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Editorial

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #16—Red Dead Redemption

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Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. Some of these are forgotten gems, some you will guess straight away. Others cover more than one game in a series, or compare two similar games.

Today we continue by looking at a true watershed moment in open world design—one whose sequel will likely squash all competition in 2018.

#16. RED DEAD REDEMPTION, BY RHAIN RADFORD-BURNS

Having attempted an ambush on his old friend Bill Williamson, John Marston continues his search by crossing the border into Mexico. As the player mounts their horse and begins trotting toward the sunrise, the faint sound of a guitar begins to play, accompanied by the gentle voice of José González. The lyrics mirror the effort of John to complete such a momentous task in order to see his family again: “Pushing forward through the night, aching chest and blurry sight.” His ‘reward’, ostensibly, seems “so far, so far away.”

One cannot deny the beauty and importance of González’s vocals while crossing the Mexican border. The moment encapsulates three main aspects of Red Dead Redemption’s high praise: the player, engaged in the story and in the chase for Williamson, mounts their steed and rides freely towards the rising sun, accompanied by a stunning melody. These three aspects were monumental in the game’s success and continue to demonstrate why so few games have managed to replicate such an achievement.

Story

By the time the player crosses the border into Mexico, they have already met a variety of quirky and unique characters: Bonnie MacFarlane, a simplistic local rancher who only wants the best for her farm; Leigh Johnson, Armadillo’s District Marshal struggling to maintain law and order in the evolving world of government and technology; Nigel West Dickens, a travelling salesman trying to con people into buying his ‘miracle’ elixir; Seth Briars, a psychotic prospector who robs graves in pursuit of treasure; and ‘Irish’, a dysfunctional alcoholic and pathological liar. All of these characters capture the innocence and individualism of the West and engage the player in their search for Bill Williamson—by the time they have reached the Mexican border, the player is engrossed in the story, and dedicated to finish their quest to find Williamson.

Red Dead Redemption’s story is simplistic in nature—a tough former outlaw must track down his former gang members in order to return to his family—but is told in an engaging manner with a myriad of interesting characters. John Marston is a complex man, stuck in the world of the Wild West and struggling to catch up to modern civilisation as it continues to evolve. Red Dead Redemption tells the story of the death of the West—a story the player will find themselves engaged in.

Red Dead Redemption Mexico

Freedom

Although González’s song is a scripted moment in the game, it plays outside of a main story mission, meaning the player is free to continue exploring the open world of Mexico as they please. This freedom is an integral part of the game’s success and is a large reason for the success of other Rockstar games. Despite having a story to follow and missions to complete, the player is granted access to the game’s large open world (which, in most cases, opens up as the story progresses).

Red Dead Redemption’s open world is littered with towns that represent iconic locations of the American frontier: the MacFarlane’s Ranch mirrors the small farmers of the West; Armadillo, the heart of New Austin, is reminiscent of any small town from old Western movies, complete with a sheriff’s office and a saloon; Thieves’ Landing, as the title suggests, is a dirty town overrun by criminals and known for its gambling affiliations; the territory of Nuevo Paraíso includes a range of rebel outposts and Mexican army forts, demonstrating the spread and importance of the Mexican Revolution; and Blackwater represents the civilised and technologically advancing area of the world, filled with government officials and businessmen. All of these locations—filled with dozens of NPCs, stores, and activities—feel alive and emphasise the feeling of freedom that players experience as they explore the game’s open world.

Music

González’s “Far Away” is one of four vocal performances featured on the game’s soundtracks, each of which perfectly represents the moment in which it accompanies: “Far Away” mirrors John’s effort to complete his task and the distance he has remaining; “Compass” by Jamie Lidell, personally a more poignant and climactic moment at the beginning of the game’s final act, matches the importance of the scene in which John returns to Beecher’s Hope; William Elliott Whitmore’s “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” demonstrates the barren emotion felt by the player in some of the game’s final cutscenes; and Ashtar Command’s “Deadman’s Gun” is a slow and tender track which accompanies the credits as the player’s experience with the game’s story comes to a close.

The vocal tracks are not the only songs from the game that accurately represent its setting. Musicians Bill Elm and Woody Jackson composed over fourteen hours of music to score the game’s missions. When Jackson found that there was no “Western sound” in 1911, he looked to the soundtracks of 1960s Western films instead, most notably Ennio Morricone’s work on the Dollars Trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West. The game’s score is a precise yet unique imitation of these soundtracks and helps to immerse the player in a truly Western world.

