Mike Pondsmith Talks Reinventing Cyberpunk

By Nathan Grayson on February 5th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Mike Pondsmith is a busy man. So busy, admittedly, that he was only able to exchange words via the cold, unfeeling cyber-pigeon communication medium that is email. Which, I suppose, is kind of fitting given the subject matter, but I generally try to avoid it. Still though, I was able to at least extract some details about Pondsmith’s place in CD Projekt’s massive Cyberpunk 2077 puzzle, especially in regards to world development and what makes a videogame “cyberpunk” to begin with. For example, Deus Ex? Not cyberpunk, says Pondsmith. All that and more after the break.

Whether due to legally binding contracts or a lack of regard for the medium, some creators will let just about anyone adapt their bouncing baby brainspawn into games. But not Mike Pondsmith. He’s been trying to find Cyberpunk a loving virtual home for years, but – by and large – his search has just been a series of sobering false starts.

“The only one that was outstanding was a cellphone-based game done in the mid 2000’s by a Spanish company called Arasaka’s Quest,” he explained to RPS. “It really got the feel. Many of the other attempts died when the developers couldn’t pull together enough funding, or pull off the technology, or more importantly, made it pretty clear from the outset that they didn’t know the Cyberpunk world and pretty much just wanted to paste the name on something else they had in development.”

So then, what exactly made CD Projekt different? Well, while I imagine a certain silver-haired, not-so-silver-tongued monster slayer’s monetary contributions didn’t hurt, Pondsmith claims that CDP just got it. Mostly, anyway.

“Cyberpunk 2020 is about key places, characters and technologies,” he said. “You have to have characters like Morgan, Johnny Silverhand and Alt'; they’re fan faves that have generated tons of fan fiction. You can’t have Cyberpunk 2020 without the evil ninja-corp Arasaka and it’s paranoid corporate heads. Places like the Afterlife; the Forlorn Hope – these are the sites where a million adventures started in so many player’s own games. CD Projekt’s team are fans, and they get that these things are important; that they make Cyberpunk what it is. They remember things I’ve forgotten about my own world sometimes.”

“As for shooting down [ideas proposed by CD Projekt]: yeah, in the beginning, there were a few ideas that came out of left field, but we all got zeroed in pretty fast on what we all wanted, and it’s been pretty solid ever since.”

That alone, however, makes this a pretty huge change of pace for CD Projekt, given that the Witcher games were separated from the Witcher books long before birth. But Pondsmith is by no means being kept at grotesque scythe arm’s length. Well, OK, Poland is – by the standard Grotesque Scythe Arm measurement system – a pretty decent number of GSAs away, but CDP and Pondsmith are doing everything in their power to bridge the gap.

“I’m actually pretty involved in 2077,” Pondsmith said. “I’ve been part of the story and dev conferences both on-site and via the net. I get over to Poland about every 5-6 months and spend at least a week there meeting and talking to the whole team. I see the updates when they get posted and I talk to the whole team at least once a week in long Skype meetings where we cover mechanics, concepts, plots, dumb ideas – you name it.”

“My task has been to extrapolate what has happened since the 4th Corporate War in 2024 all the way up to the 2077 timeline. The biggest issue is explaining how the technology has not evolved far more than 50 years would actually allow. I’ve been working this out as a videogame for years, actually. I sometimes consider my time on Matrix Online as a good prep for this project, but [Cyberpunk owner] R.Tal was actually involved in an official Cyberpunk 2020 MMO back in the late 90’s, and we had to work out many of the issues back then. We have tons more tools to work with now, and the ability to make sandbox worlds that accurately reflect the elements of tabletop game play.”

And that, in all honesty, might be the biggest weapon in Pondsmith and CDP’s arsenal: real game design savvy on both sides of the equation. While it’s (at best) a one-way street for most adaptations, this one was technically a game from the get-go. So naturally, Pondsmith loves games of all sorts. But being a good game and a good cyberpunk game are two very different things in his eyes. He explained:

“I played the original Deus Ex and enjoyed it a lot. Warren Spector is a master at layering complex plots and inferences. But Deus Ex always felt more like a conspiracy game than a cyberpunk game to me. Mirror’s Edge is great, but too clean. System Shock and Oni [from Bungie] are also good. Perfect Dark. Ghost in the Shell. Matrix. And Grand Theft Auto 3 is basically cyberpunk minus the hardware.”

“In the end, there has to be the right atmosphere. All echoes and dark city caverns. The right level of engagement. A world of human scaled characters fighting inhuman organizations, using technology to level to odds – but not to become supermen.”

And, given that he sort of helped birth the gaming side of this entire genre, he probably knows better than most. That in mind, I suppose he’s had every right to be incredibly picky in selecting a team to rewire Cyberpunk for our discerning cyberbrains. So, in their own way, his closing comments were quite heartening – if maybe not even the slightest bit impartial.

