Why CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 Had To Be A First-Person RPG

At E3 2018, Cyberpunk 2077 was easily the most talked about game of the show. With the reveal of a new trailer at the Microsoft Press Conference, showing off many of the vibrant and equally grim locales in the game, the developers at CD Projekt Red have gradually painted a clearer picture of their highly anticipated RPG. We had the chance to check out a private demo, and saw just how ambitious and impressive the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is.

Based on the original Cyberpunk 2020 pen and paper RPG, its creator Mike Pondsmith has been a regular collaborator with CD Projekt Red on the new game, which he states has been an amazing experience. During E3 2018, we were able to talk with the creator about the development of the game, his work with the Witcher devs, and just how much effort goes into bringing Cyberpunk 2077 to life.

For more info on CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077, and all other games we saw during E3 2018, be sure to visit GameSpot’s E3 Hub page.

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Can you talk about the collaborative process of working with CD Projekt Red on fleshing out the fiction of Cyberpunk for 2077?

Mike Pondsmith: Well, to be honest, it was actually pretty simple because of part of my job. I’m there to tell people what makes the world in the books work. What makes the original pen and paper work. Things we learned about it, styles, to reinforce the ideas that are really valuable about it, for example, people commented in the various reaction videos, people have seen beyond the trailer, but they’ve actually seen the play.

How dense things are, and that’s because Night City is basically a major character in the world and they nailed it. They nailed that whole sense that the city itself, it doesn’t just sleep, it comes, it beats you up, it robs you, it takes your money. So, part of my job is to make sure people are able to see that, I’m there on call, kind of like a walking encyclopedia, when people not only need to know the facts that would be in any of the dozens and dozens of cyberpunk wikis out there, but they need to know what the ‘feel’ is. They need to know what was important. So, that’s part of my job.

I love it because I get involved with the art teams, I get involved with the animation teams, I get involved with the vehicle teams, the weapons teams, everybody in the group, and it’s a huge group now, is there to talk to and exchange ideas and it’s more than just you approve it. It becomes, “Okay, so how does this work, what do you think about it.” It’s been very inclusive, which I really have enjoyed.

From the trailer, you can tell that the game has very colorful and vibrant look. Usually when you think of the Cyberpunk genre, it tends to have a darker aesthetic. This game in particular feels like a clear change from that.

And that was actually intentional from the beginning of the original cyberpunk. Don’t get me wrong. My favorite movie is Blade Runner. I have five different versions of Blade Runner, and more Blade Runner stuff than I could shake a stick at, but sometimes you need to have it not just be wet, rainy, cold and totally oppressive, because there isn’t new ground for your characters to go to. There’s not new ground for people to explore.

Cyberpunk 2020 creator Mike Pondsmith.
Cyberpunk 2020 creator Mike Pondsmith.

It’s funny, people occasionally realize that I set Night City in what was effectively Bay Area California years ago. That was deliberate. I wanted a place where sometimes you have oppressive fog and half light. Sometimes it was bright and sunny, sometimes it was rainy and miserable. I wanted that variability because a real world has variability. If somebody were to ask me what my favorite time in Night City is, it’s basically around six or seven o’clock when the sun is almost down, the lights are coming out and you see all the neon and I’m looking at my 234 floor apartment and going, “Okay, get my stuff, let’s go out.”

You need to have a lot of variation to make a real world. You don’t necessarily have to have that in a Blade Runner, because you’re only taking basically a small slice of what’s happened day to day in that world. I also think that you need to vary it and change it up a bit because otherwise, people get what they expect and when people get what they expect, they tune it out. They go, “Oh yeah, another cyberpunk thing.”

From the beginning, the RPG has been designed as part cyberpunk classic, part rock and roll fable, part hell raising, ass kicking crazy. It’s a lot of things. All of them are valid. It’s not one thing, one genre, otherwise we could do one book and we could all go home. When I wrote the original books, that was the idea, was I wanted to show a lot of different facets. I had to. I had to, because I was saying in another interview, when I look at Blade Runner, but I look at it and go–the hero of Blade Runner is Roy Batty.

