Cyberpunk 2077 Interview - Choice, immersion, and the most realistic city in a video game
To anyone outside of CD Projekt Red, Cyberpunk 2077 had been nothing more than a two-minute teaser ever since its original unveiling way back in 2013. That is, until the title finally resurfaced this year at E3 2018. At Microsofts E3 2018 Press Briefing, the world finally got to see more of the Witcher creators' newest RPG from a crowded Microsoft Theater, and we were lucky enough to see a further hour of footage behind closed doors in an incredibly impressive demo.
After viewing the demo, we got a chance to sit with Quest Designer Patrick Mills where we got the chance to talk about everything ranging from the first-person perspective, romance options, a potential release window, and the entirely new setting for the Witcher developers.
RPG Site: The fact that Cyberpunk 2077 is first-person is the surprise for everyone this morning, obviously very different from a decade's worth of creating third-person RPGs. What was behind the decision to go for first-person?
Patrick Mills: The big thing that we wanted to do is that we wanted to have the player inhabit the role of this character. With The Witcher, you have Geralt, a character who has existed in fiction for decades, and it was always about telling Geralt's story. Now we want the player to have more of a hand in telling their story. Additionally, it provides another layer of immersion, and it's more conducive for things like more environmental storytelling as well.
RPG Site: One of the things I noticed in the demo that leans to that idea of environmental storytelling was the game's shops. There was no separate menu, it wasn't abstracted. Your character is there to see the merch, to see the augments. Can we expect the whole, or the majority of the game, to be like that?
Patrick Mills: It's too early to discuss specific mechanics, but what you saw there is our goal for the game, and what we'd like to accomplish.
RPG Site: Speaking more on the first-person, you say this game is going to be more of the players' story and less of a pre-written character's story. So how much of V's history is pre-written? Is she borrowed from the Cyberpunk 2020 table-top game?
Patrick Mills: V is a completely original character to our game, and he or she is a mercenary who kind of threads the line between the corporate entities and the more low-life violence on the streets. It's too early to talk about how you can shape their background, but we want players across the story to be heavily involved in shaping who they are and allow the player to be the sort of character they want to be.
RPG Site: During the character creation, outside of V's gender and cosmetic appearance, the only real character building [from a non-cosmetic perspective] we saw was the six stat selections. You mentioned that the game doesn't have any pre-set classes. When you're building your character from a gameplay perspective, what other options are there?
Patrick Mills: Our character creation is very much a work-in-progress, but what I can say is that we've looked at some of the classes from the Cyberpunk 2020 game. Some of the ones that we pulled out were Solo, Techie, and Netrunner. Those were the three that we found the most interesting so we've incorporated them into the game, but we didn't want to lock players to them from the outset.
RPG Site: What is Solo? For someone not familiar with the Cyberpunk 2020 game, that ones the least self-evident.
Patrick Mills: Solo is a bit of a play on words. It's a bit "soldier" and also references someone who often works by themselves. In this case it's the [primary] combat class, or the 'guns' class. But even within the class, there's variety there: do you want to be fast and quick and zip all over the map, or do you want to stomp on through. In the demo [V's comrade] Jackie is a Solo character, and you saw him lift a car to create cover and things like that.
RPG Site: Along with Jackie, In the first part of the demo with T-bug, we saw her hacking shut windows and things like that to support V. What extent of the game incorporates that sort of partner NPC interaction?
Patrick Mills: Now, the game is mostly played on a solo basis, but across the story, you'll have lots of characters helping V out. We want the other characters of the game to feel very involved. It's not a game with "companions", but there are lots of characters who you will find will often help undertake some of the game's quests.
RPG Site: Back to character creation, will the game world reflect on other choices made in the creator, such as gender, or your appearance?
Patrick Mills: Well, V's gender will affect their possible romance options. While many of our characters are bisexual, not all of them are. We have deep companion romances that may even change the course of the story, along with one night stands that don't really matter. Some are bisexual, some are strictly gay, and some are straight.
RPG Site: With the Witcher, the games take place in a mostly well-defined style of western high fantasy. With cyberpunk, the lines are more foggy, everyone has their own idea of what cyberpunk is -- some think Blade Runner, some think The Matrix, or maybe the Cyberpunk 2020 game. So what does "cyberpunk" mean with respect to Cyberpunk 2077?
Patrick Mills: The core of Cyberpunk 2020 is this idea of a fallen America, and what remains of "America" when the United States no longer exists. And Night City [a fictional Californian city] is a sort of center point of this. It's a lively, international city, but it exists when the American government has collapsed, and the world has yet to answer the lingering question of "what is America now?" So America is no longer around, but Night City is very alive with life everywhere.
RPG Site: Even before the presenter brought light to it, one of the most impressive parts of the demo was the aforementioned livelihood of the city -- he mentioned that a new sort of crowd technology was a focus in order to make this the most realistic city in a game yet? Ever?
Patrick Mills: I sure hope so. We've been working a lot on that technology, and we want the city to feel vibrant and packed with all sorts of people, and we want the people in the city to move around and inhabit it. We want it to be a believable place.
RPG Site: So you're a quest designer, and we noticed that the player had two options: to either meet with the fixer or their doctor. The demo went to the doctor about halfway through, but it flowed naturally, it didn't feel like two separate things, it felt like one thing. Would it have felt that way had other choices been made?
