Cyberpunk returns! You can follow a trail of bits and bytes here and there. Deus Ex: Human Revolution got a lot attention by PC and console enthusiasts. Indie gamers escape with Remember Tomorrow and Technoir to the near dark future. This year we will see the new 5th edition of Shadowrun, an urban cyber fantasy … Currently, there is a momentum. Clean your mirror shades if you can not see it.
The announcement by CD Projekt Red and the superb teaser trailer for the upcoming computer roleplaying game Cyberpunk 2077 fuels the renaissance even more. This major video game title will be based on the original tabletop RPGs Cyberpunk 2013 and Cyberpunk 2020 by Mike Pondsmith.
I think all Cyberpunk games owe something to these original genre pieces published by R. Talsorian Games.
Cyberpunk is neither about elves with pointy ears, spell slinging combat mages nor about fancy high tech gadgets/weapons. Cyberpunk is a perspective on the world – at least for me.
To be Cyberpunk, you need to develop the right combination of world weary cynicism and hidden idealism. Truth is, Humphrey Bogart was the original Cyberpunk archetype and he didn’t even have cyberware.”
- Maximum Mike, Cyberpunk V3.0, page 10
Enough chatter – more style and substance with the first Edgerunner Mike Pondsmith. Let’s chippin’ in!
obskures.de: Hi Mike Pondsmith, Thank you for taking the time to introduce yourself. Tell us a bit about your gaming experiences.
Mike Pondsmith: Was designing games back in junior high. Mostly chess based. In college, took up naval war gaming, which I still do today. Started role-playing with D&D way back the Cretaceous. We used rocks for dice and the dinosaurs kept stomping on our figures, which all looked like the Neolithic Venus. I moved up to Star Fleet Wars and Traveller at the same time, and blew immense amounts of money collecting tiny space fleets and Droyne figures. During this time, I worked for California Pacific, an early computer game company that fellow CPC co-survivor Richard Garriott and I still laugh about when we see each other. First published game was Mekton, based on an improper understanding of Mobile Suit Gundam and GoLion; founded the giant robot genre in US. Never forgiven myself. Next up was Teenagers from Outer Space, followed by a ton of freelance work all over the industry and culminating in Cyberpunk, which is why you’re interviewing me. Broke the sci-fi mold to do Castle Falkenstein, which, despite being five years too early for the steampunk craze, still netted RTG an Origins Award. Have worked at Microsoft as a video game designer, as well as other studios because I love shiny toys like Xboxes. Have been known to play any type of game from dice to paintball. Obsessed, really.
obskures.de: Imagine a new potential customer or fan. How would you briefly describe the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 computer and tabletop RPG?
Mike Pondsmith: It’s moody, dangerous, film noirish action in a near future world where things have gone to hell. Technology is rampant but it hasn’t saved Mankind—it’s made it worse. As a player, you are a streetsmart, heavily armed denizen of an urban megalopolis trying to make it against the forces of evil corporations and depraved gangers.
obskures.de: Please add the most important inspirations to get the player(s) in the “right mood”.
Mike Pondsmith: Go downtown at midnight and stand outside in the cold rain. Wait to get mugged. Beat down the mugger instead. Or barring that, watch Blade Runner, followed by Max Headroom, followed by Ghost in the Shell, drink a couple shots of cheap whiskey and end up the night listening to some really good trance, electronica or dubstep. While making love to your heavily tattooed girlfriend.
obskures.de: The following CD Projekt Red teaser for Cyberpunk 2077 is meant for mature viewers!
obskures.de: What is your role in the context of the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 computer game project?
Mike Pondsmith: I’m mostly the vision holder. Not of the game, but of the overall universe. Since most of it came out of my head, CDPR uses me as a kind of Cyberpunk Holochron (Star Wars reference) to help steer ideas into the right place. Since I do work in video games, I also get involved in some of the technical side, although since I DO work in video games I also know when the heck to butt out and let them get the job done. Which they have done magnificently so far, I might add.
obskures.de: Can you say something about the possible roles in the computer RPG? What about the Psycho Squad? Are Netrunners (hackers) possible? The Netrunner is a very special role. Many tabletop groups to not allow them. In a computer game this role might be a lot of fun.
Mike Pondsmith: Netrunners were made for a video game setting, because it allows the player to actually see what Refs can only describe. As for the roles—that’s still being worked on, but you can be pretty sure that at least Solos, Fixers and Techies will probably have a part in the game. But don’t hold us to that– things are still in development after all.
obskures.de: As far as I can see Cyberpunk 2077 is going back to the origins of the universe. Cyberpsychosis was more or less eliminated in Cyberpunk 203X (NuCybe). Now, in the gorgeous 1st video teaser a girl goes well and truly psycho and kills people.
Mike Pondsmith: 203X was more transhumanistic than the original. But in retrospect, that kind of took away some of the pain and power of the core 2020 setting. So cyberpsychosis is back to stay, and I think it fits. In fact, the more I look at our culture, the more I think it’s applicable, if you think of it as a type of dehumanizing combat fatigue.
obskures.de: What makes Cyberpunk 2077 unique and what references/flashbacks are there to previous editions 2013, 2020, 203X or even Cybergeneration?
Mike Pondsmith: There are tons of flashbacks and shoutouts already in 2077; I was pretty amused by how much they crammed into the trailer alone. Heck, the psycho girl in the trailer is a direct reference to the Alt Cunningham picture in original 2013. Then they doubled down by putting an actual repro of Alt in the background holos. It helps that the CDPR team are fans of the original game—they seem to enjoy hiding Easter eggs and shoutouts all over the game world. There probably won’t be any references to 203X or C-Gen though—it’s agreed that those two represent divergent time lines from the main 2020 series.
obskures.de: The teaser contains references about Night City, Militech, Alt Cunningham, Max Hammerman (NCSWAT). I think I did not find all hints. Will we meet more old friends? What about the nuke and the Arasaka tower?