“I’ve seen a lot of the tools that CDP will use in 2077,” Pondsmith concluded. “There’s a staggering amount of potential there to pull this off.”

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128 Comments »

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  1. Skhalt says:

    It’s just not the same thing when you don’t get to hear his voice :(

    • Drake Sigar says:

      It’s true, that voice massaged my brain. Maybe he’ll get a cameo.

      • luukdeman111 says:

        If he doesn’t get a cameo i’ll eat my shoe! That voice is absolutely amazing!

        • kelseypaul1 says:

          Olivia. I can see what your saying… Aaron`s blog is unbelievable… I just purchased a top of the range Jaguar E-type when I got my check for $9494 this last 5 weeks and even more than $10k last month. with-out any question its the best work I’ve had. I started this 4 months ago and pretty much immediately started bringing in over $85… per-hour. I use this website, Read about it

    • gulag says:

      I do hope he does some voice work for the game.

      I’ve met a lot of pen & paper RPG writers in the flesh, and they tend to be decent sorts, but not what you might call ‘Bad Ass’. Mike Pondsmith sounds like he should be running a street gang of cybered-up samurai.

      • vanosofmanos says:

        In my perfect world, they’d get him to be a narrator during cut scenes, or failing that, at least the voice of someone of authority, or an AI. That would be most awesome.

        • Skhalt says:

          Reminds me of that dungeon in D&D Online which was narrated by Gygax.

    • Alexrd says:

      I read the article with his voice in my head.

  2. Desmolas says:

    Oh, CDPR were making this game too? I remember now…

    …sorry, the announcement of The Witcher 3 is still raw for me.

  3. gritz says:

    Hmmm yeah playing a nanoaugmented badass computer hacker who infiltrates a corporation in Neo-Hong Kong to steal a totally sweet futuresword: not cyberpunk.

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      sonofsanta says:

      I think the clue is in this bit:

      A world of human scaled characters fighting inhuman organizations, using technology to level to odds – but not to become supermen.

      (emphasis mine)

      Cyberpunk is, as he sees it, about the underdog – probably a theme set by Neuromancer in the first place, to be honest. JCD was certainly not an ordinary man by the end of that game.

      GTA3, on the other hand, was still just about a normal guy (contextually speaking). Although I don’t remember much fighting of corporations, except in a euphemistic sense of the word, so not sure what he’s getting at really.

      • HadToLogin says:

        But JC Denton isn’t putting all that stuff into him to become super human. M12 tries that, while he tries to even odds a little to take them down – and he still can be easily taken down.

        GTA3 have nothing to do with cyberpunk. Or, if it have, it will make much more stuff cyberpunky (first Max Payne sounds like it would fit this pants, for example).

        • Laurentius says:

          Oh, the three GTA games (1,2- this one especially, 3) are very cyberpunky, there is this feeling of corrupted city where you are nobody, as Pondmistyh said, they lacks technology but feeling is there.

          • Hoaxfish says:

            Basically any crime-fiction outside of Agatha Christie (where everyone is incredibly posh) is cyberpunk without technology.

          • HadToLogin says:

            So, what’s the difference between cyberpunk and noir (especially noir presented in Max Payne 1)? Well, beside femme fatale (or maybe that’s the difference?).

          • sidhellfire says:

            Noir is toned and elegant with dirt kept at bay, while cyberpunk more hmm… technological avant-garde with soil all over everything. Characters in noir tend to be typical, even those charismatic ones. In the other they’re somewhat mysterious, but yet expressive. It’s similar difference as the truth lurking in the shadows and truth hiding there.

          • Snargelfargen says:

            Cyberpunk takes the noir “good world gone bad” and uses it to subvert our expectations of the future. Instead of looking at cybernetics as a crisis or necessary evolution for humanity, it comes up with ways that such technology can be abused and perverted. World-spanning organizations provide the backdrop, but the real threat is the maniac two doors down who’s grafted lasers onto his nipples. Or something.

            Or cyberpunk can be whatever you want it to. We’ve got gamers, developers and authors contradicting each in the comments now. Debating who’s opinion is authoritative could get ugly.

          • vanosofmanos says:

            I’m of the opinion that the noir and cyberpunk genres are definitely close cousins if not direct siblings. I actually think that many of the works cited by Pondsmith probably sit comfortably at the crossroads of a couple different genres, and really most things don’t really sit in just one genre at a time. You can definitely have something that reads/plays/views like a noir or conspiracy novel be in cyberpunk setting, just like you can certainly have something that reads like a Cyberpunk 2020 adventure be set in modern times.

          • The Random One says:

            Cyberpunk is essentially applying the aspect of ontological and societal changes brought about by new technology seen in every good sci-fi and applying it to noir. There are quite a few works that merge the two, and it’s seamless. (GTA2 might be one such work, if you squint.)

