After months and months working entirely on one single custom covers collection I’m finally done with Red Dead Redemption 2. Like every so often I didn’t plan to do an undertaking this big, but once things kick into gear there’s hardly anyone who’s going to stop me (obviously). But if there’s one single game in the last couple years that deserves this kind of dedication, it’s certainly RDR2.
Rockstar Games have had hundreds of people developing this epic tale for seven years and you can see, hear and feel the results of these efforts in every single aspect of the game. It’s simply unprecedented in scope and attention to detail, with a virtual world that lives and breathes and features hundreds of events, encounters and activities. It’s basically a cowboy simulator if you like. And the more I think about it, the more I come to terms with the thought of it being the best game I have ever played.
So… after five months and more than two hundred and fifty hours of actual playing time, when the end credits of the single player campaign were finally rolling, I became determined to come up with a custom covers collection that would hopefully do justice to this unbelievable megalomania of a game…
As always, let’s begin with the more down-to-earth stuff. Artworks that could comfortably qualify as official covers. I’ve followed Rockstar’s established design guidelines to keep recognizability and genuineness as high as possible. The main part of the work was more about searching and finding high resolution source material. A discipline in which I am not always spoiled by success.
The limited edition cover (#5), for example, made it necessary to have my PS4 steelbook scanned and then laboriously restore it and turn it into a square version by hand. Not exactly the funnest part of this business, but a necessary one if you’re as unhealthy urged as I am to always provide the highest quality version of a cover. And with a final image dimension of 3150 pixels, I am also relatively satisfied with the end-result and think that it meets today’s standards in terms of image sizes. Hint: This cover is print-ready.
Take one of the covers above if you strive for authenticity.
This neat little set was serving quite the opposite end of my feel-good spectrum and a very specific one that is!
First of all, I just love to come up with made-up soundtrack editions. Second, I really enjoy visualizing these freely imagined soundtrack releases as a complete package, preferably in the form of a product mockup. And thirdly, my favorite discipline, it simply fills me with this warm and cozy feeling of satisfaction when I am able to use existing (preferably high-resolution) source material and turn it into something novel that is not yet available in this form.
What I actually want to say with all this waffle: I came up with a (unfortunately) non-existent vinyl box-set (#6) that spreads Woody Jackson’s score in a lavishly excessive fashion over a total of eight 180 gram black vinyl discs – one for each in-game chapter (#7 to #14).
To do so, I put in a lot of effort, with choosing suitable in-game screenshots being the smallest. It was much more complicated to extract the handwritten chapter names from within the game. I actually had to install an extra software which – again due to my pathological obsession to use the high resolution material – was capable of downloading 4K YouTube videos in full resolution and without web compression and then find a suitable Let’s Play channel that also contains the chapter-dividing cut-scenes in its videos. It took me days literally to download these videos which ended up using almost 90 GBs of space on my local hard-disk.
The final result however was definitely worth all the troubles and it shows you and me a hopefully non-spoilery set of custom covers that gives us a rough idea of what would be possible if Rockstar just put a little more effort (and money) into their soundtrack releases.
Use these covers when you’re already done with the single player campaign and like to reminisce about it.
And if the hardcore gamers among you now wonder what this set would have looked like with the original in-game chapter title cards, don’t ask no more! Of course, I didn’t miss this opportunity to add two additional hours to an already overly long production length for this unusual set.
Red Dead Redemption 2 features a vast and diverse cast of main characters, twenty-three to be exact. And while not every single one of them plays a major role within the narrative of the story, all of them get their fair share of moments. And it baffles me to notice how I’m absolutely capable of characterizing each and every one of them. Imagine Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, but you’re able to distinguish more than three people from one another. Unimaginable? No! Incredible? Yes. Together with amazing vocal and motion capture performances from the cast, Rockstar really brought these characters to life!
Also, their art department excelled in terms of creating individual artworks for each character. Me, when it comes to work with this material? Not so much…
I have to mention right away that this set was much more work than what it looks like. Which pretty much represents the opposite of a healthy work-life balance. But from the beginning…
I wanted to have at least a custom cover variation that would allow you to put your personal favorite character in the spotlight. Because that’s what you do as a designer when you’re faced with the chore of choosing from twenty-three different characters. You just don’t wrack your pretty brain, but delegate that responsibility to the client, you! This of course means to come up with twenty-three different custom covers and to make things worse, they needed to look good. So I decided to go for a digipack sleeve with a semi-transparent plastic wrapper. Just like I did for The Last Jedi in 2017.
Rockstar offered this beautiful set of desktop wallpapers, of which the textless background drawings were used as backdrops on their website at that time. So I utilized Google Chrome’s developer tools to download them all in high quality. With the pure backgrounds at hand, all I needed to freely compose my digipack cover was transparent PNGs of each character. So I decided to cut them out of the official wallpapers by hand. Twenty-three images all in all, each one a whooping height of 1800 pixels – and I worked on pixel level for these cutouts. You can possibly imagine the amount of time it took.
After a couple days, when I was almost done, I decided to google for RDR2 PNGs – and I better not have. I came to realize that perfectly transparent PNGs of every single character were waiting for me on the official website the entire time. Do’h! There’s a saying in Austria that goes “those who can’t use their head must use their back”. Lesson learned, I guess.
Well, at least I didn’t have to cut out Micah…
You are welcome to use one of these covers if, like me, you are in love with a particular character (as long as it isn’t Mary Linton).
By the way the official announcement still refers to an additional track written, produced and performed by David Ferguson – which is this fan-favourite of course. Funnily enough it eventually never made it onto the album, much to the dismay of the many fans. If you consider yourself part of that unlucky group, I may have something for you…
Bonkers! Ridiculous! Insane! These were the thoughts going through my mind when I first read about the complete game rip a crazy fella named roncoallstar tasked himself with. I discovered Ron’s mad endeavor through the Final Fantasy Shrine Forums and felt quite compelled to participate in this totally colossal project of his. Partly, because I endorse fan labors like these, but mainly because I really wanted to see him finish this almost unmanageable amount of work – to get my hungry hands on all that sexy background music I was constantly exposed to while playing the game.
I give it to you in a nutshell: 1024 tracks, 63 hours of music! 12GB in FLAC format and 8GB for the MP3s. And this isn’t even a complete rip due to the nature of Ron’s work method, which was basically playing the game and recording the looping background music in real time using an optical cable directly connected to the PS4. Just imagine it! I mean dude, I have played the game for two hundred and fifty hours and I didn’t halt every other corner to listen to the background music for eight entire fucking minutes (the length of a single loop) – also all the while holding the shoulder button on your gamepad to open up the radial onscreen menu which slows down time and mutes sound effects. Wrap your head around that fact for a moment. Jesus fucking Christ!
You have to have a masochistic vein to even think about tackling a project like that. My part compared to all of this? Laughable really! To make 259 custom covers actually seems like a trifle, yes an absolute baby task compared to the gargantuan, for a single person almost unbearable, workload that Ron took on. Yet here we are.
After offering Ron my services, the first thing I did was edging out a Photoshop design which would serve as a template for this entire collection.
My goal was to rely entirely on in-game screenshots, so it was a given to have a sort of a landscape frame front and center, but not just a basic rectangle. No, like so very often it had to bear a certain artistic aspiration. In that case I went with eight different, custom-made brushstroke clipping masks, which could be filled with whatever screenshot was considered appropriate for the respective track. And as if that wasn’t enough variation already, I also prepared five black banners that could be placed on the individual covers at the end. With these three interchangeable design elements (screenshots, brushstrokes and banners) at hand, I was able to build more than 200 different but also consistent custom covers.