Patrick Mills: One of the things we've been really working to perfect ever since the expansion packs to The Witcher 3 is making sure that as long as it's logical, [the player] can do anything in any order and we want the world to reflect that. Even if its just a matter of slightly changing the dialogue, we want the game to react to the choices made and that's in addition to the long-term consequences of every decision.
RPG Site: With the jump to designing quests for a third-person title in The Witcher 3 and shifting over to first-person in Cyberpunk, what was the biggest adjustment you personally had to make?
Patrick Mills: A lot of it is actually very similar to how we learned to make quests on the expansions, in particular, I think that was sort of the peak of our quest design. The main thing about the shift to Cyberpunk wasn't specifically the first-person perspective, but rather the fact that the player has more options in what they want to do. We know Geralt would do this or that, but V has far more options. So in a way, they are very similar, but just a whole lot bigger.
RPG Site: In the demo, we were shown one possible way of completing the quest when infiltrating the military compound, and were told verbally about some of the other possibilities. A lot of games advertise offering stealth as an option, or a more aggressive approach as an alternative. How does Cyberpunk go beyond that from a gameplay perspective?
Patrick Mills: For us, we want to make sure that the long-term consequences are felt and reflected in the game world. It's more than just a matter of if you prefer one style over another.
RPG Site: I'm nitpicking, but a common criticism of the quests in The Witcher 3 was a high reliance on the game's "Witcher Senses". The demo showed a sort of similar "detective mode" built into the shown eye augment. Is there any effort to change the extent or manner in which that tool is used?
Patrick Mills: We don't want to use it the same way we used Witcher senses. Obviously, there will be similarities, but we've made an effort to increase the variety that tool is used, and we are aware of that criticism from The Witcher.
RPG Site: So let's say two players are playing the game, and they consistently make disparate choices within the game's narrative. To what extent does the game split for each of their experiences?
Patrick Mills: It's too early to say exactly how many differences that there will be, but we want to make sure that way the story concludes for each person is entirely appropriate for the character [each player has] built up until that point in the game.
RPG Site: How do you plan for that? How do you account for the player being able to go and do so many things from the outset and have the game react naturally?
Patrick Mills: Lots and lots and lots of playtesting, and lots and lots of work. It really comes down to making sure that we know all the different ways to play a given quest, and we play them over and over again. We have our QA department, the best I've worked with in my career, constantly testing things and making suggestions and giving feedback. Things get big really quickly!
RPG Site: A common thing found in many Cyberpunk settings is the theme of dystopia: corruption, greed, and the sorts of things are, in a way, closer to the world we inhabit. The sorts of issues found in the games like the Witcher are often more fictional. What does it take to write something like that?
Patrick Mills: That's a great question. What it takes is a very critical eye. I'm an American, and I grew up all around the US. I live in Poland now, but I've always loved America. But I love it in the way that you love someone you've known for a very long time, and you know their flaws, and sometimes those flaws are overwhelming. But that's what we want to get into, and we know what we want to say and how we want to say it.
RPG Site: Unlike in the Witcher, there's a lot more variety in the sorts of characters that inhabit Cyberpunk 2077. Even in the character creator, you have a seemingly great deal of variety in who V is and what they look like. (Nearly) everyone in the Witcher is white, but that's the setting. Cyberpunk is not that setting, What's it like writing for a world like Cyberpunk 2077?
Patrick Mills: It wouldn't be California if it wasn't incredibly diverse, so it's actually been a big focus for us to make sure we're accurately portraying the world that we want to take you to.
RPG Site: What's the challenge in writing a world like that, relative to The Witcher?
Patrick Mills: It's a lot of research, a lot of talking to people, and a lot of reading. It's also a lot of creation, and not being afraid to change things when we make them wrong.
RPG Site: Over the years leading up to this E3, there have been murmurs and some confirmed stories about Cyberpunk 2077 having multiplayer, but not a whole lot about how that would be implemented. Can you speak to that at all?
Patrick Mills: I can speak a little bit. What we are concentrated on right now is delivering a single-player experience. As for multiplayer, we have a few things in R and D, but I can't really talk about them at the moment. We know people are looking for that single player experience, and that's where our focus is at the moment.
RPG Site: With The Witcher 3, we saw the game supported with two post-launch DLC packs in Hearts of Stone, and Blood and Wine. I know it's way jumping the gun, but is that the same sort of support we can expect with Cyberpunk?
Patrick Mills: What I can say is that while we haven't started on any of that specific planning yet, you saw our general philosophy with The Witcher 3. So you can get an idea of what we would want to do by looking at what we've done there.
RPG Site: Most of the demo had everything told in first-person, including the augment shop, with the exception of a couple of short third-person cutscenes. To what extent is the game experienced in first-person?
Patrick Mills: We want to keep you in that first-person perspective as much as we can. There will be key cutscenes in third-person, but you'll be in first person most all of the time.
RPG Site: So how much of Cyberpunk's story is told in the present, from the character's perspective?
Patrick Mills: Almost all of it.
RPG Site: So no cutaways to, say, an antagonist, or to another location?
Patrick Mills: We would really not want to do that. We want V to always be at the center of the story.
RPG Site: My final question, we can we expect to play it?
Patrick Mills: Heh, at some point. When it's done.
RPG Site: But it's still slated for current consoles and PC?
Patrick Mills: Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC.