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Cyberpunk creator welcomes CD Projekt’s use of first person, exploration of political themes

Mike Pondsmith talks about his first experience playing Cyberpunk 2077

CD Projekt Red

Mike Pondsmith, creator of the Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop role-playing game, has had hands-on time with Cyberpunk 2077, the latest effort from CD Projekt Red. During a recent trip to Poland, he was able to explore beyond the areas featured in the massive 50-minute, private gameplay demo that was shown at E3.

Pondsmith told Polygon about his biggest takeaways from that demo during this year’s Gen Con. Those include his affection for the game’s controversial first-person perspective, as well as his appreciation for the developer embracing his universe’s moral and political themes.

“I got to wander through a lot more than was shown at E3,” Pondsmith told Polygon. “The sequences where you’re going down to the Ripperdoc and all that. There’s entire neighborhood areas in there where you can walk around and you can listen to people’s gossip.

“Because it’s in first-person, what I love is you get that stuff peripherally. You could be crossing to go down the street to get something and hear somebody say something [behind you], and you have to turn and figure out who said it in a crowd and where. You don’t have complete situational awareness, which makes it a far more powerful experience.”

Pondsmith said that the first-person perspective also lends the game’s combat a much more tactical feel.

“You stop doing your gameplay on a strategic level,” Pondsmith said. “You have to do it on a tactical, immediate level, because you don’t know everything. When you’re in third-person, you can look and see the entire battlefield, so to speak. When I’m in [first-person], I’m in it. Stuff that happens around me is coming to me at the speed it would naturally.”

Meanwhile, Pondsmith is amused by critics, and especially fans of CD Projekt on social media, who were up in arms that Cyberpunk 2077 would have political themes after it was unveiled in June. That kind of pearl-clutching, he said, shows a kind of ignorance about the role that morality plays in the tabletop game and the cyberpunk genre as a whole.

“Technology enables rebellion,” Pondsmith said. “It enables change. It enables people who are on the bottom of the heap to actually go up against the people on the top of the heap. [...] Since the time of the Egyptians there were guys on top and guys on the bottom, and that is always the story. It’s just what people do. There’s always new people fighting, and it usually ends in a bloody revolution about every 40 years.

A member of the Trauma Team, a group of heavily-armed first responders, steps from their flying car directly into the bombed out side of a highrise apartment to render aid to an insured client. Cyberpunk 2077, E3 2018. CD Projekt Red

“This is not new. What’s new is that the technologies are there to allow those people on the bottom to go around the people in power, to challenge the people in power, to find other ways to gain power.”

“Morality is cyberpunk,” Pondsmith continued, referring to the genre as a whole. “I bring it down to the same guidance that I’ve given about how you write a good Cyberpunk 2020 adventure, which is, ‘It’s personal.’ Everybody has an internal morality where they will or will not [go against] what they believe. [...] Every really good cyberpunk story is about the personal morality of the people involved. Sometimes it isn’t saving the world — it’s about saving yourself and the things and people you care about, which makes it both intensely political and intensely personal.”

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