Mike Pondsmith Interviews – Cyberpunk 2077

Mike Pondsmith, the creator of Cyberpunk the RPG, has recently participated in several interviews where he talked about his career, the cyberpunk genre, and his collaboration with CD Projekt RED on the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.

Gamereactor offers a video interview with the man where he struggles with being called a legend, talks about the intricacies of making games in the 80s, and more:

Eurogamer's interview goes as far back as Mike Pondsmith's childhood and his first encounter with Dungeons & Dragons, and then it tells the story of how Cyberpunk 2077 came to be. The interview is extremely long, so here are just a few paragraphs:

He was sent The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings as a kind of convincer and, "holy crap", he thought it was great. But he was also sceptical. It wasn't the first time someone had asked to do a Cyberpunk video game. "It's been pretty much under licence since its inception," he says, and several major publishers had had a shot. The closest it came was contract negotiations "but the problem was they wanted to change almost everything involved" and so the negotiations fell apart.

He'd also seen Eastern European development studios during his several years at Microsoft, where he also worked as a studio sorter-outer - a fixer. "I had been to a lot of countries that had just come out from the Iron Curtain and worked with dev houses over there, so I figured CDPR was a bunch of guys in a little sweatshop somewhere," he says. "In one place in Hungary they produced beautiful stuff but it was literally a broom closet with 25 guys crammed over overheated monitors. That's what I expected."

Yet, intrigued, he took the offer of a trip to Poland - and his mind began to change. "I get over there and they set me up in this really nice hotel and give me this driver who looks like he should have been driving spies around. He was almost as wide as he was tall, had heavy accent like ziss, spoke very little English, wore a severe black suit and drove a Mercedes.

"'This is pretty posh for a bunch of guys working in a broom closet,'" he thought - but he was still preparing to let CD Projekt Red down. It wasn't until he got into the studio and cast his Microsoft-trained eye over tools, procedures and general set-up that he thought, "Wow. This works."

What impressed him most, however, was how much CD Projekt Red knew about Cyberpunk. "They knew more about a lot of the things we did in the original Cyberpunk game than anybody we'd ever talked to," he says. "There were points where I was going, 'I had forgotten that,' and I wrote the damn thing! I realised these guys are fans. They loved it because they had grown up playing it. Nobody had really looked at it from that standpoint before."

And Rock, Paper, Shotgun focuses on what makes a particular piece of media truly cyberpunk and the genre's parallels with the real world:

But whether these futures are parallel or predictive, Pondsmith doesn’t think we’re far from our very own cyberpunk lifestyle.

“The thing of it for me is that it all boils down to people and how they use tech. It boils down to tool-use and that is the extension that makes us kind of meta-creatures. You remember things on a much larger level because you have memory devices. At any minute you can get a story and translate it into five languages, then throw graphics behind it. You have access to these insane tools.

“Part of what’s happening now is that these tools are becoming accessible to more and more people; across history, powerful creative tools have been the promise of the very few, like the printing press and even paper and ink. Benjamin Franklin said “the power of the press belongs to those who own one”. Well, a whole lot of us own things more powerful than the printing press now.”

But how far away is a device transmitting information and providing access to tools from actual body augmentation?

“Body horror creates an interesting cultural sliding point. Once we get over the body horror aspect though, we’ll be happy to have it all built-in as long as, once again, it’s easy to repair or replace. One of the things about the cyberpunk culture is that we’re not going to get man-machines because we want to turn ourselves into robots; not in terms of jumping fifty feet in the air or punching through a wall. It’ll happen because we want more choices, more knowledge and more access.”

So no bionic arms then?

“I didn’t say that, but I certainly wouldn’t be first in line. My kids might though. The idea that I’m going to cut my arm off all the way to the elbow and replace it with metal is…” he shudders. “But the tipping point is already gone. Old people have artificial hips, my mother had surgery to remove cataracts and now her vision is better than it was before the cataracts.

“Eventually the transgressive nature will be reduced. An entire new thing right now is 3d printing to build prostheses for kids that lack limbs. Well, somebody who has a silver-chrome cyberlimb like [Cyberpunk character] Johnny Silverhand might tempt some kid who isn’t missing a limb to have their hand removed just so they can have a better one. Like Johnny’s. At some point, when that process is easy to do, it won’t seem like such a big deal.”