Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game that can be chill, but eventually, somebody pulls a gun on you, or a coyote attacks, or you wander into a whinnying horse fire hell zone. To achieve true chill, you must rise above it all. Thanks to mods, you can.
YouTuber Jedijosh920 (via Polygon) used player model mods to swap out grumpy old Arthur Morgan with a series of different birds. He then soared over Red Dead Redemption 2‘s gargantuan landscape, heedless of the petty cares of cowboys, coyotes, and burning horses—at least, until the former started shooting at him after 13 minutes or so.
By and large, though, playing as a bird seems to be just about the most calming way to experience Red Dead Redemption 2. You can also do a bit of boundary breaking, as Jedijosh920 was able to make it to Mexico, which is not currently accessible in the normal game. Birds, however, have no concept of country, nationality, or unannounced DLC that could take place in Mexico. They simply fly where the wind (and migratory paths) take them. Perhaps we can learn from their example. Or, failing that, we can at least hope there’ll be an official bird mode included in whatever DLC Rockstar decides to release in the future.
When Colin Bundschu first started at Rockstar Games in November of 2014, he says his new colleagues offered a warning: Don’t cross Jeronimo Barrera. Barrera, the vice president of product development, would often fly in from New York to visit Rockstar’s offices in Carlsbad, California, where they were all working on the Western game Red Dead Redemption 2. Bundschu was told to be cautious when Barrera came to town. Mind how you talk to him, multiple coworkers and managers said. Barrera, one of Rockstar’s top executives, had a reputation for screaming at people, and there were rumors that he had shouted at staff who’d rubbed him the wrong way, telling them they were fired.
So Bundschu wasn’t sure what to do when, at a work gathering shortly after he started, he says Barrera groped him, asked Bundschu to sit on his lap, and rubbed his inner thigh area. These allegations about events from 2014 are being made public for the first time today, but in the days after the incident allegedly happened, Bundschu filed a report to Rockstar’s human resources department and told at least four other people. After an HR investigation that involved speaking to Barrera and others present, and following a dispute over whether Barrera had denied the accusation or told Rockstar he didn’t remember, the company ultimately found Bundschu’s account to be unsubstantiated. A few months after that, Bundschu left Rockstar, and eventually, he exited the video game industry. (He wrote about the incident in a book he self-published on Amazon in 2017, but he used pseudonyms for Barrera and everyone else involved.)
Over the past two months, Kotaku has conducted several interviews with Bundschu and reviewed e-mails between Bundschu and Rockstar HR as well as a seven-page document that Bundschu says he wrote at the time, on the advice of his lawyer uncle, detailing the events of that night and the days afterward. Bundschu said he is going on the record now, four and a half years after the event, because he hopes that going public will help prevent incidents like this from happening again. He also said one of the reasons he was talking about this story was because we’d reached out. (We had first contacted Bundschu in January, after hearing wind of the allegations.)
Barrera, who departed from Rockstar in 2018 after two decades with the company, denies these allegations. When reached by Kotaku last week, he first called to say that the incident had not happened, then sent over a statement through his attorney, Robert Tracy: “Mr. Barrera categorically denies all of the allegations of misconduct you raised with him.” Tracy and Barrera would not elaborate further or comment on the specifics in this story. “Mr. Barrera stands by his statement,” Tracy said in an email when given more details.
When contacted for comment, Rockstar and parent company Take-Two Interactive provided a statement, attributed to Take-Two spokesperson Alan Lewis: “We take these matters extremely seriously. While we do not comment publicly on the specifics of individual investigations, in any case where an employee raises workplace concerns, we investigate them and take appropriate action.” Rockstar would not comment further.
Late last year, a Kotaku investigation detailed Rockstar’s extensive overtime hours and the “culture of fear” experienced by current and former employees, all of whom were granted anonymity so they could speak freely without fear of repercussion. But crunch wasn’t the only thing that impacted morale at Rockstar. While reporting on that story, I heard anecdotes about a frat house-like environment within Rockstar, particularly at the company’s California office. (Rockstar consists of over two thousand employees working in eight offices around the world.) Current and former employees shared stories of Rockstar work trips to strip clubs. Several people described what they called a “cult”-like mentality, where employees were expected to attend social events regularly, and those who left Rockstar were shunned (a mentality encapsulated by Rockstar’s policy, confirmed by the company to Kotaku last year, that anyone who leaves before a game is shipped will not be in that game’s credits). One name kept emerging as one of the driving forces behind this culture: Jeronimo Barrera, the vice president of product development and one of the most powerful people at Rockstar.
