Cyberpunk 2077

An in-depth look at CD Projekt RED’s am­bi­tious new RPG

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - Andy Kelly

You’ve likely seen the Cyberpunk 2077 demo by now. Af­ter keep­ing it be­hind closed doors at E3, the Pol­ish de­vel­oper sud­denly re­leased the en­tire thing on YouTube. It was a power move by a stu­dio aware of how an­tic­i­pated this fol­low-up to The Witcher 3 is, and the video is now sit­ting at over ten mil­lion views: Fig­ures usu­ally re­served for Rock­star games. When I sit down in a cav­ernous board­room in the stu­dio’s War­saw head­quar­ters to see the game, I’m aware it’s the same demo. But the dif­fer­ence is, this one is just for me. The de­vel­oper man­ning the con­troller tells me he’s relieved there’s no time limit, no queues of hun­dreds of peo­ple wait­ing ea­gerly out­side, and he takes the op­por­tu­nity to give me a slower, more de­tailed demon­stra­tion, stop­ping to take a closer look at things. It’s a game world that aches to be stud­ied and scru­ti­nized, with a clut­tered, lived-in feel that few vir­tual worlds man­age to ac­com­plish this well.

One of the most strik­ing things about the game’s set­ting, Night City, is how vi­brant it is com­pared to the dark, rain-soaked dystopias usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with the genre. Cy­ber­punk2077 is set in a fu­ture Cal­i­for­nia, and writer Stanis­law Swieci­cki tells me that the stu­dio is go­ing to great lengths to cap­ture the Golden State’s dis­tinc­tive at­mos­phere.

“We want to give Night City a Cal­i­for­nian feel,” he says. “It’s not just an­other ab­stract dystopia. I vis­ited LA for the first time this year and it was very in­spir­ing, es­pe­cially walk­ing along Venice Beach. We want to bring some of that vibe to the game. The sun, the palm trees, but a darker side, too. It’s an in­cred­i­bly di­verse place, with all these dif­fer­ent peo­ple, fash­ions, and cul­tures shar­ing the same space, but it can also be dan­ger­ous.”

As we walk through Wat­son, a bustling shop­ping and en­ter­tain­ment dis­trict bom­barded by neon bill­boards, the pass­ing hordes of ci­ti­zens give me a sense of this di­ver­sity, and I don’t see one re­peated char­ac­ter model. Crowds are gen­er­ated semi-pro­ce­du­rally to avoid rep­e­ti­tion, mix­ing body parts, faces, clothes, and hair­styles, and CDPR prom­ises the fin­ished game will fea­ture an even greater va­ri­ety of heights, weights, and body shapes.

“Wat­son is a mul­ti­cul­tural dis­trict with a strong Asian in­flu­ence and a rising crime prob­lem,” says Swieci­cki. “But there are other dis­tricts too, each with their own unique feel. West­brook is where the mid­dle classes live; Hey­wood was once home to the tech gi­ants, but aban­doned and left to rot; and Paci­fica is a subur­ban dis­trict ruled by gangs, and the most dan­ger­ous place in the city. Wher­ever you are in the city, there’s a layer of dark­ness.”

The com­plex­ity and fi­delity of the city is as­ton­ish­ing, both on a grand scale and in the finer de­tails. The en­tire game is first-per­son, viewed through hero V’s eyes, let­ting you get closer to the world than Ger­alt ever did. A street mar­ket is a par­tic­u­lar feast for the eyes, with dozens of ven­dors hawk­ing their wares and flip­ping heaps of siz­zling noo­dles in woks. Above them dig­i­tized petals fall from a holo­graphic cherry blos­som tree, and trains skim silently along mono­rail tracks. I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced such a dense videogame city be­fore, which ex­tends to the au­dio de­sign. The sound of peo­ple talk­ing, sirens blar­ing, mu­sic play­ing, and those ever-pre­sent ad­ver­tiz­ing bill­boards chat­ter­ing over the top of one an­other in a dozen lan­guages only adds to the tur­moil.

“The devil is in the de­tails,” says Ma­ciej Pi­etras, lead cin­e­matic an­i­ma­tor. “The third-per­son cam­era in TheWitcher floated slightly above NPCs, which we took into ac­count when an­i­mat­ing them. But now you can re­ally look at what they’re do­ing up close, and we’ve im­proved the an­i­ma­tion to re­flect this. When we

I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced such a dense videogame city be­fore

an­i­mate char­ac­ters, even the NPCs, we think about their per­son­al­ity and their past. The way they move or some­thing in their face might re­veal some­thing about them. We work from the in­side out.