      • Snargelfargen says:

        Well GTA3 also puts huge focus on “The City”, just like any good cyberpunk (or noir) should.

      • againstreet says:

        Obviously Mr. Pondsmith has not heard of the post-cyberpunk genre, which is essentially what Deus Ex embodies. It continues the tradition of heavy noir influence, dystopian themes, and technological advancement, but includes many of the concepts that have grown in prominence since the beginning of the genre: the cultural dominance of the Internet, the true blurring of the lines between government and business (in contrast with cyberpunk’s more traditional concept of corporate control), transhumanism, and the marginalization of the hacker culture espoused in “true” cyberpunk. Post-cyberpunk also tends to place the protagonist in a position of authority, usually as some kind of government agent, and instead of straight dystopic futures, they’re usually set in “normalized” dystopias, where things get worse behind the scenes.

    • Low Life says:

      I almost skipped reading when the introduction mentioned that he doesn’t consider Deus Ex cyberpunk, but I don’t read the actual quote “Deus Ex always felt more like a conspiracy game than a cyberpunk game to me” as “Deus Ex is not cyberpunk”, but rather as “the main theme of Deus Ex is not necessarily a cyberpunk one”.

      Either way, a good start for the second classification discussion/clusterfuck of the day!

      • KenTWOu says:

        Yeah, I got the same thing from Mike’s statement and Nathan Grayson is just trolling us.

    • dE says:

      I reckon it’s about Cyberpunk as a Brand and not just as a genre.
      Well, it’s all about the feel. Deus Ex has all the right hardware, the right components but it lacks the feel.To me, Cyberpunk is about the people. If you look at things like Bladerunner, from the beginning to the end, it’s about people. Neuromancer? It’s about the people. Ghost in the Shell? A bit borderline, but it’s about the people still.
      In general, I’ll consider something *punk (insert subgenre of choice) if it is focused on people struggling with their lives in oppressive scenarios. Deus Ex, while a game I greatly enjoyed, isn’t about the people. They become backdrops and characters. The conspiracy and secrecy and its unveiling becomes centerpiece of the story. Not the feel, not the atmosphere and certainly not the characters. GTA3 on the other hand, while a game I really did not enjoy, is all about the people, their struggles and dealing with adverse situations in a looming cityscape. In kind, a lot closer to Cyberpunk.

      If you want another comparison about feel:
      There are a dozen games about monster hunters in a medieval style fantasy world. So how is the witcher any different? People. Skyrim and similiar games are all about the world, exploring and finding odd places, getting to know the history of the land. The Witcher is about the people. And I reckon that’s also why Pondsmith has such faith in CDP. They know how to pull of games focused on the people.

      Technically, Deus Ex may be Cyberpunk but it’s not Cyberpunk(TM).

      • Snargelfargen says:

        There was a similiar discussion in the comments for the last Pondsmith interview. The gist of it was that transhumanism and cyberpunk start with the same premise but take it in very different directions, cyberpunk being more focused on individuals as you mentioned.

        Makes it a great fit for the team who worked on Witcher. Pretty excited for this game.

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        To quote from CP2020 2nd edition:

        Cyberpunk characters are the heroes of a bad situation, working to make it better (or at least survivable) whenever they can. Whether it takes committing crimes, defying authority or even outright revolution, the quintessential Cyberpunk character is a rebel with a cause

      • gritz says:

        “GTA3 on the other hand, while a game I really did not enjoy, is all about the people, their struggles and dealing with adverse situations in a looming cityscape.”

        Other than 8-Ball (I think), who shows up in maybe two missions in GTA3, I can’t name a single other character in that game. If anything, GTA3 is the ultimate antithesis of a game about people, since 99.9% of the people in the game are literally there to be speedbumps, and the other 0.1% show up for one mission to say something stupid and then disappear forever.

        On the other hand, Deus Ex was full of recurring characters with believable and independent motivations who responded to the choices you made and the JC Denton you were sculpting. And the “looming cityscapes” of Hell’s Kitchen, Paris, and Hong Kong were major setpieces.

        So, in other words, any definition of cyberpunk as a genre that includes GTA 3 and excludes Deus Ex is one that is functionally meaningless.

  4. sd4f says:

    This is going to be the most agonising gaming tease, ever, for me. They’re talking the talk, and CDP has walked the walk, i await its release with keen interest.

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    DrAmateurScience says:

    Is this happening before or after The Witcher 3: Witch Harder? Because I’m not sure I can wait much longer for it.

  6. HadToLogin says:

    Would love to know how Deux Ex isn’t cyberpunk while GTA3 is…

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      Jackablade says:

      The GTA3 comment really could use some further elaboration.

    • oceantorment says:

      I guess he was talking about the actual themes explored on the plots, Deus Ex plot concentrated more on the conspiracy side than the cyberpunk aspect while GTA 3 was more of a personal story about violence on a corrupt world.

