What you may not know about Cyberpunk 2077

Look, you know that Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be huge. It's the next game from CD Projekt Red, the company that turned a little-known Polish fantasy series called The Witcher into a household name. It's a deep and meaty RPG full of evil businesses, ruthless crime lords, and wandering street gangs. It's like The Witcher crossed with Blade Runner and William Gibson. How could that not be great?

But there are a few things that you probably don't know about Cyberpunk 2077, and we're not just talking about the still-mysterious game mechanics. Thanks to its tabletop RPG roots, Cyberpunk 2077 already has a rich history both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, and if you're jonesing for a little more info on what CD Projekt Red has in store, we've got your fix. It's not going to make waiting for Cyberpunk 2077 any easier, but there are worse ways to spend your time than hanging out with Cyberpunk's netrunners, rockerboys, corporations, and its vast arrays of cutting-edge hardware. Go ahead. Take a look.

It all started with a roll of the dice

For many players, Cyberpunk 2077 will be the first look they get at the vast and detailed Cyberpunk universe. Not tabletop role-playing gamers, though: they've been enjoying Cyberpunk's charms since 1988, when game designer Mike Pondsmith, high on the thrills of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, decided to create his very own sci-fi dystopia.

Cyberpunk — or, as it became known in 1990, Cyberpunk 2020 — takes place in an America where megacorporations have co-opted the government and streetgangs roam the streets. Characters speak English, but they use so much futuristic-sounding slang that it might as well be an entirely different language. Fashion and style are a big part of Cyberpunk's overall focus — as Glixel notes, the very first thing that you do when creating a Cyberpunk character is plan its outfit — and high-tech cybernetic implants play a major role in the game's various stories.

Cyberpunk 2077 is set a few decades after the pen and paper game, but it's based on the same material. Like Cyberpunk 2020, Cyberpunk 2077's main location is Night City, a corporately-built metropolis a few hours south of San Francisco. Don't expect the two games to play the same, however. For example, unlike the tabletop RPG, Cyberpunk 2077 players will determine their character class through gameplay choices instead of making a choice upfront. Cyberpunk 2077 isn't a direct adaptation of the Cyberpunk 2020's rulebook. The games' settings, on the other hand, are unmistakably one and the same.

A game 30 years in the making

Many game developers have tried to bring Night City to digital life. Before now, none of them have succeeded. As it turns out, Cyberpunk's unique setting and distinct tone are actually the biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to a video game adaptation. In a post on Cyberpunk 2077's official website, Pondsmith lays out everything that you need to create a great Cyberpunk video game: the right tone, tech, resources, and team. That's a hard combination to find. Some Cyberpunk adaptations got too far from the tabletop RPG for Pondsmith's liking (no, aliens have no place in Cyberpunk's world). Others ran out of money. A World of Warcraft-style MMORPG that Talsorian staffers actually worked on fell apart when a key member of the development team was drafted into the military.

So, what makes CD Projekt Red, the Polish company behind Cyberpunk 2077, different? For one, the company has already taken its place among RPG royalty thanks to The Witcher, particularly the critically acclaimed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. CD Projekt Red's staff were also hardcore Cyberpunk fans who had grown up playing the game. "We had Communism and we had Cyberpunk," they told Pondsmith. That was enough. Pondsmith sold CD Projekt Red the rights, and the two have been working together ever since.

All hands on deck

If you're into board games and card games, you've probably heard of Android: Netrunner, Fantasy Flight Games' popular deck-building game. As either a villainous mega corporation or a scrappy Runner — i.e., computer hacker — Netrunner players engage in a tense battle for digital supremacy that, once everything clicks, can result in some of the most immersive experiences you'll have around the gaming table.

Android: Netrunner takes place in Fantasy Flight's futuristic Android setting, but if that set-up sounds like it'd be more at home in Cyberpunk 2077, there's a good reason. Before Fantasy Flight bought the rights to Netrunner's rules, the game was a collectible card game based on, you guessed it, Cyberpunk 2020. In the mid-'90s, when collectible card games were all the rage, Magic: The Gathering designer Richard Garfield turned his eye to Cyberpunk and came up with a game that, some dodgy computer-generated artwork aside, captured the feeling of Pondsmith's seminal RPG.

