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Red Dead Online - A Persistent Naturalist Point of View, We Chat with Rockstar on All Things RDO
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 05:54pm 02/11/20 | Comments
Red Dead Redemption 2 might have ended with Marston coerced into the events of the original game, but leaving such a dynamic and beautiful world just sitting there would be as criminal as the Van der Linde gang. Enter the persistent world of Red Dead Online…

No matter what this guy says, almost everyone -- at some point in their lives -- wanted (or still wants) to be a cowboy. The thing is, the Wild West wasn’t just a place of gunslingers, gangs or the law. Farmers, and gold diggers used the new frontier to make their place a stake in a new chapter in their lives. Nomadic wanderers pitching campfire after campfire in search that *something* gave rise to knowledge of the lay of the land, while large-scale mining operations and the construction of the most significant infrastructure project in the United States -- the railroad -- meant the barren scapes of the West were less than populated.

This meant opportunity, and helped a new economy blossom in the wake of need: whiskey, food, lodgings, wares, stables and more -- the “Wild West” sounds like a romantic Sergio Leone dust-plane built on revenge and bullies. But really, it was just a place to settle yourself and make your mark on the world.

Red Dead Redemption 2 might finish, but Red Dead Online lets you continue to enjoy that luscious game-world in roles like those mentioned above, or in numerous other ways. The choice is yours, and the world reflects that. And Rockstar has steadily fed “opportunity” to its world. And not to be confused with the model built around the successful GTA Online, Red Dead Online is entirely its own thing, as World and Content Design Director, Scott Butchard asserts: “there aren’t too many specifics that have translated across, it’s more the lessons we learnt from GTA Online that we have applied.”

"Even putting Arthur, John and co to one side, the only real tentpole across all of this is the game-world...”

We’re no stranger to the series, and wrote a number of features (this being our favourite) after an equally glowing in-depth review of RDR2, but even putting Arthur, John and co to one side, the only real tentpole across all of this is the game-world, and it’s something we got to speak with a few team members about in the wake of the release of the most recent addition to the game’s Frontier Pursuits in The Naturalist. And sure, it was released back in July, but we go a bit deeper with them for a broader idea on how they’ve approached the world to keep its myriad activities and community-led dynamism fresh, engaging and player-owned. Check out our full Q&A below with:

Tarek Hamad – Director of Design Production
Katie Pica – Design Director: World and Progression
Scott Butchard – Design Director: World and Content

AusGamers: In maintaining a connection to the incredible game-world of the base game, how do you iterate new content with meaning?

Scott Butchard: When building out the world of Red Dead Online, we are always trying to bring across as much as we can of the experience of playing Red Dead Redemption 2. So, it starts with looking at ways we can expand on the idea of inhabiting your character as much as possible. This time, that character is one you build out through your choices. That led us to the idea of Frontier Pursuits, and specialized Roles of various types that would appeal to the different kinds of players, whether it’s the action-packed missions like tracking down bounties, starting businesses like the Trader role, or more pacifistic or exploratory roles like the Collector or Naturalist. That’s given us a massive range of options that we can continue to build upon over time, either through creating new types of Roles or extending the existing ones, like the Trader Role leading to Moonshiners.

The Naturalist is a great example as it brought one of the most popular parts of Red Dead Redemption 2 into Red Dead Online through the addition of Legendary Animals. Not only does it open up new kinds of missions that emphasize the natural world, but it’s a great complement to existing roles. We also pay a lot of attention to what the community would like to see out of the game, so ultimately each addition should be a good combination of what we know they want and what we ourselves would like to play at home.

AusGamers: Does the game’s dynamic ecology play havoc with creating new activities and, conversely, does the live game (with player choice) create headaches? If so, how do you approach that?

Katie Pica: Adding new content to a live game is always a challenge - especially one with a world as rich as this one that gives the player so many choices - so a lot of work goes into making sure every addition blends well into the world and existing content.

Scott Butchard: During development, we spend a lot of time thinking about how this new content will fit into the world and about what the knock-on effects of these additions will be on existing content. With the Naturalist, we wanted to make sure it still felt like a layer that connected well with existing content and allowed the player to flow freely between the roles – you could be out hunting for a collectible, then decide to whip out your Legendary Animal map and go hunting – or make the kill and decided to take it to Cripps instead for your Trader business. Player choice is always a priority for us, and it’s a huge factor when designing those missions, we know are going to be replayed. We want players to feel in control and have these moments where the content feels fresh a second or third time.

