The video game industry in Poland is fast becoming one of the most respected and prolific in Europe. GamesBeat spent a week visiting some of the game development and film studios making a worldwide name for themselves. You can read the stories that came out of our visit here, including our in-depth look at the growth of the gaming industry. The Polish government paid for Daniel Crawley’s trip. Our coverage remains objective.
For a project first announced way back in May 2012, we know precious little about sci-fi role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077.
Visiting developer CD Projekt Red in its Praga-district headquarters in Warsaw, Poland last month, it was clear that this lack of news is entirely intentional. Getting any information about this game’s development was nearly impossible. “We don’t talk about Cyberpunk,” laughed Tadek Zieliński, the project manager on the upcoming mobile mutilplayer game, The Witcher: Battle Arena.
But nearly seven million YouTube viewers have watched the stunning teaser trailer for Cyberpunk 2077, which Polish film and animation experts Platige Image created and released in January 2013. It’s a trailer born from an image found in the manual of the original 1998 pen-and-paper role-playing game, Cyberpunk 2020 — a trailer that showed an inspiring vision of a game that CD Projekt Red hadn’t yet created.
Surely the team must have something more to tell?
The secret world of Cyberpunk
I sat down with Michał Platkow-Gilewski, the head of marketing at CD Projekt Red, in one the studio’s meeting rooms, this one themed around its famous Witcher series of role-playing games. Swords hung from the wall, and a map featuring the world of the Witcher covered the ceiling. But despite the medieval theme, the futuristic subject of Cyberpunk 2077 came up during our chat about the studio’s rapid growth since its inception in 2002.
The number of employees is “changing super-fast,” Platkow-Gilewski told me. “It’s way above 200, maybe closer to 300. But this is divided between [the] Witcher team; [the] core team, which is responsible for engine, administration, marketing, finance, et cetera; and there’s a Cyberpunk team as well.”
Ah. So what could he tell me about CyberPunk and where it’s at? “Nothing. Zero,” he said.
I pressed a little, talking about how the spellbinding trailer reportedly came from little more than a panel of an old instruction manual. At that time, they had nothing more, right? “Nothing more,” said Platkow-Gilewski. “Now we have way more, but still we are not talking about it.”
But Platkow-Gilewski did share a little more information about the top-secret project, explaining that some artists in the studio are better at creating firearms, while some are better at swords. That defines whether they are working on the Witcher core team or the Cyberpunk core team. Other artists, such as lighting experts, are working across both projects.
As for the total size of the Cyberpunk team, “it is changing,” according to Platkow-Gilewski. “There were probably around 50 people, 60 people, but then a lot of people came to work on Cyberpunk, but they are, like, for two projects [Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3].”
A recruitment trailer
The people who came to CD Projekt Red to work on Cyberpunk, many from overseas, came mainly because of that incredible trailer, which was part of the reason the studio commissioned it.
“Yes, we needed people for Cyberpunk,” said Platkow-Gilewski. “I think that was the best recruitment announcement you can possibly imagine — and one of the most expensive as well. It worked, yeah. The Cyberpunk team is truly international and right now in the company we have people from more than 20 countries, probably. The last time I checked there was 19, but since then a lot of new people have moved in.”
But isn’t there a worry that creating a trailer to help with recruitment offers a vision of a game to fans that’s impossible to live up to? The pressure on CD Projekt Red to match that vision is surely huge. “I’m not afraid of that,” said the confident Platkow-Gilewski.
With the total studio team having more than doubled since the start of work on The Witcher 3, I wondered if there would be a big drop-off when development on that game was finally complete.
“I don’t think there will be a big change because we need a lot of people for the next project [Cyberpunk 2077],” said Platkow-Gilewski. “We are still one big family; we have more plans than capacities. With our plans, we have barely time for holidays after the project because we want to jump into new stuff.”
With such assured talk of what’s coming next, I asked one last time if he’d share some more about the mysterious Cyberpunk project: “One day I will. In one year we can meet and talk about that.”
