Cyberpunk 2077 Interview — CD Projekt Talks Night City, Gameplay, Quest Design and Much More
CD Projekt RED Quest Designer Patrick Mills talks to DualShockers about Cyberpunk 2077's Night City, gameplay, inspiration, and more.
Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most anticipated games among the RPG crowd, considering that its pedigree includes the fact that it’s developed by the folks behind the massively successful The Witcher franchise, and the inspiration from one of the most beloved pen and paper RPGs of all time.
While CD Projekt RED has finally revealed the first gameplay of the upcoming title, much is still under wraps. In order to try and extract more nuggets of information, DualShockers talked to Quest Designer Patrick Mills about all sorts of things Cyberpunk.
Giuseppe: Since you work on quests, let’s start by talking about that. Many games tend to create a rather radical divide between main story quests and sidequests. Are you making any effort to make that distinction a bit more organic?
PM: You saw what we did in The Witcher 3: we tried to make sure that our sidequests were often of main quest quality, including multi-hour-long stories. That’s something that we’re interested in doing again with Cyberpunk. We really don’t want the player to feel the difference between main quests and side quests. Maybe they’ll be marked in the UI in a different way, but we don’t want you to feel a difference in quality, particularly in terms of storytelling.
Every one of our quests needs to tell an interesting story.
G: Since you have a certain amount of freedom in designing your character, do the quests actually recognize your choices in creating your V beyond the obvious gender choice? Maybe someone could call you a “blondie” if you have blonde hair or something like that?
PM: Absolutely, and not even just your appearance, but the choices that you make will also affect things later. To make up an example — this is not an actual thing — maybe the way that you solve a quest… If you complete it without a fight, and later on you need help from some people… If you solved that quest by fighting, those people will remember it and say “Actually, you shot one of my friends last week, I’m not gonna help you out.” On the other hand, if you didn’t fight, maybe they’re going to help you out.
But yeah, also the way you dress, the way you customize your character, we want the world to respond to these things.
G: So if you dress in a certain way, NPCs will treat you differently? That’s pretty rare.
PM: It was done in a limited way before in a few other games. Alpha Protocol did it a couple of times and also going back all the way to Daggerfall.
G: In many RPGs, especially with an open-world setup, everything feels like it’s frozen in time. No matter how urgent something is, you can still wander around for days and then get to that on your own good time. Is there any actual passage of time in Cyberpunk besides a visual day and night cycle?
PM: I hope that we’re able to convey that. That’s part of the immersion of the world. One of the things that it’s intriguing about Cyberpunk and this world that we’ve made is that it’s rippling with texture. What we can do — and hopefully we’re able to deliver — is a world where that texture changes over time, not just in response to your actions, but also in response to the passage of time.
The game takes place in California, so we don’t have the problem of having to do seasons, thankfully. [Laughs]
G: You guys have mentioned multiplayer in a few occasions, and I know you can’t tell me anything specific. Cyberpunk 2077 is inspired by pen & paper roleplay, and I have always wondered why developers simply don’t create a very simple online environment with no combat or actual gameplay, but that people can visit with their customized characters, and roleplay old-style in text or otherwise, enjoying the fantasy and the storytelling. Maybe a bar or something similar? I think many would enjoy something like this, which would be basically an online social roleplay space based on the game.
PM: I don’t know if that discussion has ever happened. Certainly, I’ve thought about things like that, but I’m a Quest Designer so it’s not my specific area. We do have research and development in multiplayer going on. We’re gonna be shipping a single-player game, but what happens after that, we’ll see.
G: That makes sense. I’ve just been thinking about it for a while, and as an old-style roleplayer, I think it’d be cool.
PM: I think that’s a good idea.
G: Are there destructible environments in the game?
