Final Blog Post: Roosterteeth, Red vs Blue, and Machinima

Introduction

Video media has undergone radical change in the course of twenty years from being a phenomenon only mass distributed on television to something that can be efficiently dispensed to home computers via the internet.  With the invention of the internet, any individual with a personal computer, camera, and appropriate video editing software can create videos and upload them to the internet whereas, an entire studio would be needed to make a television show.  With the ease of access to the process of video creation, new genres of videos began to emerge that were not previously seen on television.  One of these genres has been dubbed as “Machinima.”  Machinima is a style of videos where the medium used is a video game.  The video creators will use in-game models of characters and landscapes to create a story setting and then overlay voices and sounds to give the impression of dialogue and interaction.  One of the most renowned pioneers of this genre is a company known as Roosterteeth, the creators of the acclaimed internet series Red vs Blue and several other video projects.  The aim of this article is to give a brief history of Roosterteeth’s development and that of Red vs Blue, some of Roosterteeth’s other projects, and Roosterteeth’s influence on the Machinima genre, the Halo franchise, and internet culture.

A Brief History of Red vs Blue

    When asked in an interview about the idea that sparked the creation of Red vs Blue, Gus Sorola, one of the founding members of Roosterteeth, stated, “Booze and videogames. The original idea for RvB came back in the summer of 2002 when we were working on a website we used to run called Drunk Gamers.” (‘@anime! Ionfuse’)  Another one of the founding members, Burnie Burns, ran the website and uploaded humorous reviews of gaming videos; these reviews were often made while the reviewers were intoxicated.  Burns eventually got the idea to to write a comedic script for the Xbox game Halo: Combat Evolved, and to capture video from the perspective of one of the Spartan warriors in the game.  In order to make it appear more cinematic, Burns had the idea to cover some of the HUD with black bars as can be seen in figure 1 to hide the health bar information, the pistol, and so forth.  In January of 2003, the would be cast of Red vs Blue quit work on the Drunk Gamers website, as they received an email from Computer Gaming World Magazine “asking for permission to put another video [they] had worked on (an Apple Switch commercial parody) on the CD that they distributed with their magazine” (‘@anime! Ionfuse’).   When the would-be Roosterteeth members found out that the CD would be distributed to over five-hundred-thousand people, they decided to re-encode ending of the Apple Switch video to direct people to a new website with their Red vs Blue videos.  Gus stated, “The [Red vs Blue] site launched in April 2003 and much to our surprise it seemed like people liked it” (‘@anime! Ionfuse’).


The Red vs Blue series is set on the Halo: Combat Evolved map named “Blood Gulch.”  Most of the characters in the series are Spartan soldiers who are differentiated by the color of their armor.  As introduced in the first episode, there are two opposing teams located at two separate bases in the “boxed canyon” of Blood Gulch (See Episode 1 video). It is implied that there is no rational reason as to why the reds and blues are fighting, which gives rise to the comedic dialogue between the bored and dysfunctional Spartan soldiers assigned to each team.  The plot of the series begins in a following episode when the rookie on the red team accidentally steals the the blue flag from the blue base, which leads to a chain reaction of comedic events between both teams.

Red vs Blue Episode 1

A major concern that existed among the makers of Red vs Blue was the copyright being owned by Microsoft.  It was within Microsoft’s legal rights to claim Halo as their intellectual property and ask that the makers of Red vs Blue cease and desist.  So Roosterteeth attempted to “fly under the radar” and hope Microsoft wouldn’t contact them (‘@anime! Ionfuse’).  This plan did not last past Episode 2, as Microsoft contacted the Roosterteeth members shortly after its release.  However, Microsoft did not ask them to stop making their videos.  To the contrary, Microsoft demonstrated their support by informing how to properly cite them as the owners of the Halo series and then asked the Roosterteeth members to make videos for them (‘@anime! Ionfuse’).  This was a critical moment in the formation of the Machinima genre, as it has set a precedent for a vast majority of other video companies not to interfere with the making of Machinima unless there is an extensive use of copyrighted material without permission or citation.