Weirdly enough, Deckert is, he’s a protag, but you don’t want to be Deckert, because Deckert gets kicked around and he does not ever win against the system, but at the end of it, Batty–even though he dies–he wins on his own terms. He isn’t gunned down like a dog. He wins his humanity. He is basically, what I believe, an archetypical cyberpunk character, you pick what you believe and you stand for it.

Do you feel like CD Projekt Red brought a lot to the table in helping you flesh out the fiction of Cyberpunk 2020?

Oh yeah. CD’s incredibly collaborative and I love it because they come and go, “Hey, we want to do this,” and I’ll go, “Hey, that’s insane, I never thought of that before, yeah, what the heck.” There are so many I can’t even count, but it’s really great when I go over to Warsaw and we’re walking around the studio and somebody say, “We’re going to be doing this,” and I’m going, “Hmm. Okay, that’s really pretty slick. How about if we also did that?” “Yeah, that’s pretty good.” We throw stuff back and forth.

I love the fact that they do dense stuff. When we first were checking them out to see whether we wanted to go with them as a licensee, we got a copy of Witcher. This is Witcher 2 and I went, “Damn, this is really good.” One of my jobs at Microsoft was basically dealing with external studios, so I was pretty aware of what to look for and I went, “These guys really have their stuff together.” Then, we saw Witcher 3 and it was like, “Oh my God. This is really on that master class level.” It impacted us so much that my son and other members of the company came to me when CD PR was looking for somebody to do a Witcher table top, they said, “You know anybody?” I said, “We don’t do fantasy,” and they said, “No, we’re doing this.” They put together a pitch.

My son went, put together a pitch, went to CD PR during one of our meetings over cyberpunk and said, “I want to do Witcher, and this is how we’ll do it.” That speaks of a lot of exciting world and character that people want to interact with.

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One thing that was surprising to see was that the game is a first-person experience, which is a big change from CD Projekt Red’s last games. Do you feel the change to first-person was a necessary thing for Cyberpunk?

This is where I put my designer hat on, and I get to put on both my table and my video game designer hat, both. This is why it’s important. The one thing is the state of the character, the interfaces they use, the drugs they take, the way they deal with their implants–it’s all very, very internal to the head of the character, and if you step out of that out [into a third-person view] it becomes a busy hub that you’re tracking. On another technical level, the world is massively immersive and if you’re stepped back from that into a third person avatar dummy, you are not really part a part of it.

I’ll give you an example. I went and walked over at one point to another character’s car and as I was walking, somebody that I never actually saw in the crowd, makes a comment and they’re talking about some problem they’re having with their girlfriend, and it was peripheral, it was in my hearing. I didn’t see the person and I really was interested in this story that was going on. I wanted to know more about this. My belief is that third person, has a lot of good places. In this particular case, I think first-person was best because it could provide more than just the immersion, it could provide the tools for you to perceive the world and make decisions that were proper within that world. If I have 360 view, I see everything and I know where the bad guys are coming from all the time, it is kind of a shooter where we’re setting up the targets.

If I am immersed in it, then I’m having to take split second decisions that feel real because in real life, you don’t know what those guys, 300 feet away are doing. If one pulls out a gun, you have to make a decision. You. That’s important if you’re going to be immersed in a world and particularly when you’re dealing with a game that is so heavily role playing driven as this game is.

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It’s been so long since the last trailer was released. What’s it like seeing the game, which is based on your original material, come to life in such a big way?

Probably seeing the actual play session that you guys have seen now in the internal sessions. Seeing that and going, “Damn, yeah, okay,” and mainly because what I saw in there was all the potential. It wasn’t just, “Wow that’s a really cool gun, wow, that’s a really good army jacket, yeah I really like V and it’s a great character. It was also seeing all the potential ways you could go with that story and with those characters. That was amazing. It was sort of like saying, “Okay, they got it,” I’m watching somebody else’s cyberpunk game right now and they’re running a pretty damn good game that I want to be playing in.

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