I’ll always be grateful a friend of mine turned me on to Red Vs Blue way back when, because it was a concept that was totally up my alley.
Improvising funny dialogue over a video game seemed like a great concept to me, as many of us add our own comedy commentary to games anyways, but the guys behind Rooster Teeth Productions, who gave us Red Vs. Blue, took it to a whole other level.
At first the Rooster Teeth gang had a whole site going, drunkengamers.com, which Geoff Ramsey, one of the show’s producers, says was their attempt at getting game companies to send them free games to review.
“And our genius plan was to review them drunk. We thought it would appeal to the alcoholics in our audiences, which we felt were burgeoning up.” The game companies weren’t laughing, and they “incurred the wrath” of several. “Believe it or not, companies like Nintendo don’t necessarily want to be associated with a drunk Donkey Kong,” Ramsey continues.
Yet a seed was planted within drunkgamers that would soon flourish. Burnie Burns, the chief writer and director of Red Vs. Blue, wrote a lot of game reviews for drunkgamers and he was their XBox guy. At the time, Halo was the only game available in XBox, so Burnie would record games, and put them online to teach people new tricks and strategies (it was actually the only serious section of drunkgamers). Then Burnie realized he could add voice-overs to the videos to make them funny. “It slowly just kind of built into ‘Hey we can build some kind of linear serial based story out of a video game,'” says Ramsey.
Red Vs Blue premiered appropriately enough on April Fool’s Day 2003. At first, everyone thought Red VsBlue would last a mere five or six episodes, but before anyone knew it, things took off in a hurry, and it was hard to keep up with the demand.
“On drunkgamers, we were getting about 3,000 hits a day,” says co-producer Gustavo Sorola. “That was the height of success to us at the time,” adds Ramsey. “When we started Red Vs. Blue, we would have been happy if we got that many hits,” Sorola continues. “Within the first two or three days, we already exceed it, and it’s grown beyond anything I could imagine.” “After the second episode we started getting 25-30,000 unique hits a day, which kinda blew us away,” Ramsey says. “Then we realized there was somethin’ goin’ on here, maybe we should continue this.”
Where at first the game companies didn’t find drunkgamers terribly amusing, now with Red Vs. Blue they finally got the joke. It wasn’t long before they heard from Bungie, the developers of Halo, which is owned by Microsoft. “When we started we figured if they ever contacted us they were just going to shut us down and that would be the end of the project,” says Sorola. “But after we did I think our second episode we got an e-mail from them, and they’ve been really supportive. They have every legal right in the world to shut us down, but they’ve been great to us.”
Sorola also adds, “When we made our first video, we thought we were one of the first people ever to do it. Then later we realized people were doing it a long time before us. Years ago people made a lot of Quake videos with dialog, putting them on the internet. As of late, the hardware’s really taken off, and it’s possible to do a lot more with video games. You can make videos on a home PC, so I think it’s becoming a lot more mainstream at this point.”
As for whether Red Vs Blue could ever become a feature length film, Ramsey says, “I don’t know if our humor could stretch out over a two hour period. Our episodes are fairly succinct, and I don’t know how well it would translate to long form entertainment. That’s not to say we’d never do anything like that, but we operate two series right now, Red Vs. Blue and The Strangerhood. There’s five of us in the office, and it takes all five of us, 40-70 hours a week, just to put out two five minute episodes a week. So I don’t know if we can handle anything else really!”