I recently sat down with CD PROJEKT Red’s John Mamais to talk about the studio’s highly-anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 video game which is due out later this year on Xbox One, PC, and PS4.
We talked about the creation of the futuristic world in which the game is set, cyberpunk inspirations, possible third-person perspectives, immersive sound design, censorship issues in Australia, and the potential (or lack thereof) for a Cyberpunk 2077 release on Nintendo Switch and a VR version.
When did development on Cyberpunk 2077 start exactly? It’s been planned for a while now.
We had a team going when we were working on The Witcher 3 actually. We built two teams to do the two games in parallel then we cannibalised the second team to come back and work on Witcher 3 before putting everyone on this project.
So Cyberpunk 2077 has been in development for a while then?
Yeah, for a little while. In pre-production. We had about 75 guys working on it at that time.
Was it always planned to come out this year? Because the original roleplaying game, which it’s based on, is called Cyberpunk 2020 and now the video game is coming out in 2020… Is that a coincidence?
No, I think we wanted to get the game out earlier in 2019 actually. But it kind of makes sense that it’s 2020, right? [laughs]
But, yeah. The original intention was to get it out earlier.
It’s funny because I’ve seen people saying on Twitter and elsewhere that the release date was very carefully planned because of the year 2020.
Speaking of the source material, is there much from the original roleplaying game that fans can expect to find in the Cyberpunk 2077 video game?
Yeah, a lot of the lore is going into it. Johnny Silverman comes from that. And Night City. And the factions, districts, the names of items, and the corporation names. Also the skill system, in a way, and the class system. All that stuff.
Has the interpretation of the technology changed in this world since the creation of the roleplaying game?
We had to bring it forward, you know? The way I think about it is that you go back to 1990 and think of what the technology would be like in 2077. It’s kind of like a splinter reality from 1990.
Kind of like The Jetsons I guess. How that was a vision of the future as seen from that time.
The Jetsons got it wrong I suppose. [laughs] Or maybe we’re still going to look like The Jetsons one day.
I hope so. I want those houses on the stilts. [laughs]
Rosie and the robotic dog… That stuffs kind of coming true isn’t it?
And treadmills? [laughs]
The original video that you guys released had this very attractive woman with knives coming out of her forearms.
Yeah that was more like a teaser to show what we think this game should look like but we hadn’t locked in everything yet.
I remember thinking that, after watching that video, that Cyberpunk 2077 would then be a kind of Tomb Raider game but with a hot woman with cybernetic implants taking out baddies but it’s actually pretty different.
But those mantis blades are still in it, right? So some things have carried over.
Was that the original vision for what the game was going to be or more of a proof of concept?
I think that was actually the original vision at that point but it has evolved from that a lot. It’s changed a lot from that.
Interesting. How would you say Cyberpunk 2077 is going to differ from The Witcher? Obviously, it’s cyberpunk and not fantasy but, for those that are coming into this who have played The Witcher video games…
It kind of feels similar I think because, at its heart, it’s still a RPG, right? But the main difference will be the combat element.
Which looks really cool from the footage I’ve seen.
Yeah, it looks good in that demo that we showed. Also the camera perspective changes, which is controversial, having the first-person instead of the third-person camera.
I was wondering about that because I’m one of those people who rarely plays first-person video games because, within minutes, I’ll get violent motion sickness.
There’s stuff planned so you’ll be able to change your depth of field, reduce the head-bobbing effect, and some other stuff that we want to do to make sure that people don’t get sick.
I noticed in the demo that there’s a shot where the main protagonist is riding a motorcycle and then he stops and the camera shifts to a third-person perspective. Any chance of this meaning a third-person option might be available?
Yeah, in the vehicles you can but just in the vehicles.
The character customization is something that also sets Cyberpunk 2077 apart from The Witcher video games as you can fully create a character from scratch. What I find interesting about the approach that you’ve taken is that the game won’t have a gender option but players will be able to craft a body using male and female attributes.
Yeah, you choose a body type, not necessarily a boy or girl.
Yeah, it’s really cyberpunk. Actually building a person. How wild can the customization get? Can you make hilariously disfigured characters?
No, there are limits to it because it needs to fit the skeletal rig.
How do the cutscenes work with the custom characters? I’m guessing with them all being in first-person, there’s not too many challenges.
