July 2018, Avilés Celsius transmedia festival 232. A certain Jakub Szamalek, the head writer of CD Projekt, tells a very peculiar detail about ‘The Witcher 3’. It talks about that at a given moment they had to decide what material would have the wall that surrounds the great city of Novigrado. “We started looking at the map and calculating which mountains would have served as a quarry, we found it and made the walls of that rock, so the player who walks through those mountain ranges and fixes himself will be rewarded for his attention”.
It’s a detail that probably only matters to Szamalek. It’s a detail like those catalogs of complete weapons that one can read in ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’. Or as it was, in his time, take a pan from a cupboard in ‘Shenmue’ and observe it carefully. Well, ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ is a full game, full of those fascinating details.
The hunters that were seen by the E3, and that made the gamers – literally, the public carries in its accreditation the word gamer – stop to ask where they came from, they were those of ‘Cyberpunk 2077’. The conversations in the corridors, were of press or of fans, were on ‘Cyberpunk 2077’. The moment of the E3, the Keanu Reeves that appears in the scene to announce a date of launching of a videojuego, was of ‘Cyberpunk 2077’.
In the absence of knowing the Critic’s Choice Awards, one of the most long-lived and respected publications, IGN colleagues who have a very detailed moment to moment of the demo, has already chosen his game of the show. Do you guess? ‘Cyberpunk 2077’.
CD Projekt has succeeded: it is the Rockstar of Europe. It is the only company of the present (along with Rockstar and Nintendo) that can be allowed to turn into a guided demo event; event in which, by the way, nor the press was reluctant to burst out in applause at the end. There is an effervescence and expectation for this game that surpasses any other phenomenon, even when they carry the stripes of ‘Final Fantasy’, ‘Zelda’ or ‘Halo’. Nothing is expected the same, in the present of video games, that ‘Cyberpunk 2077’.
CD Projekt has powered this hype with master hand. It’s not just about showing two separate guided demos with a year in between; ** it’s how he shows them **. At E3, as happened last year both here and at Gamescom, entering the stand of CD Projekt was to enter a fully themed cyberpunk bar, full of gaudy posters, neons, all kinds of graffiti and even guitars hanging on the walls. Then, to any assistant, the gift of rigor. Last year was a figure of a bionic woman with blade arms. This 2019, the hunter most coveted by the corridors of the Convention Center; and a visor. Men and women ad improvised CD Projekt.
But it is necessary to recognize it; Your game looks different. Although they are contemporary games and share a similar approach -the key in both is to role-play, in mechanics, narrative and aesthetics, to a character as personal as possible, the technical and artisanal gap that separated both games was so unfathomable that they seemed to belong to different generations. It may seem frivolous, but really the first impression for anything comes through the eyes. And ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ enters through the eyes, like an exotic visual drug that manages to burn the eyelids and that there is only a hypnotized look for what you see on the screen.
For detail obsessed
The first thing you see when you start the new demo of ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ – played by a developer of CD Projekt for the press – is how the player quietly reads some strange magazines in a store. They have a voodoo touch, with drawings that seem to portray bayou swamps like those around New Orleans. The magazine is printed and maquetada. It is not a menu that highlights the text apart from the cover. It is a magazine. It can be read by turning the pages.
Soon, we learn what our goal is, remembered by a ghost that only we can see, Johnny Silverhand: find a woman named Brigitte, leader of the Voodoo Boys, a faction that dominates the neighborhood of Pacifica. Of all this we talk with Johnny, Keanu Reeves in digital meat, with his hair and his beard. Then, we go to the place of the appointment.
We are in the streets of Pacifica. This district is very peculiar because it was conceived as the zone for superrich of Night City, the main stage of ‘Cyberpunk 2077’. But something went wrong, “after the war”, as Brigitte will anticipate us at the end of the demo, and this idyllic landscape of resorts has become one of the most lethal neighborhoods of the metropolis.
As we climb the stairs, on the way to the church where we have stayed with the vodoo boys, everything vibrates in detail. If one is fixed, in the rungs that the player ascends are distinguished messages signed by the Voodo Boys. And any architectural element of this neighborhood, below the palimpsest of graffiti, is just what it was meant to be: a luxury resort.
Already in the church, the player advances through a sea of implanted bodies while in the background shines a representation of… God? Drawn as a red laser mesh. It is like being in a nightclub in which everyone kept a reverent silence and the rocking of bodies was more like praying than dancing. Suddenly, someone touches our shoulder. A black man with the eyes of a bright electric blue. A Voodoo Boy that will take us to see his boss.
The entire course of the demo was a constant bombardment of visual information, narrative in ellipses through the assets. In an instant you see a poster of what should have been Pacifica; the player moves his point of view to appreciate what he really is; “Before and now,” joked CD designer Projekt, who told us the demo beautifully. In another moment, when crossing one of the bridges that join the resorts, we see how a futuristic helicopter machine guns the balcony of what must have been a luxury suite. And in a market of bionic increases we can distinguish that the merchant rests on the table of the main lobby of a macrohotel, those ofcheck-in check-out.