Although Barrera is no longer at Rockstar, he served as one of the top decision-makers (just under co-founders Sam and Dan Houser) at a company that brings in billions of dollars in revenue thanks to mega-franchises like Grand Theft Auto. Barrera helped lead development on some of the most critically acclaimed games out there, like Bully and Red Dead Redemption. He often did interviews with journalists to market Rockstar games, and he was a top manager at the company.
On Friday, November 21, 2014, a large group of Rockstar employees held a work event at a restaurant in Encinitas, California, several miles away from Rockstar San Diego, as the Carlsbad office is called. They were celebrating some of the designers that Rockstar had hired recently, including Colin Bundschu, who had moved from Seattle that month, leaving behind his friends and long-term girlfriend to take what he saw as a dream job.
“This was a huge move for me, and I was really committed,” Bundschu said. “It was my in into becoming a game designer, which had been my dream and my goal. I was very dedicated to making sure I didn’t fuck it up.”
Earlier that day, Bundschu had met Jeronimo Barrera, who lived in New York but often flew out to Rockstar’s California offices, where Bundschu had just started his new job as a multiplayer designer on Red Dead 2. Bundschu says his manager had warned him to watch what he said, that Barrera could be temperamental—a reputation that Bundschu says he witnessed in his very first conversation with Barrera.
“He introduced himself to me by asking, ‘Have you played through the current build of the game?’” Bundschu said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I actually played through the whole thing earlier.’ He said, ‘That’s good, because I’ve had to fire people for not doing that before.’”
When asked about Barrera, 13 other current and former Rockstar employees shared first- or second-hand stories about his behavior, with most using the words “abrasive” or “volatile” to describe him. All requested anonymity because they said they were scared to harm their careers or scared of retaliation from Rockstar. Some said they had seen Barrera reprimand co-workers for staying friends with ex-Rockstar colleagues on Facebook; others shared anecdotes of drunken antics and pranks gone awry. One common story, not verified firsthand by Kotaku but shared secondhand by three people, was that at a party one evening Barrera had drunkenly tackled a designer into a bush. (The designer did not respond to a request for comment.)
One former Rockstar employee who said they were friendly with Barrera still described the executive’s behavior as “outrageous.” Two people shared a story about a group of new QA testers who had been invited out to a dinner by Barrera but did not attend because they were working overtime. When they did go out to the bar, later in the night, Barrera berated them for not coming earlier and told them they were fired, according to the two people, who both said they’d watched it happen. Later, said the two people, someone else from Rockstar called to tell the testers that they were not, in fact, fired, and that they should come back to work.
Barrera, who played a pivotal role in many of Rockstar’s games, from Red Dead Redemption to Bully, was one of the highest-ranking managers at the company. Many of the developers who spoke to Kotaku said he was feared because he had the authority to reprimand or fire anyone, an authority that those developers said he would remind employees of often. One person from Rockstar San Diego’s office said they were “nervous to be around him.” Another said they would warn new employees to be careful what they said near him. A third said they’d seen Barrera screaming at designers under him, and a fourth said the executive treated Rockstar employees “more like frat brothers than co-workers.” A fifth developer, in Rockstar’s New York headquarters, said they made a point to ensure that Barrera never got to know them, on the warning of some of their colleagues. “He had a reputation for firing people and being pretty abrasive,” that person said.
Some people who worked with Barrera said he could be charismatic and gregarious, helping solve production issues at the San Diego office; when people complained that they had to pay for sodas, for example, Barrera declared that they’d now be free. But if you caught him at the wrong time, Rockstar staff said, you never knew what might happen. “He was a loose cannon,” said a sixth person who worked with Barrera. “You didn’t want to get on his bad side. He could make or break you at the company.” A seventh former Rockstar employee, who worked in the San Diego office, said they were scared to be in the same room as Barrera. “The dude was petty and had personal vendettas against people all the time, made work super uncomfortable,” they said. “Say or do one ‘wrong’ thing in front of him and you could get fired on the spot… Super inappropriate around people in general, discussing and encouraging things like sex and drugs a lot.”
