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“The real evil in Night City is not an individual, but a society”: how quests are created in Cyberpunk 2077

Differences with The Witcher 3, new ideas for the genre, refusal from banal tasks and much more.

               

Phillip Weber, the senior quest designer for CD Projekt RED, answered many questions about the quest system in Cyberpunk 2077. He described the whole process of creating quests, talked about the differences with The Witcher 3, and shared details about the development. We chose the most interesting from his answers.

Prior to working at CDPR, Philip created mods for The Witcher 2. He even won one contest, after which he was invited to an interview for a job designer in the studio. But he rather wanted to add story and characters to the game world, so he was taken to the position of quest designer.

According to Philip, he is glad that he managed to join the team – he almost always worked on mods alone and was in some kind of vacuum. And in the studio there is always the opportunity to get a critical feedback that will help you take a different look at your work.

Creating a quest begins with ideas – developers usually throw hundreds of options, and only the best ones are chosen from them. The first options take up half a page, and the selected quests are painted for ten pages or more.

At this stage, the task resembles a scenario without final dialogs – the reader can already understand the complete sequence of all events. For convenience, individual pieces are marked with a marking that indicates their purpose. It can be “SCENE”, “EXPLORATION”, “PLAYSTYLES”.

Then the iterative process of checking the script begins – it is read by scriptwriters, a leading quest designer and game directors, and then give feedback. After accepting the final version, quest designers begin to create the simplest playable version of this quest.

At the same stage, a draft version of the dialogs is created – it makes it clear what the characters are talking about and what options the heroine has. But this is very far from the final version. For example, here everything is written in the third person.

Vee welcomes Dex. She is new to this, so she shows great respect for him. What kind of job can he offer?

This approach is used to give scriptwriters freedom – if you give a more specific version of the dialogue, then they will most likely stick to it.

Further, the quest begins to gradually grow into details. At this stage, quest designers work closely with a variety of specialists inside the studio – therefore, in this work it is important to be not only creative, but also able to organize processes.

Philip admitted that he often cannot determine how good the quest will turn out. For example, he may really like one idea, but as he adds more details, he realizes that this does not work.

But often the developer simply begins to “feel” a good quest – when he reads the last line of the dialogue; when he sees excellent art on it; when he hears voice acting by actors; and especially when listening to music specially written for the quest. The developer still has goosebumps from a memory when he first heard the Lady of the Lake theme in The Blood and Wine for The Witcher 3.

There are no specific criteria in CDPR that quests must meet. Moreover, developers do not divide tasks by type. For example, no one will say that one quest should be about escort, and another about the search for an item.

For me personally [a good quest] is obtained when a player can feel that he really made his journey. When it led him to exciting and emotional moments that made him think. And most importantly, if the player really feels that this is “his” story, based on his decisions and the relationships that he created with our characters.

Philip Weber

Senior quest designer at CD Projekt RED

Despite the lack of clear criteria, it is important to ensure that the tasks are sufficiently diverse. For example, if one mission has a sad mood and little gameplay, then the next one should not repeat these features. Nevertheless, it all depends on the specific situation. It may happen that a player has to watch several videos in a short period of time. If it is important for a good story, then no one will destroy it.

Philip also described how the studio avoids quests to collect and deliver items (fetch quest).

When I started working on The Witcher 3, we had a huge document with all the ideas for quests. One of them was to find letters around the world, and then get a reward. This idea was rejected, but next to it was a comment from our lead quest designer Mateusz Tomashkevich: “We. Not. We do it. Quests. By collection. Items! ”

Philip Weber

Senior quest designer at CD Projekt RED

According to the developer, for CDPR quests are usually built not on specific gameplay actions, but on interesting stories. Sometimes you need to find and collect something, but you probably have to do a few other things along the way, so it’s not always bad.

Philip also talked about the difference between the main and additional quests. When creating story missions, developers receive from their colleagues a description of the beginning and end of each task – sometimes only a few suggestions are enough. The main quests are treated more carefully and checked many times.

Developers have more freedom with side quests, although there isn’t much difference otherwise – the team is trying to make sure that all tasks are of high quality and interesting.

Philip also talked about his favorite side quest from The Witcher 3.

I would probably say that this is “Warble of Smitten Knight”, a quest in the complement “Blood and Wine”, where it was necessary to arrange a whole knightly tournament. This is one of the tasks where the end result is very similar to my original design. I was given great freedom (and a large budget) to create this task, so I was able to create a whole location for tournaments with all the knights and visitors. I not only did the quest, but also filled this place with life, gave small stories to every knight.

But the best part for me was the main characters Guillaume and Vivienne, on which I worked together with our screenwriter Magda Zych. We tried to tell a story that will be a little deeper than it seems at first glance. You can just go through the quest, get a “happy ending” and end it. If you really recognize the characters, then you can come to other conclusions. Therefore, I am glad to see that the players get different endings, and they still argue which one is better!
Philip Weber

Senior quest designer at CD Projekt RED

Weber noted that in Cyberpunk 2077, the studio is trying to apply all the knowledge about creating quests in the open world that they gained during the development of The Witcher 3. In Wild Hunt, all the activities in the game world were created by a team of quest designers. But closer to the release and at the stage of work on additions, a team appeared in the studio responsible for the open world.

