During a panel at Game Lab Live, Cyberpunk creator Mike Pondsmith talked about the Cyberpunk franchise and his vision for its video game adaptation, Cyberpunk 2077.
Pondsmith talked about his first meeting with CD Projekt Red, mentioning that his idea of studios from Eastern Europe was “essentially four guys and a goat working in a steamy hot place in a basement somewhere,” which incidentally is similar to how he himself started out, even if he did not have a goat.
Ultimately he went to meet them because he had never been to Poland, so it could have been interesting.
When he actually visited CD Project Red he realized that the studio was “insanely good” and had a “really sophisticated operation.”
The studio was in the middle of working on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Pondsmith was sold from the moment in which he was shown the weather system of the game.
It also turned out that the folks at CD Projekt were Cyberpunk fans.
At that time, Pondsmith had been working on video games for a while, so he wasn’t going in with the usual mindset of someone simply owning an IP, but actually thinking about the game design from an experienced point of view.
Yet, he noticed that the developers at CD Project were good, they cared, they had their own engine and spent time making it capable of doing everything they wanted. On top of that, they were fans, so he did not have to go through what he had done with other developers over the years, who wanted to license Cyberpunk without understanding it.
When he returned from Poland, he decided to give CD Project the license because they could do it and they cared. They could do a game that he would do.
On the other hand, Pondsmith believes CD Projekt’s developers were also surprised by him having experience with game development instead of simply being “somebody sitting on a license.”
This made working on the game more of a collaborative process than is typical in this kind of licensing situation. This resulted in something that felt like the world of Cyberpunk, but also something that had been adapted in a video game format, and that’s something important for Pondsmith because there are different constraints.
Over the years the relationship turned into one in which Pondsmith and CD Projekt “see a lot of the same things and have a shared goal.”
Pondsmith was also asked about his feelings about politics being in video games, and he mentioned that he would probably “enrage people on both sides.”
“Games are literature, games are art, and art, literature, whatever you make it, are inherently political. Surely after we admitted weapons and prostitution, we admitted basically politics because then we have to organize everything around getting more weapons and more prostitution, I guess.
The point is, man is an inherently political animal. We organize our societies to work for people on top or hopefully people throughout a society.
If you say there isn’t a political situation involved in art, you’re essentially kidding yourself. I think it’s always there.
That being said, what we have a tendency to do now is to say “it’s not political” unless it’s lining up with our politics, and that’s part of the problem. It’s that people see it as a tool or a weapon to be used with or against their own personal beliefs.
I tend to look at it as “freedom is important” not for the area of the people involved, but in a society or indeed a civilization. Freedom allows a civilization to get checks, balances, to grow, to learn from its mistakes.
That’s part of the foundational elements I see in politics in a game.
Along with that, I’ve also said that if you want somebody to see your point of view, you really have to stop preaching. When you preach at people and they don’t find it out themselves what happens is invariably they shut down because you’re now threatening what they see. They say “you’re wrong and my way is right.”
You may not be right or only partially right and that’s when you need to be able to talk to other people and find out what’s right for a lot of people. If you preach you don’t get there. You’re just basically giving your side of the statement and it never seems to work that way.
What I believe is that the way to do politics in games it should be something that occurs in the game but doesn’t necessarily have a visible agenda.
At no point does anybody in Cyberpunk come up and go “you should follow this belief structure.” What they’re saying is “There’s this situation here. This is not a world designed to promote your life and livelihood and your friends and your neighborhoods, and anything that you care about.”
How you deal with that is not necessarily tied to one set of political viewpoints. You may have to change your tools halfway through. But it’s going to be political. You’re making a decision, and that decision should be informed. You need to know what you’re up against. You need to know what you want to get in the end.
Every megacorporation in Cyberpunk has a goal. It isn’t like they just said “I woke up this morning and I decided I was going to be evil.” They have reasons for doing what they think they want to do.
You might be able to find a way in which you can make their reasons and your reasons coexist or even have your reasons supplant their reasons if they can see a good reason to do that.
If they can look up and go “you know, maybe I need to cut down the fossil fuels because we’re going to run out of them sooner or later” or this or that is happening and without necessarily saying it’s bad you can go “you know, there’s probably a better way to do this. You want to make money and I want to be able to approve. Let’s talk about that.”
Asked whether Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be less dystopian than the upcoming Cyberpunk Red (which depicts the situation just after a massive corporate war), Pondsmith mentioned that Red is more post-apocalyptic. There’s a difference between “everything is going to hell” and “everything is better but to get there you kind of have to sell out.”
Red is more about putting things back together with the tools you have with the hope that the result will be better. Cyberpunk 2077 is more about “yeah, we put it back together again but the problems that created Red are still there and you’re going to always be fighting them.”
There are always going to be evil, greedy, corrupt, crazy, nasty people out there. There are going to be corporations designed for the aggrandizement of equally nasty and horrible people.
“You don’t get to say at the end, “well Frodo, we threw the ring, and no one is going to make another ring.” There’s always going to be one. Someone’s going to remember that there was a ring of power and they’re gonna go “Damn, if I had gotten the ring of power, I would have been smarter than Sauron.”
Pondsmith concluded mentioning that a lot about Cyberpunk 2077 is about the exploitation that is the soft cover to the iron fist of corporations, of companies, of people in power.
They send out people to destroy your livelihood, but in the meanwhile, they come up with a great new flavor that you’re really going to enjoy.
Cyberpunk 2077 is coming to PS4, Xbox One, and PC, and it has recently been delayed to November 19, 2020. It has also been confirmed to be coming for Xbox Series X and PS5 down the line.