Video Game: Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Developers: Rockstar San Diego & Rockstar North
Composers: Bill Elm & Woody Jackson
I remember playing Red Dead Redemption for first time when I got my PS3 back in 2010. I remember sitting in front of the television discovering the amazing world of the American Frontier for hours on end. I remember walking around with a pistol in my hand hoping I’d get to capture some bandits that had crashed yet another saloon. I remember discovering the very complex and very complete character of John Marston. I remember being devastated once the credits started rolling at the end of the game. However, seeing as this is a blog about music and repetition is pretty fucking boring after a while, the thing I remember the most is the mesmerizing baseline that would play whenever I’d start riding my horse from one town to another.
Red Dead Redemption is one of the first examples that comes to mind whenever I talk about video game immersion. This game is nothing short of amazing and its endless Game of the Year Awards will confirm my statement if some of you are skeptical. For those of you who haven’t played the game and can’t seem to tag along, Red Dead Redemption is an open world video game that takes place on the American Frontier in 1911. It tells the story of John Marston, an ex gang member who was left for dead and now works for the government to seek revenge against said gang. Here’s the catch: Marston has to complete his quest for his criminal charges to be withdrawn and for him to have the permission of returning to his family who he hasn’t seen in years. Once again, Rockstar has created one of the most interesting characters in the history of video games and that’s why I’m talking about him. There is no such thing as good and evil in Red Dead Redemption. John Marston isn’t a perfect character and Rockstar created him that way. Just like every other game from the well-known developer, Red Dead Redemption is filled with an in-depth critique of the American society. It challenges our perception of justice by putting us in the same place of a convict that is forced to do good for him to seek redemption. This game is incredibly well-made and it will always be perceived as an amazing work of art.
Let’s talk about the music, shall we? Having the open world complication of not knowing what a player’s movements might be, the composers decided to create stems rather than songs. What are stems one might ask? Well, stems are individual recordings of multiple sounds and instruments; that’s how DJs work when they perform live concerts. After recording all of the material they needed, Bill Elm and Woody Jackson sent everything to the programing team so they could work out the logistics of the in-game musical atmosphere. The composers recorded everything in 130 beats per minute meaning the programing team had a ton of freedom for the musical arrangement. With that on their plate, they decided to program stems for certain actions that the player would partake in. This basically means that the music would adapt itself to whatever the player was doing. Certain instruments would play whenever the player was performing a certain action and more instruments would come in or out whenever the player would intensify that action or pass on to something else. This process is rarely used in video games, but it is very effective and is one of the best ways to immerse a player into the game.
Some people might find this process very odd when it comes to video games, but it’s actually the best way of composing for the digital interactive medium. Why? Because it has endless possibilities that can play forever. Think about it, when a composer writes a song for a movie, he writes a piece that fits the emotional arc and the overall length of a scene. He can then place climatic notes wherever he wants because he has total control over his music. Video game composers don’t have that luxury because you never know how long it’s going to take a player to complete a mission. That’s why stems are perfect when it comes to video game composition; it let’s the composer have artistic freedom and it gives the player a unique experience every time he/she plays the game.
Alright, I’ll stop boring you with this shit. To quickly summarize this post: Red Dead Redemption is a fucking masterpiece and it has some amazing music that you should definitely listen to.
Interesting trivia: After working on Red Dead Redemption, the actor who played John Marston (Rob Wiethoff) decided to switch careers and focus on being happy. He moved from Los Angeles to Seymour, Indiana and had two kids with his wife whom he meet in L.A.. After carefully building his family, he started working on a farm because he felt like he actually did something productive. This is quite the parallel because of the character he played in Rockstar’s western shooter. Both Marston and Wiethoff have two kids and work on a farm after deciding to settle in once and for all. It’s a pretty badass coincidence when you think about.
Song: Born Unto Trouble
Song: Dead End Alley
Song: Exodus In America
Thanks for reading (and listening). See you next week!