PM: There is some limited destruction, but we’re still doing research on how far we are able to take that. In the demo when bullets are flying walls are crumbling and things like that. We’re still working on how much exactly of that we’re gonna be able to do. For the purpose of the demo it’s easy to control, but when you start to build the game up, you may find out that some of that can break other things, or maybe the memory resources are needed elsewhere. It’s something that we’re interested in pursuing, and we’ll see where it goes.
G: Cyberpunk 2077 is set over fifty years after the original game, which had its own technology and cybertechnology. Was it a challenge to translate the tech level of 2020 so far into the future?
PM: What we actually decided to do for this is trying to replicate the feeling of playing 2020 in 2077. Instead of doing a strict continuation from 2020 to fifty years later, which brings in all sorts of interesting problems, we moved some things around in the timeline and reinterpreted a few events to break us out of that dialectical conundrum.
G: The very first cinematic trailer of the game showcased a lady with scythes in her arms. Is she an actual character who will appear in the game?
PM: We’re not willing to talk about that yet.
G: She’s quite interesting.
PM: Oh she’s really cool, she’s a really cool character…
G: So she is a character. You kind of betrayed yourself here.
PM: Oh fair enough! [Laughs] I don’t know… she’s definitely a character in that trailer.
G: All right. I’ll take that. [Laughs] At E3 you revealed that the game is going to be first-person only. Personally, I enjoy the idea, but of course, the reaction has been polarized. Can you tell me more about the feedback you received and whether any adjustments have been made? Is CD Projekt firm in the decision?
PM: We are firm in that decision. However, we’re very aware that a lot of people don’t like first-person, and there is a small number of people who can’t play first-person for a variety of reasons.
What I’m hoping we’re able to do is to give difficulty options and maybe some sensibility options, and maybe this could be the first first-person game that some people will like, or that some people are able to play. We do hear that feedback and criticism. It is a decision we’re sticking with, but we want as many people as possible to play the game, so there may be things that we’re able to do in that way.
G: Is this something the studio is actually working on, or something you personally hope will happen?
PM: Certainly we’ll have difficulty options and accessibility options. I don’t know what those may be. That’s the sort of thing that R&D has to do to figure out what exactly they can do, and it’s a way off.
G: The game is a ways off right?
PM: We’re in… reasonably early development. What you see here is pretty cool but…
G: Is it a vertical slice?
PM: I wouldn’t define it as a vertical slice. You could, but I’m not going to.
G: Is it a part of the actual game?
PM: Yes, it is a part of the game, and that’s why I don’t want to call it a vertical slice. What you’re seeing here is from early in the game. It may be different from what you’re seeing now, but it is part of the game.
G: Is the day and night cycle fully dynamic or there are parts of the story that determine the time of day?
PM: There will be part of the story that will require it to be night or day. How we specifically handle that I wouldn’t be able to say at the moment.
G: So there will be quests that require for instance to wait for nighttime?
PM: Yeah. We did it in The Witcher 3, and we’re going to do it again here. In The Witcher 3 sometimes there are ghosts, and those show up at night, so you have to look at night. In this case, maybe there is a party that you have to go to, and parties aren’t going to be early in the morning. It’ll have to be in the evening.
G: Cyberpunk has a history of being rather politically incorrect. What’s the stance for 2077?
PM: I think what is important is that if you’re going to say something, know what you’re saying, and be willing to stand by it. The worst thing you can do is to say something by accident when you didn’t mean to say it. If you’re willing to make a statement. If you’re willing to say “this is what we want to do” and you stand by it, I think that’s something we’re all going to do.
G: In Cyberpunk literature, objectification was quite important in the depiction of a dystopian future. Are you taking the same approach in depicting it?
PM: This is a world where the system and the powers that be have objectified people and literally turned them into objects. Many times people turn themselves into objects in order sometimes to rebel or sometimes to fit in. Certainly, objectification would be a major theme.
G: Is there prostitution in the game?
PM: Certainly prostitution exists in Night City. Whether or not you’ll be able to interface with the prostitutes, I don’t know. At some level, certainly, because there are prostitutes in the city.
