Polish studio CD Projekt RED has developed quite a reputation for itself among the hardcore RPG community. Since the release of The Witcher in 2007, critics and audiences alike have lauded the studio for its robust, story-driven approach to design, as well as its consumer-friendly stance on post-release content and DRM.
Now that the studio has wrapped up development on the console version of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, CD Projekt RED has turned its attention toward Cyberpunk, a new sci-fi epic based on the pen and paper RPG of the same name.
In this interview, key staff members from CD Projekt RED take a moment to discuss the upcoming sci-fi RPG, detailing how the studio approaches its licensed properties and adapts them to an interactive medium. Along the way, the team reflects upon The Witcher series, noting what it got right, where it went wrong, and how the games have affected the studio's plans for the years ahead.
First of all, I'm curious to learn more about what drew CD Projekt RED to the Cyberpunk license. What about that franchise attracted you as a studio?
Marcin Iwinski (Co-founder and joint CEO): It was the setting. That's what we're really excited about.
Adam Badowski (Studio head): And we're an RPG-focused developer, so making a game based on a pen and paper game made sense. Those games have always been very important to us.
MI: We're really excited! We really wanted to make Cyberpunk, and when we started digging around in the team, we saw what people were fans of, and it turned out that a lot of people on the team played pen and paper games, so we thought, "Okay, we'll take a look at that."
There were other reasons for picking that license as well, but here the whole mix seems to work extremely well, because the system is almost 5,000 pages over 40 books, and there's more than 25 years of experience, and more than 5 million people playing it over that amount of time.
It's a well-proven base for making a game, and it's similar with what we did with The Witcher. Rather than coming up with the vision for the world, we actually bought the rights to the books, and we're able to focus on telling our story within the world that already has a setting. I think we have a very similar situation here, though it will be even easier on the mechanics side, thanks to the RPG background.
From left to right: Marcin Iwinski, Adam Badowski, Michal Platkow-Gilewski.
I found it interesting that you all chose to make another game based on an existing license after working with The Witcher. Why have you chosen to stick with licenses versus working on a new IP?
MI: Because we are lazy! (Laughs) No, it's really that we want to focus on making great games, and if you also want to create a great world as well, it just raises the bar super high. And here with these licenses we already have an existing fan base.
With The Witcher, that fan base was predominantly in Eastern Europe, because the books hadn't been published in English until the game was out, but we knew that millions of people love it, so if we make a good game, hopefully they'll like that too.
It's similar with Cyberpunk. The setting is already there, and we love the setting, so why would we want to create "CD Projekt Cyberpunk", or "CyberRED", you know?
In Cyberpunk's case, how are you approaching the series' existing pen-and-paper rule set? Is it influencing the way you approach design?
MI: We are not limiting ourselves to using a certain set of rules, but rather we're looking at it as a general [guideline]. We'll use it as much as it makes sense, and of course we'll really rely on the support of [Cyberpunk creator] Mike Pondsmith.
He's a game designer who's also knowledgeable about computer games, and he's been really excited to work with us. We think we can really use his expertise to the advantage of the game, and that's something we didn't have with The Witcher. He's consulting with us on a fairly regular basis.
AB: We'll share ideas with each other, and of course if we have questions about getting the mechanics down or things like that. It's been good, he's really...
MI: He's the oracle.
AB: (Laughs) Yeah, he's our wise man, and I think he's really been a great guide. He's been a really big help for us.
Your studio has always emphasized storytelling, and it seems like Cyberpunk's protagonist will vary a bit from how you approached things in The Witcher. Whereas the Witcher series used Geralt, who had his own pre-conceived biases and opinions, Cyberpunk is letting players customize their characters a bit more. Will this change the way you approach Cyberpunk's narrative?
AB: Well, ideally, we don't want to change anything. The most exciting element is to blend character customization with a story-driven game. It's a challenge, but we're really excited.
So how do you plan to overcome those challenges? Something like Skyrim, for example, has a lot of customization, but its story is less about the character and more about the world. The Witcher's story, meanwhile, really played up Geralt's history, his personality, and things like that.
AB: We're not really sure yet. I mean, there's no one true workflow when making RPG games, but we’re trying to combine things, we're mixing different ideas. But we've been very impressed with Skyrim, particularly in how they've made that game and its content so diverse.
MI: In terms of what you can expect from us, you can expect a rich story, and there won't be any easy shortcuts that say, "Hey! You're this unknown guy..." You know?
AB: The idea for Cyberpunk is quite simple. You have this universe... and it goes back to what you were asking before. The license aggregates all ideas about cyberpunk as a genre. It has elements of Blade Runner, it's futuristic, but it's also a bit retro... there's almost everything in this universe. We have a lot of experience with storytelling after making The Witcher 1 and The Witcher 2, and we have to use it. We're not going to make compromises when it comes to that, and I think what we're doing will surprise our fans.