CD Projekt's been quite busy as of late. Most recently, it teased some whizzbang, probably Witcher-3-related engine tech, but potentially even more intriguing is Cyberpunk 2077, a whole new world full of intrigue, transhuman tech, and deranged Scyther ladies. However, while a recent CG trailer gave us a tantalizing glimpse of Night City's corruption-twisted guts, it didn't leave us with too terribly much to go on. Also, it had some elements that could be considered problematic - at least, from an imagery standpoint. if not entirely on an intentional level. So I got in touch with Project Lead Mateusz Kanik to discuss what the trailer way trying to show us, games' responsibility within the larger social sphere, potential allegories for game addiction within Cyberpunk, and whether or not the final game has any chance of actually looking that good. It's all after the break.
RPS: Let's start with the trailer. Why did you decide to emphasize that particular moment? Will any of the characters we saw be playable?
Mateusz Kanik: We wanted to catch the atmosphere of Cyberpunk. The moment is important, but what we wanted emphasize is the setting: How the city looks, how it feels, how augmentations can change your mind. So you can see that we are very faithful to the original, despite moving it 50 years forward. You have megacorporations, the psycho squad and the problem of people losing it after too many improvements. We surely do want the characters from the trailer to appear in the game, but it’s too early and a little bit spoilerish to talk about the details.
RPS: Why that woman? A number of people were fairly taken aback by the fact that she was a scantily clad and in a compromising position, which is understandable. However, the camera panned out to reveal that her arms were grotesque scythes, which struck me as making it less about sex appeal and more about creating a striking image of destroyed beauty by way of rampant technological augmentation. Is that what you were going for?
Mateusz Kanik: Why not that woman? As for your interpretation: It is really cool that our short clip created some food for thought like that. We enjoy that people dive deeper and they do not see an “epic, omg” flick on youtube, but something they think about when it’s finished. That’s how we want to make our games – you saw that in The Witcher series, moral choices and the problems the player faced were not trivial. Many people thought about decisions they made after they stopped playing. That’s what we want to do with Cyberpunk 2077. The worst thing I could do as someone behind the trailer is to tell you how you should interpret it. So, no, I won’t tell you what we were going for. It would spoil the fun.
RPS: Even then, though, there's still an issue of disempowering someone who seems like a lead female character. Will Cyberpunk be more even-handed in terms of the way it treats gender overall, though? I mean, it looked like she joined the Psycho Squad at the end of the trailer, which puts her in a pretty important place.
Mateusz Kanik: Even handed? Do you mean that we should do something to someone, who seems (and I stress the word seems) the lead male character? Look, nothing has been confirmed about the character you will play. We really want to tell a story of someone from the street, raised in the gutter, who will than stand up against the system he (or she) lives in. And that’s all you know. If you follow news about the game, you will also know that we want to put a lot of work into character customization. So how you treat your avatar in the game is completely up to you.
RPS: The city in the trailer looks quite striking, but it's a fairly standard style of cyberpunk environment. Are you planning to take players anywhere more exotic over the course of the game? How varied is the city itself?
Mateusz Kanik: It looks standard to you, because we aren't just making a cyberpunk game. We are creating THE Cyberpunk. But of course the city will be diversified. What you see was a simple street, but there is, for example, a whole corporate, sterile looking corporate district in our plans, a whole “war-zone” overrun with gangs. When designing the city we wanted to give it the feel of a living city. We didn't want a central plan that suddenly built the city from the ground up, but a consequential evolution of the streets and buildings. Building new floors on top old ones, constructing supports for facades that are falling apart, etc.
RPS: Braindances. You've told us a bit about their place in the culture of the world, but how do they factor into the actual game - both in terms of story and gameplay?
Mateusz Kanik: Braindances are an important part of the setting. Everyone is into them. It’s massively popular and everyone has to be a part of it. You are no one if you don’t follow the new trends in the “New Hollywood” industry, don’t know celebrities, etc. Also, it’s a vast social problem, you’ll meet junkies thrown out on the street, who stay homeless and continue to live other people's lives. No one is indifferent about this phenomena and it is one of the tech blessings and curses of 2077.
The concept of Braindances and the potential for people to get totally lost in them struck me as a potential allegory for games. You seem to be treating them similarly to the current debate over game addiction, too. One side says they're just entertainment, the other panics about the dangers of addiction, immersion in violence, and whatnot. Are you attempting to say something with that parallel?
Mateusz Kanik: Again, if we said, yes, that was our intention, we would make it too shallow. It’s good that you find analogies with the modern world. Just like the fantasy setting of The Witcher covered real life problems, the same can be said for Cyberpunk. Your thoughts and interpretations are your own, but we pose questions and won’t give you an answer.
Are braindances like games? I think they are even more controversial if you look at it. They're a next step forward in entertainment immersion. But it is also curious: If we have problems now, what will happen in 60 years? Will legislation follow tech advancement? Searching for parallels between braindances and today’s media, you will encounter many more problems than a simple violence debate. It’s also good to know that braindances are mentioned in the pen-and-paper Cyberpunk 2020. So you can’t say that we saw the whole debate around us and said, let’s make a parallel in our game! Not to sound like I’m boasting, but really, we’re much more deep than that.
RPS: Do you think it's important for games - especially ones that claim to be "Adult" - to be self-aware like that? I mean, games are part of pop culture now in a big, big way. If we're going to reference and criticize movies, books, TV, etc within games, why not games as well?
Mateusz Kanik: Of course. There is a whole world outside your screen and if your gaming corresponds to what's out there, it’s much better. Both ways – immersion is achieved with much ease and you also have thoughts about your gameplay when you turn off your hardware.
Games are a very important part not only of pop-culture, but also of art. They are the latest medium of telling stories. And they telling them in a way you can’t experience them anywhere else. That’s why we put so much nonlinearity in our stories. A TV show or a theater play, may try to make an audience vote, but this is an exception in the canon. Games should use this as a definition of art – bringing non-linearity to storytelling, for the first time in human history.
RPS: Why'd you decide to work so closely with Cyberpunk 2020 creator Mike Pondsmith on this one? I mean, Witcher came from pre-existing material as well, but author Andrzej Sapkowski hasn't even played it. Why did you feel like Cyberpunk necessitated the original creator's input where Witcher didn't?
Mateusz Kanik: In The Witcher we didn’t go far forward in time with the books. We were raised both on Sapkowski and Pondsmith, we know how their worlds feel. But the collaboration with Mike helps us move the world 50 years forward and know that we didn’t go too far. Usually, we don’t, but this feels much safer.
What’s more we are not only transitioning the setting in time, but also transitioning the mechanics. And no one knows it better than Mike. Mike has a different approach to this game, he was approached by many gaming companies to make a videogame adaptation. But those didn’t meet his standards, so he really wants this to be a success.
RPS: Obviously, the cyberpunk genre is the core influence on your game's world and systems, but what are some others? For instance, Deus Ex: Human Revolution drew heavily from the Renaissance period, painting a line between that period of rapid advancement and its own. Are you doing anything along those lines, but with different themes/times/places/etc?
Mateusz Kanik: We have many references. Our blog has some posts about our inspirations and our team members talk with the community on the forum of Cyberpunk, Afterlife. Aside from gaming references, we will dive deep in the genre itself. Blade Runner, the Eden comic book, and [William Gibson's] Sprawl trilogy are just some classics that will influence this game.
RPS: How indicative is the trailer of how you want the final game to look? Do you think, by 2015 or whenever the game's done, you can have it looking nearly that good?
Mateusz Kanik: That’s our aim for sure. We are still improving our engine and our tech is getting more and more powerful. Remember: the game will be released when it’s done. So we won’t publish something that isn’t a graphical masterpiece.
Check back soon for an interview with Cyberpunk creator Mike Pondsmith on his involvement with CD Projekt's tech-augmented leap into his world's not-so-distant future. We also talked about what previous cyberpunk videogames have done right and wrong, and - of course - the fuuuuuuuuture. Because it's pretty scary, but also exciting and stuff.