Dan Houser, co-founder of Rockstar Games leaving studio

According to the BBC and this filing with the SEC, Dan Houser, one of the co-founders of Rockstar Games, is leaving the company effective March 11, 2020. This departure comes after an “extended break” that started in the spring of 2019.

Dan Houser is Vice President to his brother Sam, who will remain as the company’s President after Dan’s departure. He is also a lead writer on the Grand Theft Auto game series as well as the Red Dead Redemption and Bully series.

Rockstar’s games have caused controversy, and so has the studio with the way it treats its employees. During the production of Red Dead Redemption 2, Dan told Vulture that employees were working “100 hour weeks” several times during 2018.

No specific reason was given as to why Houser is leaving, but if I were to guess I’d say it has to do with the crunch culture of the studio. His departure will undoubtedly have lasting effects on the studio for its content as well as its atmosphere. Only time will tell how long Sam stays as President and what the future holds for Rockstar now that one if its creative masterminds is leaving the fold.

Red Dead Online Leaves Beta

Red Dead Online officially left beta yesterday with a new update adding a few new modes, Rockstar dropped the Beta splash from the loading screens on the sly and didn’t really make a giant fuss about the end of the Beta period.

At first glance, it appeared that not a lot was added. A few new Co-op missions, a few new free roam missions, and some new gear, such as the LeMat Revolver. I say first glance for a reason, peering into the announcement quite a few changes are quite promising as well as a few things that are teased for future updates.

New Goodies for Red Dead Online:

  • Poker is here! All poker tables seat up to 6 players, available in 5 locations: Blackwater, Saint Denis, Tumbleweed, Valentine and Flatneck Station.
  • Posse Challenges. Biggest Fish, Bird Shooting, or Herb Picking Contest.
  • Dynamic Events: Random encounters such as found in single player will now show up.
  • Playing Styles. You can choose between Offensive and Defensive playing styles. Offensive being the baseline for how the Online has worked since launch. Able to attack any player and meet the consequence of that action. Defensive mode is for players who want more exploratory experience in Free Roam. From the announcement, “Players in Defensive mode will be indicated by a shield icon, will take reduced damage from enemy players, cannot be lassoed, melee attacked, executed or targeted with auto-aim. Defensive players will also be excluded from being targeted in PvP-related missions such as Player Assassination. Those who attack Defensive players receive hefty penalties via the Hostility system, while players who initiate conflict while in Defensive mode will be instantly pulled out of Defensive mode and also receive similar Hostility penalties.”
  • A host of tweaks and modifications that can be found here.

The future updates that were teased will be the addition of roles that you can select for your online character. Bounty Hunter, Trader, and Collector will be the first three that will drop during the summer months. Each will come with its own quest line and gear to help individualize your own story.

It has been awhile since I have stopped by the Red Dead world, the inclusion of poker and some of these future updates might be enough to bring me back into the fold. Are you still playing? Tell us your thoughts on these updates.

future update

 

Red Dead Online Bonus This Week

Are you playing Red Dead Online? If so, and your online character gets (or is already) above level 10 at any point this week, you will get a 100$ in game bonus for your character. The bonus will be paid out to your account no later than May 15th. This writer has long since decided to wait until the Online is a little less Beta, but if you are running races or involved in any of the battle royales, this is a deal for you.

Update Coming to Red Dead Online Next Week

On February 26, there will be an update to Red Dead Online. This update is set to include a new Free Roam Event, Showdown Modes, Races, Guns, emotes and cosmetics.

The new Free Roam Event, Fool’s Gold, is a competition where players will fight over a gold suit of armor. To earn points and wear the armored suit, players must take down whoever already has possession of the gold armor.

Red Dead Fool's Gold

Along with Fool’s Gold, comes new fishing challenges, and three showdown modes called Up in Smoke, Spoils of War and Plunder. Rockstar is also adding a new style of races called Target Races. The races will consist of players racing from target to target where they must shoot the targets while riding on horseback. Players will be able to purchase two new guns called the Evens Repeater rifle and the Rare Shotgun, as well as new clothes. New emotes will also be added in the update.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Review or The Deconstruction of one Dutch Van der Linde

Red Dead Redemption was released in 2010, and to say that it shook the foundations of gaming would be an understatement. Before the release of that game, Westerns were considered passé, relegated to a few titles like Gun or Call of Juarez which were fine, but didn’t really move mountains.

I had been interested in the game due to my love of Grand Theft Auto. I had spent hundreds of hours (or more) playing GTAIII, Vice City, and San Andreas. I still have dreams where David Cross mocks me for failing to get my drone to the finish line on time. And while I do harbor a soft spot for western films such as Silverado, Young Guns and even the Frisco Kid, I had been absolutely underwhelmed by the world of Westerns on any console.

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Pictured here: Not John Marston. A fact that was hard to accept at first.

