CD Projekt Red revealed in September that it had decided to focus “100%” on a first-person view for Cyberpunk 2077, which caused something of a backlash.
Although Cyberpunk 2077 had clearly been focused on first-person from the start, the statement’s confirmation that players will have limited third-person options was received negatively by some fans.
“I hope people understand that we have thought about this and there is logic to our process,” he said.
“We’ve not just thrown this in randomly: there is a lot of thought that’s gone into it. In last year’s demo you saw the interactive dialogue system, where somebody pulled a gun on your face. I don’t think you would necessarily get that same impact in third-person.”
In our interview, Pears also shared exciting details about the game’s ‘crazy’ side-quests, character customisation, multiplayer and more.
How challenging has it been to balance level designs in a game which has many disparate character archetypes?
I think that’s been one of the nicest challenges of the level design. If you’ve seen the demos, you’ll know that you’ll have a different experience during each level based on your character. From what we’ve shown this year, you may go into an area and encounter tons of enemies, or you might skip entirely past that and only see part of each area.
I think the most exciting thing when I’m working on the levels is that players are going to see different things that others might not, which is a great talking point between players. It’s about making it your story with this game and one of the key philosophies with the level design is that again, it’s your experience throughout each level.
Do you have a checklist of considerations when you build a level for Cyberpunk?
We do try and make sure that the levels feel consistent in terms of options, but it’s about the narrative as well, because for CD Projket Red the story is king. We do try to make sure that everything is balanced, but if for example the story needs certain things then we take that into consideration.
Have you had to change anything in your levels based on playtesting? We imagine different character types might have brought up unexpected results.
I think that has been one of the most interesting parts, watching people play. Whether you’re watching teammates or even playing yourself, you encounter different experiences that the player has. There was definitely constant tweaking and iteration, because in one playtest the player might not even touch certain routes. It’s been interesting to try and highlight which play style can lead you down which path: that’s been one of the most crucial tweaks, making sure that we highlight all the options for the player.
It’s about making sure a certain character doesn’t bypass important areas, but also that they don’t get stuck halfway down a route for example. Maybe you’ve made a Netrunner and then the only way past something is for a strong player. And because it’s a fluid class system and people can mix and match their characters, you constantly give different options to tackle different challenges.
“Making sure that stealth is a feasible option is something that we’ve been really making sure feels good. But if you do want to go in guns blazing, there’s enough cover and gunplay for that.”
Can you think of any examples of something you’ve had to change based on playtesting?
I’m not sure how much I can say, but there’s definitely been changes where I had to make sure a stealthy route was possible. That was one of the biggest things for me, that if you wanted to play stealthily there was always an option for you. Especially with the game being in first-person, you need to make sure it’s clear that you’ve cleared an enemy or challenge.
You will have to engage with certain characters, but making sure that stealth is a feasible option is something that we’ve been really making sure feels good. But if you do want to go in guns blazing, there’s enough cover and gunplay for that.
Post-launch multiplayer is finally confirmed now after months of R&D. Why was it important to research that before committing?
I can’t say too much on it because it’s still going through its process, but it’s about making sure that multiplayer fits in with the lore of the world and it feels right. It’s about making sure it fits in with who we are as a company as well, because story is so important to us, plus it needs to fit in with how we design and deliver games.
That’s why it was so important to go through the R&D process with it, to make sure that we’re not just throwing something in and that it feels like a CD Projekt Red multiplayer that has our beliefs and design philosophy. We’ve still got work going on and we’re hiring to make sure that we get the right people for the job. The main focus is still single-player right now and we’re making sure that people understand that this world is more than big enough for single-player.
You’ve also announced free post-release DLC for the game. Do you have a clear plan for what you intend to do with that, or will you wait and see how players react to the core game?
As a level designer it’s not my decision, but I know the team is definitely looking into what we should do. With Witcher 3 the game got better with quality of life updates for the community as well, like how we improved the UI and things like that. So we’ll be listening to feedback but we do have focus on what the DLC will be.
Does the fact the DLC will be free have any bearing at all on its scope? Witcher 3 received significant story expansions…
We’ve learnt a lot from Witcher 3 and how that DLC worked. We’ve learnt from that and that is the strategy for how we’ll apply DLC to Cyberpunk as well. We’ll look to take what we’ve learnt from Witcher 3 and apply that.
There was a big reaction online to confirmation that the game will focus entirely on the first-person camera. Has CDPR seen that reaction and will it change anything based on it?
