The Right Feel
There are people out there who have protested to me at conventions that there have been hundreds of cyberpunk games made over that last two decades. But my counter-response is that, save for a very rare few exceptions, most “cyberpunk” games are games from other genres with a cyberpunk veneer shellacked over the top; standard action shooters, futuristic racing games, involved explorations on trans-human philosophy—even classic space operas dressed up with a few heroes uncomfortably wearing leather dusters over their vac suits and mirror-shades perched precariously on the the tops of their finned helmets.
Most people think of cyberpunk is just a summary of specific tropes; big guns, dark streets and dangerous guys in ubiquitous leather dusters. But the core of cyberpunk is a lot more subtle than that. Cyberpunk is about the seductive qualities of corruption and decay. In a world where rules and morality are non-existent, the temptation to descend to the level of the mean streets is always there. It doesn’t have to be dirty or grimy on the physical level. But on the psycho-social level, even the cleanest and most orderly Corp-zone should be rife with darkness and collapse. Ambiguous moral choices are key to cyberpunk, as are victories that aren’t always clear victories, and defeats that feel like victories because they are hard won against impossible odds.
True cyberpunk also needs an adult feel (and that means more than just the sex). Unlike other genres, cyberpunk characters should have vices to go with their virtues. How they DEAL with those vices is a big part of their complexity. When we looked at the Witcher series, we saw a world where gambling,drinking, hookers and other vices were a big part of character development, but were also handled as part of the general adult character of the world. But in addition, relationships were treated as actual relationships, with the fights, negotiations, regrets and reconciliations that are part of the way real adults handle real situations.
Last, doomed, Romantic quests are another part of the cyberpunk mythology. You’re not just fighting an evil mega corp because it will get you money. You’re doing it to save a friend, settle a personal score, win a lover, champion a cause. Most of the time, you’re a solo gunslinger riding a dirty, dangerous path, depending on your wits and skills as your follow your lonely quest to do what you know you must. You don’t stride in like a superhero, triumphantly defeating all enemies; you win by the skin of your teeth, and it means more because it’s PERSONAL.
The Right Tech
Cyberpunk isn’t just about high tech. It has to be the RIGHT LEVEL of high tech. Most “cyberpunk” games miss this important element, larding up the process with superpowers, spaceships, blasters and other overblown technologies. But the devices, vehicles, weapons and gadgets of a truly cyberpunk world have to be things that are only a few seconds ahead of where we are right now. They should be things that will spring from the real world we live in; direct extensions of trends currently in play. You can’t have ray guns in a cyberpunk setting—but you can have advanced sub-machine guns. Perfect example: in a Cyberpunk® project written several years ago, I created the “agent”; a hand held super cell-phone that used small micro-programs that could tailor the device to the users needs. At the time, it was a logical extension of what cellphones should be able to do in the near future. Ten years later, I’m writing this on my tablet smart-phone. See what I mean?
The Right Resources
Making a great game can’t be done on a shoestring budget. You need the right hardware to execute a great vision. You also need the right combination of tools; specialized software, design tools, solid conceptual designers, modelers and researchers. You also have to have the will to make new tools and draw upon all your resources. Although we’d worked with other teams over the years who had the talent and passion, they didn’t have the level of resources needed to make a spectacular game that would be worthy of Cyberpunk®‘s many rabid fans.