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Cyberpunk 2077 has a difficult challenge ahead of it when it comes to storytelling

Past is prologue, and the co-founder of CD Projekt Red is an excellent historian

Cyberpunk 2077 - two guys shooting out of a van at a sports car that’s following them CD Projekt Red
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

During my interview with game director Adam Badowski, the man leading the Cyberpunk 2077 team seemed apprehensive about the game’s reception. Of course, he’d basically been locked inside a conference room for three straight days and wasn’t quite aware of just how well the game’s 50-minute hands-off demonstration was being received. It was a rare moment for me as a journalist, a kind of Schrödinger’s cat situation.

Inside that interview room, the first public showing of Cyberpunk 2077 was simultaneously a huge success and a catastrophic failure. The situation weighed heavily on Badowski.

“I was expecting a ton of questions,” he told me, “about transhumanism. About the philosophical aspects of humanity.” To him, it seemed like no one in the entire cavalcade of international journalists, including me, had really gotten the point that he and his team were trying to make.

That’s when Marcin Iwiński, the studio’s co-founder and joint CEO, turned to his colleague to reassure him.

“There’s one thing that I would like to say,” Iwiński said, addressing me but looking straight at Badowski who was slumped in his chair. “It means that we are doing a good job, because this is a game and apparently people feel it as a game and they don’t need to ask this question. In a way, it is an achievement.”

Badowski nodded slightly.

“But at the same time,” Badowski said, looking at the floor, “we are — CD Projekt — we are storytellers, so there are different layers of deepness to our stories and our game.”

There was a pause in our conversation.

“To wrap this up, I’ll just tell one last story,” Iwiński said, turning once again to me. “A long time ago, before The Witcher 3 was out and when the team was just starting to work on [the script], I was with Adam in Lyon, France and we were walking somewhere.

“That’s when I asked Adam, ‘Can you tell me the story of The Witcher 3?’ And Adam started. He was, ‘La la la. Li li li.’ You know, factions, political groups. I’m into the lore. I’m a huge fan. I’ve read all the books.”

“And I lost him,” Badowski said, still staring at the floor.

“After 45 minutes, I said, ‘Adam, stop. I can’t stand it.’ And that’s pretty much what our games are if you just write it all down. But then you start to play them, and you get immersed in them, and that is the magic of the prologue of Witcher 3. We’ve been discussing that a lot recently. It was more like you felt [the game’s themes]. You suddenly understand it because we did these certain things. We served it properly to you, so that’s exactly what we want to do again with Cyberpunk.

“Things have to be self explanatory, and when you get immersed — don’t worry, you will get a lot of depth as you did with The Witcher 3 — but the depth will automatically come with understanding. If that’s not the case, it means we have failed.”

The next level of puzzles.

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