Barrera was in California when Rockstar held its meet-and-greet for new developers on that Friday in November of 2014. During dinner, Bundschu says he was sitting next to two other new designers when Barrera came over and started talking to him. According to Bundschu’s account, Barrera was friendly, but after a while, Bundschu started to feel like he was getting most of the top executive’s attention. “He’s only talking to me, and the other two guys cannot get in a word edgewise,” Bundschu said.
Barrera eventually exited the restaurant, and soon afterwards, by Bundschu’s recollection, two Rockstar lead designers told Bundschu and the other two new hires to come with them down the street to a nearby nightclub. As they were walking, Bundschu says, the leads warned the new hires about Barrera’s behavior, telling them to be cautious not to upset him. “They said, ‘Look, we don’t want the three of you to get fired tonight, so whatever you do, don’t do anything to piss him off,’” said Bundschu.
When they got to the nightclub, Bundschu remembers seeing Barrera at a booth with several other Rockstar staffers, complete with full table service: bottles of vodka, mixers, and so on. They all sat down, Bundschu says, and talked for a while. “When I finished my drink, he’d make me another immediately, say, ‘Here, here, keep drinking,’” said Bundschu. “He was actively encouraging me to drink. It was not like I was sitting there helping myself.”
Bundschu estimated he had three drinks, adding that he remembers everything that happened. (“I want to be clear—I remember this so clearly. I wasn’t so drunk that my memory is impaired or anything.”) Barrera moved to the end of the table, Bundschu says, and then asked who wanted to go to the dance floor. Bundschu volunteered, and then, he says, things started getting uncomfortable.
“He stands up and comes up to me, and I don’t know how to say it other than he starts aggressively groping me,” Bundschu said. “Out of the blue. There was no warning, no anything; he just goes for it. I just freaked… It felt like an eternity, but it couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes.”
Barrera stopped and sat back down at the booth alongside their colleagues. Then, Bundschu says, Barrera spread his legs and gestured for Bundschu to come sit on his lap. Bundschu says he remembers freezing.
“I’m thinking, ‘What are my options?’” Bundschu said. “A) I get fired if I don’t do something, and B) he either wants me to grope him, which I’m not fucking doing, or C) maybe I can do something differently. I’m like, ‘Okay, well, I can probably just give him basically a lap dance without touching him,’ which is what I did… I know it sounds terrible, but what do you do? Fuck, it was like, I’d just started. I’d given up so much for this job.”
A few seconds after Bundschu started the lap dance, he recalls, one of his co-workers told him to stop, which he did, writing later in his notes that he felt “extremely ashamed and embarrassed. I have no interest in men and certainly no interest in Jeronimo, and doing what he told me to do in front of the people I work with was very humiliating.” (That co-worker did not respond to requests for comment.) Then he moved to the other side of the table, as far away from Barrera as he could get. “I picked up a glass of water, sat there staring into it, and said nothing for like 20 minutes,” Bundschu said. “For those 20 minutes, my ears were ringing and I didn’t know what to do. I’m like, ‘Fuck, am I gonna get fired? What the fuck is going on right now?’ I was just stunned.”
Then, Bundschu says, Barrera swung around the table and sat down next to him. Bundschu remembers being in mid-conversation with a colleague when, he says, Barrera started rubbing Bundschu’s inner thigh. “I’m sitting there holding my drink and my hands are shaking,” said Bundschu. “I remember looking down and I could see the water in the glass vibrating.”
Shortly afterwards, according to Bundschu’s account, the colleague on his other side looked at Barrera and told him to stop. (The colleague who Bundschu identified is still employed in a lead position at Rockstar and did not respond to requests for comment.) At that point, Bundschu says Barrera stopped, stood up, and went back to the other side of the table.
Bundschu says he then got up to exit the club with two co-workers. “Jeronimo says, ‘Are you leaving already?’” Bundschu said. “I’m like, ‘Yes,’ staring at the ground. I can’t even make eye contact with him. He said, ‘Why aren’t you staying longer? This is not okay.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, my ride’s here.’ He’s pissed, but I’m like, ‘Sorry, I need to leave.’”
Kotaku attempted to interview as many of the people who Bundschu said were at the nightclub as possible. Some didn’t respond. One said they hadn’t seen “anything inappropriate happen.” Others said they didn’t remember the events of that night. One person confirmed part of Bundschu’s story, saying that they’d seen the two men dancing near their table. “Jeronimo was grinding up and down on his leg,” the person said. “I do remember Jeronimo looking directly at him… Colin was smiling, but it wasn’t a comfortable smile. It was almost like Colin was being flopped around.”
Four of Colin Bundschu’s former Rockstar colleagues told Kotaku that, in the days afterward, Bundschu shared parts of this story with them. One said Bundschu told them that Barrera had grabbed his penis, another said Bundschu had told them Barrera groped him on a dance floor, and the other two said they’d heard broader details. “I remember him saying, ‘What do you do when the vice president of your company touches you?’” said one. A second described it this way: “He told me he had been groped… He was really upset, so I didn’t want to press him on anything he didn’t want to talk about.”
On Sunday, November 23, 2014, two days after the incident, Bundschu met with Rockstar San Diego’s director of human resources, Kelly Gibson. “She said she had no doubt that what I said was true, as I was extremely detailed and thorough,” Bundschu wrote in his notes at the time. “She apologized for what had happened, and said that I would need to hold on until she talked to some people. She also said that the kind of behavior I experienced ‘is not Rockstar, we are here to make games and that is it.’”
In the coming days, Bundschu had a series of meetings with Gibson and with the company’s head of HR, Rob Spampinato, who called in from New York and later flew out to California for a meeting. Bundschu says they informed him they’d talked to several employees who were at the club that night, including Jeronimo Barrera, and that those people had said they didn’t remember anything. “She told me that since Jeronimo ‘did not remember’ the events of the night, that there was not much they could do,” Bundschu wrote in his notes.
This significant detail—whether Barrera and others did not remember the incident, or denied that it had happened—was later disputed by Rockstar. In an email to Bundschu dated December 30, 2014, provided by Bundschu, Spampinato wrote that Barrera had not in fact said he didn’t remember the night’s events, but that he’d explicitly denied Bundschu’s allegations.
“First, we have never stated to you that Jeronimo or other witnesses that you asked us to speak with were unable to ‘remember’ if the events you alleged took place or not,” Spampinato wrote to Bundschu. “Rather, and importantly, Jeronimo flatly denied your allegations. The other several individuals you identified as present during the evening of November 21 stated that they did not witness the conduct you described, and they generally did not support your allegations. We have no reason to believe that any of the witnesses were fearful of being candid, and we believe that they were each being truthful when they spoke with us.”
Spampinato’s email went on to say that the company had taken “prompt, careful and thorough steps to address the allegations that you have raised” and that his investigation had determined that Bundschu’s claims were unsubstantiated.
“Given that your allegations could not be substantiated, the remedial action against Jeronimo that you appear to seek is not warranted,” Spampinato wrote. “During the course of this matter, however, we have made clear to Jeronimo and others that Rockstar does not tolerate sexually hostile or inappropriate conduct. We have also offered to facilitate a meeting with Jeronimo so that you could discuss this matter with him in a comfortable environment, and Jeronimo offered, in such meeting, to apologize if you were made to feel uncomfortable (please let us know if you would like us to arrange that meeting in which Kelly can be present). We have also informed all those involved that there may be no retaliation or adverse action against you for bringing this matter to our attention.” (Bundschu told me he declined that opportunity to meet with Barrera, calling it an “insane” and “embarrassing” idea.)
In response, Bundschu wrote that until then, he’d been under the impression that Barrera told Rockstar he had no memory of the evening. “This is the first time you have made this statement, and it is inconsistent with what you told me in Kelly’s presence over the phone on multiple occasions—and what Kelly told me—on multiple occasions,” he wrote to Spampinato in the email exchange obtained by Kotaku. “You and Kelly both told me that Jeronimo said he was drunk and he told you he did not remember what happened at the nightclub. Consistent with this statement, during our conversations you said: ‘He doesn’t remember, so what do you want us to do?’ Kelly made similar statements to me.”
It was a pivotal dispute, and ultimately, Rockstar HR concluded that events had not happened as Bundschu described, although Spampinato also said in his email that the company would be going through anti-harassment training shortly thereafter.
“In conclusion, we will follow up with you periodically to review with you how things are progressing and to ensure the work environment is professional and productive for you and your colleagues,” Spampinato wrote. “To that end, I also note that we will soon be delivering anti-harassment training to all Rockstar San Diego employees. You and your colleagues should receive notice of this training shortly.”
Bundschu says he wanted to stay at Rockstar, but that the entire experience made him feel like that was impossible. By the end of 2014, he was looking for other jobs. Meanwhile, word of the incident between him and Barrera had spread elsewhere in the studio.
“It certainly was office gossip,” said one person who worked for Rockstar at the time. “I remember talking to peers about it. Nobody could quite understand it. I guess the assumption was that it was sort of a joke, jock type of thing… There was no way Colin was going to lie about it. It had serious consequences to him. It obviously happened. But it was impossible to understand, verify whether it was a joke.”
Over the last year, for this story and others, I’ve spoken to dozens of people who work or have worked at Rockstar. Many of those people said they loved working there, and that getting to help make games like Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption was an experience that they’d remember forever. But there’s a common perception at Rockstar that employees who are perceived as negative, as “rocking the boat,” can’t succeed at the company, which has led many of those people to keep their problems to themselves. One current employee said they felt like Rockstar’s HR “can’t be trusted,” adding that even if they had a serious issue to bring up, they’d be afraid to draw that kind of negative attention to themselves.
“There was no way I’d complain to HR at Rockstar about anything,” said a second person who worked at Rockstar. “Once you’re negative, you’re not really wanted at the company.”
In the first week of March 2015, Bundschu submitted his two-week resignation notice to Rockstar. In response, HR told him to stop coming in right away.
“This is something women in the video game industry have to deal with all the time,” Bundschu told me on the phone recently. “As a white dude, I thought I was kinda immune to it—an attitude I’ve matured out of.”
Barrera remained at Rockstar, continuing to work on Red Dead Redemption 2 into 2018, when he quietly exited the company.
After leaving Rockstar, Bundschu went to Oculus to work as an engineer for a year, then switched careers entirely. He says he left the video game industry as a result of his experiences with Barrera and Rockstar.
“It could’ve been a really cool job, could’ve been a really cool career,” he said. “After that happens to you, it changes everything.”
Many games are about escapism. Allowing the player to escape from their boring or shitty life and experience something incredible or impossible. In the popular shooter series Halo, players become the Master Chief; a badass super soldier capable of destroying armies of enemies by himself. He is in command of soldiers on the battlefield and travels around the galaxy, seeing gorgeous planets and fighting evil aliens. And for the most part, the player and the Master Chief always win.
This form of escapism, allowing players to do the impossible and save the world, is common in tons of games released every year.
Manhunt is different. It isn’t about escapism. Manhunt instead is a game about punishment and suffering.
The game starts with James Earl Cash, the character you play as, getting tied down and given a lethal injection. He is being executed for being a criminal who murdered people before the start of the game. Regardless of how you feel about lethal injection, in the world of Manhunt, this is Cash’s punishment for what he did.
Yet you escape death, thanks to a murder loving snuff film director named Starkweather. He pulled some strings and instead of lethal poison, James Earl Cash is given a powerful sedative. This is when Cash discovers the real punishment isn’t death. It is sneaking and running his way through Hell.
Sometimes, death is better.
After that brief setup, players are thrown into a rundown city filled with hunters; organized groups of killers who want to murder you.
Manhunt might seem like a game all about murder and violence, for example, you’ll see multiple executions and fights while playing. But that’s only a part of Manhunt. Most of the game is spent hiding and sneaking from shadow to shadow, avoiding enemies and danger.
The whole experience is terrifying.
Unlike the Master Chief, James Earl Cash is vulnerable and always being hunted. You’re not a hero or a badass in Manhunt. You’re a scumbag murderer trying to escape a nightmare.
I don’t want to be James Earl Cash, even for a brief period of time. His life and his situation aren’t things I want to “escape” into. Instead, I watch from behind my controller, happy I’m not there.
One of the main reasons I never felt like escaping into the world of Manhunt, is because of the fantastic work done to make the atmosphere of the game feel oppressive and shitty. Every level in Manhunt is awful. I don’t mean the level design is bad, instead, I mean they all look and sound like shitholes. Shattered glass everywhere, crumbling buildings, broken down cars on every street. Oh, and did I mention the hundreds of dangerous killers everywhere?
In a game like Skyrim, you want to stop and live in the village you just saved. In Manhunt, you never want to return to that slum you just sneaked your way through.
Playing Manhunt is about being afraid and suffering. Even when Manhunt throws you a bone, it quickly takes it away and calls you a piece of shit for even thinking about touching that bone.
For example, towards the end of the game, you fight a large and dangerous naked man who is also wearing a pig head as a mask. His name is Pigsy and his weapon of choice is a rusty chainsaw.
Eventually, after a tense and dangerous fight, you defeat Pigsy and take his chainsaw. In every video game, chainsaws are often shorthand for “Go kick some ass!” In Doom, getting the chainsaw is fun. You feel powerful and it improves your ability to fight demons.
But in Manhunt, this isn’t the case.
After getting the chainsaw, The Director calls in a team of well-equipped mercs to hunt you down and kill you. That new chainsaw you got, well good luck using it. To kill with it you need to turn the motor on and rev it. This creates a loud and continuous noise, which is very bad when you are trying to sneak from shadow to shadow, quietly.
All of this might sound bad. It might make Manhunt sound awful, but I actually really enjoy Manhunt because it is so different from so many other games.
For a medium filled with heroes being heroes and saving the day, it’s a nice change of pace to have a game like Manhunt spit on you, kick you in the stomach then point towards another room where you’ll get kicked and spit on some more. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a masochist?
This always oppressive and shitty atmosphere is why the executions in Manhunt are so great. It’s the one time where you get some revenge. You get to dish out some punishment of your own and you decide how brutal you want to be. And you might be surprised how brutal you can be when you hate everything around you and feel no remorse for the people hunting you down.
Manhunt doesn’t let you choose to be non-lethal or give you an option to be good. Your only option with enemies is deciding how quickly and painfully you want to kill them. Sure, you can avoid a few enemies, but many during many enemy encounters it will be nearly impossible to complete levels without taking a few lives.
Murdering in Manhunt is all about timing. How long you hold the button will decide how brutal the murder. Hold it long enough and you will stab people in the eyes and cut heads off.
By the end of Manhunt you probably won’t like James Earl Cash, which is fine. Manhunt is a wonderful example of a game with a protagonist who is someone you probably wouldn’t want to spend any time with. No one wants to go get a beer with James Earl Cash, that dude’s a deranged murderer.
Unfortunately, going back to Rockstar developed games from this era is always tricky. The games use awkward and clunky controls and they never look very good. Manhunt is (mostly) different than other Rockstar games from the PS2.
Due to being more linear and smaller than something like GTA San Andreas, the game’s visuals hold up better than you might expect. And the low res textures and grimy feel actually work in the game’s favor. After all, Manhunt was never meant to look “nice”. It was meant to look depressing and dirty, and it achieves that goal in every level.
Manhunt’s controls, however, don’t hold up nearly as well. The main issue is that the controls and the gameplay feel loose and yet oddly rigid. But again, because the levels are smaller and you move around slower, the controls hold up better than say Vice City’s awful movement and combat controls.
If you do go back and beat Manhunt, you’ll find it has no happy ending or nice cutscene where you save the day or turn the evil bad guy into the police. Instead, you kill his lackeys and then kill him. Then you leave. Credits roll. Good job, scumbag.
And while Manhunt would get a sequel, it would have almost no connections to the previous game and instead would take the series into a different direction. That game is fine, but it never comes close to capturing the horror and oppressive feel of Manhunt.
Honestly, I’m not even sure if Rockstar could re-capture that feel in a future game. Improved visuals might end up making a Manhunt 3 feel too real and uncomfortable.
I’m fine with the world never getting another Manhunt 3. Instead, I recommend for those curious to creep back to their PS2 and experience Manhunt, preferably in a dark room. Alone. Good luck, killer.
Earlier this month, speedrunner Hugo One streamed himself trying to beat Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. But he made it possible for his viewers to, at any point, activate cheat codes using Twitch chat. The end result is a hilarious speedrun filled with some wild moments.
GTA San Andreas, like all other GTA games, includes multiple cheat codes players can activate. These codes can give players extra weapons, spawn vehicles, change the look of C.J. or even alter the rules of the world, making cars hover or pedestrians riot. Letting random viewers activate any of these codes at any point in the game adds a whole new level of challenge to completing a San Andreas speed run.
For example, at one point Hugo One was trying to complete the valet mission that occurs halfway through the game. In this mission, the player is tasked with parking cars until the District Attorney’s car shows up. Then they place a bomb in it and you can probably figure out the rest.
Throughout the mission fans, as usual, tried to stop Hugo One using various cheats. But they were unsuccessful. During the end cutscene for the mission, Hugo One jokingly mocked his fans for “blowing it.” Then someone activated a code that blows up all cars, including the cars featured in the cutscene. This perfectly timed cheat code ended up soft locking the game and forcing Hugo One to load a previous save.
Another point, much later in the game, has the player chasing a firetruck. One fan was able to use the code that spawns a tank to perfectly block Hugo One during the high-speed chase. Using a vehicle to block Hugo was a popular way to throw a wrench into his plans. At another point in that same mission, a player spawned a large semi-truck and trailer, which totally block Hugo and caused him to fail the mission.
To activate these cheats, his fans needed to use a currency that Hugo One uses for his channel called “duckets”. These can be earned by watching his streams or donating to this channel. According to Hugo One, viewers during the stream activated over 2000 cheats and spent over 10 million duckets. The different cheats would cost various prices, with more powerful cheats like the suicide code, costing 100,000 duckets.
The “fight” between Hugo and his fans is not really a serious one. The whole stream is a fun experience between his audience and himself. Throughout the game, his fans find new ways to stop him or hinder his speedrun and through it all, Hugo is (mostly) laughing.
Not all users were activating cheats to stop Hugo. Some players would activate cheats just to mess with Hugo or make him laugh. One great moment happened early on. When Hugo took C.J. to the barber shop to get a hair cut a viewer-activated a perfectly timed costume change.
Some viewers would even activate codes to help Hugo, sometimes giving him more weapons or fast vehicles or other advantages.
Eventually, after spending hours on the last mission Hugo One was forced to disable some cheats as certain viewers were making it impossible for him to finish the game. The entire stream is a really interesting twist on Grand Theft Auto speedrunning and filled with little moments of victory and defeat.
Post-launch updates are supposed to make a game better, but some players now believe Red Dead Redemption 2’s graphics have been slightly downgraded following the release of the most recent patch. They have been sharing before and after screenshots to try and prove it.
Rockstar Games released Title Update 1.06 on February 26. It introduced new items and tinkered with stuff in the online mode, like adding new daily challenges and making it easier to identify players that were potentially griefing other people. The single-player campaign was seemingly left unchanged, but some players are now saying they see less detail and poorer lighting in some areas of the campaign. Other players think that’s wrong and are countering with their own before-and-after shots.
On March 13, a player going by Darealbandicoot on Twitter tweeted an alleged comparison of the inside of a saloon between when the game launched and now. The first image is clearer and has a more striking contrast between the shadows and highlights on objects, while the latter looks a bit foggier over all. There are also some things missing in the post-1.06 screenshot, including one of the non-playable character’s pocket squares.
Other players have argued that the changes can be accounted for by differences in the time of day between the two shots, and that the second shot was potentially doctored to look worse. In response, Darealbandicoot shared a second comparison shot involving customizing protagonist Arthur Morgan’s clothes. There are still noticeable differences that wouldn’t be caused by the time of day, like fewer shadows on the folds in Morgan’s clothes and the floorboards in the cabin he’s in.
In an email, Darealbandicoot told Kotaku the screenshots were did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the shots.
Another comparison point has been the game’s street cars. A handful of shots comparing them pre- and post-patch show similar differences in the lighting, with supposedly fewer and more shallow shading effects on the side of the cars in the current version of the game. There’s also a before and after shot of a hallway which looks practically identical at first. Upon closer inspection though it’s clear the lamps lining the walls in the first shot shine more brightly and warmly on the parts of the wall immediately behind them.
Other players have come forward with shots that appear to show that some of the changes in the lighting effects might go back even further to the Title Update 1.03 from November 29. In a thread posted on the GTA Forums that same day, some players mentioned differences and talked about trying to re-download the original version of the game to revert back to the earlier graphics.
Rockstar Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
These lighting effects in games tend to be associated with ambient occlusion rendering. In PC games there’s usually an option to turn it off in order to run a game more smoothly on a less powerful graphics card. Some players have speculated that the visual downgrades are an attempt to make Red Dead Redemption 2 run more smoothly on base PS4 and Xbox One models. It’s also possible that the visual changes are simply a bug.
The 1.06 patch notes list dozens upon dozens of bug fixes, some aimed at things like lighting effects. “Fixed an issue that resulted in incorrect textures and lighting effects on some combinations of player clothing,” reads one.
It’s possible that there’s no problem at all, and the differences in screenshots can be accounted for in differences in the time of day or weather, both of which are associated with lots of nuanced, visual changes in the game. The act of compressing images down to share them online could also be partly responsible for at least some of the apparent changes.
Whatever the cause, it hasn’t made Red Dead Redemption 2 look ugly by any means. The game remains a technical marvel. It has, however, led to a new contingent of the game’s most diehard fans committing themselves to going back to the 1.0 version of the game and not installing any future updates.
Rockstar keeps trying to make battle royale modes work in their online games. Grand Theft Auto Online has had a few modes that feel inspired by popular battle royale games like Fortnite or PUBG. Now Rockstar is adding more battle royale modes to their newest multiplayer game, Red Dead Online. But overall these attempts at recreating the battle royale experience haven’t really worked.
And I’m not sure if they ever will. Rockstar’s games just don’t feel made to support battle royale.
GTA Online’s Battle Royale Modes
Rockstar first started adding battle royale inspired modes into GTA Online. Their first attempt at capturing some of that PUBG feel was a mode called Dawn Raid. This mode had players hopping out of a plane and landing into a small area. Once on the ground, players have to search for weapons and supplies. Unlike PUBG or Fornite, players in Dawn Raid respawn and parachute back into the match.
While I enjoyed Dawn Raid, it never felt as intense as a proper battle royale mode. Death wasn’t the end, just a temporary annoyance and 12 players split into two teams isn’t as exciting as 100 players fighting to be the last one standing.
After Dawn Raid, Rockstar released a more ambitious mode that felt closer to a battle royale game. This mode, Motor Wars, included: Shrinking safe zones, parachuting into the map at the start, more players and no respawning.
Motor Wars was also focused almost entirely on vehicle combat, which was a smart choice. GTA Online’s on-foot PVP combat isn’t great, so having players use weaponized vehicles was a way to avoid the lackluster player combat. Motor Wars is the best Rockstar created battle royale mode because it took advantage of GTA Online’s vehicles and driving gameplay and built the mode around that strength.
Red Dead Online’s Battle Royale Modes
RDO’s first battle royale mode was included at launch. Make It Count focuses on throwing knives and arrows. This keeps the action close and deadly. Like PUBG, Make It Count features a shrinking play area and no respawns. Make It Count also tries to keep players from camping with a mechanic that reveals where a camping player is located if they stay in one spot for too long.
Make It Count ends up feeling as intense as other battle royale games, while also feeling different from PUBG and other games. The lack of guns and a focus on keeping players moving means matches are short and you frequently encounter other players. Unfortunately, the player limit is capped at 32. This could be a tech limitation of Red Dead Online on consoles. Maybe a PC port could raise this number?
Rockstar’s latest attempt at a battle royale mode, Gun Rush, is a step backwards from Make It Count. The first new mode added to Red Dead Online, Gun Rush is very similar to Make It Count. But as the name implies, the mode is filled with guns and this is a major problem.
Red Dead Online’s combat is all about auto-lock aiming. Against AI enemies this works great, but in a PVP battle royale mode it feels annoying. The moment another player spots me I’m expecting to get shot. Gun Rush becomes a mode all about hiding. There is still skill involved, but auto-targeting feels like a bad fit for battle royale.
Maybe if Red Dead Online adds free aim lobbies or softens auto-aiming, Gun Rush could be more enjoyable. But even without auto-aiming, moving around in Red Dead Online is slow and heavy. It is very easy to get stuck against walls or on doors while playing. PVP combat in Red Dead Online just isn’t well suited for this type of mode.
Now, if Rockstar added a battle royale mode in Red Dead Online that had players only riding horses and wagons, that might be a better way to bring the excitement of battle royale into RDO. And it would feel more unique and take advantage of Red Dead’s Wild West setting.
Until then, I’ll probably avoid battle royale modes in Red Dead Online.