Red Dead Redemption gameplay

Entering Mexico in Red Dead Redemption is a masterclass in game design; the freedom granted to the player, accompanied by a beautiful musical cue and a relevance and reliance on an interesting story, is a technique that other developers can only learn from. Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Redemption is, in many ways, a masterpiece, so the anticipation for this week’s sequel should come as no surprise. To follow up on such an acclaimed title is a daunting task, but Rockstar has taken it in stride—and time will tell how successful it truly is.

Thanks for joining us for a look at one of the greatest titles in the entire medium. Leave a comment with your own favourite Rockstar games, or your impressions of Red Dead Redemption, naturally. Stay tuned for one of the greatest indie adventure games of recent years next week, and don’t forget to prepare for Red Dead Redemption 2 with more Western content over the next few days with OnlySP’s Red Dead Redemption Week!

E3 2019

Gender and Race Representation at E3 2019

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E3 2019 Diversity (Deathloop, Wolfenstein Youngblood, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order)

Despite making up around half of the gaming population, women remain underrepresented in video games. More Hispanic and Black people refer to themselves as “gamers” than white people, yet minorities remain a rarity in modern titles. E3, which recently came to a close for another year, is gaming’s largest annual event, demonstrating the interests of the industry. Therefore, the statistics from E3 are a fairly accurate representation of the industry as a whole. OnlySP has broken down five of the main conferences from E3 2019 to see how each publisher represents women and people of colour in the games showcased, as well as their presenters.

Some of the shows from the event—the PC Gaming Show, Kinda Funny Games Showcase, EA Play, and the Devolver Digital Big Fancy Press Conference—have been excluded. Previously released games receiving updates or trailers at the event, such as Fallout 76 or Final Fantasy XIV Online, were also excluded from the statistics.

Each conference is broken down into seven categories for gender:

  • Male: where the game features only a male protagonist (Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order)
  • Female: where the game features only a female protagonist (Wolfenstein: Youngblood)
  • Player Choice: where the game allows a fully customisable character (The Outer Worlds)
  • Both: where the game allows the player to control both a male and female character, but not customise their preference (Marvel’s Avengers)
  • Ambiguous: where the protagonist’s gender is unclear (Ori and the Will of the Wisps)
  • None: where the game does not feature a gendered character, including racing games (Microsoft Flight Simulator)
  • Unknown: where the game’s protagonist is yet to be revealed (Elden Ring)

The last five categories are repeated for race within games; protagonists whose race is evident are identified as such.

Microsoft

E3 Chart - Microsoft 2

Microsoft kicked off the main press conferences this year with far more games than the conferences to follow. Out of a total of 29 applicable games, almost a third featured only male protagonists. Thankfully, female representation is not totally out of the question—with 24% of Microsoft’s games allowing full character customisation and 10% featuring both male and female protagonists—but only three games with a sole female protagonist is a disappointing statistic.

Unfortunately, representation among the presenters at Microsoft’s conference does not inspire much hope either, with two of nine being women (one of whom appeared alongside a man). This is sadly representative of the company as a whole, with women making up only 26.6 percent of Microsoft’s employees.

In terms of race representation within its games, Microsoft is not achieving great results. While nine of the games showcased featured Caucasian protagonists, only one had an African-American lead. Thankfully, at least, Microsoft is still allowing the player to decide the race of their character in 21% of its games. Microsoft’s presenters were also mostly white—mostly American, with two Brits, one Canadian, and an Australian—with only one African-American presenter.

While Microsoft’s representation at E3 is better than most of the conferences that followed, it still has a long way to go.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Microsoft

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Microsoft’s conference.

Bethesda

E3 Chart - Bethesda 2

Bethesda’s conference was short on new titles this year, with only six upcoming games showcased, but it had the strongest showing in terms of character representation. Only one of the six titles—Doom Eternal—featured a single male protagonist, and, that aside, the game is shaping up to be something special.

Both of the upcoming Wolfenstein games—Youngblood and Cyberpilot—feature female protagonists, and while two female-centric games is not a hugely impressive statistic, as an overall indicator it is quite impressive when compared to Bethesda’s other games. Two of the six games—Commander Keen and Deathloop—allow the player to select between a pre-determined male or female character; and in the case of Deathloop, both characters are African-American, so Bethesda’s representation expands beyond gender. However, only one title with a confirmed non-white character is not a very impressive statistic.