      • gritz says:

        “I guess he was talking about the actual themes explored on the plots,”

        The plot of GTA3 was not some reflective meditation on violence and chaos. It was just violence and chaos. And not much of a plot.

        Deus Ex, on the other hand, actually had something interesting to say about violence and the limits of authority.

        • The Random One says:

          The threads above and below go into this into some more detail, but essentially, while Deus Ex uses the trappings of cyberpunk, it uses very few of its themes.

          Cyberpunk focuses on normal people, the man on the street who fights to even exist; Denton is a G-man, and his going rogue is a choice most cyberpunk characters don’t have. Cyberpunk characters fight a system that systematically opresses them, while Denton fights a centralized conspiracy that controls the system. Cyberpunk worlds are dystopic because of the short-sightedness and carelessness of those who have power, while Deus Ex’ world is dystopic by design by the conspiracy that controls it. The augmentations in cyberpunk are a grotesque metaphor for the dehumanizing effects of society and technology, and while Deus Ex comes close, it focuses more on the generation shock between the nanotechnology and mechanical augs. There are no good people in cyberpunk, only the bad guys, the worse guys, and the bad guys the narrative focuses on. Deus Ex draws lines that become more and more rigid as it goes on. Cyberpunk has a big focus on class warfare; in Deus Ex you give a poor kid a chocolate bar once.

          Frankly, when he said that I knew that was a guy who knew what he was talking about. I wonder if he’s played Saints’ Row 2; that’s a cyberpunk game without the technology if I ever saw one, even with the main enemy being a megacorporation that has become the de facto sovereign power inside a decaying urban setting, and the only people capable of challenging it being just as morally bankrupt.

          • Mario Figueiredo says:

            Very well put Random One!

            I was struggling coming with the correct words and ended up giving up on the thread I started. I realized I was not going to be making compelling case.

          • bab says:

            But Deus Ex does focus on “the man on the street who fights to even exist” – we just see the suffering from an outside, third person perspective. You don’t have to be the oppressed to fight oppression – Cyberpunk is not void of empathy, just because we assume every second person is some kind of mech (one of the core themes of classic Cyberpunk is electronic sentience, after all). Every argument I’ve seen here against Deus Ex being Cyberpunk seems the be based on the assumption that, underdog story has to be centred around the struggle from a first-person perspective (which is utterly preposterous) or seem to be trying to shove Cyberpunk literature into some kind of rigid off-the-shelf framework of genre. As a postmodern mode of text, it eschews by nature the very kind of rigid frameworks people seem to want to shove it into. I can’t speak for the texts that make up Cyberpunk 2020, as I’ve never read them, but if they do follow these strict ideas of structure, character and location then they (ironically) are not very true to what Cyberpunk is (not to mention, must be quite bland and derivative. To be as successful as they are, it cannot be possible that they do!). With these argumentative binary definitions we could argue that The Matrix isn’t a cyberpunk film, or that Neuromancer was merely late dark-scifi. Utterly ridiculous!

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      The themes of the Cyberpunk RPG were about customisation and anarchy more than anything else.

  7. iucounu says:

    The themes of cyberpunk are easily summed up by the style of Blade Runner, really – forests of skyscrapers housing the super-rich and the AIs and the corporations at the very top, and then people living lives of quiet desperation down in the shadows between them.

    • x1501 says:

      Not sure about the AI, but “forests of skyscrapers housing the super-rich and the corporations at the very top, and then people living lives of quiet desperation down in the shadows between them” pretty much describes the contemporary world around me. I thought we were talking about future history and science fiction…

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        PeopleLikeFrank says:

        I thought we were talking about future history and science fiction…

        “There’s no more cyberpunk because we call it ‘realism’ now.”

      • iucounu says:

        SF is often discussing the present day, innit, even when it’s ostensibly looking at the future.

        • Arglebargle says:

          This is absolutely the case, if we’re talking about the good stuff. Sometimes you get the extrapolations of present day trends, but that still has the roots in the present.

      • MarcP says:

        Woe is you, choosing to spend your leisure time to browse a world wide web and post a comment on a website about video games. Truly an oppressed man on the brink of annihilation, fighting a desesperate fight against The Man in order to survive.

    • Kadayi says:

      I was stoked about a Cyberpunk RPG, however I have to say I’m not that enamoured with Pondsmith’s world building in truth with regards to the P&P game. He really went off on one with the corporations stuff with regards to history and seemed to lose sight of the fact that corporations are actually businesses (accountable to shareholders looking for a quarterly return), not feudal clans where in the CEOs can blow money like it’s going out of fashion with impunity on standing armies of cyber assassins and detonate tac nukes in City centres as he seems to imagine. Do corporations do dubious stuff? Certainly, by they do it to either increase profitability or protect profitability (see Michael Clayton). When you turn them into global dictatorships with innumerable resources at their disposal then notions of chasing profit become rather redundant.