Yeah, I don’t think there are any third-person cutscenes in the game as far as I know. There might be some at the beginning and at the end but I’m not sure on that.
The cutscene system is a very ground-breaking RMD thing for us to get it very seamless. So that you stay in the game.
For example, narrative sequences are happening in front of you and you have some control over the character so you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie.
Tell me about the non-fatal gameplay option that’s been showcased recently. Players can truly explore the entire Cyberpunk 2077 world and storyline without killing anyone?
Yeah but you have to hurt them though, right? You can knock them out.
I was wondering about that in the boss fight I saw where there was definitely a lot of shooting but still the option to leave the opponents breathing.
We’re balancing it specifically so that you can get through it without killing anyone. There’s a non-lethal route.
Is it harder if you’re not killing anyone?
Yeah. It takes a lot longer to play too.
It’s like real life, I guess, in that regard.
The easiest way [to play the game] is to just gun right through it.
How open is Cyberpunk 2077 in terms of gameplay and experience? It looks so immersive. I just want to set up a coffee shop or something in it.
We don’t have any simulator stuff or gameplay. In Witcher 3, we did the open-world elements very late in the development process when we only had two or three people working on it or something. Now there’s, like, 15 people doing these open-world quests.
There’s a couple of layers. There’s a passive layer, which is the vendors, then there’s the STSs, which are the street stories. I think there’s around 75 street stories. Then there’s minor activities as well.
The street stories are like little quests. There’s story but there’s not, like, advanced cinematic storytelling sequences so much. They’re a way to explore the world and level-up your character.
Are these randomly generated or is it possible to work through and complete them all?
They’re all custom done. There’s nothing like that that’s automatically generated. There are set templates that the guys can use but each one is customized to make them feel unique. The world’s going to be filled with that stuff. It should feel really good.
Do you know what the estimated gameplay length is to complete the whole game?
We’re not sure… yet. We’re still finishing the game now and there are different ways to play through it. There’s different character builds and it’s very non-linear. Because you can play through it in so many different ways, it’s a little but risky to state the length of time. How do you figure that out? Especially when there’s open-world and all of the other content.
When you finish the campaign, is that Game Over or do you still get access to the open-world?
Oh, I don’t know the answer to that. That’s a good question.
We’re not talking too much about cyberspace just yet.
I guess that’s something we’ll hear more about closer to release?
That’s something you’ll hear more about on release. [laughs]
Have you had any issues with Australian censorship at all?
That was the big question for me when I came here. We have a big list of things that could be bad for us in Australia. The two big things are sexualized violence and drugs with rewards but you can’t really do cyberpunk without drugs, right?
Yeah and the steroids, I think they were called Juice in the demo, are pretty prominent in the game too.
It’s to do with how you interpret that I think.
Just call them vitamins. [laughs]
We’re not going to water it down but I don’t think there are any situations where you can take any real street-named drug and get a reward from it. And there definitely aren’t going to be any tasteless sexualized violence either.
In the real-world, there’s lots of sexualized violence, right? It happens. So it might exist in this world but the player will never be involved with something like that.
The restrictions are pretty controversial but I guess these were bound to happen with video games becoming more realistic and movie-like. Movies cover these sort of themes and it makes sense that video games would also cover them.
Yeah, we’re trying to make it more mature, right? It’s an art form, or we want it to be an art form, and we want to talk about difficult subjects like that but, yeah, we won’t. We’re not going to make a game where the player can do those kinds of things. It would be awful and tasteless.
I think everyone has faith in you guys to be tasteful, we just don’t want the game to be banned.
I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we’re going to be okay here.
A Cyberpunk 2077 multiplayer mode has been teased recently. Is it still planned to be its own release well after the launch of the main game?
We’re not mixing the two things. Totally focusing on single-player.
Any chance you can tell us what kind of multiplayer mode it will be?
No. That’s going to be talked about a year from now or something. I wish I could say more.
Are you guys planning much in the way of additional content post-launch?
We are. Yeah. There’ll be stuff that comes out after. The Witcher model kind of worked for us.
Kind of like the DLC story packs?
I’m not allowed to say what it will be but it’ll probably be something like The Witcher. I wish I could talk about it more because, for us, it’s very interesting. But we can’t.
Any plans for Cyberpunk 2077 on Nintendo Switch?