Ron had divided his release into different sections and I needed a representative artwork for each one of them (#46 to #49). Specifically speaking:
- Story music, which underscores the solo campaign of the game
- Strangers music, which is played during open world random encounters
- Territories music, which you can listen to while you free roam lost in the endless wilderness
- And Online tracks, which in the end were split among the other three sections instead of giving them their own
Anyway, I didn’t want to use screenshots for these main covers, so I had to chop and reassemble official Rockstar key arts to make them fit the landscape template. The same is of course true for a huge number of screenshots, but it wasn’t as obvious (and challenging) as in those hand-painted illustrations.
Check out some of my highlights in the slideshows below, or download the whole pack in one go – your choice.
I would like to thank Ron for his generous patience with me when I once again left one of his many e-mails unanswered in my inbox. This collaboration went on for several months and at times was really exhausting. But as so often, I was probably my own biggest critic. And to know that I was helping a crazy and passionate fan like me to realize his pet project often gave me the necessary motivation to pull this thing through.
You’ll probably end up using all of these covers, should you decide to seek and find the perhaps longest running and, in the event that you ever get into the awkward position of having to pick three albums for the deserted island, definitely most valuable soundtrack album out there. It’s certainly worth looking for!
If you are short of time however, the following is perhaps more to your liking…
The Uncut Score
After months and months of radio silence Rockstar Games finally announced the first out of two Red Dead Redemption 2 soundtrack albums back in June. The official song compilation contained more or less all major vocal tracks of the game, except the House Build theme as mentioned above. But for a brief moment fans all around were pleased. The real meat however was up in line one month later, when the original score was scheduled for a late summer release, at last!
But as high as expectations had risen in advance, the disappointment after the final tracklist reveal was even bigger. What the hell was Rockstar thinking, when they decided to cut down this incredibly rich and versatile music to a meager 22 tracks? That’s one single disc or 73 minutes of original score for a game that easily provides 73 hours of actual playing time, if not double or triple!
Many fans turned to an unofficial YouTube playlist, others despaired quietly and secretly, one particular fan, however, set about turning a 1024 track strong game rip into a digestible and proper listening experience.
A fella named IzzyBlues contacted me via Discord and asked if I was game for providing multiple cover artworks for a soundtrack collection that’d feature moderate length tracks, mixed from the numerous stems, loops and tracks which Ron had ripped out of the game in laborious work. He wanted his albums to be in line with Rockstar’s official album art, which I thought was a neat idea. A couple of fan bootlegs, which don’t stand in competition with the official albums, but rather complement them with missing music to form a perfectly balanced collection of songs, themes and underscore. I was sold!
A design template was quickly made and with Izzy’s detailed specifications and Rockstar’s character illustrations I was able to create five individual artworks (#52 to #56) and a representative compilation cover (#57) in no time at all.
You didn’t really think I wasn’t gonna do any tribute covers this time, did you? Really… who am I if I didn’t take this excellent opportunity to Red Deadify the most popular and highly rated western films of the last half century? Finding the right fonts, choosing the best matching images and mashing them up into faithful replicas of original artworks has grown to become a distinct sport here at HQCovers and like most athletes I have become a little addicted to it. This unique feeling of having achieved something, of having overcome the challenges. And there were plenty, you can believe me.
From the very get-go this little sub-project has been on the table all along, though I postponed it until I was done with all the regular custom covers above. Almost like some kind of reward I saved to finish last. Because that’s how it feels to me. I tremendously enjoy to sort of reverse engineer all those totally different art styles and graphic designs. And with every week that went by, I discovered more Western scores that I wanted to recreate. Until after a while – one or two months later – I finally managed to bring over pretty much everything I had intended to into my little tribute portfolio.
And now I’m sitting here, cold turkey, with nothing left to recreate. This is what it must feel like to bring a huge project to an end and finally let it out into the world. A mixture of gratification and abandonment. This is what Rockstar must feel like after seven years of development. A bitter sweet ending to a traversal journey.