Inside the Design of Cyberpunk 2077’s Urban Dystopia
Throughout, Więcek and his team have developed architectural styles that signify different eras of Night City’s development. What they call “Kitsch” for example, is inspired by legendary designer Syd Mead and conveyed in vibrant colors and plastics. “Entropism,” another, evokes German industrial designer Dieter Rams, juxtaposing the elegance his work was known for with the lower-class neighborhoods it characterizes.
But cities are not just for looking at. Night City’s neighborhoods must be filled with things to do, and so different neighborhoods are full of video-gamey diversions to enjoy, from boxing to car racing to hacking. Warring gangs and mega-corporations alike have staked out territory, each a potential source of work for your character. Ideally, there’s always something interesting in reach.
“I also wanted our designs to imbue every space with possibilities, and to engage players so that they will want to immerse themselves fully into this world,” Więcek says. “A player’s experience with the visual side of the game should allure them to take on the challenges this city has to offer.”
Making a video game of this scope is a laborious process. A single video game can involve the work of hundreds working around the clock for four years or more; and “crunch”—the often-unspoken expectation that designers put in extreme hours to finish—is endemic in big-budget game development.
For Cyberpunk 2077, building and filling Night City took eight years—with a Bloomberg report alleging severe crunch for extended periods of that development. (When reached for comment, CD Projekt Red directed AD to a previous statement maintaining crunch was limited to a six-week period and generously compensated.) No cities are built without blame.
Building a digital city is quite similar to a real-life one: it’s connective tissue and skeletal framework, a conduit for people to build and gather around all there is to love or hate about a place. But it’s also, as Więcek notes, a careful recreation of our mistakes.
“Bringing this vision to fruition is extremely interesting, especially when you care about saving our world from that kind of fate and don’t want people to destroy it,” Więcek says. “I think we’re trying, but not hard enough.”