Cyberpunk 2077 Interview – ‘Making It Accessible for Non-Shooter Fans Was Important for Us’
Cyberpunk 2077 was already one of the most anticipated games among our staff members before E3 2019. Checking out the latest demo and witnessing the Keanu Reeves reveal in person pretty much ensured that it climbed to the very top of that chart, which is why we awarded the game with our Game of the Show and Best Tech Showcase awards.
It was with great interest and thirst for new game details that we sat down with Alvin Liu from CD PROJEKT RED after the presentation ended. We discussed the game's setting (Night City), its various systems and mechanics, the importance of creating an accessible game even for those who aren't into shooters or first-person games in general and, of course, the technical specs and features including ray tracing.
Cyberpunk 2077 will launch on April 16th, 2020 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Stay tuned on Wccftech for a lot more coverage on the game in the months to come.
Of course, the big reveal at E3 was Keanu. Can you talk a bit about how that happened?
Absolutely. What we wanted to do is to find the right celebrity match. It couldn't just be someone from a romantic comedy movie or something.
Yes. I mean, there were rumors about Lady Gaga!
She's pretty cyberpunk, so she could fit in! But um, yeah, no Lady Gaga. A lot of people in studio love The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, Speed and all that stuff and he was just a really good match for our game genre and what we're trying to do. When we approached him he was like 'Yeah, I understand the artistic vision behind this, I can get behind it.' He was just on board with it, which was great.
I'm wondering whether this is something you have been planning for quite some time, or is it more recent?
We've been keeping it a secret for definitely many months. I don't recall exactly when, it's hard to pick an exact time when it first started. But everything was very smooth. And it was great. I think keeping it a secret was super hard. I remember the first time I heard someone told me and I was like 'Really?!?'
Keanu's character, Johnny Silverhand, is also deeply rooted in Cyberpunk lore, correct?
Yes. Johnny Silverhand, he was like a super rebellious Rockerboy who is very against mega-corporations, he would happily run in and torch the lobby of a mega building, just throw the torch in the grounds and go 'Screw you guys!'. He's very different than real life Keanu Reeves.
He actually represents what we call Rockerboy from the tabletop Cyberpunk game. That was one of the classes, basically a rockstar. That's a lot harder for us to do in the game we're trying to make, you know, you can't spend eight hours talking about preparing for a tour and going across, but we wanted to keep the spirit of the lore, so that's what he represents.
He's also supposed to be long dead in Cyberpunk 2077, right? So he's kind of a digital ghost.
Exactly. So this is like 50 years from when he disappeared. I don't want to spoil it, but being a digital ghost allows him to not be you know, like 80 or 90 years old. But there's a lot more for you to discover about what's happened to him.
I noticed that in the E3 2019 demo, the dominant theme was attempting to upload human consciousness into machines to attain immortality. Is this going to be prevalent throughout the whole Cyberpunk 2077?
There's a lot of things we're trying to do. The Voodoo Boys specifically are very obsessed with that, but other gangs such as the Maelstrom gang we showed last year, they want to be like, the 'perfect humans'. So their theme is like making them solve this, you know, like replacing an eyeball or something, because, you know, it's better to see the doctor. And they're the most the best in the Superman realm. And it really depends on which gang you talk to. But we explore it all, it's going to be a very big game, we're going to go to look at different storylines, different characters, and we'll talk about, you know, transhumanism, we'll talk about what it means for a company to come in and be very greedy. And you can have romances in the Night City, for example.
Since you mentioned it, can you talk a bit about how romances are going to work in Cyberpunk 2077?
I don't want to do spoilers, but we want to write very strong characters. We want to have personalities that you can interact with. If you remember from The Witcher 3 where Yennefer and Triss had very different personalities, it was interesting navigating how you would talk to one or the other. So to that effect, we've selected some NPCs who'll have very rich relationships. But we also have, since it's a modern world, you know, one-night stands exist, so something like that is also possible. And also like in the real world, you can also just exchange money for sex.
Earlier we were talking about corporations. Can you tell me how many will be in the final game?
That's a good question. I don't think anyone stopped to count because we have both big and small corporations. We have Militech, they're kind of like the American military kind of corporation because the government military doesn't really exist anymore. But people sell them, you know, name, tags and security. So this company kind of represents that. We also have Arasaka and in our history, those companies had a huge fight and that resulted in someone setting up a nuclear bomb in the city. That's a large Japanese company, very secretive, they do a lot of secret projects. There's also Orbital Air, they handle space, airplanes and stuff like that. There are so many companies in Cyberpunk 2077.