There is a very strange feeling with ‘Cyberpunk 2077’, which has also been given with ‘Read Dead Redemption 2’, the only game that can be compared in this generation in scale and ambition. The rare feeling is that it seems that CD Projekt wants to tackle an open world game with the moment-to-moment that a more linear game would have. To be as beautiful as an ‘Uncharted 4’ or a ‘The Last of Us 2’ and as massive as ‘The Witcher 3’.
It’s scary to see how close they are to achieving it. It’s scary because of what Rami Ismail said of the memorable sequence in Morocco of ‘Uncharted 4’. Because such a degree of detail, for those who know the industry, is assumed to be impossible. Making it possible seems to imply the cost of building a pyramid. In resources and lives.
Role up to the last consequences
The most fascinating part of how to play ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ are not its crazy weapons: for example, the whip molecular edge (represented as a neon orange string) that both serves to make human slices with enemies and to connect to their minds and force them to blow their heads or immolate themselves with a grenade. The most fascinating thing is how close it is to the role of paper and pencil.
‘Cyberpunk 2077’ is a projection into the future of all the lore accumulated in dozens and dozens of manuals written by Mike Pondsmith back in 1988. These manuals describe in detail not only a very complex narrative background, but everything related to combat and the bionic increases of the characters. Also, as is usual in all role-playing games, a complex social fresco for each class of characters.
The fascinating thing is that this sheet will have consequences on our possibilities to tackle each mission. The consequences will occur in three fundamental mechanics: dialogues, navigation and combat. During the guided demo , CD Projekt used a mechanic (which will not be available in the game) to switch in real time between two player profiles. Basically, a girl who operated as a tank focused entirely on powerful attacks, and a boy who operated as a hacker and therefore opted for infiltration. Thanks to this change in progress we could see how it affects to take one or the other to our mission.
The differences in approaching the mission were deep and very connected to those levels of matrioska popularized by Warren Spector and his cohorts in ‘Deus Ex’ and ‘Thief’ and which Arkane (‘Prey’, ‘Dishonored 1 & 2’) has been refining from. So let’s summarize how each of the levels touches one or another character.
- Combat: in two levels; in the weapons they handle but also in how they can use their special abilities. For example, the hacker could, redundancy, hack the minds of enemies to cause them to hurt themselves. The tank could pluck the gatling from a watchtower and crush the opponents with it.
- Navigation: here we are in the most ‘Deux Ex’ map. It is, as in the mythical saga, to design different accesses depending on what enhances our build . In the demo we saw blocked accesses for the hacker to pirate and we also saw a shortcut with a heavy door that could only open a tank.
- Dialogues: this is the most fascinating part and that more surprises promises to give; It is also one of the ones that contribute most to take the role and the immersion of the world seriously. CD Projekt uses the concept of memory that can be feigned by variables that memorize what information the player has through the newspapers, books he reads or the social class to which he belongs. These variables allow to face independent dialogue options for each character. Some will depend on the information given by third parties and others of our social status and build profile. Here we are in a field closer to Obsidian, with its dialogues managed by attributes. It promises and a lot.
Where does all this come from?
It is the question that has been asked very little. The short answer is that it comes from the paper and pencil game invented by Mike Pondsmith in the 80s which certainly has a radically different reaction to the manifest hostility towards CD Projekt Red from the author of ‘The Witcher’, Andrzej Sapkowski; He attended the Microsoft conference, with his children, and maintains a very fluid relationship with the studio.
Detailing that response gives us that chicha that everyone is waiting for about the game. On the website of R.Talsorian Games, where Pondsmith sells his games, there is a huge amount of information about the world of ‘Cyberpunk 2020’. Nothing less than 22 books covering all kinds of narrative events of the universe to serve as a rolero transfund accumulate in the store. Pondsmith has also announced a new special edition of the main volume, ‘Cyberpunk 2020’, and a new context, ‘Cyberpunk Red’, in collusion with CD Projekt, which fills the 57-year gap between 2020 and 2077.
Why should a fan of the video game sink his teeth into these books? Because Pondsmith and CD Projekt have confirmed that the world of ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ is coherent and canonical with that of ‘Cyberpunk 2020’. When Brigitte speaks to us in the demo of the war that happened and turned the luxury Eden of Pacifica into the marginal neighborhood that it is today, one can go to these books and find that there are manuals dedicated to corporate wars.
There is one in particular, the 4th Corporate War between the megacorporations Arasaka and Militech, which marks the end of the 2020 environment with the total near-destruction of the world. To that great war, surely, Brigitte refers to in the demo . He has his own books: ‘Firestorm: Stormfront’ and ‘Firestorm: Shockwave’. Dive into the paper and pencil of ‘Cyberpunk 2020’ is to delve into what awaits us in ‘Cyberpunk 2077’.
It is fascinating to see also how epidermic the Internet culture is today. Everyone is crazy about ‘Cyberpunk 2077’, eager for any information about the universe. And there are tons of information available, plus dozens of books about your lore, just a click away. To make it easier, Talsorian Games (which only has 4000 and more followers on Twitter in front of almost half a million CD Projekt Red) will regularly publish a detail of the world lore ‘Cyberpunk’ under the hastagh: #countdowntothedarkfuture.
By the way, for those who want to pick up paper and pencil, or just pry into the whole tree of skills that can have a character of ‘Cyberpunk’, here is the tab.