Cyberpunk 2077's lead quest designer explains why using cyberspace requires a bathtub

Several of the PC Gamer team have seen Cyberpunk 2077's new E3 demo in action now, and the consensus is mostly positive, as it starts to look like a real game we'll be playing within a year. Below, we talk through some key moments with Paweł Sasko, lead quest designer on the game at CD Projekt Red. 

You should check out James' detailed recollection of the Cyberpunk 2077 E3 demo if you haven't already, as a lot of the points we discuss below relate to specific parts of the demo. 

PC Gamer: Can you talk more about who Keanu Reeves plays in the story? 

Paweł Sasko: Keanu Reeves in our game plays the role of Johnny Silverhand. Johnny Silverhand is the frontman of Samurai, a chrome rock band from 2020, from the original book. Now, Johnny Silverhand is a primary character in our game, and the player, V, has him on a chip in his head, as this digital ghost. And throughout the story, the whole relationship between them is developing. And the CGI we've shown on [the] Xbox conference that actually introduces you and shows—a part of the game that you'll actually be able to play—the moment how it ends up with him being in your head. 

The whole relationship with Johnny Silverhand is very important for the game. It's actually one of the core arcs, and it's getting resolved fairly near the end of the game and I don't want to say too much here because it would spoil the main story. But you can develop this relationship in different ways with Johnny Silverhand, and yeah, it will give you... I don't want to spoil too much. It will impact your way of play, it will impact the quests you see, the scenes you see.

He has a very strong vision for how the world should work, and he's like a true cyberpunk.

Paweł Sasko

And yes, Johnny Silverhand is played by Keanu Reeves. We started working with Keanu, oh, some time ago, actually. He actually had a codename because we had to codename him otherwise it would slip out for sure and we've been working on that thing for almost a year. That was a long thing. And the fact that we managed to keep that out of the media and nobody said anything, that was an amazing moment in the show, when he walked to the stage. People were genuinely surprised.

How did the relationship come about?

He mentioned on the stage, right? He said that we approached him. So this is how it was originally. He has a history of playing very strong characters who are fighting for something. And the thing is, for Johnny Silverhand, it's very similar. That's why he fits really well. And our business part of the company started reaching out to him, to his agent, and being like, 'Hey, maybe we could start a relationship'. And it turned out that he would be interested. We showed him some things, talked to him about it a few times, and slowly started... because talks were happening through some time, to just nail down—because he's an actor of such caliber. I think that yeah, this is how it started really.

In the trailer he says it's time to burn the city down. What's his goal?

That's a super interesting question. So, the thing is that Johnny Silverhand, he has his own agenda. He use to be a fighter for freedom, but in the eyes of corporations he would be probably called a terrorist. This is the guy he is. He has a very strong vision for how the world should work, and he's like a true cyberpunk. He's the guy who goes against the system, and against the corporations, and against the city that's just an embodiment of this. He knows the city holds people in shackles—this is his way of seeing things. And suddenly he's back. He's back and he sees, 'OK, there's V. 'He's the guy, or she's the girl, that can see me, and I can influence this person.' It starts this interesting dynamic between them. 

And he has his own role and that develops throughout the game. And 'there's a city to burn'—he means something very specific in that, but I don't want to talk about that because it would be an absolute spoiler.

You mention your relationship with him can change. Is that true of a lot of the characters you interact with?

I'm the lead of the quest team, right? And in the quest team we are writing scenarios for the quests, and one of the things that we're taking care of is the relationship of the characters. Now we're working with our story team and cinematic team to make sure those relationships feel real. And there's multiple characters that you can have a deeper relationship with, including being their lover. Including deepening it down to that level, and being together. We are having a variety of options for different players—if you would prefer something other than the heterosexual option that's also there. So we're making sure that the relationships are deep and real, and what's important for me is the fact that all of those characters they have there own small plotlines. 