      I can’t help but feel it’s like the man read Neuromancer, and then decided he had to somehow crank everything up to eleven to make the P&P game less derivative. One of the key things about Neuromancer is that the characters in it are very much at the fringe, but even within themselves there’s not a massive arms race in terms of augmentations etc. Despite her embedded eyewear, faster reflexes and razored cat fingers Molly is still largely flesh and blood at the end of the day and she represents the best that money can hire as regards street samurai go. What ultimately makes her dangerous is less her augmentations and more her ability to fight and think on her feet. A far cry from a world where people are seemingly walking around with massive scythes in their arms and have bulletproof skin (just ..you know… because).

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    Gap Gen says:

    Is he wearing sunglasses for a night op? Also, Photoshop some sunglasses over those staring eyes, stat! It’s not cyberpunk if you can see pupils.

  9. Hoaxfish says:

    I’m having a hard time believing the idea that Deus Ex is not Cyberpunk, when it sits quite happily with the ideas in Blade Runner (nature of humans in replicants, genetic-farms) and William Gibson’s stuff (crazy AIs, body augmentation, hobos). Basically the “tech noir” subgenre I guess.

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      Gap Gen says:

      I guess cyberpunk is kind of an odd genre because we’re sort of living in it now. Hell, just now my command line asked me: “output.dat” may be a binary file, and viewing it may allow viruses to infect your nervous system via the visual cortex. See it anyway?

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      My issue with Deus Ex approach to cyberpunk was precisely the nearly global scale of Deus Ex conflict. Cyberpunk always seemed to me more about grievances between corporations and between social organizations and corporations. A setting where you try to level out the field at the scale of a city, or a corporation, not that of a country or the planet.

      I always felt psyched, for instance, that Blade Runner despite the obvious innuendo that Deckard and the rogue replicants actions would invariably change the landscape of that dystopian society at a global scale, it never allowed to stray itself towards it. We get a simple story told at the scale of a few individuals and one corporation without any knowledge of the end result of their efforts and without those individuals being anywhere motivated by a grandiose desire to save the world.

      And that’s where the movie was allowed to explore a more central theme to cyberpunk; that of the individual and their relation to the dystopian society. This is, I always felt, a more profound way to look at humanity.

      That said, Deus Ex world is to me cyberpunk. Despite the scale it brings. I just have to agree that not in a way I would like to see it depicted.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        I’d say that “world spanning” aspect (and the conspiracy stuff) is more in William Gibson’s Matrix stuff. The end of Neuromancer basically releases a fully formed AI onto the Internet, which then in turn becomes a whole pantheon of “gods” of the internet. But at the end, the story is still through the individuals.

        There’s also the basic location hopping (including a spacestation in orbit).

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        Gap Gen says:

        I think a global focus is inevitable with globalisation and multinationals being prevalent. Like Hoaxfish says, The Neuromancer jumped about the globe quite a bit, as does Snowcrash and a bunch of other classic cyberpunk novels. Blade Runner does choose to focus on one person in one city, but I think in order to discuss the issues of corporate power in modern liberal society, you do need to dive into the subject a bit more.

        • Mario Figueiredo says:

          That’s a good point indeed.

          That said it must be agreed there’s no need to be so in a work of fiction. I mean, the focus is clearly an author decision. He may as well realize a world here worldwide corporations aren’t the focus or where were the story doesn’t center around the player directly or indirectly saving the world or saving the world against a tyrannic corporation.

          In any case, I don’t actually make this a serious issue when it comes to my idea of cyberpunk. It’s just that I’d rather we didn’t have this type of setting.

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            Gap Gen says:

            Sure, I agree. And it’s fair enough to say “I prefer stories with a smaller focus.” I’m the kind of wanky person who liked Syriana, but there you go.

      • solidsquid says:

        I think it’s the “punk” part of cyberpunk which catches Deus Ex out. The setting is right for cyberpunk, but the actual story is about a government agent trying to stop a group of terrorists, there’s not much that’s punk/rebellious about that.

        If the terrorist groups had turned out to *be* the government acting through a different agency then it could have worked, but the fact he wasn’t really rebelling made it more of a futuristic cop game (or possibly whatever genre Max Payne was) rather than cyberpunk

        • bab says:

          It’s about a top secret corporo-government agent who steals top secret technology designed for oppression (that happens to be INSIDE HIS OWN BODY) to turn the tides on his own creators and help hackers and freedom fighters take down an impossibly powerful foe. What isn’t punk about that?

          • Mario Figueiredo says:

            Did you just minimize the plot to become unrecognizable from the original just to fit your needs?

            Can you also walk on your hands? I’d like to see you doing other tricks.

          • Hoaxfish says:

            I thought that was Johnny Mnemonic for a second.