When I slipped the disc for Red Dead Redemption into my 360, I had zero expectations and a completely open mind. That game changed me. It was story, pure cinema, the music and beautifully rendered background made for a compelling journey of a man named John Marston, who just wanted to get back to his family. He had done some wrong but wanted to put it behind him. His old life caught up with him, however, and he was being blackmailed into chasing down the head of his old gang, one Dutch Van der Linde. A monster, we are told, who turned his back on those he called family. While Dutch is the goal of the quest, he does not really make an appearance until the very end of the game.

The reception to the game was bananas. It sold 15 million copies in 8 years. It won a slew of awards and reshaped the landscape of gaming. It had a pretty entertaining online component and a zombie oriented DLC that was, and still is, popular. To this day, Red Dead Redemption is the only Rockstar game I have attained a 100% completion.

Cut to

8 years later.

The world that Red Dead Redemption 2 came into was quite different from the world of its predecessor. The game was announced in October of 2016 and immediately the hype was intense and expectations were rather high. Multiple editions of the game were up for pre-order, and players were salivating over the plot and gameplay.

First, we learned that it was a prequel, set some years before Red Dead Redemption. Second that you were playing a character not mentioned in the first game, Arthur Morgan.

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Don’t fret, smoking is the least offensive thing Arthur does.

It took me a chapter or two to warm up to Arthur, he starts out as an almost blank slate. It could be argued, however, that that is the perfect method for bringing a player into a new world. As his story developed, Arthur very much grew on me and I even came to enjoy his vocal performance and character more than John Marston’s in Red Dead Redemption. The man gave me the chiils and made me weep on more than one occassion.

Although you play as Arthur, it is my opinion that the focus of the story is Dutch. A libertarian type that just wants to be away from civilization (I.e. the government) and while that may mean killing or breaking the law, he doesn’t do either callously or maliciously. At first. I will discuss that more below.

Clearly the game has already been a success, it sold more copies in the first two weeks than Red Dead Redemption did in 8 years. But the question you may be facing yourself with dear readers is this… is it any good? After all, Fortnite has been raking in the money and we all know that popularity and making money does not necessarily make things great. (Note Dear Reader, that I am not necessarily mocking Fortnite. I am pointing out that success does not equal quality.)

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The Arabian horse. Beautiful. Majestic. Out to destroy you by running into every tree it can.

 

Horse V. Arthur Spoiler Alert, Horse wins.

I find that most reviews are subjective experiences so let me break down my opinions for you here:

The Good

  • The story is amazing. It literally starts with you running and that is the theme of the game from thereon out. Dutch just needs a little bit more money before he can whisk you and your gang away to an island paradise. One more heist. I promise.
  • The Gang. The people you interact with are all fascinating and detailed people. (Well, for the most part.) This motley crew has made me laugh, cry, and yearn to know more of their stories. The writing and voice characterization is brilliant.
  • The world. This is a beautiful game. The world has been rendered down to the tiniest blade of grass and it shows. The attention to detail is ridiculously well done.
  • The weird Rockstar regulars. The extreme gore and violence that is endemic to any of their titles. The mysteries. The aliens. The collectibles. The ghosts and vampires. The Night Folk. The Sasquatch. The many things that are still yet to be discovered.
  • The technical aspects. I am sure that much of the eight years it took to create this game was spent in the million details your average gamer may not notice. For one small example, there is a lot of dialogue as you are riding on your horse, and if Arthur begins to lag behind, the person talking to you raises their voice the further back you go. That means that the actor had to say their lines over and over again at varying levels of loudness to account for the player being close or far as they are engaged in conversation.

Many gorgeous small moments betwixt characters.

The Bad

  • Glitches. It is a Rockstar game and they happen. Most are harmless, but I was booted out of the game a few times.
  • The game does drag a bit in the middle.
  • The Horse. This is a petty complaint but your horse does want to kill you for some reason.
  • Micah. I just don’t like that guy.
  • Javier. He is one of the characters you face in the first Red Dead Redemption, and he gets little detail or focus on his story or character.
  • The eating and sleep mechanic didn’t really seem to make that much of a difference for as much as the game stresses it.

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Some serious s#*t is about to go down.

The Ugly

  • The controls. Rockstar has not changed their control scheme in quite some time and while they are learnable, they are barely a step up from the old school Resident Evil controls.
  • Online. While it is still in beta, there is not much to do and very little to keep me coming back. The economy started out atrociously, but to Rockstars credit, they have improved it considerably.

Red Dead Redemption was an homage to the cinematic Western, utilizing tropes from that long and storied genre. Red Dead Redemption II is not the same kind of game. It wants to immerse you in western life. The music while decent does not take the stage as much it did in Red Dead redemption, unless it is the songs the camp followers sing or the produced songs from modern artists that show up during dramatic moments. I admit to taking some joy in seeing that Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox make an appearance on the soundtrack.

Dutch Van der Linde

Dutch is an interesting study. In the first Red Dead Redemption he was very two-dimensional and not really integral to the story. He was the quest, the McGuffin, the reason to keep John moving forward, but that was the extent of his role.

In the prequel he starts out as the brains and heart of the gang and as the story evolves and things keep going horribly wrong. He begins to unravel. And as he does, so does the fabric of the family that he has accumulated begin to fray and fracture. And Arthur who started out as a blank slate, becomes the conscience of the group. (Well, if you play Arthur like I did. There is some element of choice in how good or bad Arthur can be.)