Mike Pondsmith: You’ll meet all kinds of old friends. You will also meet new friends, and sometimes even the descendants of those old friends. As for the Arasaka nuke—yeah; let’s say it’s big player in the 2077 future. A lot of things came out of that fateful moment in time.
obskures.de: “… If you enjoy Gibson’s Burning Chrome, Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, Williams’ Hardwired, Noon’s Vurt and McAuley’s Fairyland then I hope this game is for you. You should read them. Those books, and this game, are not about “teams” of “runners” loading up on tech from “MetalBookIV” or Min|Maxing every damage die and +2s out of guns|gear while marking in 40 boxes of damage. Fuck no …” (from the Cyberpunk indie RPG Remember Tomorrow by Gregory Hutton). What do you think about these statements? Will Cyberpunk 2077 be “gadget and crunch punk” or more based on the literary sources and the atmosphere of Neo-Romanticism, “lonely heroes”, AIs and Virtuality.
Mike Pondsmith: Definitely the latter. In my mind, at least, Cyberpunk owes it’s roots more to film noir classics like The Big Sleep than it does to the Heavy Metal school of sci-fi. The gadgets are there, but they are facilitators of the action; the main plot in Cyberpunk comes from the actions of powerful, dangerous people doing desperate and dangerous things for the most mundane reasons; greed, power, sex, revenge. Stuff Sam Spade would recognize no matter how much cybernetic hardware it was couched in.
obskures.de: When will we see more of Cyberpunk 2077 RPG (video and tabletop)? Will you “bundle” the tabletop RPG with the video game adaption?
Mike Pondsmith: No comment. But let’s say that what we do in the end will be a lot more complex than you might think.
obskures.de: You are one of the innovators of the tabletop RPG scene. You did the original Cyberpunk RPG, then there was the Castle Falkenstein RPG long before the current steampunk fantasy hype. But you never did a classic fantasy RPG.
Mike Pondsmith: Mostly because beyond Conan, Fafhrd and the Mouser, and Lord of the Rings, most straight up fantasy bores me. Sorry. Most of it uses limited and well worn tropes from a million legends. I don’t think I would be much good as a fantasy game designer—I don’t love it enough. Even Telmar, my original FRP setting when I was in college, involved mages, energy weapons, telepaths and a doomed interplanetary colony.
obskures.de: Mekton was an early adaption of the anime and Mecha genre. If I recall correctly, you worked in recent years for the computer game industry. Will we ever see a new tabletop RPG from you or do you plan a computer version of Castle Falkenstein? What do you plan next (after the Cyberpunk 2077 project)?
Mike Pondsmith: Will you ever see an new tabletop game? Do you have any idea how many games I have in the back of my head? It’s like a freaking rush hour in Tokyo! But as for TELLING you…not yet… Trust me, they’re coming.
obskures.de: Finally, some fun and quick questions. We start with: Role playing is …
Mike Pondsmith: The most fun you can have with any small group of people that doesn’t involve sex, drugs or musical instruments. But your game may vary.
obskures.de: What are the key ingredients for a great game?
Mike Pondsmith: Knowing the world fully and populating it with great characters that you aren’t afraid to let the players screw with. The moment you get a world or NPCs that you love too much to let them get clobbered, your game becomes a museum of Mary Sues.
obskures.de: “SHADOWRUN: GAG ME WITH A SPOON – No relationship. No permission. Nothing. Nary a word exchanged, ever. Except that the admixture of cyberspace and, spare me, *elves*, has always been more than I could bear to think about. I’ve just been ignoring it for years, and hope to continue to.” (William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, about the Shadowrun RPG). Did you ever play any other Cyberpunk “market companion”? What do you think about them?
Mike Pondsmith: I’ve played all of them at some time or another, Even some really obscure ones. You can’t consider yourself a game designer if you are afraid to check out the other guys stuff. Some work. Others, not so much. As a side note: Shadowrun is the fantasy game I would have played instead of D&D if it had existed at the time. Not sure how cyberpunk it is– but it’s a hell of a great modern trope of the classic “the adventuring party meets in the inn.”
obskures.de: What was the first role playing game you bought?
Mike Pondsmith: D&D 1st Ed. Actually, I didn’t buy it—my college roomie did. My own personal first was Traveller. It’s the reason I became a game designer. In fact, the cover of the original 2013 was a homage to Traveller and its brilliance. I still play it today on occasion.
obskures.de: Favorite game designer and/or artist?
Mike Pondsmith: Jordan Weisman of FASA. Because Jordan thinks so far out of the box, he’s crazy. I think we’ve spent our entire careers challenging each other to come up with the coolest stuff, so that we can play each other’s mad creations. Then, Steve Jackson and Marc Miller, because I learned my craft from them.
obskures.de: Thank you, Mike Pondsmith. Anything else you want to share with the fans?
Mike Pondsmith: Yes, you can make a living doing this. So tell your parents a real game designer said it was okay.
I want to thank my friend and hardcore Cyberpunk Flow and my reader KChronist for their encouragement and help. You inspired this. Thank you!
Not enough? Watch Cyberpunk 2077 – Exclusive Mike Pondsmith About the Cyberpunk World or goto the Cyberpunk 2077 forum. Go save yourself, Cyberpunk!
“—Got the Chrome and enhancements.
Got the Attitude right.
Got the metal beneath my skin
Movin’ faster than light”
Big City (c) Johnny Silverhand
2012, Metal Fire Publishing (ASCAP)”
- Cyberpunk 2013, page 2
Images: As referenced by R. Talsorian Games, CD Projekt Red and Obskures.de.