Published on October 19th, 2019 | by Daniel Coomans
John Mamais Interview (Head of the Krakow team for CD Projekt Red – Cyberpunk 2077)
We caught up with John Mamais, Head of the Krakow team for CD Projekt Red to talk all things gaming and try to pry some Cyberpunk 2077 secrets from him!
Dan: How’ve you found PAX so far?
John: You know, PAX is cool man. It’s sorta old school, mixed with new school. I’ve never been to PAX before, so it’s new for me. You kinda have these three groups; Video games, cosplay and board games. For us it’s been really cool, were in the Xbox booth, so we have a pretty prominent display there. The publisher, for us, in Australia, is Bandai Namco. They did a really good job preparing PAX for us and rented out the auditoriums to show the game on the big screen. (Dan: I missed the chance to go see that!) Oh you did? Oh man, yeah they were packed out. They were like 2500 people each, both the Friday and Saturday so for us that’s great, we’re happy about that for sure.
Dan: So what does your team do in Krakow?
John: Basically all the same stuff they do in Warsaw, we’re just smaller. So we’re doing one of the main story paths for the game. We’re also doing scene systems, cinematic and technical storytelling.
Dan: Where is the studio currently at with development?
John: We are, well, we’re kinda in the closing phases now, there’s not a lot of time left. Now we’re going through balance passes and heavy QA, soon we’ll start outsourcing these tests but for the moment it’s all still internal.
Dan: Now I’m gonna ask the obvious question, have you worked with Keanu?
John: No, I never personally worked with him. But I know a lot of the guys I work with have worked with him. He never came out to Poland unfortunately, a lot of his work was in LA, so not a lot of us got to meet him. Because he’s all Mocap and voice recording.
Dan: How much, can you tell us about the role Keanu plays in the game?
John: It’s a really, big role you know? He’s kinda there most of the time, a very prominent role aside from your role as the main character. So yeah, he’ll be around a lot.
Dan: What, for you, is the most standout feature in the game?
John: Stand out feature in the game? That is a good question, there is so many different features in the game. (Dan: Haha, you can have a few it that makes it easier). No, no, I don’t think it’s so much about features as opposed to systems, RPG systems are going to be very interesting because it’s built around, like uh, Cybernetically enhancing your character. I like that sort of system, just because it’s really cool core aspect of the game. I’ve kinda always wanted to make a game like this.
Dan: Have you had the chance to get down on the expo floor?
John: Yeah I mean, I get breaks and I walk around. I mostly just buy boardgames. (Dan: Okay, what’s your favourite boardgame?) Oh man, that’s tough. I guess my favourite table top is DND First Edition. I’ve tried all the other editions, but I just keep coming back to First edition. I don’t play a whole lot anymore unfortunately for obvious reasons.
Dan: Where do you get a lot of the inspiration for games like Cyberpunk? Because it’s based off an older table top game if I’m not mistaken?
John: We take a lot from source material, but it comes from all over man. We draw from everywhere. It’s based on Cyberpunk 2020, the old tabletop version, that was created like mid 80’s so quite a while ago. That’s essentially where it started from and where we get most of our in game lore. That’s our main reference, our bible, effectively. But we have to draw stuff from everywhere, we have a lot of source material, like not directly used in the game but it influences us, like all the Japanese animation that has cybernetics, or cyberpunk themes; Ghost in the Shell, William Gibson books, Blade Runner, among many other things.
Dan: Where does a game like this start? What are the first steps to a game like this?
John: Dude that is a hard question and really not easily answered. It, starts with the story. That’s sort of the fundamental core of the studios approach. But in parallel to that, we’re thinking about what technology we’re going to need to support, this kind of game.
We had to rework the engine almost completely, to support this game, so it’s kind of like a custom engine for Cyberpunk, because of the new demands for vehicles we’ve never done or larger crowds and cities we haven’t done before. So you’re building these features up as you’re building the story. You’re also, your other path is prototyping features and gameplay, testing to see if they work, if they look cool. Because they’re critical upon the story, we need to figure out what sort of skill tree we factor into the game, because that also affects the story. It’s all very interconnected, we’re all developing in different paths but then it all kind of converges into like demos so we can see how it all works together.
Dan: So basically, story, narrative and concept art would be among the first. When do you take all that digital?
John: Well, as soon as possible. Production usually has different stages of development and everyone does it differently. Our stuff usually comes together for demos. Like we did the teaser trailer for Cyberpunk, that had to be developed in some way conceptually. It’s like a test for us, to see what the game is going to look like. It’s the first time we see the kind of vision we put together, the kind of ideas we put together. A previsual, I suppose.
Dan: What level of customisation will we see in game? Are there physical representation of the changes we make to our characters?
John: Yeah I mean, there is vast amounts of customisation in the game. I mean, you can see, your arms and legs visually, in the game. So yeah, there’s extensive options to customise basically your whole body in the game. All the gear you earn and changes you make a reflected.
There was quite a bit more I could’ve added, but that’s the core of it all here. John is a great guy, probably fairly relaxed at this point since the game is entering its final phase of development, but it was definitely an amazing experience to get to sit down and talk with him about his involvement, in the development of such an anticipated game and his experience throughout. So John if you’re reading this on your flight home to the US or right after, thank you for the opportunity and we at Impulse wish you at the team both in Krakow and Warsaw, the best of luck with this and all future projects.