Fantasy Flight didn't pick up the Cyberpunk license for the revival (among other things — in fact, the issues around licensing lead to Android: Netrunner's 2018 cancellation), but the game's Cyberpunk connection lives on anyway. The name Netrunner comes from one of Cyberpunk 2020's character classes. What does this all mean for Cyberpunk 2077? It's interesting trivia, but it also proves that Cyberpunk can survive being adapted into other formats. It just takes a passionate team. Thankfully, CD Projekt Red has one.

It's going to make The Witcher look small

CD Projekt Red's last game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, was huge. Its script was 450,000 words long — about the length of the whole of The Lord of the Rings. The Witcher 3's map was 20% larger than the one in Skyrim — and that's not even counting the game's downloadable content, which grafted a bunch of new locations and tens of hours' worth of material onto the game.

Well, guess what? Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be even bigger. "We're really stepping into the unknown in terms of complexity and size and problems we encounter," Jose Teixeira, one of CD Projekt Red's visual effects artists, says. Way back in 2016, Cyberpunk 2077 already had more people working on it than The Witcher 3 did at its peak. In fact, Cyberpunk 2077's map is so dense and complex that the game's developers can't even estimate how large it'll be.

A game that big needs a development team to match, and CD Projekt Red knows it. In 2018, CD Projekt bought Strange New Things, a Polish developer made up of Dead Island, Dying Light, Call of Juarez, and a few The Witcher veterans. The official reason? CD Projekt needs an entire extra studio to make sure that Cyberpunk 2077's development proceeds smoothly. That comes after CD Projekt doubled in size thanks to Cyberpunk's weighty demands. Yes, the game is going to be that huge.

A very Cyberpunk scam

The Cyberpunk 2077 hype is real. CD Projekt Red's role-playing game more or less stole the show at E3 2018, especially once members of the press got to see a 50 minute hands-off demo. Heck, even Hideo Kojima and Warren Spector, the men behind Metal Gear Solid and the very Cyberpunk-esque Deus Ex respectively, took some time out from their busy schedules to check the game out.

Naturally, some third parties are trying to capitalize. The big scam this time around? As Cyberpunk fever sweeps across the gaming community, some resellers are hawking Cyberpunk 2077's source material, Cyberpunk 2020, at outrageous prices. On Amazon, some merchants are selling Cyberpunk 2020's core rulebook for between $460 and $1,200. That's a lot of money, especially for a thirty-year-old 250-page paperback.

The plan has one big flaw, though. Cyberpunk 2020 might've been around for close to three decades, but it's not actually out of of print. As PC Gamer observes, you can get a brand new copy of Cyberpunk 2020 for $30 from R. Talsorian's own store. If you'd rather settle for a digital edition, that'll only set you back $15. Talsorian knows about the scheme and calls the inflated prices are "ridiculous," but the company can't do much about it. If you want some hints as to what Cyberpunk 2077 has in store, buy a copy directly from R. Talsorian. Not only is it cheaper, but you'll help keep the scammers at bay.

That big crossover ain't gonna happen

In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Geralt's adopted daughter, Ciri, mentions that she spent some time in an alternate dimension. It was a place, Ciri says, where people had "metal in their heads," and where there wasn't a horse to be found. Instead, people traveled on "flying ships" and used mysterious weapons to fight each other over great distances.

In other words, Ciri visited a world that seems awfully similar to Cyberpunk 2077's Night City. People have been speculating that Ciri will appear in Cyberpunk 2077 ever since. After Cyberpunk 2077's E3 2018 showing, one fan even recut the game's trailer so that it included Ciri's dialogue as a voice over. It's a nifty piece of editing, and it's got Witcher fans whipped into a frenzy.

