Posted October 14, 2019 by Adam Ghiggino in Feature

PAX Australia 2019: Cyberpunk 2077’s John Mamais shares insight into development, new sound technology and that Keanu reveal

The much-anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 filled up not one, but three presentations at PAX Australia this year, with fans eager to learn any new morsels of information, as lines had to be cut off as theatres were packed with attendees. Also in attendance was John Mamais, head of CD Projekt Red’s Krakow studio, taking a break from development to travel down under to show off the game, which was met with the usual wave of enthusiasm that has followed the title since its announcement. Of course, the biggest example of the fan response to Cyberpunk 2077 came at E3 2019’s memorable reveal of actor Keanu Reeves, who plays Johnny Silverhand in the game.

“I don’t know whose idea it was,” said Mamais, “Probably Adam’s [President, CEO] or Marcin’s [CEO], the game director or the story director, or someone on the board of directors or someone like that. So, we did a pitch and we went out to meet him and pitched him the idea and told him about his character, gave him a synopsis of the story and showed him the game.”

“Hats off to whoever designed this E3 presentation, right? The way we announced it and then he came out like that was pretty neat. I knew it was going to go down, but not right away. I knew that like for a few days before how it was going to go down. Like, ‘oh, that sounds kind of cool.’ But then, you know, everybody in the studio we all got together and watched it. Even though it’s on at those weird times, we were staying in the city late, and it was as exciting and uproarious in the studio as it was in the theatre.”

John describes his role as practically a studio manager, to grow the studio and manage the team to make sure they’re producing as efficiently as possible. There are three studios making up CD Projekt Red, one in Warsaw, Krakow and Wrocław, all acting as an extension to the main studio in Warsaw and part of a larger team working on Cyberpunk 2077. 

“We’re just settling down in Krakow and we’re trying to grow that studio down there and create kind of a mirror of the Warsaw studio as well… We have leads in Krakow over certain parts of the project. We have a character lead in Krakow, we also have character leads in Warsaw, as well as a quest coordinator in Krakow, and there’s a quest lead in Warsaw, so it really is kind of a mirror. But, the way it’s all coordinated is through directors, creative directors. We have a character art director, environment art director, game design directors and animation directors and those guys, all leads have reported to them.”

However, John’s team does specialise in certain areas, including the cutscenes.

“We have a very small programming team with 7 programmers there and they’re all working on the scene system for the game. The scene system is the way that the cinematic part of the narrative is told. So it’s like mo-capped scenes, it’s done in the context of gameplay, now it’s not like some cutaway thing. It’s very integral to make the game more immersive.”

CD Projekt Red has previously exclusively operated in the realms of fantasy with The Witcher series, with Cyberpunk 2077 being its first foray into a new genre, science fiction, with transition presenting new creative challenges.

“I think it was just like, it was hard for the guys to understand how it feels. So, you have to get a new mindset. A lot of the guys in the team were strictly fantasy and they were lovers of fantasy and not necessarily science fiction, or this sub-genre of science-fiction. For me, it’s just part of the genre. So it’s just taking the time to feel it, in a way. That was the hard part for us.”

“Story is like the core of the game, it’s like everything else revolves around the main storyline. So that’s the first thing that we had to do, is basically figure out the main storyline and that sets the tone for everything and we build everything around that.”

However, the story can still be shaped by the player.

“Every quest is very nonlinear. And the story is also nonlinear, right? So you can totally get to a different ending based on what your choices are. It’s very, very similar to way that The Witcher 3 works.”

Recently, there was some discussion online over the decision for Cyberpunk 2077‘s cutscenes to all be presented from a first-person perspective, although Mamais wasn’t a part of that decision.

“No, we weren’t, that was, done only by very few number of people as a decision based on a number of factors, immersion was like the big one.”

“I think it was more about interactivity, being able to grab things and touch things in first, it’s a lot better and more immersive I guess, and not as clumsy as it would be in third person.”

“And there’s the idea of if you’re in Cyberpunk, you’re using weapons a lot. So third person ranged combat, I guess it’s done, it works. But I think it’s better in that perspective too. There’s a lot of reasons for it.”

Although there are still plenty of months left in development before Cyberpunk 2077  reaches fans on 16 April, 2020, we did ask John what he was most proud of so far on the game.

“Well, I’m biased, but I like the scene system obviously, right? I have been talking about that a lot. I think that’s going to be really cool. It’s going to make the game a lot more immersive. I’m proud of everything. I think the lighting, especially if you’ve got like really powerful, expensive hardware, you can have some pretty amazing features in the game. That’s not to say that the game’s not going to look great on all platforms. I have to add that in. “

“But, also the sound system. I like audio and I think audio is underappreciated a lot. So, I think the audio is going to be interesting cause there will be Atmos and they’re doing something special – they’re calling it dynamic acoustics. I guess it’s something kind of newish where you use the geometry, the space to figure out how the reverb sound. It’s very much connected to the physical space that you’re in the game. So, it sounds much more realistic than it may have otherwise.”

“We’ve got a really good sound team doing it. I don’t know how long it’s taken, but I just found out about it recently, so I got excited about it. So it’s, for me, it’s like the coolest thing recently, you know?”

Back in an interview in 2016 at the Golden Joystick Awards, one of the first (and only things) John could say about the game, was that he thought it was going to be “really, really, really fucking badass”.

“That was prophetic, right?” Mamais jokes, “I think it’s living up to it. It’s really cool. It’s violent and grungy and feels separate from our world cause it’s like placed all those interesting Cyberpunk things and we’ve really fleshed out the cybernetic part about all the modifications, which I like about it.”

“But you can play it a lot of different ways though, right? So you can play it like a run and gun. You can decapitate people and stuff and you can dismember people. So, it’s quite gory. And you can like go through and butcher, maybe it feels a bit like playing in some ways, Doom or some really hardcore action game. So we’ve got that side of it.But, you can also play like stealthy or you can play more intelligently as a kind of a net runner type of character. So there’s lot of different ways you can play it. It just depends on what your style, and you can mix those styles as well.”

At the end of day 3 of PAX, John seemed exhausted, but happy at the response the game had seen from crowds at the show.

“It’s great that the hype continues,” Mamais said, “It’s cool that we got a chance to bring it down here.”

Cyberpunk 2077 will be released on Xbox One, PS4, PC and Stadia on 16 April, 2020.

Adam Ghiggino

Owner, Executive Editor of Rocket Chainsaw. I also edit TV, films and make average pancakes.