Something to look forward to: Developer CD Projekt Red first teased Cyberpunk 2077 five years ago, but we hadn’t heard another word about the game until this past E3. Why’d it take so long? One of the studio’s top executives joins Kotaku Splitscreen to explain.
Marcin Iwiński, co-founder and co-CEO of CD Projekt Red, sat down with me in Los Angeles last week for an interview about Cyberpunk 2077's development, that spectacular E3 demo, and when we’ll see the game again. We also talked about crunch, unionization, and whether Cyberpunk will feel as Polish as the company’s last game, The Witcher 3.
Jason: So in 2013, you guys teased this game. It’s safe to say that the entire company was on The Witcher 3 for a while, and that game shipped. Then there were some rumors that there were reboots, that you guys changed direction of Cyberpunk. Is that true?
Iwinski: Yeah... But first of all, what does it mean to change direction, reboots? It is a creative process which is based on iteration. And if internally people at the studio are not happy with something they’ve been working on, and it takes three months or six months, being an independent developer and a—I really don’t like the word publisher, but we are self-publishing—we have 100% of the fate in our hands. If we don’t like something, we have no problem saying, ‘OK, we have to redo this part.’ It can mean we are throwing away six months of work, and there were bits and pieces happening like that.
If you look at it from a developer perspective, if someone’s working on a certain level and he spends six months and thinks it’s great, and then there’s a decision to maybe change the direction, as I mentioned, people are unhappy. So there were different things visible on the outside. But that’s just a part. At the end of the day, the days of real trial are these E3s, or Gamescoms, or the first time you reveal something because that’s when we see hey, does it work, or maybe it doesn’t work.
At the very end the only thing that’s important is the quality. So if the quality’s there and we need to iterate three years, we are lucky enough to be able to afford it first of all, so we have this capability and possibility... Sometimes if you hear something outside it might sound scary but I hope there are no fears anymore.
Jason: I’ve heard enough about game development to know that a reboot is not necessarily a bad thing.
Iwinski: Really what was happening, I wouldn’t call it a reboot but we were changing directions, and actually we were looking for the substance of the game. It is super difficult when you’re establishing a new IP, because you can do whatever you want to do but at the same time you’re always questioning yourself. The process of this internal dialogue, or sometimes even like a monologue happening in people’s heads, it is very difficult and hard because you don’t know, is it going to be cool or not? Then you come back and say, ‘No, I thought it’d be cool but it’s not anymore so we have to change the direction,’ then you have to explain it to people. Then the team is larger, there are new people who might not understand how it works.
What is crucial, is actually: E3 has several functions. First of all it’s a certain milestone, so it forces everyone to be on time, because you cannot miss E3. What is equally important to showing it to the outside world and getting their opinion is showing it to the team that they can do it, because the game has a shape and form. You can say with The Witcher 3, before that we had Witcher 2, so the world is defined. OK, it’s open-world, it’s a different thing, but hey it’s The Witcher we know what we’re doing. It’s hard to tell people, ‘OK this is going to be the best game in the world and by the way we have nothing.’ Not many reasons to believe. So this is a very solid both external and internal reason to believe.
Jason: So even though you guys teased it in 2013, it seems like the real development didn’t start until after The Witcher 3?
Iwinski: I can tell you about how it really worked out. When we did that, we thought we’d be able to run two projects at the same time.
Jason: A lot of people think that, and it almost never works out.
Iwinski: It sometimes does... look at Ubisoft.
Jason: Ten studios, thousands and thousands of people.
Iwinski: We would love to have this knowledge, maybe over time... I think it’s also our testament to quality, because theoretically we could have, but then Witcher 3 wouldn’t have been what it was. And again, we thought with expansions, all hands on board, Blood and Wine being 40-50 hours. That’s all thanks to the fact that there was a smaller group working on Cyberpunk. Our initial intention, or bravery, or naivety was, ‘Yeah we’ll pull it off, but hey it’s not working out.’
This time was not wasted because we had a very solid preproduction so we were not rushing things. There was a lot of thinking about the world and the concepts and whatnot. So this helped them accelerate much faster once we had the teams free after The Witcher 3.