Cyberpunk 2077 Interview -- The Shift to First-Person, Similarities to The Witcher 3, and More
Cyberpunk 2077 Quest Designer Patrick Mills explains the transition to first-person and quells fears about creating your own character.
Cyberpunk 2077 has been the talk of the video game industry ever since CD Projekt Red re-revealed their latest project last month during E3 2018. However, with the public only being able to get a glimpse of the game’s reveal trailer that was shown during Microsoft’s briefing, many fans have been left with a litany of questions about the title.
During E3, I chatted with Quest Designer Patrick Mills. While there was a lot of information that Mills couldn’t give to me due to the secrecy that still surrounds Cyberpunk 2077, we spoke a lot about some of the larger ideas within the game such as the ability to create your own character and the need for the studio to make it in the first-person perspective.
Logan: So I saw the hands-off demo yesterday and the first thing that stood out to me was how polished the game was. Like, it was almost too polished. Is there any chance that the full game reflects that level of polish that you showed in that demo?
Patrick Mills: I really hope so. We have a lot of work to do and putting this together was a lot of work. One of the things about being this kind of studio is that we have to make sure that every game we release is really good. There’s a lot of pressure on us to make sure that we don’t release anything that is less than what people are expecting. So yeah, we’re really hoping that it can be that good and we’re going to work really hard to make sure that it is.
L: What you guys showed yesterday looked so polished and advanced that I struggle to imagine it running on current-gen hardware. Are you guys saying anything about platforms right now?
PM: We aren’t saying anything but we are aiming for current-gen hardware.
L: Have you been able to get it running on current-gen platforms?
PM: Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Not because I can’t tell you — though probably I can’t — but actually I don’t know. It’s not my department. I’m a quest designer and I work just with our tools for the most part which, all of our dev stuff, you know, is on PC. We have a really talented engineering team though and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were but I couldn’t say.
L: A lot of people had a negative knee-jerk reaction when you guys revealed that Cyberpunk 2077 was going to be both first-person and have players create their own character. These two things specifically I think caught a lot of people off guard. Touching first on the create-a-character stuff, I think coming off of The Witcher games fans fell so in love with Geralt that I think they were worried that the new protagonist in Cyberpunk 2077 wasn’t going to be as iconic because it’s not a set character like he was. What would you say to alleviate people’s fears and worries about this?
PM: Well, this is going to sound a little bit self-promote-y but I used to work at Obsidian and I worked on Alpha Protocol. With Alpha Protocol, you had a main character that was kind of similar to V (main character of Cyberpunk 2077) and I’m really hoping that we can do a similar thing where everyone who played Alpha Protocol and liked it said that their character felt very alive and very distinct. There was a lot of variety and by the end of the game, everybody had their own character.
We want to do the same thing with V in this case so that you’re creating the character along with us throughout the game and by the end, your character feels distinct with their own unique history much like Geralt did. Of course, Geralt brings that with him but in this case, you’re going to build it along with us.
L: Yeah, when I saw the demo yesterday I quickly realized that this create-a-character thing won’t be an issue at all. It reminded me a lot of the Mass Effect games where at the end of the day, it’s a Shepard that you’re creating and determining the look and gender of, but other than that, it felt like a person that Bioware distinctly had written a story for.
Let’s touch on the shooter aspect of the game though and your transition to making an FPS. How has that gone for you guys? I know a lot of developers talk about the issues of transitioning to first-person games and a lot of them don’t get it right the first time around. What have been the development challenges for you?
PM: Well, we wanted to bring in people who were familiar with that so we have people at the studio who have worked on shooters before. We really want to make sure to get that right. Honestly, at the point now, and I know this wasn’t a hands-on demonstration and it’s still a work-in-progress, but even when I’m working on it and I’m playing with the developer tools shooting already feels pretty good. As long as we keep iterating on that and polishing it up, I don’t think we’re going to have a problem. It is very difficult but I think we can handle it.
In terms of what first-person brings, I just think it’s totally worth that risk. This is a world where I want to be able to look up and see the skyscrapers above me and third-person can’t afford that. It almost seems like a tiny, trivial reason but that’s actually really important.
L: The Witcher games took place in these broad lands that you’re roaming around whereas Cyberpunk 2077 is all in one city so it makes more sense to go first-person solely for the immersion’s sake.
PM: Inside buildings with tight corridors and the gunplay that we really wanted — this close, visceral sort of feeling — first-person can sort of get that. With the original Cyberpunk 2020 stuff that Mike Pondsmith did in the pen-and-paper era, one of the things about it is that the gunplay and fighting are supposed to be very violent, very dangerous, and very visceral and in-your-face. First-person is what lets us approach what he was trying to do back then if that makes sense.
L: You guys revealed Cyberpunk 2077 first about five years ago at this point, so how much has it changed or evolved since that point? How far along were you when you initially revealed the project?
PM: Well, when we released that teaser trailer back in 2012 we had a pretty small team working on it. I was actually hired in 2013 to work on Cyberpunk. We needed more people to finish The Witcher 3 and to make sure it was of the high standard that we wanted it to be but there was still a team that continued to work on [Cyberpunk] all this time.
We’re in full-production now, I couldn’t tell you exactly when we entered full-production. Again, this is one of those things that they don’t want me to say but I also can’t remember [laughs]. So yeah, we’re in full-production now and that’s what I can tell you.
L: Do you happen to be talking about who is doing the score for Cyberpunk 2077 yet?
PM: We have a composer in-house, Marcin Przybyłowicz, and he did the compositions for The Witcher 3 and he’s fantastic. He’s really well known in Poland and I think he’s pretty well known everywhere at this point, and he’s really good and he’s doing the score.
L: The music that we saw in the new trailer for Cyberpunk 2077, is that kind of a reflection of what we can expect from the score?
PM: That’s not his. That’s from a band called Hyper. Props to them, it’s great. I think it’s in-line with what we’re doing but that was not specifically an in-house composition.
L: Let’s talk about sex. Romance and sex have always been a big thing in your past games. In the demo I saw, sex was hinted at early on when V woke up in bed with someone else. How prevalent are both sex and romance options going to be in Cyberpunk 2077?
PM: We have a lot of romance options and there’s a lot of variety in those romance options. One of the things we want to do is that we want our characters to feel like living people with a preference of their own. So we have gay characters, we have lesbian characters, we have bisexual characters, we have straight characters. There’s going to be a lot of people you can smooch in this game, both in more involved relationships and also just casual encounters.
L: Yeah that was what stood out to me in the demo is that the encounter V had seemed far more casual so I wasn’t sure if there’d still be the usual handful of romance options within the world.
PM: That guy was just a dirtbag that she [V] probably met at a bar.
L: So the gameplay demo that we keep talking about, will you be releasing that to the public at some point or at least showing snippets of it?
PM: I think good things come to those who wait. I couldn’t comment specifically on whether or not we’ll be releasing that demo to the public or not.
L: You guys have jumped from high-fantasy with The Witcher games to now making something in the realm of science fiction. Was that a hard transition to make or was it maybe easier than you’d think?
PM: Both hard and easier than you’d think. It’s an individual thing. Some people felt very comfortable and other have taken a little longer to come around but honestly, I think that once we started to develop this thing people caught on very, very quickly.
Additionally, there are a lot of people who were hired at the studio who came in specifically for this game and to work on Cyberpunk. I used to play 2020 back when I was a kid — love that game — and some part of my brain has been living in Night City since then. It’s been really, really exciting to sort of going in and finding that place in my brain and showing it to everybody.
L: You’ve mentioned Cyberpunk 2020 a few times and I find it interesting because both with Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher you guys have taken currently existing IP and have decided to create video games based around them. Is there a reason why you have gone that route rather than make your own wholly original property?
PM: That is a question for bigger fish than me but I think that what we get with 2020 is this established place that a lot of us loved as kids and we get to take you around and show that to you since, like I said earlier, we’ve been living there for a long time. Additionally, with this, we get Mike Pondsmith — the creator of Cyberpunk 2020 — and he knows everything about that setting. We use him as our guru, as an advisor.
I was actually talking to him the other day about how when you’re playing a tabletop role-playing game you’ve got the referee or the DM and they set the rules but then the players play in that world and modify it and change it through their stories. It’s a collaborative process. We have something similar here with Mike Pondsmith so it’s definitely worthwhile to work with him.
L: As far as content within the game goes, do you have a rough estimate on how large it will be? It’s so hard to put certain hour limits on your games because of how expansive they are but are we looking at something with Cyberpunk 2077 that is similar to The Witcher 3?
PM: I think if you look at The Witcher 3, that’ll give you an idea as to what we’re aiming for. We’re way too early to be talking about hour count or how many quests and how long are they because it’s all very much a work in progress. But we are aiming to deliver something like The Witcher 3 in terms of length and depth.
L: So again comparing to The Witcher 3, are you looking to have fully-fleshed out side-missions and quests that you’ll lose yourself in for hours and have nothing to do with the main story?
PM: Absolutely. We think that was one of the greatest strengths of The Witcher 3 and we want to continue doing that. We want to have really interesting stories not just in the main story but all around it as well right down to the city streets. Just walking around there will be visual stories that you’ll see play out. But yeah, fully-fleshed out side-quests with very interesting characters, all of that stuff — that’s our bread and butter.
L: Because there is so much content is your games, I think a lot of players don’t end up seeing your main stories through to the end — myself included. I probably played 60-70 hours of The Witcher 3 and I never even got to Skellige. There’s a lot to do in your games but does it ever bother you that players might not see the story through to the end?
PM: Honestly, if you played 60 hours of The Witcher 3 but you didn’t finish it, then great, you had 6o great hours I hope. I rarely finish games myself. If you’re having a good time and you’re happy with the product, then we’re happy too.
L: So as the Quest Designer on Cyberpunk 2077, how exactly are quests going to be acquired in this game? Will you go to a local bar, maybe see some jobs on the wall and go from there?
PM: Well, we wouldn’t want to comment on any specific systems that we have but we want you to be fully immersed in this world so there will be a variety of ways that you will get quests. One thing that I like to do with quests is sometimes give you quests from unexpected places and in unexpected ways, so you can expect to see some of that as well.
L: Why did you guys feel that now was the time to re-reveal Cyberpunk 2077 and start talking about it again at E3?
PM: Well this was the point in which we felt comfortable showing things, which I know is kind of a circular answer but it’s true. We’re in full production and we said we should show this to people. We want to show people, we want to get them excited and let them know we are alive and we are working on this stuff. Based on the reactions we’ve gotten, I think it was the right call.
L: Moving forward, how regularly are you going to start showing things about the game? Is this going to be one of those things where you go back to being very quiet following E3?
PM: That’s a great question for marketing. They don’t tell me any of that stuff. I’d love to be able to tell you if I did, but I just don’t know.
Cyberpunk 2077 is currently slated to release on Xbox One, PS4, and PC and still does not have a launch window. For our impressions on the hands-off demo that CD Projekt showed at E3, be sure to check out our preview.