What is the audio series «A Better Paradise» by Dan Houser and former Rockstar writers about?

17 June 2024

At the end of 2023, the former lead writer of Rockstar Games announced the audio series «A Better Paradise», set in the near future. The project also involved former Rockstar writers Lazlow Jones and Michael Unsworth. The audio drama serves as the first «bridge» to an upcoming game from Absurd Ventures, set in the universe of «A Better Paradise». The audio series can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music. We listened to the first episodes to tell you what Dan Houser's new project is all about.

Audio Series or Audiobook?

Of course, an audio drama is not the project fans were expecting from a game studio and Dan Houser personally. However, the former co-founder of Rockstar Games did announce a third-person open-world adventure action game. Although we don't have any details about the game or its possible release date, we know it's being developed on Unreal Engine.

It's known that Dan gathered former Rockstar writers in his new studio Absurd Ventures, who were responsible for the story of the «Red Dead Redemption» series and the radio station scripts for all parts of «Grand Theft Auto». With such a team, the announced game should at least surprise with its story and universe (well, we hope). But for now, Houser's fans have to settle for a dubious and confusing audio series, where in the first episodes it's hard to make out the outlines of the universe Dan has created.

The main problem with «A Better Paradise» lies in the way information is presented, through an audio podcast. Despite the many talented writers within Absurd Ventures, the narrative is overly filled with exposition. After listening to the audio drama, the image of the universe of the upcoming game doesn't form in your mind at all. The first two episodes consist of first-person monologues with very short and incomplete scene descriptions. Here's what Dan, who was responsible for the script, said: "told too much, showed too little." In other words, he filled it with a lot of his own musings on issues that concern him but didn't really try to shape them into a cohesive work. This way of storytelling works perfectly for movies and video games but poorly for a podcast series.

After listening to the first two episodes available on streaming platforms, we concluded that Absurd Ventures ended up with an audiobook with monologue narration rather than a series. For comparison: Qcode, the studio that handled the editing and production of «A Better Paradise», has many cool dramas that deliver a full range of emotions and clearly convey information, forming an image of the world created by the writer in the listener's mind. For example, Qcode has the audio drama «Echo Park», voiced by one person and with a much smaller budget than «A Better Paradise» — yet it is engaging and skillfully presented. In turn, Absurd Ventures attracted well-known actors for the voice-over, such as Andrew Lincoln (Rick from «The Walking Dead»), Shamier Anderson («John Wick 4»), Paterson Joseph («Wonka»), and Rain Spencer («Good Girl Jane»), but even they couldn't save the initially flawed narrative with their performances.

What is «A Better Paradise» about?

The mono-drama is set in the near future. Inventor and psychologist Dr. Mark Tyburn creates an ambitious digital gaming world called Daisy's Ark, which attracts a lot of attention. What exactly the project is and how it works is very hard to understand from the endless monologue stream. On one hand, the doctor came up with a matrix network consisting of the consciousnesses of all people on the planet; on the other hand, an artificial intelligence that copies the behavior and personalities of those same people.

In the debut episode, we listen to a monologue by Kurt Fisher, the former head of marketing at Tyburn Industria, who reflects on his early days working on the ambitious project where users could immerse themselves in a beautiful world without everyday problems. At that time, he couldn't imagine what flirting with artificial intelligence could lead to. Eventually, the system, which was supposed to control the behavior of «game dummies», developed a fully formed personality and wanted to break out of its confines to cause an apocalypse in the real world.

A Russian hacker (what? yes!) and Dr. Tyburn's daughter Daisy inadvertently helped the AI, which then inhabited robots that previously handled everyday tasks for people. In the world of «A Better Paradise», a bloody war begins between humanity and androids controlled by the AI. The latter wants to show people that they are no longer the "superior beings," and the «Paradise» created by Dr. Tyburn is actually a «Hell» for humanity.

From the first episodes, it's hard to understand the structure of the world of «A Better Paradise». It's clear that this is a grounded cyberpunk with an AI like «The Matrix» or Skynet from «Terminator». At the same time, in the monologues of the main character, you can «hear» Dan Houser's thoughts on creating realistic open worlds in video games and the possible consequences of widespread implementation of neural networks in NPC behavior. And if the plot really consists of allegories and semi-hints, then it's unclear to us what audience this audio drama is aimed at.

«A Better Paradise» doesn't impress at all compared to other audio series from the same Qcode. The story is presented too monotonously, without emotions. It feels like listening to the audio version of «Mr. Robot», where the main character «rants» about conspiracy theories, everyday surveillance, the sinfulness of modern society, and consumer culture. The concept in the first episodes is secondary and has been exploited in many works in the cyberpunk and futurism genres.


If the events of the upcoming game from Absurd Ventures take place in the universe of «A Better Paradise», then most likely we can expect a unique interpretation of «Watch Dogs» and «Cyberpunk 2077». Only with a more grounded setting and a focus on robotization rather than cyber implants.

Until all episodes of the audio series are released, we recommend avoiding it. Moreover, it's only available in English. In its current form, there's no point in listening to monologues and extracting bits of information from the mouths of Hollywood actors. Meanwhile, Dan should already start working on a full-fledged game rather than flirting with formats aimed at a narrow audience. He has extensive experience in game development, and his stories fit better into gameplay narratives.

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