Right. And of course, beyond the corporations, you also have the gangs in Cyberpunk 2077. Are there any other factions in the game, though, beyond the corporations and gangs?
Yeah, we also have, obviously, the people just trying to live and you know, stay alive in Night City. We also have what we call the Nomads. Outside the city, we have people who just don't want to live in the city for whatever reason. Maybe they have some very strong family ties in their community, or maybe they hate the idea of, you know, being a corporate slave, working for gangs, and they want to be strong and independent instead.
Does that mean we'll get to explore the outskirts of Night City, too?
Absolutely. You'll be able to go out in the desert of California and view things like power plants, abandoned highways and stuff like that. So you're not just limited to Night City. It's a really cool place to use our cars and drive them fast, as it's hard to go super fast in the city. We do have street racing, though.
If you commit crimes, is the police coming after you? How does your 'outlaw system' work?
The way that works is that they are basically up for hire, basically, the laws exist to take bribes from corporations. So a corporation might pass a law that you can't sell medicine anymore, and they're going to enforce it. The only reason they got that law passed was that they bribed the government and they're only using it as a proxy. So it's not a place where you want to trust the government necessarily. There probably are some good people out there also, but it's a city of people trying to constantly get one up on each other.
We have a system that we're still iterating upon. People will, you know, not be nice to you if you start killing many people. There are some people you can't kill because that might have blocked a quest and that's just by design, but it's not what our game is based upon. So I would compare it to The Witcher 3 where if you chopped off the head of a villager in the middle of nowhere the guards wouldn't show up out of nowhere. But if you're in a big town and someone from the guard sees you and the people nearby run away screaming for help, people will come and try to stop you and they're going to be usually pretty powerful. We also have what we call the Trauma Team.
Oh yes, I recall them from that memorable trailer.
Yes, they are a sort of police/medic ambulance. They come in and help save you as long as you have their coverage plan, then you're taken to a medical facility.
Is it possible to get arrested and go to jail after committing enough crimes?
Sorry, I can't spoil anything about that.
Okay, sure. I assume you'll have dynamic weather in Cyberpunk 2077, right?
Yeah, we've got acid rain as well. Night City is a very polluted city and we're also exploring that kind of stuff, pollution and global warming and everything.
The NPCs will scatter around when that happens, I reckon...
Yep, that was happening in The Witcher 3 too. When the rain came, people would seek shelter. Generally, we're trying to make the NPCs very believable, we want it to feel like this is a world where people actually live in, which would make players want to spend time in the world as well.
I imagine the NPCs have daily routines, too.
Indeed. Of course, if you followed someone for fifteen hours, you might see the same thing repeated a few times. But we're trying to make them do interesting stuff. Again, I think the best comparison would be Novigrad from The Witcher 3.
In terms of the overall scope of Cyberpunk 2077, what are the main tenets you laid out for yourselves during development?
Three things, we're going to do a really awesome open world that players just want to live in and we're going to do a very strong story. In Cyberpunk 2077 we're going to add this new layer of how you make your character and how you want to play the game. So you can play as a hacker person from the outskirts and you learned how to hack you know, from like, scavenged devices. And they really want to hack with a vengeance because they want to, you know, avenge someone or something. Or you can play as like a someone who loves swords and just loves running in and chopping people off with swords. That, I think, will add a whole other layer of how you experience the game yourself. Right? You're going to be able to live in this world, play how you want with your character but also be involved in this really deep and engaging story.
Sounds great. Is the whole of Night City open from the start? Or is it like unlocked over time?
We're not going to have this locked, invisible wall where you can't go past it because we show a message on the screen saying you must go back. It doesn't make sense, right? It's like I just crossed the street, what's the issue? So we won't have anything like that.
But you might venture into some places where enemies are way tougher than you can handle.
Yep. We have UI to help lead players. Actually, in the demo, you can see the NPCs levels and that will give you a quick gauge of how to make sure that you want to engage. We are an RPG after all and that's one of the implications of an RPG, you want to do progression. But like in The Witcher 3, you could always just run to Novigrad, you could have skipped the Baron quest, you could even go to Skellige if you managed to get enough money to pay for the boat. That freedom in an open world is pretty awesome and I think Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be very similar. But of course, you know, in The Witcher 3 when you were like level one and went to Novigrad you didn't have a very fun time. You might expect something similar here, but you can still go if you want to.
