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Feature Article

Why Cyberpunk 2077 Had To Be First-Person

Bringing the future to life.

Cyberpunk 2077 was easily the most talked about game of this year's E3. Its trailer reveal during the Microsoft Press Conference showed off many of the vibrant and equally grim locales in the game, and developer CD Projekt Red subsequently wowed attendees with a private gameplay demo that ran almost an hour. It showed that same demo again at Gamescom, and finally, at long last, it's revealed that to the public.

Now that everyone is able to get a taste of what Cyberpunk 2077 is all about, we're looking back at some of what we learned about the games over the past few months. 2077 is based on the original Cyberpunk 2020 pen and paper RPG, and creator Mike Pondsmith has been a regular collaborator with CD Projekt Red on the new game. Back at E3, we were able to talk with him about the development of the game, his work with the Witcher devs, and just how much effort goes into bringing Cyberpunk 2077 to life.

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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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

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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Avatar image for illusivepickledonionman

I get why someone would be put off without third person but i prefer it in a game like this. A shooter rpg with tight alleyways ect. You can clearly tell they were aiming for an immersive experience where you experience the world through the eyes of the character. What i saw from the demo reassured me that it works but although i would have played it in FP anyway for various reasons it probably would have been nice to have an optional toggle.

Avatar image for Yams1980
Yams1980

just add third person toggle. its what fallout had, im sure almost everyone used it and toggled it whenever they needed more accuracy for first person.

NMS added a third person camera, it made the game so much better being able to see your own character. If a small developer can put in third person, im sure this developer can.

Avatar image for JanesAnsible
JanesAnsible

Yeah, I think I will wait on this. Once they said it was going to be first-person only then I got totally turned off. No pre-order for me on this one.

Avatar image for deactivated-5b48a60a581b7

These guys had almost secured the Day 1 buy from me until this announcement, thanks to their reputation with The Witcher. Now I'll wait for videos and reviews, and maybe, just maybe, will grab it when it's very cheap.

If it's for inmersion, in The Witcher 3 I just loved and enjoyed walking slowly towards my next objective, toying with the camera, at the pace and speed I thought Geralt would do in his day to day life. Even if the controls were clunky, the animation was great and used these sections to admire the view, my character, my armor, my gear, his swords at the back, give me time to investigate odd places, etc. If I wanted to go faster, I would call Roach and ride at a realistic speed, instead of just running wildly like I would do in GTA V, for example, where it's super easy to get a car or climb anything. If I needed to run I would run, but I would never ride my horse at a stupid speed inside a City even if I could, because I was totally inmersed and wanted to act just like a real person would do in that world. That was just an awesome inmersion level.

Now that will be gone and instead we'll get tunnel vision with a floating, rectangular, single eye? No, thanks.

Avatar image for off3nc3
off3nc3

This game is already dead and buried , they fucked up.

Avatar image for davillain-
DaVillain-

@off3nc3: That's some mighty Crystal Ball you have there. Mind telling me what's the next lottery number from you're mighty Crystal ball?

Avatar image for so_hai
so_hai

"Had" to be?

Then, they couldn't consider anything else?

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

It sounds like they're planning to fiddle with the UI based on your character's augments. Something that doesn't really work in third person.

Avatar image for davillain-
DaVillain-

This whole outburst of Cyberpunk 2077 being in all first-person never bother me nor it doesn't concern me. It is the core of the game and execution that matters the most and this is a freaking day one purchase on PC with KB/M for this type of game!

Avatar image for so_hai
so_hai

@davillain-: You mean, you like FPS?

Avatar image for davillain-
DaVillain-

@so_hai: I always like shooters and rather they'll first-person-shooter or 3rd-person, it's the core of the game itself that matters the most to me.

Avatar image for boardsport311
boardsport311

Day 1.

Avatar image for deactivated-5b48a60a581b7

Good, thanks for the explanation. Lost interest anyway.

Avatar image for sladakrobot
sladakrobot

Its not my cup of tea. I rather control a character than a floating camera with arms...but thats just me

Avatar image for so_hai
so_hai

@sladakrobot: Never heard it put like that - but yeah, I agree.

Avatar image for Bamda
Bamda

I'm sold, I can't wait for this game.

Avatar image for N0madS0uL
N0madS0uL

I hear his explanation on the first person vs third person and their is some merit to it but really not that much. I am actually surprised they moved to the FPS style instead considering The Witcher was 3rd person and all the things he mention didnt apply there...I felt totally immersed in TW3 and didnt miss anything due to its 3rd perspective... I guess some interaction could be weird though if you not in the driver seat so to speak. I would have loved the option of both perspectives with an option for some automated camera jumping between the two during specific systems of play. But still I am also rather excited to see and play the game.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@N0madS0uL: Did you know...that this game is NOT The Witcher 3? Shocking, I know.