“We also changed the way we do fa­cial an­i­ma­tion, mov­ing to a new mus­cle-based sys­tem,” Pi­etras adds. “We have a huge li­brary of fa­cial an­i­ma­tions, which I think is im­por­tant in a first-per­son game. You can get close to peo­ple now, and this new tech lets us pick out more sub­tle de­tails in the faces. When you first see a street ven­dor he’ll be try­ing to sell you some­thing, call­ing you over to look at his food, and you should be able to see en­thu­si­asm in his face as well as his body lan­guage.”

CLOSE UP

In the wait­ing room of Dr. Vic­tor Vec­tor, a so-called rip­per­doc spe­cial­iz­ing in cy­ber­net­ics, I ask the guy play­ing the game to stop and use V’s new oc­u­lar im­plant to zoom in on some of the props in the room. In the YouTube demo the per­son play­ing dashes through here with­out stop­ping, but tak­ing a closer look, it’s a re­mark­ably de­tailed space. I see rows of maneki neko on a shelf (those lit­tle wav­ing cats be­lieved to bring good luck) and a gor­geously de­tailed statue of an oni, a Ja­panese de­mon, shrouded in in­cense smoke. I also get a closer look at Vec­tor him­self, who’s watch­ing a box­ing match on TV, and has a box­ing glove-shaped pen­dant hang­ing from his neck.

What we’ve seen of Cy­ber­punk2077 so far has been largely fo­cused on ac­tion, but Swieci­cki re­as­sures me that this is just one as­pect of the game. “Some cyberpunk is more pulpy and driven by ac­tion,” he says. “Stuff like Ter­mi­na­tor or RoboCop. But then there’s the more philo­soph­i­cal side of the genre. Think Blade Run­ner or Ghost in the Shell. Our mis­sion is to give play­ers strong el­e­ments of both. You’ll ex­pe­ri­ence the thrill of us­ing cy­ber­netic im­plants and high-tech weaponry in com­bat, sure, but there’s also depth in the story. We want to ask ques­tions about what iden­tity and in­di­vid­u­al­ity are in a world where peo­ple are so closely con­nected with tech­nol­ogy.”

The fo­cus on ac­tion in a demo, Swieci­cki ex­plains, was a re­sult of them want­ing to show off as many game sys­tems as pos­si­ble. “Sto­ry­telling is hugely im­por­tant to us as a stu­dio,” he says. “We want to tell sto­ries that res­onate with peo­ple on an emo­tional level and ask im­por­tant ques­tions. So there will be a lot of that in the ac­tual game. It’s an im­por­tant part of the genre.”

Pi­etras adds that ev­ery­thing starts with story at CDPR, and that ev­ery depart­ment, from quest de­sign to cin­e­matic an­i­ma­tion, has an in­ti­mate work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the writ­ers. “In one scene the writ­ers wanted Mered­ith Stout, a cor­po­ra­tion boss, to look vis­i­bly ner­vous and frus­trated, be­cause she knows some­one in her corp is try­ing to screw her over,” he says. “So we took that di­rec­tion and an­i­mated her ac­cord­ingly.”

An­other of CDPR’s high level goals for Cyberpunk is mak­ing the game as seam­less as pos­si­ble, from be­ing able to move around the city with­out any load­ing breaks, to con­ver­sa­tions. “In TheWitcher you talk to some­one and there’s a tran­si­tion to di­a­logue, then back to the world when you’re fin­ished,” says Swieci­cki. “But here we want the blend of story and ac­tion to be seam­less, which is re­ally chal­leng­ing from a writ­ing per­spec­tive. If you turn and look at some­thing dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, we want the NPC to no­tice. We want the re­ac­tiv­ity in the game to be su­per high. It’s al­most like you’re an ac­tor in a scene, rather than just pas­sively watch­ing it play out.”

While Ger­alt was an es­tab­lished char­ac­ter with a long his­tory, V is much more mal­leable, al­low­ing for a deeper role­play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “The key rule for us is that V is you,” says Swieci­cki. “The choices you make will af­fect the story and shape the char­ac­ter. But at the same time, V is not a blank slate. They’re a mer­ce­nary on the rise, they want to be­come a leg­end in Night City. There’s a char­ac­ter there, but you get to play around with them and give them more shades than you could with Ger­alt. The game is a jour­ney, and there is an end to it, but you get to de­cide which paths V takes to get there.”

One of the ma­jor ways you’ll shape V is through quests. “We want the char­ac­ters you meet in the game to re­spond to you and your ac­tions,” says Pa­trick Mills, quest de­signer. “That’s not just about hav­ing enough points in a cer­tain stat or some­thing like that. In­stead it’s like ‘Did you talk to that guy ear­lier? What in­for­ma­tion did you get?’ If you found the in­for­ma­tion, you can use it later. If you killed the guy’s friend in­stead of do­ing

V is much more mal­leable, al­low­ing for a deeper role­play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

some­thing for him, he won’t help you any­more. We love that kind of re­ac­tiv­ity.