Not as far as I know. Not yet. I don’t know if Cyberpunk 2077 would work on the Nintendo Switch. It might be too heavy for it. But then, we did put Witcher 3 on it and we thought that would be too heavy too but somehow we pulled it off.
One of the first thoughts I had after seeing the initial E3 presentation was how much Cyberpunk 2077 looks like it would be suited for VR. Have you guys thought about bringing the game to VR platforms in the future?
We tried. We were thinking about VR but, yeah, we’re not doing anything with VR. We got the VR dev kits but…
Wasn’t a good fit?
Some things would work in VR but, I think, it’s not really viable yet. You’re not making a lot of money in VR yet. It’s very experimental and niche, yeah. I would like to. I like VR but we’re not doing anything with it yet.
Cyberpunk 2077 will run in 4K Ultra HD when played on an Xbox One X console. Has there been any discussion about improvements for when the game’s played on the upcoming Xbox Series X?
Most AAA developers have that stuff [Xbox Series X dev tools] but we’re not focusing on that yet. We’re focusing on current gen.
Cyberpunk 2077 has had a heavy association with Microsoft and Xbox since its proper reveal at E3. How has it been for CD PROJEKT Red collaborating with Microsoft?
We’ve had a long relationship with Microsoft. We had the Witcher 3 announcement at E3 at the Microsoft conference, so I think, given that existing relationship, it’s been easier for us to move forward with those guys.
After Witcher 3, we got more famous in a way. More reputable as a game developer. People knew who we were so it was easier for us to work with Microsoft who helped us establish certain conditions for how we would present the game at these conferences.
Any cool merchandise you’re planning to release to tie-into the game?
You know, we have a shop! Have you seen it?
Yeah, it looks awesome. Some of the stuff you guys are putting out is fantastic. I have to say, I love the look of the samurai jackets with the lights in the collar. If you guys were planning to actually make those and sell them for real, I’d buy one immediately.
I don’t know if they’re going to do the jackets or not but there’s a lot of stuff they’re planning to do.
What’s your favorite bit of Cyberpunk 2077 merch that you’ve seen?
I like the collector’s edition with the [statue of] the guy on the bike. I love that sort of thing.
Most people are aware that Cyberpunk 2077 is based on a roleplaying game but cyberpunk in general is also an incredibly popular film genre. What cyberpunk movies do you think fans should check out to get them hyped for the launch of the Cyberpunk 2077 game?
That’s a really good question. I’ve watched all of the Ghost in the Shell stuff. I wouldn’t say the latest Ghost in the Shell is a good representation of cyberpunk but it’s still cool. Akira is interesting to watch but it’s more psionics.
True. It’s more supernatural almost.
We don’t get into supernatural too much but with the motorcycle in Tokyo, the feeling’s there. Blade Runner is kind of a reference but that’s dark and gloomy and wet and doesn’t really fit so much. I think Ghost in the Shell is the best reference as it’s that kind of technology. All of those cybernetics and all that.
Anything you want gamers to know about Cyberpunk 2077 that’s being overlooked?
There is some stuff that hasn’t been talked about such as the way that it’s been lit. Our director keeps talking about the real-time global illumination system which we haven’t really seen in its full beauty yet. No one in the public has seen how it’s finally going to look. It’s going to look more breathtaking than we’ve seen so far.
Also, the sound. The acoustic system that one of our sound programmers came up with is going to sound really realistic because of the way they’re using the geometry. It creates this reverb effect so that changes as the space changes. If I were a rich gamer, I’d definitely go out and buy a Dolby Atmos system to listen to this game. It’s going to be very immersive, deep, and beautiful-sounding.
And with the 4K and the lighting, better get a good TV as well, right? It’s going to look and sound great.
It definitely looks impressive so far.
Thank you for taking the time to talk about Cyberpunk 2077. It’s been a pleasure.
Cyberpunk 2077 is due out on Microsoft's family of Xbox One consoles on September 17th later this year. Digital pre-orders are already live in the Microsoft Store and the physical release and the limited Collector's Edition are up on Amazon.
A Cyberpunk 2077 hardcover artbook featuring designs from the video game has also been announced as have several official Cyberpunk 2077 Funko Pop models. Want to find out more about the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation with Keanu Reeves at E3? Check out our interview with Microsoft’s Chris Charla.