Smile and Nod: I, John Marston

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Smile and Nod: I, John Marston

A profound RPG experience isn't just possible in Red Dead Redemption, it's unavoidable.

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This article really made me think. I'd always seen realism as a sin in gaming (after playing and hating GTAIV and comparing it to Crackdown), but now that you mention it RDR really does show that realism not as bad as I made it out to be. A game just needs to either be consistently real (Red Dead) or consistently fake (Disgaea). For me, at least.

I have to wholehearted agree. As a role to play, Marston was one of the first characters that guided my actions, rather that the game guiding my actions. I constantly found myself trying my best to do what that dang cowboy would do.

I found myself grudgingly fighting for the Mexican army, even though I despised them. And I found Liza's story-line heartbreaking and was deeply affected by how it ended. I would say it was the first time I genuinely cared about a character's life. For me, NPCs are normally just targets.

It kind of forces you to play a role in an extremely subversive manner. Even little things like the character fobbing off the hookers because he has a wife at home. The nobility and determination of the character drags you into his role, while very much glossing over the fact that you can only play the pre-defined role. The bars are there, they are just well hidden.

When compared to something like [Prototype] that encouraged you to kill anything that moves, innocent or otherwise (those weapons were NOT designed with an eye to reducing collateral damage) but then tries to paint its character as a noble and torn wronged man.

Of all the games I've play I'd think only Bioshock was as engrossing and immersive an experience.

I did love the way they protrayed Marston, and how his character worked. He made me really feel I was in the wildwest. The mannerisms, motions, combat. It put me into the shoes of what it would be like to be in those times, and, I would try to act accordingly (be that an outlaw, or a man of justice ect.)

The way they paced his story is really well done too, it makes you want to press forward, to see his kid, his wife, and the way he lived

I enjoyed the GTA IV tie in, they are narratives that are set in stone and you can only tweak them. The problem with your definition of "Role Playing" (or the industry's) is that because they have a designed beginning and end with certain chapters in between that you must hit, all of the Final Fantasy games are not role playing games.

To be completely honest, the only true role playing game would be The Sims since you can go on your adventure into the world and save the girl while killing the bad guy, or you could paint a picture instead and head off to work tomorrow.

Great article, may have to look again at the RDR prices.

*Claps* Very well written. I played a noble Marston, one trying to redeem himself. Like you said, I was extremely tempted to piss about and shoot up a town, or rob the nearest store, but I didn't. While helping a man rescue his wife from being hanged I accidentally shot him and felt terrible for it. I did kept with the Ranch missions without pause though, wanting to see what happened, and then afterwards tied the last loose end as Jack by killing that government official. Afterwards I felt like I had nothing to do, sort of how Jack must have felt. I saw Jack as somewhat vengeful after his father was killed: inspired even by how is father tried to redeem himself. Afterwards I felt like I had nothing left to do, bar helping out strangers, which is when I succumbed to shooting random people. At one point I got so frustrated at this one guy beating me at poker that I got up from the table and shot him in the head.

Red Dead Redemption is a great game for exactly the reasons you described. I prefer it to GTAIV because of how it puts you in a world in such a way that you begin to feel very attached to your surroundings - everything gets very familiar very quickly and you really do care for the various NPCs, or hate them for not understanding your situation. In GTAIV, the amount of freedom you have is too ridiculous to suspend your disbelief; it just doesn't feel as "epic" a game (and I do try to use the word "epic" sparingly).

Red Dead Redemption is by far one of the best games I've ever played.

I applauded Red Dead Redemption for being one of the only games I'd ever experienced that actually had a playable denouement. So many other games would have ended with John Marston finishing his mission, but this went one step further and was all the more satisfying for it.

