would be released in the fall of 2017 but it was delayed. This time given a spring 2018 date… only to be delayed again. This time given a solid 26th of October 2018 date, a date just now two weeks away. Developed by pretty much every studio under the Rockstar Games umbrella and reportedly coming in at a whopping 105gb install (on the PS4, that doesn’t include the 4K enhancements for the Xbox One X), RDR II is going to be a huge game of epic proportions.
From wired cyber sex scenes in The Lawnmower Man to the realistic horse bollocks of Red Dead Redemption II. Angel Studios/Rockstar San Diego have come a long way.