AusGamers: Clearly players and community wind up having a huge say in functioning online lives, what’s the game-to-service-to-community experience like?

Tarek Hamad: This is a huge priority for us, listening very carefully to how our community is responding to the content and features in each update and how they are engaging with it. We have feedback pages that we encourage players to use to let us know directly how they feel about the game, and we’re often jumping into live sessions around a new update to get a sense of how players are responding in real-time. We have a passionate, dedicated and vocal community and what they have to say really helps shape important areas in each update to help the community to continue growing and creating their own stories and experiences with the content, roles and features available.

AusGamers: What’s the weirdest ‘role’ you’ve seen a community member take up before you guys created roles?

Katie Pica: It’s not a role specifically, but I think the group of players that decided to carry their stew from one side of the map to the other stood out to me.

Scott Butchard: Before we created the roles, the emergence of a fight club subculture was a very cool thing to me. It wasn’t so much weird as a surprise. It really showed that players were into that social vibe in a controlled way – and it’s something that we’d like to acknowledge in future.

AusGamers: How do you plan to maintain the in-game economy without it becoming tired?

Katie Pica: We like to offer incentives to keep playing both existing and new content. This includes adding new opportunities or expanding old ones, including new items to covet or new ways to earn cash or gold. The aim is to strike a balance between giving the player engaging short term and longer-term goals. The Wheeler & Rawson Passes allow us to offer a wide variety of desirable items and bonuses to compliment any role-specific content or general shop items.

AusGamers: What learnings have you taken from GTA Online you maybe didn’t expect to translate to Red Dead Online?

Scott Butchard: GTA Online and Red Dead Online are very different worlds – there aren’t too many specifics that have translated across, it’s more the lessons we have learned from GTA Online that we have applied to the process of developing Red Dead Online as it evolves. For example, there has definitely been a shift over the years in GTA Online to making content more accessible by allowing it to be played and completed solo or optionally with 1-4 players. We’ve carried that across to Red Dead Online, respecting players who work together in posses, but also allowing players to treat the online space more like a single-player game; becoming a lone wolf player who wants to traverse the world and occasionally work with others but on their own terms.

We have also been influenced by GTA Online’s role-playing communities and that desire to really embody a type of character as much as possible. With the Roles in Red Dead Online we wanted to give players more of that experience, and we hope that shows.

AusGamers: It’s arguable Red Dead - as a franchise - requires more context from history than GTA, can you speak to how you approach that?

Tarek Hamad: A huge amount of historical research was done for both Red Dead Redemption and Redemption 2, and Red Dead Online has been able to make use of every aspect of it as we build out the world. Everything is considered as much as is possible – how people in the era would speak, the clothing, weaponry, and every facet of the living world around our content. That being said, we are not trying to be completely historically accurate – this is a fictional story in a fictional version of the Old West.

AusGamers: Conversely, are there some crazy Undead Nightmare level ideas still imprinted on a few whiteboards across the offices?

Tarek Hamad: There are always a ton of ideas that never get used! Hopefully one day we will find a way to use the best ones. If you are into the more supernatural gameplay in the world of Red Dead, we have been putting a ton of work into our upcoming Halloween update for Red Dead Online, including a new mode called Dead of Night, where players will pair up to fight against the supernatural undead and competing teams. As you compete for kills, you collect special masks that transform you into Night Stalkers, increasing your health and damage and doubling points earned per kill.

AusGamers: Finally, your favourite activity in the game, or what would you like to incorporate in future as rewardable activity.

Katie Pica: I like doing a mix of activities, dipping in and out of each as the opportunities present themselves. Going forward I’d love to delve more into classic areas of the West now that we have a good foundation.

Scott Butchard: I’m a big fan of the collections. I just love it, I could be out doing a bounty or hunting some elk and decide to pop out the ol’ metal detector and I get a hit. It feels really satisfying gathering this stuff for Madam Nazar. She’s a great character too. I agree with Katie that more traditional gunslinger-style content would be cool to provide that authentic wild west vibe… but I’m also a big fan of the fishing in game and feel there could be scope to expand on that in the same way we did with hunting. By opening up these Specialist Roles, we’ve created multiple pathways for the game to go forward from here, with something for everyone.

Now, with a next-gen literally around the corner and with what's going on in the PC market in terms of raw power, roaming around a world filled with some of the most detailed environments ever created is almost a given. Saddle up, Buttercup.

Read more about Red Dead Online on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

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