From a single image to a mind-blowing trailer
It’s an interesting situation, finding yourselves the visionaries for a game that doesn’t yet exist. That’s what happened to the team at Platige Image when CD Projekt Red asked them to bring Cyberpunk 2077 to life. The two studios had collaborated since 2006 on the Witcher titles, but the brief for Cyberpunk was something altogether new.
“We had an extremely talented guy working on it: Maciej Jackiewicz,” said marketing manager Olga Cyganiak. “Because Tomek [Bagiński] was the director, but then he was also involved in another project for The Witcher, and that was going at the same time. Actually, almost one guy created all of it. That’s why there’s no animation. It’s very static because he had no more hands.”
So despite what the credits might say, the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer is very much one man’s vision: “The whole vision of it was the art director, Maciej Jackiewicz. In the credits, you have a lot of different people, but that’s his aliases.”
The response to the trailer was incredible when it debuted nearly two years ago.
“I think that’s the most acknowledged work of ours,” said Cyganiak. “It was a smashing hit, with like 5 million viewers during the weekend. Everything went perfect here. The music is cool. It’s amazing.”
But they really had little to base the trailer on. CD Projekt Red had no game assets to work from, just a concept. “They had only the sketches from the [pen-and-paper] role-playing games and nothing else,” said Cyganiak, “so we had to create the world. It’s from the ’90s, right, the game and we had to put it like — you have to have this ’90s feel, but then it has to be futuristic.”
The perils of overpromising
With such a strong and widely viewed CGI trailer in place, I asked if CD Projekt Red’s vision now had to match that of Platige Image.
“That was the problem,” said Cyganiak. “We’ve created something and they used it actually for raising money for the project and for hiring people. That was the purpose of it — to make people interested in it.”And it seems that Platige Image is as in the dark as the rest of us when it comes to what Cyberpunk 2077 will actually look and play like when it finally arrives. “Actually, we have no idea what they are working on,” said Cyganiak. “They have something, and I know they are really very strict about it. We hope they’re going to come and work with us on the next cinematic. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”Platige Image is well aware of the risk that CGI trailers can over-promise on what games actually deliver. With Cyberpunk 2077, that concern is greater, and CD Projekt Red feels pressure to live up to the hype.
“That was an awfully big risk that CD Projekt took,” said Cyganiak. “They asked us for a cinematic with no visual references for the game. In my opinion, they have to match a bit the cinematic.”
But there’s definitely one thing that won’t be in the game, and that’s the female star of the trailer. “They said that the woman won’t be in the game,” said Cyganiak. “That’s only for the cinematic.”
CD Projekt Red wanted the trailer ready for January 2013 to have half a year of team building and fund-raising for the game, and this didn’t give Platige Image much time. Because they were working to such a tight schedule, they used full body-scanning for the first time on the Cyberpunk trailer. “We couldn’t model the character by hand, so we went to the U.K.,” said Cyganiak. “We scanned a Playboy model and then did some work on the model, so that was one week instead of one month. After that we decided that we have to have our own body scan equipment and we bought it.”
“That’s why the girl has a broken nose,” said Cyganiak. “When we released it, everyone was like, ‘OK, but the model is wrong. She has a broken nose. What the ‘f’?’ We said, ‘That’s not us — that’s the model.’”
The Fight Club of games
So, much of the mystery surrounding Cyberpunk 2077 remains, but at least we know a little more about it, not least that it’s an ongoing concern for CD Projekt Red. The fact that the developer has kept the game away from public view for so long is actually incredible, given that it’s an project with tens of developers actively working on it. It’s been in development since 2012 and has a multinational team in place, yet nothing has leaked. In that sense, it’s very much like David Fincher’s Fight Club movie. No-one talks about it.
But I’m sure I’m not the only one who’ll be eager to hear what CD Projekt Red has to say when it finally does start talking Cyberpunk. I’m already planning my next visit to Warsaw in 12 months time.