I hope people understand that we have thought about this and there is logic to our process. We’ve not just thrown this in randomly: there is a lot of thought that’s gone into it. In last year’s demo you saw the interactive dialogue system, where somebody pulled a gun on your face. I don’t think you would necessarily get that same impact in third-person. It’s moments like that which make it feel like it’s your story and your character.
“One question we get asked a lot is, ‘why customise your character if you can’t necessarily see it?’ But in real life we choose what we wear because it represents who we are”
There are clearly some people who are really strong and passionate about this, but we believe that this is the right choice for this game. Hopefully when people get the chance to experience it for themselves, they’ll understand why we’ve gone in that direction.
The E3 2018 demo featured third-person cut-scenes. Have your existing third-person scenes been changed to first-person?
From my experience, no. But most of the levels I worked on featured cut-scenes in a first-person perspective anyway.
There’s been a big emphasis around the character customisation in the game. Is it difficult to push that kind of feature, while also trying to make an immersive first-person game?
One question we get asked a lot is, ‘why customise your character if you can’t necessarily see it?’ But in real life we choose what we wear because it represents who we are… that’s what it’s about. Having this customisation channels into that ethos that it’s your story; you can customise your character, your guns and it feels like your fantasy within our world. I think it helps to have that feeling, compared to Witcher 3 which was Geralt’s story.
Every demo you’ve held behind closed doors in the past year has asked for feedback. CDPR recently revealed that feedback has led to increased customisation options. Did you take anything else from the feedback?
We take it very seriously. CDPR is a fan-friendly studio and that’s why we do it, because we’re gamers ourselves and there are changes we make because of that. But we’re so engrossed working on the project that we’ve sort of got the blinders on, so getting to hear outside feedback is really important to us. We need to make sure that we’re on the right track. We put a lot of internal pressure on ourselves and we want to make sure that we deliver the best possible game.
These forms were taken in, there were emails sent round to the right people, then we looked at the feedback and decided if we agreed and how we were going to approach it. Maybe stuff would get mentioned multiple times and that would be a big key for us, because that indicates that it’s clearly an issue for players. It’s important: it’s really rare that you get a chance to do this during development.
We were taking feedback as recently as Gamescom, which is really different to E3 and it’s important to listen to different people.
Will some of that feedback lead to changes in the core game, or is it all post-release now?
It depends on how big the changes are. We’re trying to make sure the quality is right and that when players get it, it’s the best as it can be.
“There’s one side-quest – and believe me when I say, you’ll know it when you see it – of absolute craziness”
Character creation was something you improved based on feedback, but it’s still a bit unclear how gender works in the game. For example, how do NPCs address the player character’s gender?
One of the things we’ve done to make sure the game addresses things a certain way is a lot of the time NPCs are just going to refer to you as ‘V’, because you won’t be able to choose your name. That way it helps people know that it’s their character that’s being spoken to and also however you’ve envisioned your V, that’s still your V. That’s been our focus: your version of V is your version as the player and that’s how you will be addressed in the game.
We really want to make sure players get the representation that they want. In the genre of Cyberpunk as well, it asks such deep questions about what it means to be human, let alone what it means to define your gender. Having that customisation match how you feel is your representation of how you feel… it’s important for us and it’s important to the lore of this world too.
And what about how you determine your sex physically? The game is set to feature full nudity, after all…
We have the body type that you select and then the genitals will be determined by that. You can have a male or female voice with either body, but the genitals are defined by the body.
Have you been involved in the game’s side-quests? How outlandish have you been able to be with those?
I have been involved in side-quests and they’re a crucial part of the game because it’s a massive world. Some of The Witcher 3’s side quests felt like main quest by themselves. We’re giving a lot of love to that area and how it plays into the game world, like how you’ll gain street cred, which determines which vendors you unlock and stuff like that. These side-quests will benefit you.
How crazy have you been able to go with the gameplay in those?
I can’t give details, but before we came out here, we were talking about one which I didn’t even know we could do or why we would do it! I wish I could talk about it, because honestly there’s one side-quest – and believe me when I say, you’ll know it when you see it – of absolute craziness. There are some fantastic interactions of not just the levels but the characters that you meet.
Working with some of the quest and narrative designers, they’ve had lots of fun with this. There’s one that I’ve just finished working on and it’s just such a great quest in terms of the experience that you’re going to go through. There’s going to be side activities like racing, the boxing bots… there are a lot of different activities that you’re going to be able to go through.
And because it’s an RPG, with something like shooting ranges for example you might then raise your skill level for certain guns. So doing those things is going to improve your character as well.
Finally, can we romance Keanu Reeves?
The answer to that one is no. Keanu plays a crucial role in the game, but as for the option to romance him, I don’t believe you can.