Now that you mention it, I did feel guided by the character. As John, I stayed on the straight and narrow, trying to atone for my past life, whilst throwing out stories that revealed how much I missed it, really.
As Jack, I felt it was inherently part of the character to be a little angrier, a little bit vengeful - I started breaking the law more often, I cheated at poker (well, I tried), I tied a bandana round my face and went achievement hunting...
It was definitely one of the best games I've ever played, and I'm glad I bought it on a whim when I saw it pre-owned (2 days after it came out)

KEM10:
I enjoyed the GTA IV tie in, they are narratives that are set in stone and you can only tweak them. The problem with your definition of "Role Playing" (or the industry's) is that because they have a designed beginning and end with certain chapters in between that you must hit, all of the Final Fantasy games are not role playing games.

To be completely honest, the only true role playing game would be The Sims since you can go on your adventure into the world and save the girl while killing the bad guy, or you could paint a picture instead and head off to work tomorrow.

That's the problem with Russ' definition - he's defining simulators, not RPGs. RPGs have always required stats and stat growth, usually in the form of level ups. It's not a complicated definition, people just get thrown off because they've apparently never heard of Dungeons and Dragons, or haven't connected it to the genre of today.

I played it in a similar way. It was one of the most profound gaming experiences of my life, far more than just "Grand theft horse", as I once naively tweeted to you. It actually did feel like (And temporarily became) my life, I would see entire hours of my life pass by and wouldn't care. The characters had character, the story was gripping, I actually longed more for the atmosphere and the people I would meet more than the gun-fights, which were superbly designed anyway.

I don't think I'll experience anything like it in a long time.

I completely agree. In many ways it's like Grand Theft Auto, but supremely better in almost every way. The world felt more natural, more real, more genuine. I couldn't really get into the GTAIV world, but I immersed myself in RDR.

The only disappointments I really had with the game were the few things I found I couldn't do at any point, like hold up a train at any time. Sure I could go in and kill the people and take their money, but it's not the same.

RDR also had one of the most emotional moments I've ever experienced in gaming. Descending the mountain after dealing with Dutch, while hearing "Compass" by Jamie Lidell was fantastic. Perfectly captured the emotion of the moment, and since then it caused me to learn to play it on guitar. Singing it is a pain, though, Jamie has such a high voice.

I jump around games quite a bit, so I haven't finished RDR, but I will point out that I don't see why so many people act like that achievement is a big deal. I think the way most people go about it says more than the achievement itself and it's existance.

To put things into perspective, as many people point out pretty much all the women that you meet outside of towns are honey traps out to rob you, kill you, or both. There is no reason why you need to abduct a nun, a prostitute, or some innocent lady, and then murder her with a train.

Me? I got one of those encounters where the lady yells "help" near a wagon and then you get ambushed (including her going red). I just shot the dues, lassoed her, and engaged in a bit of frontier justice with the train. I mean she did try and kill "me" after all, right? I otherwise would have just shot her. There is no real bounty for turning in these general interlopers either, so it's not like you can put them in jail or whatever.

I suppose you can say it's a bit brutal, but hey, in that encounter she was the ringleader apparently.

You've also got the ladies who try and steal your horse, I've never used one of those, but again horse theft is a death penelty offense.

All told RDR is a good game, not sure if I agree with the role-playing arguements for the most part though. As I've said before what makes an RPG is the use of stats to resolve problems rather than the player's own abillities, and even if not the most difficult game out there, RDR is definatly an action game, that depends on the player's reaction time and abillities. I typically make the point that they very first RPGs had absolutly no plot or anything else, the appeal being mostly to wargamers who took nerd-like joy in having been able to create statistical engines to simulate individual battles rather than larger scale engagements. Adding plots and storylines and such came later, maybe not a lot later, but still down the pipe. Unless RDR goes stat based, it will never be an RPG unless you try and re-define what that is all about, since RPG in thise case does not use the term "role playing" in the sense of an actor playing a role or whatever, but in the terms that it's the abillity of the role/character to resolve events rather than that of the player.

Well written article, it really made me appreciate RDR even more. I was emotionally touched by the story, and now it seems even more profound.

