Sins and Mistakes of Cyberpunk 2077;  Dev explains what went wrong

Sins and Mistakes of Cyberpunk 2077; Dev explains what went wrong

The non-linearity in Cyberpunk 2077 disappointed some players. Designer Miles Tost of CD Projekt Red explained why and what lessons the Polish developers learned.

To (hopefully) no one’s surprise, CD Projekt Red’s presence at GDC 2023 didn’t result in any announcements for gamers. After all, this is a conference for developers to discuss game design and related topics. For example, because Cyberpunk 2077 disappointed people who expected less linearity than in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

The above topic was the subject of a separate panel organized by miles burned, who was also the level designer for the third Witcher. The presentation entitled “Level Design Summit: Benefits of Missing out: What Cyberpunk 2077’Taught Us About Non-Linear Level Design” was the opportunity for the developer to say what was wrong with its latest game.

A recording of the presentation is not available, but IGN editors were among the GDC 2023 panelists.

The (non) linearity of Cyberpunk 2077

“It wouldn’t be Cyberpunk 2077 if everything went according to plan,” Miles Tost at GDC 2023 after a power surge during the panel made the slides momentarily hard to read. Source: CD Projekt Group.

The release of Cyberpunk 2077 at the end of 2020 disappointed many gamers. Complaints were mostly about technical issues (particularly performance on PS4 and XOne consoles), but unfortunately gameplay raised some concerns as well.

A big disappointment was the linearity of Cyberpunk 2077, which CD Projekt was aware of. This was mentioned, among others, by Pawel Sasko in 2021, as well as two months ago (via Reddit), partly understanding player complaints, but not entirely agreeing with them.

Narrative too strong, options not special enough

Miles Tost partially echoed what his colleagues were saying during the GDC 2023 panel, but also expanded on the topic considerably. He mentioned that when commissioned to design levels, he was advised to create locations with multiple playstyles in mind, both subtle and direct. It was, in the designer’s words, “crazy, but also very exciting”.

So why do gamers say Cyberpunk 2077 feels more linear than many older games? Tost attributes this to… CD Projekt Red’s emphasis on storytelling, which gamers shouldn’t miss. In practice, this meant that the developers tried to include a “generic” path: one that was hard to miss and would remain accessible regardless of the player character’s specialization.

“We pride ourselves on telling stories. We didn’t want the player’s lack of foresight to prevent them from enjoying the narrative.”

Sins and Mistakes of Cyberpunk 2077;  Dev explains what went wrong - image #2

Source: CD Project Group.

The problem is that players, as seems obvious in hindsight, often took the line of least resistance, choosing precisely that obvious solution. At the same time, the need to “shrink” the plot to some extent meant that the the paths converged too often.

In fact, each choice resulted in different character interactions or unique dialogue. It wasn’t until the various paths converged that these “rewards” were so numerous, and their impact on the narrative so modest, that it was hard to see anything “special” in them in the end.

Three lessons from Cyberpunk 2077

That was the last word that Miles Tost found crucial when discussing lessons learned from nonlinearity issues in Cyberpunk 2077. The designer listed three core concepts that developers should keep in mind if possible. (although he pointed out that design assumptions should always be kept in mind): distance, isolation/exclusivity and “justification”.

Conclusion: The idea is that each path should be clearly separated from the others and presented as an isolated path with “something special” and worth spending more time to see how the game will play out after making a different decision. The developers will take inspiration from the two games in the Dishonored series.

In practice, this could result in “entrances” clearly separated from the paths, limiting the player’s ability to alter their decisions (e.g. through linear passages) or what they can see, and of course rewarding them with scenes unique, encounters, etc. At the same time, it’s an opportunity for developers to put more emphasis on certain playstyles (for example, putting a threatening opponent in the way of the players to force them to dodge).

So much for the theory which, as is often the case with hypotheses, looks promising, but has yet to be tested in practice. If lessons learned from Cyberpunk 2077’s shortcomings will translate into more “non-linear” worlds, we won’t know until CD Projekt RED outlines their upcoming plans.

Brent Dubin
Brent Dubin, known as the Gaming Giant among Globe Live Media staff, is the chief Gaming Reporter for Globe Live Media. Having attended all the major events of Gaming around the World, he is sure to give you exactly the update related to gaming world you are looking for.Work Email: