Birding Like It’s 1899
January 3, 2019 12:32 PM   Subscribe

The first time I see ravens, I flush them out of an alpine meadow carpeted with wildflowers. I pause to watch the flock fly off towards the distant, snow-capped peaks, trailed by their echoing croaks, when a man riding by on horseback bumps into me. Irritated, I shoot the man dead, and take his hat.
- The Audubon Society reviews Red Dead Redemption 2.
posted by jenkinsEar (32 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
It is amazing that the game designers employed people who had the knowledge and were able to integrate it into the game.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:42 PM on January 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

Note to self: see if your system can run RDR2 and then put it on your Steam wishlist.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:43 PM on January 3, 2019

What The_Vegetables said, exactly. Very cool. Sharing with my birder friends.
posted by martin q blank at 12:47 PM on January 3, 2019

Note to self: see if your system can run RDR2 and then put it on your Steam wishlist.

That's going to be tricky since there's no announced PC version.

Now, if you want to play a game that captures the beauty of an outdoor environment on the PC, let me tell you about Forza Horizon 4.
posted by selfnoise at 12:48 PM on January 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

If you sent this review back in time 20 years no one would believe it.
posted by GuyZero at 12:51 PM on January 3, 2019 [19 favorites]

Oh, this is lovely! Thanks for sharing.

I've been watching my partner play this lately (something I enjoy) and this gives me more to look out for. Sometimes meaningful reminders pop up in the strangest of places, you never know.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:00 PM on January 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I can't find solid numbers for RDR2 but the same developer made GTA V on a reported budget of $265 million and that game has since made over $6 billion in sales revenue. I assume the budget for RDR2 was on a similar if not greater scale, so while I don't think that should diminish the impressive artistic and technological achievement that is the game, it's not that crazy that they had good sound and environment design. Movies do similar things on smaller budgets.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:14 PM on January 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

My dad was an ornithologist and I am a life-long birder. In 1984, when I was a wee lad, we were at the University of Kansas for an Ornithological conference. The Museum there was where my dad worked in the 1950s, so we were able to go behind the ropes and walk the non-public area. I have a burned-in memory of randomly pulling a drawer and being greeted by the sight of about 100 Carolina Parakeets, all put up as museum specimens in the late 1800s.

It's cool the RDR2 team's attention to detail included even that now extinct bird, the only temperate parakeet native to North America. The species didn't have long on the Earth after 1899.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:19 PM on January 3, 2019 [23 favorites]

Movies do similar things on smaller budgets

But not smaller by an order of magnitude, which is the relative complexity of the problem, even before you factor in interactivity and simulation.
posted by howfar at 1:52 PM on January 3, 2019

Haven't played but remember reading about how RDR2's commitment to environmental fidelity extends to horse testicles reacting to temperature.
posted by foxfirefey at 1:55 PM on January 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

The type of wanton destruction encouraged in Red Dead Redemption 2 is what led the National Audubon Society to lobby for, and Congress to pass, the real Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, and other environmental legislation in the following decades. But in the game, the player must kill to progress.

Thankfully, the game does not shy away from the realities of these interactions. An imprecise shot will wound an animal, leaving it to yelp and squirm before you finish your job. In order to receive meat or parts you need to skin or pluck the animal, a process that though superficial is clearly and gruesomely animated. Nor does RDR2 spare you the experience of the human impact on the land.

In fact, the disastrous intersection between humans and the environment is the game’s major theme.

posted by sio42 at 2:05 PM on January 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

My partner actually plays RDR2. I just ride around on my horse going "oooh look, a frog! a turtle! what was that small fluffy thing I must chase it and find out!"
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:17 PM on January 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

Movies do similar things on smaller budgets

I disagree. Movies are basically required to stick to their primary plot points, so I'd argue there are very few movies that do details well. Books. I'm sure there are books that come close.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:29 PM on January 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

i'm deeply stressed about how much i want to get this game
posted by poffin boffin at 2:33 PM on January 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

Of everything I’ve read, positive and negative, this is the article that made me consider actually buying this thing.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 2:55 PM on January 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

I came upon a group of whooping cranes in-game the other day and killed them all. Me 2019 felt incredibly guilty. Me the RDR2 Player was happy to pick up six plumes and a little meat for the starving outlaw camp.

I feel less 2019 guilty about gunning down wolf packs, but that's mainly because they're coming right at me most of the time.
posted by dw at 3:55 PM on January 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

There's nice little things to the rest of the animals. Possums play possum. Muskrats will bite you for no reason. Goats are jerks. Most of all this game made me a horse girl. LUV 2 SETL.
posted by fleacircus at 3:59 PM on January 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I bought this at launch, and I'm still playing it at 30 minute chunks; I think I'm near the end as I can spot the world getting closer to setting up the original 2010 Red Dead Redemption.

I've still many 'collection' quests to do, and probably a half dozen story missions, but it really is just at its most amazing riding around, soaking up the world design, and occasionally spotting things you want to do - at the moment, one of my challenges means I'm after some particular plants, and I've gotten pretty good at spotting them in the areas they grow. So I'm cantering along the Dakota river, and spot some Burdock (dark green leaves, little purple flowers) growing by a little copse near the river. Just what I need. Walking back to my horse, I scare a few geese from cover at the river's edge, honking and flapping away furiously.

It's late afternoon, and I haven't been hunting for a while - I left my rifle on my horse so forlornly watch them flapping off into the distance. I can't see any game animals nearby, but I've got my trusty fishing rod and river lure and I can see some splashing in the water, so I bet there's something tasty in there. Five minutes later, I have several chain pickerel in my pouch. Just need to set up camp somewhere nearby and I can grill these on the open fire, maybe with a little oregano, I can even brew up some 'miracle tonic' with the contents of my herb pouch. Hang on, why's my horse running?

Oh shit... I've been jumped by a huge brown bear, he's wrestling me, trying to struggle free, I only have a second, he's clawing at me, ow that hurts real bad, quick, scramble flat, he's right over me but I've got my revolver out, empty it into his face in real panic.

Soaked in blood, gouges all down my back. Soaking in the river rinses out the worst. Still, that's dinner sorted, and bear skins fetch a decent price. Just need to chase down my sodding horse...

That was the first time I'd had a bear sneak up on me, and it legitimately scared the life out of me. Technically playing it on my PS4 pro, but using Remote Play to actually do it on my PC at 1080p60 as the kids usually have the TV.

The first one never came to PC, and I think it was one of the best games of its generation. RDR2 is equally compelling in a story about a gang of thieves always trying to get that one last score so they can escape and retire, yet the noose getting ever closer. The decline of the West, the ending of a way of life as civilization encroaches and slowly destroys the natural world as it does so. But yeah, the work they put in the environment is just unbelievable, from sometimes spotting your horse having a sneaky crap on the boardwalk, to the just staggering range of fauna and flora - I've id'd* only about 1/3 of them after many, many hours - to the shanties slowly rotting in the marshes, wading knee deep in mud trying to dodge the alligators, the vaudeville travelling acts with a horse painted with stripes being passed off as a zebra, to the antebellum southern plantations, to kneeling in the snow with a bow, slowly freezing, waiting for that eagle to finish spiraling down to eat that fresh kill I left for him...

I'm absolutely a city boy, but some of the vistas just make me want to settle in one of the abandoned houses and raise some pigs and chickens, maybe a bit extra in the pot from hunting.

It is the definition of a system seller. I'm the wrong side of 40, and GTA 5 was a bit take-it-or-leave it at times for me, but this game is just outstanding. I'm going to be genuinely sad when I reach the end.

* and eaten - sometimes you get rabbit or venison, sometimes it's racoon when you're hungry and you've just escaped some angry lawmen
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 4:04 PM on January 3, 2019 [23 favorites]

That is a damn fine pullquote.
posted by mwhybark at 5:15 PM on January 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

The main complaint I've heard in relation to RDR2 is that all the incredible detail of the open world sits almost entirely divorced from the main story of the game, to the point where they're almost in opposition to each other. You don't advance the story by doing any of the optional parts of the game. You can fail a mission for doing something as simple as stopping for a moment, or straying more than a few yards from the path. The huge intricate sandbox they built for the game is an incredible achievement, and the story they tell in that sandbox is fantastic, but they make it very difficult to enjoy both of those things at the same time.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:11 PM on January 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

That the game could elicit such deep feelings of sadness and regret is to its credit, but I was often left feeling hopeless and wanting to get outside to enjoy real nature while I still could.

I'm just saving this quote for the next time someone tells me that video games aren't art.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:10 PM on January 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

This background is similar to the detective game L. A. Noire, which sets its ho-hum police procedural story in a fantastically-detailed recreation of Los Angeles in 1947. Most of that detail is unimportant to the plot, but it is fun to wander around in. I read an article where a gamer played through the game with his grandfather, who had grown up in LA in the 1940s, and the old man loved it. It's great that computer games have opened a space where people can get paid for doing ridiculous levels of historical re-creation.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:10 PM on January 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

My favorite parts of RDR2 were the quiet moments, fishing and hunting and birding. Birding in particular requires you go slow and deliberate, quiet and calm. Most of the game you're just galloping around at full speed and the only time you see birds is when you scare them into the sky far, far away. But if you walk slowly, or stay in one place for a time, the birds come.

Birding has a purpose in-game; some of the crafting recipe require various kinds of bird feathers. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize I was going to find the water birds down near the water. I had a bit of good luck with the vulture feathers, though. I'd massacred a whole bunch of no good outlaws and there were their corpses lying on the ground and, soon thereafter, some vultures.

It'd be nice if they had an in-game birding collectible quest, where you had to use your binoculars to spot a list of rare birds. I think that might be just a little anachronistic though? The phrase birdwatching was coined in 1901, although presumably the activity is older.
posted by Nelson at 1:12 AM on January 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

"Red Dead Redemption 2" is a long, awkward title to say. We started referring to this game as "horsin' around," or "critter parade" because there are so many animals in it that if you just ride down the road you will sometimes end up with one of those in front of you.
posted by heatvision at 3:45 AM on January 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

I was calling it DRRDRR2 for awhile.
posted by fleacircus at 6:48 AM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Around the house we call it "Grand Theft Horse 2."
posted by dw at 9:08 AM on January 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’ve got the game coming from GameFly soon.

One thing I’m curious about in RDR2’s representation of wildlife is how it compares to the first game, where it felt like you couldn’t go 5 minutes in the wilderness without a cougar or some other predator attacking. I understand video game necessities, but if you’re going to strive for such realism, why not go farther along the path?

Anyhow, I’ve tried to avoid most spoilers, and I’m looking forward to experiencing the RDR2 world — both the wilderness and otherwise.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:51 AM on January 4, 2019

I didn't play the first one, but predators in RDR2 aren't a major menace. Bears, wolves, and cougars pop up occasionally but not unreasonably often.

I hate fending off wolf packs though. As a lifelong PC gamer who just bought his first console since the NES a month ago, I find it so frustrating to try to shoot a wolf in front of me, then use the thumb sticks to slooooowly turn around so I can shoot one behind me.
posted by good in a vacuum at 11:13 AM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

But despite my personal thumbstick learning curve, I am absolutely loving RDR2 for the believable environments it presents, both natural and human. I am continually amazed at how natural and spontaneous the conversations among gang members in camp feel, and when I hear a conversation happening I mosey over so I can listen and participate.
posted by good in a vacuum at 11:15 AM on January 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Just got RDR1 for Christmas, and I'm hoping to find time to play it sometime later this year. I'll be excited to pickup RDR2 "Game of the Year Edition" from the bargain bin in a couple of years.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:45 PM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

So, uh, tangentially related, I want to make a show called...


And David Hasselhoff will play a birder, and he goes into the forest and is surrounded by birds (chicks, if you will) wearing bikinis.

Thank you, I'll see myself out.
posted by symbioid at 4:00 PM on January 4, 2019

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