          • gritz says:

            Mario: That is exactly the plot of Deus Ex. If you don’t recognize it, you probably shouldn’t be talking about Deus Ex.

          • The Random One says:

            Exactly. Deus Ex’ main character is a high ranking government agent, and that’s completely against the spirit of Cyberpunk. Even if he goes rogue, he’s starting from up high already, and even if his augs are stolen, he got them under some definition of legality. He’s not some kid on the street pushing his luck with stolen, poorly installed gear with obselete firmware.

          • bab says:

            “Did you just minimize the plot to become unrecognizable from the original just to fit your needs?”
            Yes, that’s exactly what I did – because that’s totally not the overarching theme of the game at all. Thanks for being so condescending. You’re obviously far superior to me by cherry-picking a single point and not even presenting a counter argument. Nice “trick”. I guess I’m “totally your bitch now”, better go spread your ad-hoc opinions and misogyny!

            “and that’s completely against the spirit of Cyberpunk”
            This doesn’t even make sense – so it is cyberpunk aside from the one aspect, and therefore is completely invalidated from being cyberpunk? Can the characters in focus not be ones other than the player? In novels and plays we observe from the outside – I like to think in Deus Ex JC is the funnel through which we observe the game world from the inside – with a presence rather than just a perversion. Cyberpunk is after all predominantly an extension of 1960’s postmodern noir literature, and should play with our ides of how we perceive and interact with stories.

        • MrUnimport says:

          Did you miss the part where he joins up with the terrorists to defeat an international conspiracy at the highest levels?

        • gritz says:

          Did you actually play Deus Ex for more than the first four missions?

          You stop acting as a government agent fairly early in the game, and by the middle you’re actually on the side of the so-called “terrorists,” fighting against a clandestine government/corporate shadow organization. One of the possible endings is starting a chain reaction in the global computer network to establish worldwide anarchy. It doesn’t get much more cyberpunk than that!

      • gritz says:

        “Cyberpunk always seemed to me more about grievances between corporations and between social organizations and corporations.”

        Like, for instance, a Hong Kong street gang vs. VersaLife?

        • Mario Figueiredo says:

          Yeah. That would be it. Good example! No world domination, no worldwide consequences involved.

          Oh wait… you mean to say that’s what Deus Ex is all about. About an Hong Kong street gang and a company called VersaLife.

          That’s terrific! could you please join bab above and do another trick for me?

          EDIT: Don’t complain. You couldn’t argue honestly. You two are totally my bitches now.

          • gritz says:

            For my next trick: Just because there are worldwide consequences doesn’t mean there’s isn’t an emphasis on organizational conflict that you have cherrypicked for your definition of cyberpunk! In fact, the struggle of corporate, government and social organizations is arguably the most dominant theme of the game. To argue otherwise is to profess ignorance of Deus Ex’s story past the first hour of gameplay.

          • Mario Figueiredo says:

            That’s a much better argument. Why didn’t you do it the first time instead of trying to look smart? It’s become obvious you are better at being smart than trying to look smart.

            No. I didn’t actually cherrypick it. It’s really a dominant theme on cyberpunk fantasy (we seem to agree). Neither I tried to create a definition for cyberpunk. Read the post again. I make it clear I consider Deus Ex cyberpunk regardless of its broader tone. And that post as not one attempt at shove a definition up your nose.

            What I did say is that I find Deus Ex less interesting as a cyberpunk plot because of its scale.

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          Gap Gen says:

          My take is that cyberpunk is like steampunk, except that instead of a world powered improbably by steam, it’s a world powered improbably by cybersex, and everyone is covered in cogs and goggles shaped like low-res porn.

    • Lanfranc says:

      I guess because it brought the cyber, but lacked the punk.

      • DXN says:

        Yeah. JCD is “The Man”, even when he’s been disavowed.

        • gritz says:

          You mean like the paramilitary law enforcement characters presented in the trailer for Cyberpunk 2077?

          • The Random One says:

            Yes, the ones we presently don’t know wether they’ll be the focus of the game or even allies to the player character.

          • gritz says:

            So you’re saying these characters, who happen to be the main characters in the first trailer for a game called Cyberpunk, aren’t ‘cyberpunk’?

            And the game called Cyberpunk can only be ‘cyberpunk’ if these characters are not playable characters?

  10. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Hmm… really liked his vision of a cyberpunk world.

    “In the end, there has to be the right atmosphere. All echoes and dark city caverns. The right level of engagement. A world of human scaled characters fighting inhuman organizations, using technology to level to odds – but not to become supermen.”

    Kudos!

  11. Pindie says:

    “Oni [from Bungie] ”

    Was there another Oni game made by another developer that surpassed the original Oni in popularity and recognition?
    I am asking because it would be weird to read something like “Warcraft [from Blizzard]”.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      There’s “Onimusha [from Capcom]”. Though I would say Oni is somewhat obscure nowadays, and someone might mistake it for some Japanese game they’d never heard of.

      • Pindie says:

        Onimusha is itself obscure if you are a PC gamer. Did not hear it being called Oni either.

        It;s just weird that Oni got singled out among all the other old games.
        I mean, how many people actually played System Shock that did not also hear about Oni?

        • TCM says:

          I’ve never heard of Oni in my life.

          • Pindie says:

            Were you a PC gamer at the time when it came out?

          • mike2R says:

            I was almost a PC gamer when System Shock came out, I think I got my first PC in 1995 after being an Amiga gamer for years. Never heard of this Oni of yours.

            I didn’t get online until a few years later (and even then it was a while longer before the idea of using the net to find out about computer games occurred to me), and I’d stopped reading computer game magazines by then. There’s a period of several years where I missed a lot of games that were probably very well known, and in genres I’m interested in. Doubt I’m alone in that.

        • Snargelfargen says:

          Oni was released pretty quietly. Losing the multiplayer component and having unorthodox controls (for a pc game at the time) didn’t do it any favours either.

    • TCM says:

      Warcraft is a specific, unique name that has become culturally associated with one company.

      Oni is a kind of Japanese demon.

  12. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    Great interview. I know there has previously been some criticism in the comments that RPS needs to at least have someone with a firm grasp of the cyberpunk universe to do these interviews, but I think this was spot on.

    Also of interest is that the most recent incarnation of CP RPG actually borrowed game mechanics from computer RPGs. Having a CRPG based on that? Well.

    • vanosofmanos says:

      I’m one of those critics, and for me it wasn’t so much a “firm grasp” as at least “basic Googling”. It really comes from just being overly sick of interviews where the interviewer is just totally uninformed about the thing they’re interviewing someone about Just feels kind of sloppy to me.

      That being said, this was a great interview and I enjoyed it, mostly because it wasn’t set-up in the standard Q&A format, but more of just letting Pondsmith talk. The guy literally wrote the book on the Cyberpunk universe, and he knows exactly what it should be: give him a few minutes and he’ll tell you that.

      I’m kind of interested in what CD Projekt’s intending to do game mechanic wise. They’ve said in the past that they want to utilize much of the tabletop system, but I seem to recall that they were looking towards Cyberpunk 2020 v2.0 and not the later editions (Cybergeneration, CP v3.0 and such). I’d really like to know what they’re doing behind the scenes there!

  13. bab says:

    …are conspiracies involving faceless multinational corporate-secret-government-invisible-controlling-entities not a huge part of cyberpunk? Or are they just not a huge part of Cyberpunk™? I’ve never played Cyberpunk 2020, is there a huge a difference in style between the Gibson/Pynchon/Blade Runner/System Shock/Deus Ex/Matrix postmodern cyberpunk noir and the RPG?

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Did you maybe mean Stephenson, not Pynchon? Pynchon does have a thing for for conspiracies and systems, and Stephenson did write Cryptonomicon which reads almost like a Pynchon novel.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Cognitive Mailorder says:

    I like that he’s setting this in 2077, sufficiently far off that he probably won’t be around to see it. Unlike the first Cyberpunk, which was set in… 2013.

  15. Lagwolf says:

    As cyberpunk novel writer and long-time fan of the genre I think his take on GTA is preposterous. Deus Ex is cyberpunk under any normal definition. Not sure if Oni is cyberpunk or not since it was such a bloody awful game.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Oni had some elements of cyberpunk. Android loli, a rogue AI as the first boss, the main character (and brother) both being genetically engineered to “evolve”, psychotropic dream-sequences, cyborg-wrestlers, tech-ninjas, laser-beam security, that kinda stuff.

    • vanosofmanos says:

      I think the idea here is that he’s not talking about the cyberpunk genre, as much as he is relating games to the Cyberpunk (TM) setting that he wrote. With that in mind, I can see what he’s saying: Deus Ex is a conspiracy game in a cyberpunk setting, while GTA is a Cyberpunk (TM) game in a modern setting. Not sure I fully agree with the GTA thing, but, I kind of get the idea behind it. I’d also say that DE: Human Revolution is probably more of what I’d consider a Cyberpunk (TM) game, though I think it really hits that mark in Hong Kong, and less so later on when it goes more in to the overarching conspiracy.

  16. Baal_Sagoth says:

    Hm, I’m not the biggest fan of Pondsmith’s seemingly smug, dogmatic attitude here. That type of attention to detail might be pleasing for hardcore fans of a very specific type of genre but it isn’t very useful for making excellent games. Slavishly worshipping perceived traits of a genre can in fact inhibit creativity to a disastrous degree in my opinion.
    Fortunately the game is actually being made by some of the most talented, creative and generally excellent developers there are at the moment. I trust them to create a great game first and fan fiction second.