The madness that descends on Dutch is a truly unique American story. Both entries in the Red Dead universe talk about how civilization is enroaching upon the wild. John Marston accepts it and knows that his fate is set. Dutch fights it and refuses to adapt or grow in face of the enroaching crawl of society. He wants freedom. But he also wants to be rich without really working for it. And one day on a ferry, before our game begins, Dutch shoots and kills a young innocent girl. That one act resonates throughout both of these games. It drives Dutch mad. And in his madness the collapse of the Van der Linde gang is all but secured. No matter how many “final jobs” there are to be had.

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Even the Sepia is afraid of Arthur’s horse.

Personal note: When the game was released there was quite a discussion on how developers and testers are treated in the industry, especially in regards to long hours and crunch. (For those not in the know, crunch refers to developers and testers working very long days with no time off in order for a game to meet a deadline.) In my personal opinion that is a conversation that must be had, developers and testers are working themselves to a breaking point. They sacrifice time with family and friends to provide gamers with a product that will resonate with them for years. There should be a middle ground between getting us the product we want and employees living and working healthily.

My score for this game:

10 out of 10

I played for 176 hours for this review on an Xbox One S. All video and stills in the review are from my playthrough.

 

My Red Dead Online First Impressions

I purchased the Ultimate Edition of Red Dead Redemption 2 the minute it became available, yesterday I was able to taste the last string of bonuses that my extra dollars paid for, the first day of the Beta for Red Dead Online.

I have fond memories of being online for the first Red Dead, it was actually the first time I played a game online. Being in my mid 30’s, I felt a bit old playing games online. I saw that poker was available and thought, “What the heck?” and gave it a try. I actually won my first hand with a bluff, got an achievement, and got hooked. I explored the online component pretty extensively and got over my age issues and just decided to enjoy the new way to play a fun game.

Cut to yesterday, I had to wait until my shift at work had ended, missing the early access by several hours. Finally, I got home and clicked the Red Dead 2 icon… and had to wait for a five gigabyte download to finish. So I made a snack, played around on my phone, and ruminated on the days when such a download would have taken hours, if not days.

It finally finished, and I loaded up the online game. The first thing you do is make a character, you can choose  gender, skin tone, hair and color… to make a reasonably ugly character(My GTA Online character is pretty ugly too, so wasn’t super surprised.). Once you settle on a look, the story starts you at Sisika Penitentiary, working the chain gang until you are chosen for a job in Blackwater. On the way, you are sprung from the wagon you are in and taken to your mysterious benefactor, Mrs. LeClerk, who informs you that you were to be hung for a crime you didn’t commit and she wants to help you get revenge. Cue the dramatic Western music.

So far… so good. You do a few random missions establishing your own camp and getting your own very sad looking horse and after about an hour or so, you are dropped into Free Roam. 32 other players can be in the same instance as you and a number of those 32 players were asses in mine. I took a stranger mission to drive two wagons to Manzanita Post from Blackwater. During my journey I was shot and killed 17 times. Now this was an open world mission, and players are encouraged to interfere in these kinds of quests.

So, I went to Blackwater to do one of the “Story” missions, where I was shot and killed by a camper who was sitting outside the starting position 2 times. I walked outside my camp to collect herbs. I was shot, almost to death, and then hogtied while two players danced with emotes over my prone body.

Later tonight, I plan on trying the gunfighting team based options that are available and see if I get a better experience. If I were to bemoan a missing component, it would be that there are no mini games in the beta. I have seen a lot of comments online that because micro transactions will be involved, poker may not be a part of the online component at all. Which would definitely be a bummer. I would also like to see a “Passive” mode, for players that just want to explore and hunt. GTA Online eventually brought such a feature and, in my humble opinion, it was a great addition.

Now this IS a beta and these rough moments are to be expected. Micro-transactions are NOT a part of the game yet and I am sure Rockstar is paying close attention to what works and what doesn’t. While I am frustrated with my experience, to be sure, I am in no way ready to throw in the towel.  I didn’t break out of video game prison to give up so quickly.

Day one players get access today, while people who played during the first weekend can start tomorrow and the rest of the world on Friday.

Tell us your thoughts and experience on the Beta and maybe we will see you on the plains.

 

Red Dead Online Coming This Week

Red Dead Online, the online component to Red Dead Redemption 2 will be starting its Beta this week. If you purchased the Ultimate Edition, you will be able to logon as early as tomorrow (Nov. 27). (ETA if you played on launch day, you will be able to join the fun on Wednesday the 28th) If you played the game during its first three days of release (Oct. 26-29) you will be able to start Thursday the 29th. Everyone else will be able to join the shenanigans on Friday the 30th.

Rockstar has not released a lot of details on what you will be able to do, but have mentioned most of the activities that can be found in the main game will also be found online. Fishing, hunting, mini-games, and of course there will be many… many… MANY ways to kill someone. Keep your eyes on our site as we will go into more detail as they become available.