As mentioned before, the red and blue teams consist of Spartans close in hue to the said color of their team.  The Red Team in season 1 consists of following characters:

The Red Team

  • Sarge (Red Armor): the long winded and ranking officer of the Red team, who has a distinctive Southern accent.  Voiced by Matt Hulum
  • Grif  (Orange Armor): soldier on the red team who is lazy, often dodges his assigned tasks, and  eats more than his fair share of the food.  He is almost always the target of Sarge’s ridiculing.  Voiced by Geoff Ramsey.
  • Simmons (Maroon Armor): The nerdy soldier on the red team, who frequently flatters Sarge.  Simmons likes to present himself as overachieving and intelligent.  Voiced by Gus Sorola.
  • Donut (Red Armor, then Pink Armor): The rookie on red team, who is given pink armor midway through season one.  Constantly insists the pink armor is “lightish red.” He has a tendency to annoy the other members of the Red team with his conversation topics.  Voiced by Dan Godwin.
  • Lopez (Brown Armor): The robot built by Sarge.  His voice chip malfunctions midway through season one such that he can only speak Spanish, which most of the characters do not understand.  Voiced by Burnie Burns.

The blue team in season 1 consists of the following characters:

Blue_Team_Season_02

  • Church (Light Blue Armor): The leader of the blue team.  He is often annoyed by the antics of his other two Spartan teammates; he is not afraid to tell them that he dislikes them.  Voiced by Burnie Burns.
  • Tucker (Turquoise Armor): Soldier on the blue team who consistently makes sexual references or jokes in conversation (more so in later seasons).  He thinks of himself as attractive to women.  Voiced by Jason Saldaña.
  • Caboose (Dark Blue Armor): Rookie on the blue team who does not seem to be in touch with reality and has a child-like personality.  He eventually develops an obsession with becoming Church’s best friend.  Voiced by Joel Heyman.
  • Sheila (Tank):  The A.I. in control of the blue team’s Tank.  Her personality is mostly kind and calm; this is ironic as most of the other characters are nervous around her. Voiced by Yomary Cruz.
  • Tex (Black Armor):  An aggressive and deadly freelancer hired by the blue team as reinforcements.  Voiced by Burnie Burns and Kathleen Zuelch.

(Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles)

During season 1 of Red vs Blue and in all the following seasons, Roosterteeth began releasing satirical public safety announcements.  Each announcement involved some of the Red vs Blue cast addressing the audience directly about some cause for concern in real life.  The first of these PSAs was about weapons of mass destruction, where the characters Grif and Simmons attempted to talk to the audience about the dangers of nuclear weaponry while the character Church kept trying to shoot them with a sniper rifle (see following video).  The topics ranged from how to keep ahead of the out-dating of technology,  moviegoer stereotypes, Mother’s day advice, Thanksgiving day tips, and so on (Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles).

The First Public Safety Announcement on W.M.D.s

In 2004, Halo 2 was released onto Xbox live.  During this time, Red vs Blue was on its third season.  This created a quandary for the writers of the season, since the Spartan soldier armor in Halo 2 was different and newer than the armor in Halo 1.  In order to transition to Halo 2 with a plausible reason in the plot, episode 5 in season 3 had the characters time travel into the future (Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles).  The characters eventually transferred to the map “Coagulation” in Halo 2,  which was very similar to “Blood Gulch” from Halo 1.  The Red vs Blue series remained in Halo 2 through season five until episode 100 (‘Episode 100’).

Halo-2-coagulation

The Halo 2 Map “Coagulation”

The Red vs Blue seasons 6 and 7 took a different plot turn following the release of Halo 3 in 2007.  Season 6 was dubbed “Red vs Blue: Reconstruction”, as the cast of characters was split up among several different maps in Halo 3 and the plot involved re-uniting the different members of the cast together. During this season, the plot began to take a less comedic approach and a more serious one as a clearer, more sinister antagonist was revealed (Red vs. Blue: Season 6).  Season 7 was named “Red vs Blue: Recreation” as it followed the continuing story of how the cast was reunited (Red vs. Blue: Season 7).

In 2010, “Red vs Blue: Revelation,” also called season 8, was released.  This season was filmed in Halo 3, but was the first season to begin using pre-rendered character animation with the Halo engine.  This enabled the models of the characters to do things that were normally not possible within the normal Halo 3 multiplayer.  Some of these effects include Spartans performing martial arts combat, characters being punched into map walls, and so on (Red vs. Blue: Season 8).