Well, we've got some bad news. Yes, Ciri was probably talking about Cyberpunk 2077. No, she's not going to appear in the game itself — not if director Adam Badowski has his way. "We are not Kingdom Hearts," Badowski told Polygon. "We are not joining universes … I am totally against it." He'd appreciate it if you'd stop asking about it, too. "I hate this question," Badowski said. According to Polygon, he wasn't kidding.

Digital piracy on both sides of the screen

Hacking, cyber crimes, and corporate espionage play a big role in Cyberpunk 2077's high-tech dystopia. Oddly, they've played a small role behind the scenes, too. In 2017, hackers — real ones — infiltrated CD Projekt Red's internal network and stole some of Cyberpunk 2077's design documents. Then, they threatened to release those files to the public unless CD Projekt paid a ransom.

It sounds like a plotline straight from the game, but no, this actually happened. Unfortunately for the thieves, CD Projekt Red refused to play ball. Not only did the developer call the authorities, but it publicly said that it "will not be giving in to the demands of the individual or individuals that have contacted" it. The Cyberpunk 2077 documents that the hackers got, CD Projekt Red says, came from early in the game's development. They don't reflect what the game will actually be like.

Still, if you're worried about spoilers, CD Projekt Red warns you to tread carefully and to only trust information from official sources like CD Projekt itself. Thankfully, that won't be too hard. As of E3 2018, the Cyberpunk 2077 hype train is plowing ahead full steam, and there's plenty of information on the game out there. You don't even have to break the law to find it.

From pen and paper RPG to video game and back again

Cyberpunk 2077 isn't just borrowing the setting and characters from Mike Pondsmith's classic role-playing game. It's helping push the tabletop RPG forward, too. Although Cyberpunk just celebrated its 30th birthday, the game is still in active development. A third edition of the rules, which pushed the timeline to the year "203X", came out in 2005 (it was not well received). Pondsmith's been working on version number four, coincidentally named Cyberpunk Red, for a number of years.

That means that Pondsmith and CD Projekt Red need to work together if everything is going to be consistent. Thankfully, the veteran RPG designer and the video game developer have a great relationship. "When I write new stuff for Cyberpunk now, I talk to them so what I do in 2030 matches up with what's going to happen in 2077," Pondsmith tells Eurogamer. "We're constantly going back and forth … We want people to have that sense that there's a coherent universe."

Sometimes, that means telling CD Projekt Red that they can't use certain characters — like if, say, Pondsmith killed 'em off — or making CD Projekt's developers question why they're making certain choices. That Pondsmith has lots of experience with video games helps, too. The designer worked at Microsoft for years and also contributed to The Matrix Online. As a result, he speaks game development, which has served him well in his ongoing role as one of Cyberpunk 2077's most important consultants.

And the cycle continues

The collaboration between Pondsmith and CD Projekt Red doesn't just cover Cyberpunk. It's bled into The Witcher, too, albeit in a roundabout way. Sometime around 2015, CD Projekt Red decided that it'd like to bring Geralt, Ciri, Yennefer, and the rest of The Witcher's magical world from consoles to tabletops with its very own pen-and-paper RPG.

Naturally, the company reached out to Pondsmith, who was already consulting on Cyberpunk 2077, for help. As Pondsmith tells Eurogamer, he didn't have the time to take on the project (and he doesn't "do fantasy" anyway), but he knew someone who did: his son, Cody. Pondsmith and CD Projekt Red didn't just hand Cody the gig, however. Cody had to fly with his father to Poland and pitch his take on The Witcher to CD Projekt Red's staff, including co-founder Marcin Iwinski. Thankfully, Cody picked up some tricks from his old man and landed the job without too much trouble.

The Pondsmith family touch isn't the only connection between The Witcher role-playing game and Cyberpunk, either. The Witcher will use Cyberpunk V3's Fuzion ruleset as its base. The game is out now, and only time will tell if blending of Polish fantasy setting and American cyberpunk rules will work. We're betting yes.