I do not agree. For me, there was no temptation to go "off the rails" - yeah, I could shoot a random guy, but why? There is no reason for it, and in fact the game punishes you for it, and you get no benefit. Yeah, I could steal a horse, but I already have a better one that appears on command, and if I wanted a new one I could either go out and get one (which is not much more difficult, and more rewarding), or buy an instantly-reviving one at a store with my copious amounts of cash laying about (which is much easier but less rewarding). Yeah, I could start a fistfight in a bar, but everyone rushes over to fight me then and if I knock someone out they get back up in a matter of seconds. There was no real reason to break the law, no real reason to go hunting, no real reason to play any of the minigames, no real reason to go "off the rails". The game kind of falls apart because of this.

For me, the game simply didn't allow what I wanted to do with it. I couldn't go tell the Mexican Army to screw itself, I couldn't deny the strangers' request even though it is clear that I am being scammed, can't disarm a guy in a duel if he is meant to die - sure, I could ignore them, but then I had already agreed to help, and there's always that little note in my to-do list nagging at me.

No, I can't say that I felt I had played a significant part in John Marston's life.

Enjoyed the article, and I feel the points you made on GTA4 are explroed further here if anyone would like to read more about it (not an ad for me by the way, I just enjoy this design blog).

Picking up on something an above poster mention, my grievences with the game were how it seemed too authoritive in its sandbox approach. There just wasn't enough incentive to do the majority of what the game offered, and the missions were painfully linear. Go hunting and sell the meat? Why! I already have enough money because I don't actually need to buy anything. Steal a horse? I already have one I can call anywhere.

I felt the game lacked enough cohesive gameplay elements to make it truly excellent, although the narrative was the best I've experienced in a game in a long time.

Yvl9921:

KEM10:
I enjoyed the GTA IV tie in, they are narratives that are set in stone and you can only tweak them. The problem with your definition of "Role Playing" (or the industry's) is that because they have a designed beginning and end with certain chapters in between that you must hit, all of the Final Fantasy games are not role playing games.

To be completely honest, the only true role playing game would be The Sims since you can go on your adventure into the world and save the girl while killing the bad guy, or you could paint a picture instead and head off to work tomorrow.

That's the problem with Russ' definition - he's defining simulators, not RPGs. RPGs have always required stats and stat growth, usually in the form of level ups. It's not a complicated definition, people just get thrown off because they've apparently never heard of Dungeons and Dragons, or haven't connected it to the genre of today.

Your own definition is also only half true. If RPGs required stat growth, then Legend of Zelda would not be considered an RPG. While you may personally believe that, you would have a hard time convincing very many people.

Excellent article. Games like Red Dead Redemption truly show that video games can be just as profound and moving an entertainment medium as any other of the last few millennia.

subtlefuge:

Yvl9921:

KEM10:
I enjoyed the GTA IV tie in, they are narratives that are set in stone and you can only tweak them. The problem with your definition of "Role Playing" (or the industry's) is that because they have a designed beginning and end with certain chapters in between that you must hit, all of the Final Fantasy games are not role playing games.

To be completely honest, the only true role playing game would be The Sims since you can go on your adventure into the world and save the girl while killing the bad guy, or you could paint a picture instead and head off to work tomorrow.

That's the problem with Russ' definition - he's defining simulators, not RPGs. RPGs have always required stats and stat growth, usually in the form of level ups. It's not a complicated definition, people just get thrown off because they've apparently never heard of Dungeons and Dragons, or haven't connected it to the genre of today.

Your own definition is also only half true. If RPGs required stat growth, then Legend of Zelda would not be considered an RPG. While you may personally believe that, you would have a hard time convincing very many people.

An RPG is based on how you play your character. In RDR the protagonis's character has already been laid out for you. John Marston is a middle aged cowboy who was once an outlaw but years later has decided to turn a new leaf and try and redeem himself. All this has been set in stone, and you can't change his destiny. The reason this game can be considered an RPG is because you can decide if John Marston will fulfill his destiny or not. You can go off on your own and be the outlaw that he once was. You have control of what he does. You can be the law abiding citizen, or the lawless bandit. Games like Devil May Cry have a protagonist that not only has the character part set in stone but the actions as well. As Dante you will fight demons and you will fight your brother. In RDR you don't have to do each mission if you don't want to. Your adventures are what you make it. The story having a definite beginning and ending is probably the only thing that makes this a non-RPG game, and the fact that the character you play already has some qualities set in stone.

