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Cyberpunk 2077 introduced another take on virtual reality when it launched late last year. Braindancing (the downloading of data from an experience to view it through someone else) saw players experience an event from another person’s point of view. It went deeper than what we experience in the real world with virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Quest.
“With a braindance, you’re experiencing the full data flow of an event,” said Cyberpunk creator Mike Pondsmith. “You’re experiencing it through another person’s eyes which is why it’s bad when you experience someone dying.”
Pondsmith, who pioneered the tabletop version of the Cyberpunk genre, joined The Game Awards organizer Geoff Keighley for the “Making the Metaverse Personal” panel at the GamesBeat: Into the Metaverse summit. The two discussed braindances, what it takes to make players relate to in-game worlds, and Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City during the talk.
Pondsmith added that he doesn’t think we’re ready for a real-world version of braindancing, where people would have to “jack-in” and download data in order to see through the eyes of someone else. Keighley asked Pondsmith if he thought we’d see something similar develop in the real world.
“I don’t think we are ready for real-world braindances,” he said. “Social media has blown us away, we’re sharing lives and not conversations.”
The first braindance in Cyberpunk 2077 features a burglar getting betrayed and killed by a man who asked him to rob a store. We get to view the scene from multiple angles, slow down and fast-forward through footage, and find out who killed him by putting together different pieces of evidence.
The two also discussed what it takes for developers to create believable worlds in movies, tabletop games, and video games. Pondsmith emphasized the importance of touchstones, or moments and rules that viewers and players can immediately relate to.
“In any unreal world you need to have touchstones for people to plug themselves in through,” he said, before referencing Star Wars: A New Hope. He mentioned the scene where Luke Skywalker is working on his T-16 Skyhopper in a garage on Tatooine.
“Even if you’ve never sat there working on your car, everyone knows that trope,” he said. “They know that the garage will be cluttered, they know what a garage looks like, they know what a car will do. They don’t have to take a big step to say Luke is a kid who works on hot rods.”
“They instantly know how they fit into that universe,” he added. “They know the rules.”
Pondsmith continued by saying that early MMOs, like The Matrix Online that he worked on, struggled to create those touchstones. They created a futuristic world that couldn’t convince players that it was a future they could see themselves in, partly due to technological limitations the development team faced back in 2005.
More recent games like Red Dead Redemption 2 have succeeded in creating believable worlds because they focus on density. They focus on creating a believable, visually masterful world right in front of the player.
“I like to wander around Red Dead Redemption on horseback, I know that other people might find that boring,” Pondsmith said. “It’s like ASMR for me.”
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