Will there be multiple difficulty settings as in The Witcher 3?
Yes, of course, of course. The most fun one I think will be the Hardcore setting where we turn off the UI you live as well. And that will be a real challenge for a lot of players. Also, at the same time, if you want to play more casually for the story and maybe you're not experienced with shooters, which was a real big concern for us. We want to tell a story and maybe you're a big fan of The Witcher and you're not comfortable playing a shooter, we have settings available for that. We even have weapons for that. If you recall from last year's demo, we had a weapon called the smart gun, which helps you aim. The bullets were much slower and usually a bit weaker. But if your aiming isn't your forte, you can always pick up the smart gun.
There was a bit of negative feedback regarding your choice to go with a first-person view only for Cyberpunk 2077. Some people also have issues with nausea and similar medical conditions.
We're going to have many settings for that, starting with a Field-of-View (FoV) slider. We're also considering accessibility at a very strong level, including stuff like subtitles for people who might have trouble reading some of the text in our game. That's very important for us. But with the first-person perspective, we are able to do a lot of new stuff, we can do much more immersive dialogue for example compared to the last game (The Witcher 3) where it was kind of obvious when you were going into combat because you saw the black bars, the camera would move... But in this game, since it's first-person, literally you can shoot someone within a second. You pull the gun and you're immediately shooting people. That to us is really important and really immersive because it feels like danger. It was one of the big reasons why we actually switched from third-person.
There are still times when you see your character though, right?
Yeah. Even in the demo we saw today, a lot of people might have missed it, but driving was in third-person and the transition was very seamless.
Of course you can look in the mirror and see yourself through reflections, right?
Yeah, yeah, that'll be really cool. I think the character customization is going to be really well received. When you go unlock the super rare outfits you get because you have super high street grad and you have a high reputation with a local gang, we want to make sure that you can see that. Since you can customize and create your character you will see that as well, if you take a different skin tone you'll see that on your hand.
Our items have RPG stats, you can craft them and feel rewarded for that. You'll also be able to modify the weapons a lot, be able to attach things like a suppressor or a scope and also craft and modify those as you wish. You can change a gun's type to maybe start shooting thermal bullets, which can actually light on fire because they've just built up so much heat. But you can also shop for strictly cosmetic items, such as shirts and jackets.
We can justify that because you look super cool, so you get more street cred game. It's like, hey, you get more street cred experience because you looked cool killing someone. And that to us is a cool balance for items that might make no sense combat wise but because of that, you earn more reputation doing it, which actually makes sense gameplay-wise.
Cool indeed. What can you tell us about the implementation of real-time ray tracing on PC? Also, can you reveal the hardware that ran this E3 2019 demo?
Ray Tracing was on [in the demo]. We were showing off Ray Traced Emissives, Sky Light, and Ambient Occlusion. However, I’ve seen super impressive screenshots internally about raytracing (they get sent out in a digest e-mail), so we’re clearly still working on it as they looked more impressive than what I remember seeing in the demo. Especially at night and with neon reflections. NVIDIA also has representatives and work with our studio to continue to improve and utilize this technology, similar to The Witcher 3 and Hairworks.
The game was running on Ultra, but we are continuing to improve our visuals.
The game demo was running at 1080p, but our trailers and publically released assets are at 4K. The UI is designed mostly at 4K (eventually it will entirely be at 4K native), but we have the technology to swap assets and do intelligent scaling to handle 1080p, widescreen, 720p, 1440p, and so on. We can also design specific UI at 1080p and other resolutions, on a need by need basis, such as on a screen or graphics with heavy icons that might look bad otherwise.
A lot of people, after seeing last year's debut gameplay demo and the hardware it was running on, have become a bit wary of how Cyberpunk 2077 could look and run on consoles and low-end PCs. Is that a challenge in terms of optimization for lower-end hardware?
Actually no, we have a very custom engine, the RED Engine. And actually, we’re targeting consoles as first-class platforms and it looks amazing there. So obviously, if you spent, you know, $2,000 building your PC rig, it’s going to look better on that. But the graphics are quite amazing for what you’re going to get from Cyberpunk 2077 on consoles and low-end PCs.
Great to hear. Thank you for your time!