We sat down to trade questions and answers with CD Projekt Red's John Mamais at PAX Australia 2019.
Mamais heads up the Polish company's Krakow studio, which he says is responsible for about a third of the content in Cyberpunk 2077. Here are some things we asked about but were given no comment on:
Here’s a transcript of our chat, which has been cleaned up for readability:
A lot of movies or TV shows or comics or games that play with cyberpunk as a genre like to touch on transhumanism? Where does Cyberpunk fall?
“It’s in there but it's not the main theme.”
Why do you think cyberpunk and this specific interpretation of it resonates with so many people right now? Blade Runner 2047 was a giant flop but this is set to be one of the most anticipated games of 2020. Why do you think that is?
“I don't really know. I don't really. I can't really figure that out but it's like there's been a resurgence. Maybe it's because the world feels dystopian right now and weird. In terms of politics, especially American politics and British politics, things are just feeling like topsy turvy in the world. So maybe that's how [people] connect with the theme.”
“We're living in kind-of a cyberpunk dystopia now, especially with all the technology and everything else. Maybe that's the biggest reason not to [play] it - because you live it - but The Witcher 3 was really well received, so maybe people are just looking forward to what's coming next from us.”
Why go with cyberpunk and, and specifically Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk RPG as a setting. There are dozens of different cyberpunk settings out there, why choose this one over the others? Why not create your own?
“CD Project is first and foremost an RPG and storytelling studio so I guess we look for something that we can build an RPG and a good story around.”
“Cyberpunk was very different for us. It was very different to the fantasy that we'd done previously. It was something very fresh and also it sort-of lent itself to RPGs, you know? You can do these cybernetic enhancements to your body - which is like character customisation.”
Combat is like a big part of The Witcher series. Guns change combat a lot. CD Projekt haven't done a game with guns in it before. How do you how do you approach making that interesting in the same way that you did with melee combat?
“This will be a waffling answer because I'm not part of the combat team but [we have] people working [on Cyberpunk] that did work on shooters and stuff like that so [we’re] bringing knowledge from other previous projects from people in the studio.”
“We don't have a game as a reference, like a specific game, but it's important that we get it right because it's a prominent feature in the game. The most important thing is a story and the RPG side of the game, and then the gunplay combat stuff. So it's so very important.”
“We had to build teams - new teams that we didn't have before - just to be able to, to make it happen. The process of doing that has been really iterative process right.”
It’s a similar story with the driving mechanics, right?
“That’s completely new for us as well, right. Those are those really challenging topics [to talk about]. Of course, we looked at GTA and see how that driving works in GTA. But again, it's like, we should be careful not to like, like make direct references or comparisons to other games because it's just dangerous for people to set up expectations like that.”
“In terms of how it feels and how it plays and stuff. You just have to wait and see. Hopefully you'll like it.”
Is that your general approach to expectation management?
“I think that's the approach, yeah.”
“We don't want people to be comparing us or setting their own limitations based on games we talked about in these interviews, so it's better not to even reference other games at all right and talk about it on its own merits.”
In the world of Cyberpunk 2077, Night City appears to be the focus but what's happening on the fringes of that setting? Does the world stop at the suburbs or does it go out into the desert? Will there be a reason to go out there?
“I don't think we’ve talked about but yeah I mean, there will be something. There’s gonna be some very interesting stuff out there, actually.
Is there anything specific you’re pulling on as inspiration there in terms of stuff like westerns or Fallout?
“There's some Cyberpunk sourcebooks that you could maybe leaf through and find some stuff.”
CD Projekt is known for their generous DLC. Will Cyberpunk continue that tradition?
“That’s something else we're not allowed to talk about but what I've been saying is what we did for The Witcher was an effective model. That’s probably something we’ll do for Cyberpunk as well.”
Is Night City likely to be the only Cyberpunk location that you explore with this game?
“I can give you my personal opinion about this - not the corporate opinion. If it's successful, who knows where we’ll take it. It’s a timed-setting and the Pondsmith Cyberpunk universe spans the whole world and other worlds as well.”
Do people have phones in Cyberpunk 2077 and what do they look like? Do they fold?
“I was wondering about this recently. I should know the answer to this but I don't.”
“The communication is happening in your HUD, right? It's not like phones. You're tapped into somebody through a communication system that's implanted into your head.”
“It’s an ongoing debate in the studio about whether we have phones in Cyberpunk. I’m not sure where it’s landed right now. I’m not part of that creative story writing team so I’m not sure how to answer but it’s certainly a question that came up along the way”
How are you going to put this thing on the Nintendo Switch?
“If we can put the Witcher on the Nintendo Switch maybe we can put Cyberpunk on the Nintendo Switch.”
“I don’t know how we put the Witcher 3 on the Switch. It’s magic. I’m just a producer not a programmer. Those guys are wizards.”
You’ve been doing interviews all day. What’s something you wish more journalists would ask you about Cyberpunk?
“People should talk more about the technical features in the game like the audio and the lighting”
“There’s a new acoustics system that’s 3D spatial audio but they’re doing something really special with the way that audio adapts to the reverb and the way that reverb works according to the geometric space.
“If you’ve got a nice sound system, like Surround Sound or Dolby Atmos, it’s going to add to the level of immersion in the game. I think audio’s not given enough credit in video games so I think that’s something that people should pay more attention to.”
“Another cool thing that TD was talking to me about what we’ve done with multi-threading and the technology allows the game to scale nicely according to what PC specs you’ve got.”
One story I’ve heard about The Witcher 3 was that the development team lost track of how long the game was. Are you doing anything to better measure and communicate the scope of Cyberpunk?
“It’s kind of weird that we didn’t know that [with The Witcher 3].
“I guess things don’t come in early enough. Things like the UI and the alchemy systems or inventory management systems. You have play balancing passes and you don’t really know until it’s fucking done. You have a feeling about it but it’s often too short.”
“It’s kind of the same with this. You don’t really know how long it's going to be until it literally comes together.”
How are you going to get this game rated in Australia?
“There was an article about this on Gamespot this morning where I talked about that.”
“We have content teams. Our content producers create a spreadsheet with all the potential issues with censorship - is this too risky to have this, etc - and we’ve looked at it and it seems like we can get away with an R18+ rating in Australia.”
“The two main things [that it might be refused classification over] are doing drugs and getting rewarded for doing drugs and sexualised violence and Cyberpunk seems all about them.”
“The player’s not going to be doing any kind of sexualised violence, for sure. It’s tasteless but those kinds of things might happen in this universe to make it believable, right? It happens in the real world, unfortunately. It’s awful but we don’t think it’s going to be a problem [for the classification board].”
“You don’t see it in the game the player doesn’t do something like rape someone or something like that. We would never do that.”
“And the drug use is like, even in our demos, you can see evidence of drug use but I don’t think that it’s going to be a problem. We’re not using real world drugs in Cyberpunk. It’s kind of fictionalized.”
Cyberpunk 2077 is due to release on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One X on April 20th 2020.
Disclosure - Samsung covered the cost of our flights and accommodation for PAX Australia 2019.