“It’s a ma­jor goal of ours to make sure all of our quests say some­thing about the world,” he adds. “Some­times we’ll just want to ex­plain how some­thing works and build a quest around that. Other times we’ll be go­ing deeper into a theme that’s only touched on in the story. Or maybe it’s driven by char­ac­ter and the quest is built around a per­sonal jour­ney. Our quests are about build­ing the world, set­ting the mood, and ex­plor­ing themes.”

Mills ex­plains that the quests he de­signs are fed back to QA, which will give them a ‘logic pass’, out­lin­ing things they think they should be able to do. If it makes sense for the player to solve a prob­lem in a par­tic­u­lar way, CDPR wants to cater for it. “There is room for emer­gence,” he says when I ask if the game will share any qual­i­ties with im­mer­sive sims such as DeusEx. “It’s not ex­actly Breathofthe Wild, but it does hap­pen. We’ll build some­thing imag­in­ing play­ers do­ing it a cer­tain way, but QA will play it and say: ‘I should be able to do this.’ Then that gets added, and the com­plex­ity in­creases. So in­ter­est­ing stuff emerges more from the logic than the sys­tems.”

JOB CEn­ter

The fu­ture set­ting also gives CDPR many more ways to throw quests at you. “Hav­ing a set­ting with telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions makes all the dif­fer­ence,” says Mills. “It’s also more im­mer­sive. How do you get a ‘quest’ in the real world? Usu­ally it’s a phone call or a text mes­sage: ‘Can you go pick up gro­ceries?’ Our open world team is con­stantly fill­ing the city with lit­tle events that can feed into quests. You’ll see some dudes on the street, and eaves­drop­ping might lead to a quest. Or maybe be­cause you talked to them, you might see them a cou­ple of hours later in an­other quest and get some re­ac­tiv­ity there.”

“Com­pared to a medieval world, a bustling me­trop­o­lis is much bet­ter for draw­ing play­ers into quests,” adds Swieci­cki. “You’ll be walk­ing along the street and sud­denly you’ll be drawn into a story. There are so many nar­ra­tive hooks that can lure the player in, and that’s some­thing we love do­ing. Peo­ple loved the quests in TheWitcher that would start out sim­ple but grow into some­thing big­ger, more com­plex, and we want to bring that to Cyberpunk.”

Ask some­one what their fa­vorite quest in TheWitcher is, and chances are it’ll be a sid­e­quest. CDPR is one of the few devs which makes op­tional quests that are worth your time—some­thing it hopes to bring to Cyberpunk. “A lot of us re­ally pre­fer work­ing on sid­e­quests, be­cause you can tell self-con­tained sto­ries,” says Mills. “We’re also aim­ing to make the pro­duc­tion val­ues as high as, or close to, the crit­i­cal path. There’s a length lim­i­ta­tion, so we can’t re­ally rely on a full three act struc­ture, but we want to make sure there’s some­thing unique and cool about all of them. If I pro­posed a quest that was to go and re­cover a stolen item for some­one, then bring it back to him, that would not be ap­proved. That’s fine for smaller events, but a quest has to have some­thing you’ve never seen be­fore.

“I wish I could give ex­am­ples, but one of the things I most en­joy is cre­at­ing quests that fully sub­vert your ex­pec­ta­tions. One of my fa­vorite en­coun­ters I de­signed for TheWitcher3 was be­ing ap­proached by a tax­man, which trig­gered if you were car­ry­ing a lot of coin. He shows up and asks you where you got all your money, and cal­cu­lates how much tax you owe. These are the kinds of things that flesh the world out, and I want to do some­thing sim­i­lar in Cyberpunk. This isn’t just a world where peo­ple are shoot­ing each other all the time. Yeah, you’re a mer­ce­nary, so your job is shoot­ing peo­ple, but you’ll have other things to do as well that are very dif­fer­ent.”

Dur­ing the hour I spent in­ter­view­ing these three de­vel­op­ers, not once did any of them go into specifics about story, quests, or any­thing else for that mat­ter. CDPR is keep­ing Cy­ber­punk2077 ex­tremely close to its chest, and I could see the de­vel­op­ers in­ter­nally wrestling with them­selves, try­ing not to go into the par­tic­u­lars of what they were talk­ing about. So even though I’ve seen the demo sev­eral times, in­clud­ing once up close and per­sonal, and heard a lot about it, there’s still an air of mys­tery around the game. I’m re­main­ing cau­tiously op­ti­mistic un­til I ac­tu­ally get my hands on the thing and re­ally test the lim­its of the quest de­sign. But un­til then I’m still hugely ex­cited about what CDPR has planned, and can’t wait to ex­plore the streets of Night City.

“There are so many nar­ra­tive hooks that can lure the player in”

This is what health in­sur­ance looks like in the fu­ture.

The en­vi­ron­ments are as­ton­ish­ingly clut­tered.

A cab full of guns? Looks sus­pi­cious.

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