|Red Dead character|
John Marston as he appears in Red Dead Redemption (left) and Red Dead Redemption 2 (right)
|First appearance||Red Dead Redemption (2010)|
|Last appearance||Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)|
|Created by||Rockstar San Diego|
|Portrayed by||Rob Wiethoff|
|Affiliation||Van der Linde gang|
John Marston is a fictional character in the Red Dead video game series by Rockstar Games. He is the playable protagonist of the 2010 video game Red Dead Redemption, wherein he must deal with the decline of the Wild West while later being forced to hunt down the last surviving members of his old gang in exchange for his family. John is also the protagonist of Undead Nightmare, the zombie apocalypse-themed downloadable content. The character returned as the secondary playable protagonist of the 2018 prequel, Red Dead Redemption 2, which depicts his life in the gang and his attempts to start a life for his family.
John is portrayed by Rob Wiethoff through performance capture. The character was developed to be a nuanced, family-focused character in the first game. When returning for the prequel, Wiethoff looked to his younger life for inspiration. The writers felt that John's original role could be limiting in the second game. The character was well received, with many critics citing his maturity, moral complexity and ambiguity, and quest for atonement as focal points of the first game. Wiethoff's portrayal of Marston was also met with acclaim.
Rob Wiethoff auditioned for the role of John Marston by folding laundry while reading his lines. He was not aware of the game's identity, then only referred to as an "untitled video game project". He felt that the audition was a waste of time, but received the role a few days later. The performance capture process involved simultaneous recording of movement and speech, while a small part was done in a voice-over booth. Wiethoff worked on the first game for almost two years, with principal production lasting around six weeks. Recording would take place over a few weeks, before taking a break of a month or two. Wiethoff estimated that around 12–15 scenes were recorded each day. The recording crew often referred to scenes from Rockstar's previous game, Grand Theft Auto IV (2008); Wiethoff pretended to understand before eventually admitting that he had not played the game.
John was developed to be a "family man". The team created him as a nuanced character in Red Dead Redemption, as opposed to a straightforward hero or villain, to provide an interesting experience. Technical director Ted Carson said that the character became interesting due to the combination of cynicism and realism. He stated that the early decisions in John's life were a direct result of his need for acceptance, and that he may not have been aware of his actions. Wiethoff was asked to return for the downloadable content Undead Nightmare about a month after moving back to Seymour, Indiana from Los Angeles, where the first game was recorded; Undead Nightmare was recorded in New York.
When developing John in Red Dead Redemption 2, the writers felt that his previous appearance could be limiting to them, since players have already resonated with the character. Wiethoff looked to his own life when returning to the character; he always looked up to his older sister's male friends for approval in the same way that John looks up to the rest of the gang for validation. He also took inspiration from the "pretty tough dudes" in his home town for John's personality.
Fictional character biography
Red Dead Redemption 2
John's mother, a prostitute, died during childbirth and his father, who had been blinded in a bar fight, died when John was eight years old. John spent a few years in an orphanage before running away. When John was threatened to be lynched after being caught stealing at the age of 12, he was saved by Dutch van der Linde, who took him into his gang and raised him. When Abigail Roberts joined the gang, she and John fell in love and had a son, Jack. During the events of the game in 1899, John is saved by Arthur Morgan and Javier Escuella. Once he has recovered, he joins the gang on some tasks before planning and executing a successful train robbery. During a failed bank robbery, John is captured and incarcerated. Arthur and Sadie rescue him, much to the disdain of Dutch. John, like Arthur, becomes increasingly wary of Dutch's growing paranoia and loss of reason; protective of John's family, Arthur warns him to leave the gang when the time is right. John is later left for dead by Dutch during a train robbery but returns to the camp as Arthur is confronting Dutch and Micah. When Pinkertons invade the camp, Arthur and John flee. John returns to his family at Arthur's wishes.
Eight years later, in 1907, John finds honest work with Abigail, but when John fights back against outlaws threatening his employer, Abigail leaves with Jack. John works to get her back by earning enough money to buy a property at Beecher's Hope. He builds a ranch with the help of Uncle and Charles Smith, while Sadie provides him with jobs to pay off his loans. After Abigail returns, John proposes. With Sadie and Charles, John attacks Micah's new gang, where they find Dutch. In a Mexican standoff, Dutch shoots Micah, letting John finish him off, before leaving. John and Abigail later get married at their ranch.