Her goal was to fill the environment with life, so she began to generate a large number of ideas that can not be attributed to traditional quests. For them, they even came up with a separate name – “Street Stories” (Street Stories). Cyberpunk 2077 takes a similar approach to add life to the city and enhance the dive into Night City.

Side quests are not important to complete the main story, but they often continue the main quest events. This was similar in The Witcher 3. For example, many people are not aware that the ending of the Blood Baron storyline is a side mission. The main quest ended when Geralt found information about Ciri, but the story of the Baron still continued as side quests.

In Cyberpunk 2077, developers strive to link additional tasks and core ones as much as possible. For example, characters who were only in side quests may suddenly appear in the main line. Because of this, players will never know what to expect. Sometimes a small quest can develop into something much larger and change the whole story.

Part of the developers philosophy is that quests cannot be failed (character death does not count). Each story has a specific end – it may not always be the happiest, but in this case the player just has to get used to the consequences of his actions.

Philip noted that the game will have a large number of elements that affect the development of history. Among the significant factors, he mentioned the origin of the hero; NPCs whose reaction depends on their social status; and even the presence of a partner. For example, the presence of a companion may in some cases direct the dialogue in a new direction, which will affect the whole story. The developer noted that creating such a system is hard work, but it’s worth it.

Vi can get information about the world in a variety of ways, but Philip especially highlighted the Kiroshi Eye implant, which shows important information. At the same time, the developer noted that the team wanted to achieve maximum immersion, so the entire interface that the player sees is actually available to the heroine.

Another technology that the developer mentioned is Braindance. With it, you can relive the memories of another person who has passed synchronization with this device.

Separately, Philip told how the team is trying to convey the “feel” of Night City in the game.

At the beginning of the development of the project, we, of course, tried to explore this setting as deeply as possible. We read Cyberpunk 2020 collections of materials, as well as various novels such as the Sprawl, Hardwired, Snow Crash, The Stars My Destination trilogy, and so on. It was important to get a real idea of ​​what it means to live in a cyberpunk world.

We wanted Knight City to feel like a real place, so it was important for our city planners to understand how such a city would naturally grow over time.

To describe the story, we also had to think about how the political system in Night City works. What is the state of society and what problems do people face every day? Do technology improve our lives or only the lives of those who can afford it? It even came to the elaboration of advertising of various brands in this city.

Philip Weber

Senior quest designer at CD Projekt RED

Such deep elaboration is important to make quests believable. Not all missions are connected with history and politics, but it is this background that adds significance to the characters and changes in the city.

According to Philip, the real evil in Cyberpunk 2077 is not a separate individual, but society as a whole. The Night City economy is designed so that the poor remain poor and the rich continue to get rich, so people like V should stay at their level and put up with it. But the heroine wants to change everything, and she has a real chance to achieve this.

Over time, Vee builds up a reputation that allows her to get a better job. Of course, this leads to additional risks, but it also pays well.

Despite the huge number of tasks in the open world, all quests are done manually – Philip admitted that quality is more important for the studio than quantity. The team does not want people to just kill time with this game – the developers are trying to give users something valuable.

The cyberpunk setting already has a certain history, so CDPR is important to maintain a balance between the search for new ideas and proximity to the roots.

We analyzed what stories are really well told in the cyberpunk genre. For example, I think that Blade Runner perfectly covered the topic of replicants from a philosophical point of view, so we should not tell this story again and repeat ourselves … Most of the time we touch upon issues that are likely to be something new.

We are looking for interesting topics and concepts that can only be shown in this version of the future. We also take into account those features that are already shown in the genre and are trying to contribute to this. For example, the punk part was strong in Cyberpunk 2020, and we want to continue this legacy.
Philip Weber

Senior quest designer at CD Projekt RED

According to Philip, stories and characters in different settings are very similar, because people have similar fears and desires. And in fact, there is not much difference between the quests in The Witcher and Cyberpunk 2077. Nevertheless, in the latter it is interesting to think about the impact of technology on people’s lives and even compare it with modern times.

In conclusion, Philip said that in such a large and non-linear game as Cyberpunk 2077 it is difficult to lay down one idea that the user will need to realize. It is the player who forms the story with his decisions, so the result varies from case to case. Nevertheless, the developers strive to ensure that each individual quest raises some topics and tells something new.

In Cyberpunk 2077, we play for V, but as we progress through it, we shape it through our decisions and relationships with characters such as Johnny Silverhand.

And after going through the plot, it would be interesting to think about what the game actually says about you as a player.
Philip Weber

Senior quest designer at CD Projekt RED

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