    • MrUnimport says:

      Cyberpunk 2077 is an sequeldaptation, so it makes sense for the creator of the original to want to stick close to the source material. It’s not a cyberpunk game, it’s a Cyberpunk 2020 game.

      • Baal_Sagoth says:

        Sure, that’s fair enough. And I have no real qualms with creators being very protective of their original work. I just hope they either budget the game for that very small niche and truly make the game hardcore fans deserve without any fucks given about outsiders. Or they decide to use the P&P campaign setting as a starting point for a modern CD Projekt RED RPG. Similar to what the developer did with The Witcher.
        Pondsmith gives off a bad vibe of wanting to cash in on CDPR’s very solid mainstream success and being very delusional about the importance of Cyberpunk 2020 in the grand scheme of things. Especially since he defines his subgenre/brand via such specifics as certain characters and places you supposedly have to use and not just a world, setting and atmopsphere.
        Of course I’m biased since I’d love a great CDPR game first and not a regurgitation of Pondsmith’s little P&P game.

  17. Totally heterosexual says:

    “Mike Pondsmith” is a fucking awesome name. And he looks really badass too. Goddamn.

  18. dirtrobot says:

    I don’t even think cyberpunk 2077 is cyberpunk frankly. Gibson’s world had the dimension of anarchy, homegrown tech, the idea that there was a coolness, even a degree of elitism (like punk’s hilariously dramatic in-fighting as to who is truly punk and who sold out) to technology, who had the most cutting edge and thus dangerous tech and it reflected in the culture. The idea of megarich people with their super sleek name brand sony/braun gadgets contrasting with the hackers with slivers of enhancing chips in their sockets, exposed and raw. To me that’s what the punk in cyberpunk is, using the contemporary cultural and contemporary ideas/tech to raise the middle finger at mainstream ideals and the law.

    Deus ex is not entirely cyberpunk, by my personal definition, but it does explore a big aspect of cyberpunk which is transhumanism. The idea of what does it mean to be human when the bar is raised through technological enhancements?

    All I see in the cyberpunk 2077 trailer is unreal tournament, frankly. Super stoked on the game still, just don’t think they even understand the idea of cyberpunk.

    • Archonsod says:

      “Gibson’s world had the dimension of anarchy, homegrown tech, the idea that there was a coolness, even a degree of elitism (like punk’s hilariously dramatic in-fighting as to who is truly punk and who sold out) to technology, who had the most cutting edge and thus dangerous tech and it reflected in the culture.”

      That would be a pretty good description of CP2020 ….

    • gritz says:

      Deus Ex had quite a bit of tech-elitism, especially between the nano-augs like JC and Paul and the mechanically augmented UNATCO agents like Hermann and Navarre. Fittingly, the Dentons use their advantage to lead a revolution against the corrupt authorities with the possible end-goal of total social upheaval.

      Seems like it fits your definition pretty nicely!

    • The Random One says:

      Your post made me think you knew the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG setting, but apparently you just think the trailer wasn’t very cyberpunk? I think I agree with you, but I also think people are assuming too much from a four-minute trailer for a game two years in the future (which is all CDPR’s fault, frankly).

    • PopeRatzo says:

      I think you could have cyberpunk without transhumanism.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        Cyberpunk is basically a precursor of transhumanism. Fear of the new technology (cyberpunk) changes as people grow more comfortable with it and it becomes more wildly adopted as a basic lifestyle to the point where people really push it out (transhumanism).

  19. Saarlaender39 says:

    I really do miss the ‘staring eyes’ tag here.

  20. PopeRatzo says:

    So, what’s the difference between cyberpunk and noir

    Simply technology and hairstyles.

    No other differences whatsoever. You could adapt any archetypical noir story and easily adapt it to cyberpunk. And vice versa, by the way. The female characters are the tell, IMO.

  21. Cam says:

    It seems like nobody can agree on the definition of Cyberpunk…

    Is it really its own genre, or something that a few people, like Mike Pondsmith, OWN a chunk of?
    I’ve heard tons of games being mentioned as being cyberpunk so far in these comments, and plenty of people trying to deny them entry into the genre over minute details. If it really is it’s own genre, the requirements for being classified as “cyberpunk” shouldn’t be too demanding. But, if “cyberpunk games” have an oddly specific list of things they HAVE TO HAVE, then cyberpunk would seem more like a brand-name cooperatively managed by a few influential people than a real genre.

  22. spelvin spugg says:

    Does anyone know if this is going to be an open-world game?

  23. R.Talsorian says:

    Nate: I’m sorry I was so internet impersonal and all, but I figured it was better than you having to fly up from San Francisco to Seattle to get all face to face! Meanwhile, Interested Readers might want to drop by the RTG website http://rtalsoriangames.wordpress.com/ and see the complete text of the interview, which covers a lot more than the snippet you’ll see here.
    Mike Pondsmith