“Our ambition certainly wasn’t to make GTA with horses.” Christian Cantamessa is one of the three writers – alongside Dan Houser and Michael Unsworth – who worked on the original Red Dead Redemption, and clearly recalls the bold ideas and creative vision that led to that gaming masterpiece.
Cantamessa has a long history with Rockstar Games, having served as the lead level designer and writer on Manhunt, level designer on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, designer and writer on Manhunt 2, and lead designer and writer on Red Dead Redemption. Most recently, he directed The Initiative’s Perfect Dark trailer at The Game Awards.
In a chat with GLHF, the Italian writer looks back at the days spent working on “Old West Project,” that later on would become Red Dead Redemption.
“We were looking to build a proper western,” he says. “Our target was to contribute something to the canon, without being a movie and without being a book.
“Eventually, the best book that inspired me while working on Red Dead Redemption was Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
“As for movies, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and another movie, maybe a little less known but not less impactful, called The Proposal (John Hillcoat) were seminal inspirations. So, we wanted to contribute to the myth of the West.”
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Cantamessa has fond memories of those days, even though, due to analysts’ forecasts, he wasn’t very optimistic about a western game’s chances to succeed.
“I even had a bet with Leslie Benzies, GTA’s producer – in my opinion, maybe we could reach two million copies sold,” he remembers saying.
“I didn’t know we would sell many more. In that moment, I was surrounded by criticism, and completely forgot that Rockstar was in the exact same situation when working on GTA III, and I – coming from the outside – even got the job commenting about that.
“But, when you’re on the inside, […] it’s tough to have the full picture. Sam [Houser] and Leslie, instead, they were like ‘no, no, keep working, stay calm’. And they were right, I lost the bet, and I’m so glad I lost it.”
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The original Red Dead Redemption shipped around 23 million copies by 2021. Rockstar Games would later work on a follow-up, prequel Red Dead Redemption 2, selling more than 45 million units as of August 2022.
Written by Paolo Sirio on behalf of GLHF.
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