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This week, CD Projekt Red finally updated the world on the state of Cyberpunk 2077, an action-RPG set in the world of the tabletop game created by Mike Pondsmith.
Behind closed doors at E3 this week, the company went on to show that the game would be a first-person RPG where players would build custom characters, decide their backstories, and dive into a crime-filled city of hackers, murderous scavengers, and vengeful corporate agents.
While grim settings (and the colorful characters who give them life) are nothing new to CD Projekt Red, a game set in a modern urban context, even if it's the future, comes with far more baggage than the Polish fantasy of the Witcher series (which itself saw discussion around how it depicted an exceptionally white medieval world).
Since depicting any modern urban environment means making a more diverse cast across ethnic and gender lines, we wanted to quickly check in with CD Projekt Red about how they were handling depictions of those characters.
As it turns out, quest designer Patrick Mills (who will have more for us on the quest design of Cyberpunk 2077 in an upcoming interview) said this is something the company has been closely thinking about, since they're making a game that is "very contemporary, very relevant to now."
"Very often, we see something [that may be offensive to players] and we say 'that's great, but, think about the larger context here.' We have to be willing to make mistakes, and then fix those mistakes and be aware," explains Mills. "We have to talk to people, we have to do our research, it's an ongoing process and we're always trying to do a good job with it."
But, when you're developing a game that's wrapped up under NDA, how do you realize when you're making those mistakes? First, Mills claims that CD Projekt Red has a diverse team generally interested in preventing those moments, and second, it's actually a part of the process that you can sometimes treat like bugfixing. "Sometimes it does involve QA," says Mills. "This is a Polish studio, and so sometimes there are things that, someone will put in, that they don't know the American context of it. They understand it in a Polish context, but not realizing in an American context it would be seen very very differently."
Mills wasn't able to go over any specific mistakes the team had course-corrected on, but when asked about resolving a common sight in action games---a white protagonist barging into a room full of non-white enemies and opening fire---he explained how CD Projekt Red might address that situation by asking the QA team for help.
"What'll happen is, someone will notice something...we have people who say 'hold on, are you sure about this? And sometimes it involves going to QA and saying 'hey, if you see this particular thing, let us know. We're not doing this thing. This is something we're not going to do.'"
As part of that accountability process, Mills says that CD Projekt Red absolutely wants players and developers to let them know if they see the dev team slipping up. Overall, it's fascinating to see a developer team reckon with the setting they've selected for their game, and acknowledge it may be worth trying to dampen instances of racism, sexism, or other prejudices & bigotry that could arise from that setting.