Cyberpunk 2077 was recently delayed but despite this, we managed to get our hands on the game for four full hours during a recent event (read our hands-on preview here). Following our gameplay session, we had the pleasure of chatting with Cyberpunk 2077 level designer Max Pears about all things Night City and the glorious streets that we were able to explore.
One thing in particular that caught our interest right away was the verticality of the city, especially when comparing it to the studio's previous game, The Witcher 3, which was certainly vast but spread out across a huge map and had sections blocked by loading screens. We asked about the differences in landscapes across these games and whether or not Cyberpunk 2077 would be split up by loading screens. Pears explained that loading screens are essentially a thing of the past.
"You can walk from one side of the map to the other side of the map without encountering any loading screens", he told us. "The only time you'll see a loading screen is when you fast travel or when you go between locations for a quest. As for the difference between The Witcher's landscape and Cyberpunk's; verticality is one of the biggest elements to it. We want you to feel how dense that city is in terms of life versus the vast beauty that you saw in the locations of The Witcher. In this [Cyberpunk] you'll see all these people living on top of each other".
Another easily-spotted aspect of Night City was the life it clearly offered; the people walking the streets and the way they all seemed unique, not only personality-wise but also visually. We asked about the differences between the various sections of Night City and how the team was able to breathe life into such a cybernetically-altered setting. Pears told us that story was key in making this happen.
"Comparing it to the Witcher again, it was easy to differentiate a city from a dense forest. In Cyberpunk it's more about telling the story of those who live in each section of the city", he explained. "You'll find different gangs, different corporations, and everything tells a story. After all, for CD Projekt Red, story is king".
It's clear that a lot of time has been spent creating micro-stories on the streets of the grand city and apparently, some of these stories have interesting origins.
"One of our story writers, Tomasz, had a great story for when they were pitching a character that they were going to use for the main story that ended up not being used. The stuff we learned from this character that wasn't used could then be applied to the city and the people in it and that level of detail helps tell these micro-stories".
One of the bigger aspects of how the city is perceived by the player is the tonal changes as you move through the different sections of the map. One second you're in a high-class corporation-run district and the next you're in the slums or even industrial areas. The tone changes drastically while still feeling fluid as you move from district to district. Pears explained how CD Projekt Red managed this:
"That's one of the more interesting aspects of this project, the tonal changes. There won't just be these dark, brooding moments, there's a sense of humour to the world as well. There'll be ups and downs and we really want to show that even in these dark and cybernetic times, there'll be people who will bring laughter to you as the player as well. As for the tones of the world and the different locations, there's lots of cool places to see".
"Obviously I don't want to give anything away but each location has its own vibe to it, it's memorable in its own way. We really thought about how to make the locations feel unique and memorable".
As for how you'll traverse the city, there will be plenty of options for those looking to catch a sweet ride to any location, but don't expect to command aerial vehicles.
"We've got a lot of vehicles you'll drive such as cars in different variations, vans and motorcycles as well. As for AVs, air vehicles, you won't get to actually control any of them but in certain missions, you'll be inside of them and get to take part in story moments that involve them, but the vehicles you'll be able to drive will be on the ground".
As we walked with Jackie during our session (Jackie being the burly companion with the big personality shown in various videos shared by the developer) we spotted something interesting further down the road as he was moving towards the objective and, as we left his side, he stated "oh... okay then" and stayed put waiting for V. We asked if you'd have the option to just leave the side of your companions to do other stuff mid-mission and, as it turns out, you will be able to.
"Yeah, even in the scenes, like when you're headed for Victor Vector, the ripper doc, the game tells you to go sync up with Jackie and you can just move past him and crack on with what you want to do", Pears said. "You'll also notice the amount of movement you'll have. You don't have to focus on the task at hand and if you want to prod around you can. Sometimes, it'll even be noted by the characters".
Apart from a living city to explore, there are plenty of options within confined spaces as well. During one mission, which has been shown in footage previously as well, we were surprised to see just how many options we had when trying to make our way through a large food factory. We asked Pears about the process of creating levels that give the player so many options in terms of playstyle and approach:
"I think this has been one of the most creatively free projects I've ever worked on, especially as a level designer. The amount of routes you can come up with by even just exploring those spaces to how you get to those spaces by talking to people and getting information and different options, you realise how impactful your options are".
Apart from this, there's the option of going through missions non-lethally as well and the player can even make impactful choices before any combat starts:
"Yeah, not all options even lead to combat, for example, in the Food Factory, you can end that encounter without anyone getting hurt or you can take out Royce which will lead to you not having a boss battle in the end. You can talk to Evelyn to gain more information or you can go in with no information at all. You can go around the world to get your own money to buy it [the objective item at the factory]. Sometimes even I forget how many options there are".
Essentially, if you're planning to go through the game without killing anyone, there are ways to make sure you haven't made a mistake and there are options to fall back on if something goes wrong:
"Enemies will enter a defeated state, so you'll see them in pain on the floor which means you haven't killed them. That way, if you are someone who doesn't want to kill anyone, you'll know. That, and then there are even weapons that allow you to take enemies out without killing them as well. That way you won't have to reload to try again to do it non-lethally, there will always be that backup just in case".
As a final question, we figured to ask about the day/night cycle and whether or not the city changes once the sun goes down - this is Night City after all:
"Oh yeah, the city does change! One of the things we've mentioned is some of the people you see walking around, they're based on their own living actions, it's one of the things that makes the city feel more alive. Some areas, for example, will become more dangerous at night and some will become less crowded during the night and more crowded during the day, so you will see the impact of the time of day for sure".
We'd like to thank CD Projekt Red and Max Pears for taking the time to talk to us. Cyberpunk 2077 is set to release on November 19 of this year on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, and we're even more excited now than we were before our hands-on with the game. Night City awaits and we're ready. Are you?
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