When Mike Pondsmith crafted his tabletop RPG system in 1988, the year we live in today seemed like a distant, unforeseeable future. Now, let's see how this rulebook and its setting became the background for the Cyberpunk 2077 game from CD PROJEKT RED.
The rules of engagement
When the first Cyberpunk rulebook was published, Pondsmith already had some experience in creating tabletop RPG systems. His previous projects – Mekton (1984) and Teenagers from Outer Space (1987) – were highly influenced by sci-fi anime titles like Mobile Suit Gundam. In Cyberpunk, Pondsmith decided to build a more dystopian universe. He was inspired by books by Philip K. Dick (especially Blade Runner) and Walter Jon Williams (Hardwired). Some time later, his work also became influenced by William Gibson's Neuromancer, a book that remains a cult classic among sci-fi fans.
Interestingly enough, the original Cyberpunk RPG was set in the year 2013 and quite quickly became outdated, as the fall of the Berlin Wall made its view of the future too Cold War-like. That’s why in 1990, Cyberpunk 2020 RPG was released – an updated RPG rulebook that became a holy book for all sci-fi fans for another quarter of a century.
From today’s perspective, the universe presented in the rulebook had many 1980s marks, both in terms of kitsch, sparkly visuals, and anticipation of the future’s many inventions. The players of the RPG were obligated to embrace cybertech and body modifications, as well as some core cyberpunk values, like living on the edge and choosing style over substance.
The unforeseeable future
According to Cyberpunk 2020, the future of mankind looks pretty grim. Ruled by omnipotent corporations and corrupt governments, our world quickly becomes a socially stratified place, where extreme poverty meets wealth and advanced technology. The rule of the modern, polluted, and crime-infested city jungle is simple – eat or be eaten. That’s why the only way to succeed in this world is either to serve the corporate system or rebel against it, using the Net where you can still find some freedom and uncensored information.
While Pondsmith was writing Cyberpunk 2020, the Internet we know today was still a fresh tool, full of dangers and possibilities. And while it has evolved rapidly and makes an enormous impact on our everyday lives via computers and smartphones, surfing it is still much different from the almost narcotic netrunning experience that Pondsmith envisioned.
Yet, if we look at the Net-related stuff, the author did get a lot right. For example, the organizations that penetrate the internet for the sake of national and company security (like Cyberpunk’s Netwatch) actually do exist today. From other predictions, we can mention the evolution of A.I, fossil fuels, and cybernetics, as ones that are really booming today. On the other hand, flying cars and human cloning are still songs of the future.
On to the year 2077
Of course, the universe crafted by Pondsmith didn’t stay in one place. With the 21st century’s inventions and technologies looming on the horizon, Cyberpunk V3.0 arrived in 2005. Yet the number of changes implemented to the game and its universe didn’t satisfy many of the fans, and the 2020 version remained the most popular. That is until CD PROJEKT RED studio announced the Cyberpunk 2077 video game in May 2012.
It was only a matter of time before a new tabletop RPG would be released. Thus, Cyberpunk Red was born. Set in the year 2045, it serves both as the extension of the Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop game, and as a prequel to the Cyberpunk 2077
storyline. Here, after a string of disasters – economic collapse, Fourth Corporate War, crop blight – the world is slowly licking its wounds. It will take another 32 years, and a Unification War that exploded across North America, to arrive in the year 2077, when the fun starts in Night City megalopolis…
2020 vs 2077
How many things have changed since the faithful 2020 edition? Well, for starters the gameplay is more dynamic. If you remember the RPGs at the beginning of the 1990s, they were very elaborate in terms of character statistics and fight mechanics. At the beginning of the 21st century, games from World of Darkness introduced a more fast-paced, storytelling-type approach towards tabletop gaming.
Cyberpunk 2077 embraces this logic in many ways. For example, the number of our characteristics is chopped from 9 to 6. Our character heals faster than in the tabletop RPG, so we can approach more fights in a smaller dose of time. Going further, our character is far less likely to suffer from so-called cyberpsychosis from an overdose of cybernetic enhancements – his Humanity capacity to receive them is more informative than threatening.
Finally, the game has a more post-apocalyptic vibe to it, compared to its predecessor. The world in 2020 has cities that resemble those from Blade Runner – with flying cars and neon billboards and 1980s-like style. In 2077, Night City - after decades of wars, fuel shortages, and climate change - looks more like a futuristic island surrounded by a polluted wasteland inhabited by Nomads. The comparison of the Badlands to settings we know from Fallout games or Mad Max films is almost irresistible!
As you can see, as the world around us changes constantly, meaning our view of the future does, as well. The 2020 Mike Pondsmith envisioned in 1990 looks different from the world we know today. Yet no matter what the future brings, we are sure to have a lot of fun with Cyberpunk 2077 in the meantime.