The machinima parody series Red vs. Blue was an instant internet hit on its release in 2003
By Rosie Lavan
PROJECT TITLE: RED VS. BLUE
SHORT STORY SYNOPSIS: Long-running machinima sci-fi comedy which follows two armies – the red and the blue – apparently fighting a civil war in Blood Gulch, a desolate canyon. In time it emerges that both are under the command of Project Freelancer and exist only as training simulations for Freelancer Agents. Also a parody of first-person shooter games, RvB takes its visual background from the Halo video game series, but follows independent storylines.
FORMAT: Comic book; Games; Web mini-series;
PRODUCTION COMPANIES: Rooster Teeth Studios
STATUS: Nine seasons / ongoing
RELEASE DATES: April 2003 – present
AWARDS: Machinima Arts & Sciences Awards Film Festival: Best Picture, Best Independent Machinima Film, Best Writing (2003, for season 1); Best Independent Machinima (2005, for season 3)
Red vs. Blue, or RvB, has its origins in the alcohol and banter-fuelled days of drunkgamers.com, a website devised by Gustavo Sorola and Geoff Fink in 2000. RvB creator Burnie Burns joined the pair, writing material for the site which “combined God’s two greatest gifts to mankind – drinking and video games” – and subsequently adding weekly gameplay videos. Burns also had experience creating voice-over enhanced gameplay videos for the first-person shooter game Halo: Combat Evolved. While making a video for drunkgamers.com to demonstrate his Halo-playing prowess, Burns was struck by the notion of putting a movie inside a video game, and created a trailer for RvB, but it garnered little attention and in the meantime drunkgamers.com closed down. Several months later, Computer Gaming World requested permission to include a drunkgamers video in a CD to accompany an issue of the magazine. Fink and Burns agreed, and decided to create a website to coincide with the CD release and capitalise on the attention from the magazine. They re-released the RvB trailer, and the first episode followed on 1 April 2003.
The series was an instant and unexpected hit and was quickly developed and expanded to meet demand. The original Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles ran for 100 episodes until June 2007, but three mini-series and a further three full-length series have followed and overlapped, and a ninth season began in April 2010. Demand for the latest episodes was such that both the RvB site and blip.tv, which also hosts the videos, crashed.
Red vs. Blue fuses parodies of first-person shooter games, sci-fi and military action. It uses the technique of machinima, synchronizing video game footage with pre-recorded dialogue and other audio. Cultural commentators hailed it as a milestone: to Graham Leggat, former director of communications at the Lincoln Center in New York, it is “truly as significant as Samuel Beckett.”
RvB was an immediate success: the first episode was downloaded 20,000 times on the day of release. In 2004 the Wall Street Journal put the number of weekly viewers between 650,000 and 1,000,000.
The reach of the show – one of the most successful on blip.tv – extends beyond its core viewership. Rooster Teeth has created special RvB videos for events and corporate partners including Microsoft, and in June 2006 it produced a series to premiere exclusively on the Xbox Live Marketplace. It has also worked with the band Barenaked Ladies on special concert commissions, with gaming magazines Computer Gaming World and Electronic Gaming Monthly, and for the Sundance Film Festival. The RvB team have been savvy about their brand potential from the outset: when they quit their jobs to devote all their time to the project during the first series, they created an online store selling RvB t-shirts to bring in money.
RvB has an enthusiastic, devoted following – a vital asset in sustaining interest for a series that has been running as long as this. But at SXSW in 2009, discussing the relationship with the audience, Burns stressed that content producers need to keep their side of the bargain, meeting expectations and delivering on promises. “‘Coming soon’ is worthless, anything offline is worthless,” he said. “If I can’t watch something immediately, don’t bother telling me about it.”