This week’s Protagonist Profiles, we’re heading back in time to the wild wild west, where we find our next gaming hero, Red Dead Redemption‘s gunslinging great, John Marston. Yes, with the sequel due later this year, we’ve decided to take a look back to the original game, where we find one of the most critically acclaimed protagonists in recent times. Does he warrant the praise? Let’s fill in the file and find out!
It doesn’t need to be said that the development of Red Dead Redemption was a lengthy one. It spanned 5 years across several different studios within Rockstar Games internationally. The game was setting up to be a huge, expansive experience, complete with the largest open world seen yet (for Rockstar games), top-of-the-range graphics and huge variety in the gameplay. With this, Rockstar knew that their characters had to be just as carefully crafted and fleshed out as the game they were going to appear in, and so there were no expenses spared in doing so. The game itself required a large amount of vocal work in order to feel alive, from the main character himself to every NPC you can interact with. Auditions were held for every main character in the game, including their protagonist, until professional actors signed onto the project. The protagonist in question at this stage was a young, skinny upstart in the early 20th century. As the game went further and further into development, these characters became more fleshed out, complementing the game and its atmosphere. Indeed, Vice President for Creativity Dan Houser said that “the stories are there to serve the game“. Full-time specialist directors were hired to ensure success in the game’s dialogue, with most of the recording taking place using motion capture technology and additional dialogue done in a traditional recording studio. All in all, the process to creating this character was with such care and precision unlike most that we encounter in the gaming world.
Keeping with the tone of the game thus far, John Marston was later developed to be a much older, experienced ‘family man’, that was looking for redemption after a troubling, deviant young life as part of a gang. He is described as once a man yearning for acceptance due to an absent father and a prostitute for a mother, but is now looking to abandon his former life and start anew with his family. Rockstar wanted to blur the lines between hero and villain with Marston, in order to provide an interesting experience for players controlling the character. The story of John Martson and his relationship with others fits with the well-oiled machine that is Red Dead Redemption, and so it allows players to really get an idea of where Marston fits into the world and his story.
As mentioned earlier, Marston’s troubling early life led him to a life of thievery and violence in his adolescence. An outlaw, Dutch van der Linde, saved a young Marston from a potential hanging and taught the upstart about the ways of the land. For years, Marston then rode with Dutch and his gang (with members Bill Williamson and Javier Escuella), continuing to commit crimes like robberies, raids and murders, but Marston attempts to justify his past actions by giving the earnings to the poor and only stealing from the rich. The gang rode like a family, with Dutch as the father and the others, siblings. After a botched robbery in 1906 (5 years prior to the events of the game) and being left to die by his gangmates, Marston had a change of heart and sought to retire from his criminal lifestyle. He settled down with his family, beginning a ranch to fend for themselves. It’s not until the BOI (Bureau of Investigations) forcibly hires Marston to track down his old criminal comrades that leads to his return to the wild west and, thus, beginning the events of the game.
Despite being inactive from riding and gunslinging, Marston remains a master, becoming a survivalist and knowing how to stay alive when the odds are stacked against him. He keeps to his old fashioned ways of the land, in an ever-changing modernizing American landscape. The time spent settling down changed Marston for the better, as he upholds liberty and good manners to everyone he meets. He treats women with respect, mocks racism and urges those with personal problems to mend them. However, Marston is still a killer at heart, and has no remorse for anyone he needs to hurt or even kill to get what he needs, feeling that it is from a position of moral authority. Plus, as is tradition with Rockstar games, the player can influence exactly how (un)lawful John Marston can become. If he turns in more bounties and saves more people from random criminal activity, he’ll be seen more as a hero. But if he is the one doing the unmotivated killings and raids, then he will become more like the outlaw he was before. This serves as the blurred lines between hero and villainy Rockstar hoped to achieve in creating the character of John Marston.
Rockstar’s efforts paid off, as Red Dead Redeption was hailed as an outstanding achievement to gaming, and is still to this day considered one of the greatest games ever made. John Marston also got his fair share of praise, earning near chart-topping appearances on most ‘best character’ gaming lists, from GamesRadar, to IGN, to Gamespot. Rob Wiethoff, the voice of John Marston, also received huge praise for his achievement in bringing the character to life (he also placed second in Complex‘s best voice acting performances in a video game). Ironically, one of our most heavily cited sources, the Guinness World Records Gamers’ Edition Top 50 Characters, failed to include Marston anywhere on the list, which was criticised by GameSpy for the omission of such an iconic character. So, was Rockstar successful in their quest for a well developed, likeable, complex gaming protagonist? Absolutely! And here’s hoping that whoever we see in the sequel can fill the dusty boots left by Red Dead Redemption‘s John Marston
That’s it for this week’s edition of Protagonist Profiles. Tune in next where we find out who’s inside yet another powered suit of armour.