I shed a multitude of manly tears through all of the end sequences of RDR.

Couldn't disagree more with this article. The only thing, in fact, that you got right about this game (other than the base description of the events) is that it is not an RPG. Now listen close, 'cause this is important. RPGs aren't about stat advancement, they're about the ability to make choices that define and alter your character, the story, and the world around you. Mind, by that definition the FF games aren't RPGs, but they aren't, so I'm okay with that.

I've been table-top role-playing for some 12 years now, and as I am able to get more consistent access to my preferred hobby and gaming style, the more I have come to despise these games that claim to be an RPG or have RPG elements. The only element that actually matters is choice! All we get with the FF, GTA, and RDR is a chance to watch a movie with some game-play elements thrown in to make sure that you are still paying attention.

Now that I'm done with that little rant: 1) You can't stand around on a moving train and shoot stuff, and 2) if a posse is gathered to run you down, you're not going to jail to spend time, you're going to be lynched, shot down, or taken to a jail where, later, you will be hung right and proper. Very much game over. So, you want to talk about suspension of disbelief being broken, just as much will be broken here as in GTA4. More, in fact, because the world, otherwise, does feel very "real," so every time something that just shouldn't happen does, it becomes all the more jarring.

Also, Zero Punctuation is right. This is a bad game. In fact, all of the GTA games tend to be, but this one even more so. As a game, RDR is actually two games. First and foremost, you have the missions and the story, which has a very distinctive tone and characterization. Then you have the free-roaming game, where you can go anywhere, do anything, and kill anybody (so long as it isn't anything that will alter the story, 'cause your not allowed to do that).

The problem with this is that what you do in free-roam often is completely at odds with what you do in the missions, especially if any sense of tension is being created by the plot, and then you go off and kill buffalos for three hours. And, time just stands still? Mind, this, and similar complaints, aren't just aimed at RDR individually. They are a problem that is endemic to most games that attempt to create a "non-linear" or "open" world. A game where you are stuck on the rails, going from level 1 to level x, where you beat the final boss, may not have the openness of the other games, but it doesn't have any pretense to options that don't exist, and it does have the advantage of consistency.

Yvl9921:

KEM10:
I enjoyed the GTA IV tie in, they are narratives that are set in stone and you can only tweak them. The problem with your definition of "Role Playing" (or the industry's) is that because they have a designed beginning and end with certain chapters in between that you must hit, all of the Final Fantasy games are not role playing games.

To be completely honest, the only true role playing game would be The Sims since you can go on your adventure into the world and save the girl while killing the bad guy, or you could paint a picture instead and head off to work tomorrow.

That's the problem with Russ' definition - he's defining simulators, not RPGs. RPGs have always required stats and stat growth, usually in the form of level ups. It's not a complicated definition, people just get thrown off because they've apparently never heard of Dungeons and Dragons, or haven't connected it to the genre of today.

I actually enjoy the new idea. I have played a few (read way too many) tabletops and the main thing I enjoyed about them was the ability to shape your character to your liking and make her unique. Bioware does a great job with this, but my Cloud and your Cloud will be the exact same except for, maybe, some different abilities or equipment.

I sometimes wonder if it is the freedom that is so attractive in Sandbox games. I mean, in the west we live in repressive societies. Safe, but oppressive, and I sometimes think that we long for the freedom offered by these games.

I love John Marston. That game has ruined my life.

Personally I think a RDR based MMoRPG would be awesome.

Am I the only one that thought the ending to RDR left a lot to be desired? Here I am, having played the entire game as John Marston, an awesome bad ass, then I'm forced into the role of his incredibly annoying son, who takes revenge for his father by shooting an old man in the face. An old man who has already lived out his life, for all intents and purposes, and probably would have died in a month anyway. I don't consider that a very satisfying ending to the story at all.