An example of the CGI used in Red vs Blue season 8

Red vs Blue seasons 9 and 10 introduced a dual-plot with a plot that followed the character Church while the other followed that of an organization named Project Freelancer, which was revealed to have been the organization responsible for nearly all of the conflicts that occurred in the previous seasons.  The plot following Church was filmed mostly in the Halo: Reach Engine, while the plot following Project Freelancer was completely CGI animated (Red vs Blue: Seasons 9 & 10).

Season 10 Trailer

Other Projects by Roosterteeth

    Roosterteeth did not restrict themselves to making movies only in the Halo series.  In 2005, Roosterteeth released a short series called “P.A.N.I.C.S.”, which stands for “People acting normal in crazy-ass situations.”  The series was filmed in the game F.E.A.R. and was about a squad of phony ghost-busters who have never encountered a real ghost before until the events of the first episode.  The series lasted for four episodes (‘Panics’).

P.A.N.I.C.S. Episode 1

Roosterteeth also made a Machinima in The Sims 2 in 2004.  They called this series “The Strangerhood,” which was about a group of random strangers waking up together in a neighborhood with no idea how they got there.  The series lasted for a season with several special episodes until the series ended in 2006 (‘Strangerhood’).

The Strangerhood Episode 1

In 2009, Roosterteeth began to create short films made in actual life called “Roosterteeth Shorts.”  Most of the topics of each short are often random and bizarre events that occur around the office at Roosterteeth involving the various members of the company.  The topics range from Geoff Ramsey failing a drug test, to cryogenically freezing another employee, a computer virus on Joel Heyman’s computer taking over the world network, and so forth (‘RT Shorts’).  The series has is currently on its third season, which continues until the present day.

RT shorts Episode 1

The series, “Immersion,” was released in 2010 by Roosterteeth.  “Immersion” was a series where members of Roosterteeth, including Burnie Burns, Geoff Ramsey, and Gus Sorola, would test certain video game scenarios in actual life.  Some of the topics of each episode included driving a real car in third-person, re-enacting stages from Super Mario Bros, testing how well clothing stays on while re-enacting Soul Calibur style fights, and so on.  The series was styled similar to that of the “Mythbusters.”  “Immersion” lasted for seven episodes as the series ended in 2011 (‘Immersion’).

Immersion Episode 1

The Influence of Red vs Blue on other Machinima and Halo

Red vs Blue as the pioneer of the Machinima genre has had influences on other Machinimas.  An example of this is a series called Arby N Chief by Jon Graham.  The series is a hybrid between Machinima and real-life filming as the series follows two figurine characters from Halo 2: the Arbiter and Masterchief respectively.  In a Toy Story-esque style, the figurines come to life when their owner, Jon, leaves his house; the figurines proceed to play Jon’s video games together (‘Arby N Chief’).  The series began in 2007, and still continues to the present.

Arby ‘n’ Chief Episode 1

The influence of Red vs Blue has reached into the Halo series itself.  Some of the characters from Red vs Blue have made special appearances in Halo 3 and Halo 4. In the Halo 3 campaign, there is a hidden “Easter egg” where there is a marine asking for a secure door to be open; the marine and the guard in charge of opening the door are voiced by a pair of characters from Red vs Blue.  The pair of voices changes depending on the difficulty level chosen for the campaign.  The Halo 4 campaign continued the practice of putting in such “Easter eggs.”  The campaign contains several boxes hidden around various levels, which, when shot, would play dialogue between some of the Red vs Blue characters (‘Halo 4 Red vs Blue Easter Egg’).

Halo 3 Red vs Blue Easter eggs

Apart from the Easter Eggs, the Red vs Blue characters have made PSAs, demo-ing upcoming content to be released into the Halo games.  In 2008, Bungie released “The Legendary Map Pack;” the Red vs Blue cast created a demo for the pack for the sake of publicity (See below video).