There are always quests connected to them, and so you can deepen their relationship with things that they care about—and you can tell them about this, you can help them out, warn them about different things. So very often they're like companions, they're together with you, and that impacts your relationship with them. And they will make their own decisions depending on what you have done. Thing is, they also have their own preferences. Depending on your gender or depending on the choices you have made or the guy you are, they will go with you or not. They will fall for you or not. That's the way we do it. If you are looking for the closest comparison it's The Witcher 3 and Geralt's friends. That's the way we're taking care of that. The characters are an important part of the story.

How big a part does cyberspace play? Is it a location you can explore or is it more a story thing?

So as you saw in the demo, the cyberspace is like a dark, dangerous place. You need the assistance of multiple netrunners. Those people that were there in cyberspace, they were with you. They were your cover. They were helping out, making sure that nothing is getting you. Basically the cyberspace in our game is this extremely dark, grim place from the past. It's a past that has been divided by the black wall. And you saw what happened when Alt hit the wall at the end. And so that's cyberspace in the game. And as a player you need a special support from others to help you get there. But then you can explore the way you saw. Now, on top of that, the whole cyberspace has this usable layer.

Basically our internet in Cyberpunk is controlled by corporations and the army

Paweł Sasko

As a Netrunner, I can get into the net and access the networks of the soldiers, of the guards, of the Animals, and hack them. And use the quick hack to make the game explode, make the guy suicide, all kinds of things to mess around with the cyberware tool. So that's also a way you can access cyberspace, just in a different way. It's a more secure, safe level. And also, on top of that, you have normal internet. But the internet in Cyberpunk, it's a completely different thing. This game is based on 2020. Everything there is very retro. It's very ingrained in the '80s. So if you take the internet that existed at that time, that was mostly controlled by the army and so on, and scale that up to '77, keeping all the crazyness, basically our internet in Cyberpunk is controlled by corporations and the army. It's not that everyone can have their own blog. It's not like that. There are pages you can browse, but they're controlled by the big corporations. But that said, the network is not for normal people, and all Netrunners can access it and only the best ones can go deep into cyberspace.

Why is it you need such a big support network to access cyberspace? What's the danger?

Basically you would be fried. In 2020, your brain would be fried. This is the reason V gets into the bathtub. Because her body has to be cooled because you become sort of a CPU. You become a CPU that's running this whole thing through your body. You have to be cooled down because otherwise you fry. So this whole setup has to be there so that you can access this. But there are points in the story when you do.

Can you finish the game without killing anyone?

Yes. We have a completely nonlethal path throughout the whole game. Of course this is a dangerous, violent world, so you have to harm people sometimes. But you don't have to kill anybody. Any of the quests, street stories, open world content—you can go through the whole thing killing nobody. If you want to play like this—if you want to play for the achievement—sure thing. This is covered. This is one of the things that falls into freedom for me.

There was a story last year that mentioned you will have to kill some people. Was that changed based on feedback?

Yes. Last year you guys did these surveys for us. We looked at the feedback really thoroughly. There's a bunch of things we have improved based on that feedback. And we always look at what people say and what they think. Because when you're deep in something, you just don't see the forest for the trees. So yes, that was something we have changed. That has been in the design for quite some time, and it was in our heads as we were designing quests. Might be we have to redo a branch here and branch there. But then there was a moment where we were like, 'okay, we are committing to this. Let's make it, because we almost have it. Let's do it everywhere.' If the player wants to not kill anybody, they can do it. Some players will say 'this game is extremely violent'. But it doesn't have to be. You just can go in with nonlethal way and knock people down. You don't have to break legs, chop off heads or use the nanowire to slice people. You don't have to.

What options are there for nonlethal playthroughs?

Right now, every weapon and every cyberware has a nonlethal option. I think I can say everything. There's one thing: only weapons that are lethal by definition, so let's say you shoot someone with a bazooka in his face. You shoot his head off. That's typically lethal. So there are weapons that are so lethal that it can not go any way otherwise. But everything else actually has a nonlethal option. Pretty much every gun, pretty much every cyberware, you're able to use in a nonlethal way. You're able to knock them down, choke them, make them sleep and so on. There are ways not to kill them and spare them, like the way you could do with Sasquatch, the boss.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.