Avatar image for N0madS0uL
N0madS0uL

@Thanatos2k: If you cant contribute anything interesting or useful dont add anything at all, you simply trolling...

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@N0madS0uL: If you think I didn't contribute anything then you didn't do any critical thinking.

This game is not The Witcher 3. Expecting it to be the same is baffling. He explained pretty clearly the difference between how things are experienced differently from a first and third person perspective.

Avatar image for N0madS0uL
N0madS0uL

@Thanatos2k: Again another useless comment, just as the first one you simply stating the obvious, I know and everyone else knows its not TW3 or 4 or 5 etc...thats not the point, or should I S.P.E.L.L out what the point is? Please just read the comment and what im trying to say instead of making stupid comments for the sake of making a comment.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@N0madS0uL: I'm stating the obvious because you are avoiding the obvious. I see how it is. Any argument inconvenient to your claims is just "useless."

The Trump debating style.

Avatar image for isariamkia
Isariamkia

@N0madS0uL: TW3 is a open world with open spaces while Cyberpunk is based in a city with a lot of buildings and skyscrapers and it's all in a closed space.

I think that's to be considered when they talk about immersion, a TPP in a closed space won't feel the same as in an open space and vice versa with a FPP

Avatar image for N0madS0uL
N0madS0uL

@isariamkia: You do make a good point, eitherway we gonna have to wait and see until we can get our hands on it. Regardless I do have a lot of faith in CDPR and I am sure it will be a great game.

Avatar image for digitalheadbutt
digitalheadbutt

@isariamkia: Also, 3PP camera in tight quarters tend to suck.

Avatar image for lamespot69
LameSpot69

@digitalheadbutt: That's what vanishing walls are for.

Avatar image for gamer112696
gamer112696

@digitalheadbutt: Very good point

Avatar image for so_hai
so_hai

I don't know, it looks sort of conservative in its presentation.

Avatar image for deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

@so_hai: The term for this style is retrofuturism. I personally really like it.

But i think the most important thing is that the content and game mechanisms are modern, even forward-thinking.

Avatar image for so_hai
so_hai

@groowagon: Yeah fair enough.

Avatar image for moonco
Moonco

Mike Pondsmith voice can melt butter. I seen it happen

Moderator
Avatar image for asnakeneverdies
ASnakeNeverDies

@moonco: I melt mine butter in the microwave, but I believe your word wholeheartedly.

Avatar image for Barighm
Barighm

I was never really concerned about the perspective. I EXPECTED third person because of the The Witcher, but I certainly wasn't married to the idea. I didn't like The Witcher anyway.

Avatar image for digitalheadbutt
digitalheadbutt

@Barighm: Same here. I don't understand the vitriol about camera position. CDPR makes pretty good games, I am sure they will give us a compelling FPP experience and I think Pondsmith makes a good point about FPP being a bit more immersive. In 3PP I can see most of the world with an easy rocking of my mouse, just that puts you in a bit of a god mode. In FPP, we will need to have our head on a swivel, sound design will play a larger role in giving us queues as to what is happening in the environment. I am stoked to see the game when it is finished.

Avatar image for lamespot69
LameSpot69

@digitalheadbutt: "I don't understand the vitriol about camera position."

A role playing game where you customize your own character and dress him as crazy as you want him only to hide it behind a FPS for most of the game. That's what people have a problem with.

Avatar image for digitalheadbutt
digitalheadbutt

@lamespot69:

Sure, I just guess I am more concerned with the content of the game rather than the aesthetics of my character. As I said, CDPR has proven themselves to be a pretty good developer, why not give them the benefit of the doubt rather than blasting them for something as minor as camera position.

Avatar image for lamespot69
LameSpot69

@digitalheadbutt: "As I said, CDPR has proven themselves to be a pretty good developer"

They have one runaway hit with Witcher 3 (which I didn't even like) and now they're Rockstar Games caliber. We'll see, time will tell.

Avatar image for deadpoolking
DeadpoolKing

@lamespot69: Exactly

Avatar image for m4a5
m4a5

@nibbin1191: Yeah, they really delivered with Witcher 3. I trust they'll deliver a great game with this too.

Avatar image for asnakeneverdies
ASnakeNeverDies

@nibbin1191: I dunno it makes sense, but it makes hype. And I'm hype. 😵

Avatar image for attirex
attirex

fail.

Avatar image for off3nc3
off3nc3

@attirex: it's an uber-fail.

Avatar image for deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

@attirex: false.