The same praise cannot be applied to the presenters of Bethesda’s conference, either; only two of the 17 presenters were female—one of whom has become a bit of an icon following the show. Of the 17 presenters, more than half were American, with only two Japanese presenters, two French, one Swedish, and one Puerto Rican–American. Considering Bethesda’s support of women and minorities in the past, seeing such little representation among its staff is a disappointing statistic.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Bethesda

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Bethesda’s conference.

Ubisoft

E3 Chart - Ubisoft 2

In regard to giving the player choice, Ubisoft easily beats the competition, with three of its eight new titles featuring full character customisation and two allowing the player to select between a male and female character. Diversity of representation, however, ends there; Ubisoft did not showcase a single female-led video game during its E3 showcase this year. Of the three games allowing character customisation, two—Rainbow Six Quarantine and Roller Champions—are multiplayer games; and of the two allowing both male and female, one is Watch Dogs Legion, which lets players choose between dozens of characters in their operation. Whether or not such a concept will lead to positive representation is yet to be seen. While no games from Ubisoft star an African-American in the leading role, hopefully the developer can achieve positive diversity by taking notes from its 2017 title Watch Dogs 2.

For its presenters, Ubisoft is better than its competition, with females making up four of the conference’s 14 on-stage personalities, but that statistic is still disappointing. If 29% is the best that the industry can do, it still has a long way to go in the years to come.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Ubisoft

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Ubisoft’s conference.

Square Enix

E3 Chart - Square Enix 2

Square Enix may have had the most disappointing press conference this year in regard to gender representation. Of its 14 games, not a single had only a female protagonist, while over half centred around males. To the publisher’s credit, several of these games feature, in some segments, playable female characters, but to have so many male-centric games without a single sole female protagonist is incredibly disappointing.

Thankfully, five games shown at Square Enix’s conference allow the player to select between a male or female. However, even in some of these games, representation is not entirely clear—only one of the five main playable characters in Marvel’s Avengers, for example, is female, as is only one of the three in Outriders.

Unfortunately, the disappointment of diversity is only exemplified with the conference’s presenters. Only one of the show’s nine presenters was female, with her appearance taking place at the very end of the show alongside a male presenter. Square Enix has a long way to go with its female representation.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Square Enix

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Square Enix’s conference.

Nintendo

E3 Chart - Nintendo 2

Historically, Nintendo is not known for strong female characters—Princess Peach is the figurehead for the damsel-in-distress trope—but it has made strides in this area with strong characters such as Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Unfortunately, none of these characters have been allowed to represent their own video game, constantly being shadowed by the male protagonist.

While six of the 17 new Nintendo games shown during its Direct this year featured male protagonists, not a single game featured a female protagonist. With three games allowing full customisation and six giving the choice between male and female, not all hope is lost with Nintendo, but diverse representation is better than customised representation. Being forced to take on different perspectives—as females must do when playing 35% of Nintendo’s games—is more beneficial to the player than choosing to play as an undefined character.

Nintendo only had three presenters during its presentation—deputy general manager Yoshiaki Koizumi, president of Nintendo of America Doug Bowser, and general manager Shinya Takahashi—but seeing some more representation of its female staff (as it does rather well during its Nintendo Treehouse live stream later in the show) would be encouraging.

E3 Chart - Demographics - Nintendo

Demographics of protagonists in games shown at Nintendo’s conference.


Overall

As a whole, E3 2019 was rather disappointing. While a third of the games showcased at the five conferences above featured only male protagonists, only 7% featured female protagonists. While developers are improving in regard to player choice—allowing either full customisation or the selection of a male or female character—diverse representation is a necessity moving forward, and the industry needs to look at improving.

Presenters Demographic

Demographics of presenters at the five conferences during E3 2019.

In terms of race representation, the statistics are even more abysmal. While an Americanised show is expected due to the location of E3, some diversity would be appreciated; with over half of the presenters being American, the companies are failing to demonstrate their diverse talent. The same can be said about the games; as seen below, 27% of protagonists in games are Caucasian, while 3% (only two games) feature African-Americans as lead characters. As aforementioned, developers are seeing improvement in allowing players to customise or select their characters, but specified diversity is a change that the industry requires.

E3 Chart - Games Demographics

Demographics of protagonists in the games showcased at the five conferences during E3 2019.

The industry has a long way to go.

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