Very good read, and I really have to agree. John was a pretty good character in a pretty good game. Like many others commenting, I tried to be as noble as possible as well: there was one part where I spend so long messing around trying to get my lasso to work so I could hogtie and capture a guy, that an NPC I was with ended up shooting that guy just as I realized the game was forcing me to execute him and was beginning to draw my pistol.

However, all that about how great John is really makes the part after the story a bit disappointing for me.

But again, very nice read. It made me appreciate the way the game ends a bit more.

This article is exactly what i was thinking the entire time i played the game, that it was so immersive because it was believable, thanks to the setting. The story was so well told that you wanted to add your personal decisions to John Marston's profile, and perhaps take away some of John's personality for your own profile in real life.

Also, I got 100% because I had to continue John's legacy with Jack.

Russ Pitts:
Smile and Nod: I, John Marston

A profound RPG experience isn't just possible in Red Dead Redemption, it's unavoidable.

Read Full Article

I think an important thing to keep in mind about RDR is how often you can die. Especially after you do terrible, terrible things. Sure, your stats remain unchanged by your death. But when you die, you respawn at the last save point - many times BEFORE you did the terrible things you did to get achievements or just to have some nasty fun. While this is a standard aspect of games, it also has an interesting impact on the story. Sure, John kidnapped a woman, let a train explode her, and then killed half a dozen people trying to get away with it. But then he got killed.

But oh wait, no he didn't! Because suddenly he's back to the point BEFORE he acted like a sociopath. Now you can certainly go back and do the same terrible things again, and avoid getting killed. But why would you? You've already gone through that. It doesn't matter that John himself no longer has those memories. Only you do, and they're your problem.

This almost makes the game an "all possible worlds" simulator. You can go out and see what will happen if John is terrible. But then you can get John killed, he goes back in time a few minutes, and now he's not terrible again.

I guess this doesn't do anything for people who think the narrative and gameplay are morally inconsistent. But if you pay attention only to the "real" John - the John as he keeps respawning - both aspects can be completely consistent.

As long as you don't make John a terrible person and survive it, at any rate.

When I played RDR, I had John be a noble man who shot to kill only when he had to. Even in duels I just aimed for the opponents shooting hand. And when he died, it had an impact. I did all that work for that bastard, Edgar Ross, and he took it all away. It made it much more satisfying when

After John died I tried to make Jack out as a psychotic, driven towards crime because of his parents' death. After all, Jack is a different person from John.

Yvl9921:

That's the problem with Russ' definition - he's defining simulators, not RPGs. RPGs have always required stats and stat growth, usually in the form of level ups. It's not a complicated definition, people just get thrown off because they've apparently never heard of Dungeons and Dragons, or haven't connected it to the genre of today.

It's really hard to argue Simulators vs RPGs.

I really don't believe RPGs are based around stat growth, even if you went as far as pen and paper rpg. Your experience playing the game doesn't revolve around how hard your mace die roll is nor any form of RPG imo but around the character itself.

And I believe that's his interpretation as well, And as such I agree with him. The Game was more linear then most Free-roam or modern RPGs(i.e Mass Effect) leaving less of an option of personal character development. Which made the "role playing" experience more defined if you will. Compared to Mass Effect that allowed much more personalization I just felt like I was playing a story as I made it up, well as playing RDR I had a defined character with clear characteristics, goals, ideology. So I felt much more in character the way I played it.

but of course, each his own

First I want to say that the article was excellently written and enjoyable to read.

I'm a bit conflicted by RDR though and don't totally agree with many of Russ's points. I didn't feel a sense of realism at all throughout many parts of the game. I for instance decided to go crazy early on and shoot the heck out of tons of people, grabbing money as they came to collect my bounty etc. I had a blast killing em heh but the cost to get rid of my bounty was insane. I did a mission though and as part of it I got a free pass that cleared my name *poof* like that.