Red vs Blue Legendary Map Pack Demo

In 2008, Red vs Blue released a public safety announcement about a custom game type that roosterteeth created for Halo 3: Grif Ball.  The rules of the game are similar to that of basketball.  There are two different teams that appear on separate ends of a simple rectangular map.  The goal is to grab the bomb from the middle and charge it down to the opposing team’s small circular platform at the back.  Each term, however, is armed with swords and gravity hammers to repel the enemy team.  The person who is holding the bomb turns orange, like the character Grif from Red vs Blue.  The “Grif” also gains more movement speed and shield strength to help mitigate the focused damage from the opposing team (See below video).  The game type become popular enough in the Halo community that it was included as a matchmade (official) game type in Halo 4 (‘Grifball Comes to Halo 4 Matchmaking on January 28!’).

PSA on Grif ball

Conclusion

Roosterteeth still continues to make Red vs Blue and other videos to this day.  As of March 18, 2013, their youtube channel has 3,702,394 subscribers and 1,890,578,060 views (‘Roosterteeth Youtube Channel’).  The Roosterteeth forums has a registered number of 1,431,665 members who actively post (‘Roosterteeth Community Stats’).  When Roosterteeth first launched Roosterteeth Exposition (RTX) in 2012, the tickets for the event sold so fast as Gus Sorola responded, “Ok you fuckers destroyed our ticketing system. We intended to sell only 200 tickets to the inaugural RTX but you guys managed to purchase over 500 tickets in about 2 or 3 minutes” (RTX Tickets (UPDATE)).  As such, Roosterteeth started as an unknown group of individuals who would post “drunk game reviews,” to an extremely popular and successful phenomena on the internet.  Their influence has extended into one of the largest video game franchises and to the Machinima genre.  They are the pioneers and, arguably, the leaders of the Machinima genre, which is now a significant part of internet culture and an evolution of past filmmaking techniques.

A ten year retrospective look on the past 10 years by the Roosterteeth cast

Bibliography

  1. ‘@anime! Ionfuse | V7i1 | Red Vs. Blue Q&A’<http://www.atanime.com/v7i1/09_redvsblue.html&gt; [accessed 2 February 2013]
  2. ‘Arby N Chief’ <http://www.youtube.com/channel/SWH4Z8Vj7XZOc&gt; [accessed 6 March 2013]
  3. Episode 100 <http://roosterteeth.com/archive/?id=261&gt; [accessed 12 March 2013]
  4. ‘Grifball Comes to Halo 4 Matchmaking on January 28!’ <http://www.grifballhub.com/grifball-comes-to-halo-4-matchmaking-on-january-28/&gt; [accessed 5 March 2013]
  5. ‘Halo 4 Red vs Blue Easter Egg’ <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0XGEvUBE7o&gt; [accessed 5 March 2013]
  6. ‘Immerision’ <http://roosterteeth.com/archive/?sid=immersion&gt; [accessed 6 March 2013]
  7. ‘Panics’ <http://roosterteeth.com/archive/?sid=panics&v=more&gt; [accessed 5 March 2013]
  8. Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles, 2003-2006
  9. Red vs Blue: Season 6, 2007
  10. Red vs Blue: Season 7, 2008
  11. Red vs Blue: Season 8, 2010
  12. Red vs Blue: Season 9, 2011
  13. Red vs Blue: Season 10, 2012
  14. ‘Roosterteeth Youtube Channel’ <https://www.youtube.com/user/RoosterTeeth&gt; [accessed 18 March 2013]
  15. ‘RT Shorts’ <http://roosterteeth.com/archive/?sid=shorts&v=more&gt; [accessed 12 March 2013]
  16. ‘RTX Tickets (UPDATE)’, Rooster Teeth <http://roosterteeth.com/viewEntry.php?id=3171&gt; [accessed 2 February 2013]
  17. ‘Strangerhood’ <http://roosterteeth.com/archive/?sid=sh&gt; [accessed 5 March 2013]

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One Response to Final Blog Post: Roosterteeth, Red vs Blue, and Machinima

  1. cstabile says:

    Wow. There’s a ton of information packed into this blog post and you’ve done a great job laying out the history of Roosterteeth and incorporating some effective links and illustrations. But you spend so much time on the history of Roosterteeth and its productions that you never get to its impact on internet culture ( e.g. its broader impact on the rise of YouTube, etc.). And in a class where we spent so much time on climate issues, I wish you’d said something about the homosocial world of Roosterteeth and the way in which its productions and its culture link up with some of the issues we criticized and discussed.

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