Face to face with Pawel Sasko
Everyeye.it: Good morning Pawel, happy to see you again! First of all we would like you to introduce yourself to our users, explaining your specific role within the development team.
Pawel Sasko: Of course, therefore: I am the Lead Quest designer of Cyberpunk 2077, which means that I, together with my team, take care of all the quests you will play within the game, including those of the main storyline, up to the most minuscule ones. Instead, what falls outside our task are the small activities around Night City, which instead are assembled by the open world team, with which we often collaborate, however.
Specifically, what I do is take the subject of the authors (or the Story Team) and script it, structuring it into scenarios, which also means creating the atmospheres and distributing the dialogues. It’s a bit like an adaptation: you take the basic features of the story, then the canvas, and then refine it until you get to the complete narrative, adding a huge amount of details.
Everyeye.it: Thank you so much for this clarification. Going forward, however, we would like to ask you how you and your team approached work: how you moved compared to Witcher 3 and what has changed since the old quest system, and again, the change of view was a nice one challenge for you?
Pawel Sasko: Excellent question! I have been working on CD Projekt for nine years, therefore I dealt with both the second and third Witcher, working on both the quests and the kinematics system, and in case you are wondering yes: also about the famous Baron quest. What we did was take our latest work, then Witcher 3, dissect it and analyze every single part of it; this to understand the strengths that we wanted to transfer to Cyberpunk.
My goal was to create an extremely natural, realistic, uninterrupted narrative flow, and in this the first person helped us a lot. It’s also a matter of pure editing, you understand? In the last two Witchers we had to submit to the need for an infinite number of cuts, black screens, ellipses, and all this often ended up breaking the identification with the protagonist.
In Cyberpunk 2077 there is no continuity, everything flows in a credible way, and the player can finally “live in V’s shoes“, without ever being disconnected. Obviously this required enormous work, we practically razed the entire system to the ground and started from scratch (and of course we are still implementing something), however I am extremely satisfied with this new model, I think it is much higher than Witcher 3.
Everyeye.it: Perfect, very clear. So, to continue the comparison, we can ask you what were the features you appreciated the most in Witcher 3, and which then we can expect again in Cyberpunk 2077?
Pawel Sasko: For me, the best part of Withcer 3 storytelling it is nonlinearity, which is also reflected in the depth of storytelling. The importance of the choices is exactly what made you attached to the characters, and obviously we didn’t want to lose this aspect, so we thought to evolve it: in Witcher 3 there was the main storyline and then the secondary ones, and some of them were very long and branched out, which made them extremely important for the narrative economy, but still remained separate from the main events.
In Cyberpunk, however, secondary quests can heavily affect the plot; simply, depending on how you deal with the side quests, you have more choices at your disposal during the campaign. For example, you may become aware of sensitive information, or completely optional characters that can distort your actions, and your knowledge of the world. In short, we knew well that the sidequest were our main dish, so we tried in every way to improve them, ergo they will be present in greater numbers, but they will also be more varied and above all incredibly more refined and detailed. An example? At this point you will surely have heard of braindance, or the investigative mode, here are some quests that are completely based on that system, or others based entirely on the mechanics of road pursuits, and the reason is that we wanted at all costs to create this sense of variety, and I assure you that there is still much to discover.
Everyeye.it: Excellent, can we ask you some more information also on romance? How well is that dimension cared for?
Pawel Sasko: Definitely! Think of The Witcher 3: despite the player’s choices, Geralt was an extremely defined character, while in Cyberpunk 2077 you can create your avatar through an editor, and consequently customize all its aspects, including the background. In addition to this, traveling through Night City you will meet a large number of characters with whom to build a relationship, and each of these will have its own preference scheme. This is a huge upgrade over the past.
In the real world you can’t please everyone, right? The choices you make influence your social relationships, and it will be exactly like that in Cyberpunk. Someone might appreciate one conduct rather than another, or your style / look, and therefore they may or may not offer you a friendship, or even a romantic relationship. It depends on the player, finally.
Everyeye.it: This brings us to our central question, which are: what are the sensations, or emotions that you want Cyberpunk 2077 players to experience? And what is the secret of a good storytelling?
Pawel Sasko: This is extremely interesting, let’s see … when I speak to the designers of my team, the first thing I ask for is this: attention to emotions. The player must always be stimulated, he must be able to experience feelings for the characters with whom he interacts, and the construction of emotions through script is never easy. When I was working on the Baron’s quest in Witcher 3, I wanted the player to feel empathy for him, especially in the face of his tremendous actions; the important thing was to build a three-dimensional character.
That’s exactly what we’re doing with Cyberpunk, and there are tons of “tricks” to achieve the goal. For example, one of the must-haves is the so-called “environmental storytelling“: there are situations in which we have deliberately created particular atmospheres to support us in the realization of an effective situation, for example by changing the scenario from daytime to nighttime, or even at dusk. So we get the perfect light, whether that of the moon filtering from cracks in the roof or that of a neon, but it is also a matter of music and sound design, for this we work closely with the sound department, to make sure that everything is exactly as it must be to instill that certain mood in the player .
In short, it is through the details, but also through some secondary dialogues (and the way they are recited!) that you can get a certain feeling, such as those between V and Jackie, or even the random chatter that we hear from enemies before assassinating them in stealth mode. In this, again, the first person helped us a lot, because you are still free to act but at the same time feel that you are in the exact center of attention, and we have made incredible efforts to be able to emphasize every moment of the narrative.
Everyeye.it: … and what can you tell me about the locations, how much and in what way do they participate in the storytelling and success of a quest?
Pawel Sasko: A lot, precisely for this reason in CDprojekt there is great collaboration between the internal teams, because the right sensations, the strong ones, also arise from the right locations.
Choosing colors in Cyberpunk 2077 is crucial, and does a great job in narrative terms, greatly increasing the player’s identification factor. Just like in cinema, we have an infinite number of moodboards, references that we want to propose, study them and then decide: “this is what we want for this specific quest!”, Because colors also play a central role in eliciting certain emotions.
There is also the whole matter of visual styles, of the aesthetics of the eras that have followed each other in Night City in recent years; Kitsch, Militarism, Entropy, each generates completely different sensations, and we wanted to explore them but also to mix them, sometimes one above the other, as in fact happens in reality when the new takes over the old without ever completely eradicating it.
There are many things we have built for Cyberpunk 2077, and there are also many that we have added compared to 2020, the old paper role-playing game. From the absurdly dressed person who walks down the street (and you will see quite a few) to the bar that you don’t expect at the end of the alley, all of this serves to create a living and enveloping world, and Cyberpunk’s Night City is exactly this .
Everyeye.it: Thank you so much for your answers Pawel, you have been extremely comprehensive. We hope to meet again and obviously good luck for the launch in November!
Pawel Sasko: Thanks to you guys, it was really a huge pleasure, see you soon!