That just didn't seem realistic to me. I mean I killed tons of people with plenty of witnesses, robbed banks, shot tons of law enforcement and suddenly nobody is after me anymore because of a pardon? If that happened in the old west I'm sure there would still be plenty of people waiting to shoot you in the back pardon or not.

Then there was game mechanic issues. Riding a horse into a river = instant death. Yes, the horse won't let your run off a cliff, but it's happy to jump right into a river and drown when leaving town!! Sadly when it was night and raining I could not always see where the river/bridge was and that happened more then once while chasing someone.

I think what Russ is describing is a story that really pulled him in, but that isn't really a roleplaying experience. The game does a good job of making you feel like you are John and making you identify with him (to a point) but it does not really like you DEFINE him. Russ mentioned you could add flair, shoot birds etc. Thats all true but none of it impacted the events of the game. You could control your fame etc...which is probably the largest roleplaying part of the game. Sadly you could not upgrade equipment much and there was little to no change in how the character played through the game no matter what you did.

Finally while it's understandable the combat was just super unrealistic. Take the river ride to Mexico.....I mean there is no freaking way that would ever play out that way lol. John kills thousands like Russ says but honestly it's even more unrealistic then GTA in my opinion.

Some of the equipment like the bandana etc let you mitigate the penalty you get from actions you commit and other things allowed you to manipulate the system and get away with just about anything you wanted. As a sandbox game I think RDR was fairly sucessful. I think the story was superior to most other sandbox games but that only really works once. Multiplayer is enjoyable but has its flaws. I think it's worth owning, and a decent over all game, but it is not one of my favorites or even probably in my top 100 games list at this point. I'm glad Russ enjoyed it and I envy his great writing style, but I think it is just a semi-decent sandbox game with a above average story.

subtlefuge:

Yvl9921:

KEM10:
I enjoyed the GTA IV tie in, they are narratives that are set in stone and you can only tweak them. The problem with your definition of "Role Playing" (or the industry's) is that because they have a designed beginning and end with certain chapters in between that you must hit, all of the Final Fantasy games are not role playing games.

To be completely honest, the only true role playing game would be The Sims since you can go on your adventure into the world and save the girl while killing the bad guy, or you could paint a picture instead and head off to work tomorrow.

That's the problem with Russ' definition - he's defining simulators, not RPGs. RPGs have always required stats and stat growth, usually in the form of level ups. It's not a complicated definition, people just get thrown off because they've apparently never heard of Dungeons and Dragons, or haven't connected it to the genre of today.

Your own definition is also only half true. If RPGs required stat growth, then Legend of Zelda would not be considered an RPG. While you may personally believe that, you would have a hard time convincing very many people.

Personally, I think the "definitions" of an RPG and a simulator are kind of backwards. An RPG always requiring stats to me sounds more like a simulator. I mean with that you're basically comparing one set of stats to another and seeing which one comes out on top; pinning numbers against numbers, that's what simulators do. Compare one set of data to other sets of similar data to determine the most likely outcomes.

Also, I think the definition of a RPG involves literally what the name itself implies: role-playing. You are stepping into this characters shoes and playing their role in the game's story. I think any game that has you playing as someone you are not and has you doing things you wouldn't normally be able to do, or ever be able to do, could on some level be considered a role-playing game.

I'm not saying the two have to be mutually exclusive and in the majority of the cases they aren't. Almost all of what people would consider to be a RPG also include elements of simulation, just as some simulators include elements of role-playing. RDR may be considered a sand-box or an open world game, but if the people who played it felt like they were a part of this character (myself included), then by all means it is also an RPG.

You might not agree with me, but I just thought I'd put my two cents in on the matter. I also thought RDR was a very profound experience.

Squaseghost:
I shed a multitude of manly tears through all of the end sequences of RDR.

Agreed.

Nice article.
I just wish they released the game on the PC :( .
Let's hope they'll port it... and better than GTA IV (same engine, they probably learnt from last time).

This article just makes me wish they would release it on PC so I could play it.

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