Red Dead Redemption
In 1911, federal agents Edgar Ross and Archer Fordham command John to act as a bounty hunter and apprehend his former outlaw friends. To both motivate and ensure that John will comply, the agents kidnap Jack and Abigail, promising their release upon the completion of John's obligations. He works with many individuals throughout the state of New Austin, who help him assault the fort of former gang member Bill Williamson. When Bill flees to Mexico to seek the help of fellow former gang member Javier Escuella, John pursues them. There, John becomes unwillingly entangled in a civil war between the rebels and soldiers. He reluctantly works for both sides, only wanting information about Bill and Javier, but disavows the soldiers when they betray him. He eventually locates Javier, and the player can decide whether to kill him or give him to the agents. Bill is also tracked down and killed, either by John or the rebel leader Abraham Reyes.
When John returns to collect his family, Ross tells him that he must track down Dutch. After several unsuccessful attacks on Dutch and his operations, John and the agents mount an assault on his hideout. John chases Dutch to a cliff, where the latter steps off and commits suicide. With his old gang dead, John and his family are returned to their ranch. He spends some time working on the ranch, but it is soon attacked by U.S. soldiers and Uncle is killed. John defends his family but is shot and killed by a gang of soldiers. His body is buried on a hillside at the ranch.
In Undead Nightmare, a non-canonical, zombie apocalypse-themed alternate reality, John finds that the world is plagued by a virus that brings the dead back to life with a taste for flesh. After tying up the infected Jack and Abigail, John seeks to discover the source of the plague. He rides to Mexico, where he learns from a nun that Reyes might be responsible. John kills the zombified Reyes and finds a girl, who reveals that Reyes had desecrated several catacombs beneath the government building, and had stolen an ancient Aztec mask, unbalancing order and unleashing the undead. John and the girl head down to the tombs and return the mask. John returns home to find that his family has been cured. Months later, after his death, John rises from his grave, as the mask has been stolen again, causing the dead to rise; however, as John had been buried with holy water, he is a revenant who still retains his soul and his capabilities to use weapons.
The character of John Marston received critical acclaim. Keith Shaw of Network World described the character as "complicated character". Seth Schiesel, writing for The New York Times, stated that "[John] and his creators conjure such a convincing, cohesive and enthralling re-imagination of the real world that it sets a new standard for sophistication and ambition in electronic gaming." GamesRadar named the character among the best of the generation, particularly praising the vulnerability portrayed in his family life. Game Informer's Javy Gwaltney lauded John as Rockstar's best character, noting that the complexities of his personality make him more realistic than most protagonists. IGN's Brian Albert considered John one of the "most badass video game gunslingers", praising his skill and protective nature. Dan Whitehead of Eurogamer wrote that the script for Undead Nightmare understood the spirit of its characters and balanced sardonicism and honest pathos, and felt that its nuanced treatment of John Marston made him "one of gaming's great characters".
Prior to Red Dead Redemption 2's release, Kotaku's Heather Alexandra expressed hesitation towards John's return, as his past remaining vague made the first game compelling. Game Informer staff felt that, by the end of Red Dead Redemption 2, John had developed into "the man we knew him to be in the original game: loving, faithful, honorable, and tragically doomed". Dave Meikleham of GamesRadar wrote that Red Dead Redemption 2's climax was effective in explaining John's behavior in the first game. Polygon's Russ Frushtick considered John's story in the game's epilogue to be more motivating than Arthur's as his quest has a direct purpose. Conversely, Paul Tassi of Forbes found John's story less interesting than Arthur's after spending so much time with the latter, partly due to John's lack of character growth. Jess Joho, writing for Mashable, considered Arthur and John to be "practically interchangeable anti-heroes", noting disappointment at the lack of shifting themes between the two. Game Informer's Gwaltney considered Arthur Morgan to be a better protagonist, citing John's lack of growth throughout the game. Some players criticized the game's patches for changing John's character model, considering it a "downgrade" to more closely resemble Arthur's model.
For his role in Red Dead Redemption, Wiethoff won Outstanding Character Performance at the 14th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards. He was nominated for Best Performance by a Human Male at the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards, where John was also nominated for Character of the Year. In 2013, Complex named Wiethoff's performance as one of the best in a video gaming, praising the growth of the character.
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