G: Is there any element of emergent gameplay? I mean systemic things that can happen more as a result of the player’s action than of scripted behavior?
PM: There may be some elements of that. It would be too early to talk about any kind of high-level systems interaction, and we tend to prefer bespoke hand-crafted content. With that said, we’re building a city with lots of content in it, and lots of things to find and see, so your individual experience is going to be different from your friends’ individual experience.
G: How much freedom of exploration is there in the city? Is it all accessible at all time, and are all the districts open from the beginning?
PM: It’s too early to say at the moment.
G: Do you have any idea of how big the city is, maybe in comparison to The Witcher 3?
PM: It’s big, but it’s difficult to compare it to The Witcher which is a big flat landscape. Night City is very, very vertical.
G: Is it comparable to an actual city in size?
PM: Let me put it this way: when I drive around in Night City, it feels absolutely like a real city. It doesn’t feel like a city in miniature.
G: How much freedom do you have to shape V as a character before you start? Do you have background options you can select?
PM: We do. Keep in mind that the demo is still a work in progress and things may change. Cyberpunk 2020 had the lifepath system. We have something similar, and that won’t affect just the beginning of the game. The point of that is for you to get into character before the game begins, but it will have consequences throughout the story.
G: Do you have any system in place, or in the works, to convey the setting outside of conversations and storytelling? I’m thinking about some sort of codex, maybe hyperlinks in the dialogue that can provide lore explanations?
PM: We’re still working on that system, so anything I could tell you might change. We have some ideas for that sort of system, and we’ll have more to say later.
G: There is so much to learn, and the setting isn’t the same that fans are used to.
PM: There is tons and tons of stuff. It is important to let the player understand the world and immerse them in it so that they can properly play the character.
G: How much of 2020 will still be present in 2077? Will we find the same corporation fifty years later?
PM: Absolutely. I was a 2020 player. I want you to recognize in 2077 lots and lots of stuff, even if there will be new stuff too that we’re bringing in, particularly with regards to the story and the quests. I was talking to Mike Pondsmith at E3 about how this is like being the game master for pen and paper. You read the books, you process them, and then you adapt them for the players. That’s very similar to what we’re doing now, but instead of having four guys around a table we have millions of people.
It’s an adaptation. It’s our adaptation, but you will recognize quite a lot.
G: Did you create an actual timeline from 2020 to 2077?
PM: Yes, we have one. We’re not talking about it yet, because it’s still being worked on.
G: Are you going to publish it?
PM: I don’t know if it’s gonna come out before the game, but you’ll definitely see something like that in the game.
G: How much does Pondsmith contribute to the story of the game? How much does he read or check?
PM: Pondsmith is a great resource. For instance, if you think about Kerry Eurodyne… If you want to know the backstory of this character, you won’t find it in the books. If you ask Ponsdmith to tell you more about it, he’ll send you a couple of pages telling you where he was born, what happened to him, what he did before 2020, what he did after 2020. He gives you all of that.
G: So he’s very available to help you guys out.
PM: He’s absolutely very available, and on top of that we do run a lot of things by him. His approval means a lot to the process. There are occasional disagreements, and that’s part of the creative process.
G: Who wins?
PM: It depends.
G: Is he open to changing his mind?
PM: Absolutely, he’s been wonderful.
G: Is there a big difference between working with Pondsmith and Sapkowski?
PM: I wouldn’t be able to tell you, as I didn’t work with Sapkowski, but I absolutely love working with Pondsmith.
If you want to learn more, you can enjoy recently-released concept art and a batch of screenshots that were showcased at Gamescom. You can also watch the first cinematic trailer from E3 2018, and the first fantastic gameplay.
This post contains affiliate links where DualShockers gets a small commission on sales. Any and all support helps keep DualShockers as a standalone, independent platform for less-mainstream opinions and news coverage.