Allegro PyrkONline – read the interview with Mike Pondsmith
Read the interview with Mike Pondsmith recorded on PyrkONline.
MW: Mike, I’m really pleased to meet you, to talk over this teleconference.
I can introduce myself a bit. My name is Michal Wojtas. I’m author of a book that serves as a kind of introduction to cyberpunk as a genre, in Polish. And I have a list of six or seven questions for you. I would like to talk about a bit about the past and future of cyberpunk and also a bit about the game that is due to come out in two months. That’s probably the most important, interesting topic for our viewers here in Poland.
Our first question is about the past of cyberpunk. Back in the eighties, I was six years old then, you released your first game…
MP: Make me feel really old now, don’t you?
MW: …so I was a little kid back then and you’ve allready realesed your fist game.
I think back then, in the late eighties, cyberpunk as a genre wasn’t fully defined. And I think that your work on this game served as a kind of a way to define what cyberpunk really is, even after William Gibson, even after “Blade Runner”, stuff like that. I think your game, the books that you’ve relesed, in a way, defined cyberpunk. I think what you did is you mixed your favorite movies, favorite books, other games, with how you see the reality and what can you tell about the future. Could you tell us a bit about this process back then, how you mixed those things and how such a great, successful game was produced back in late eighties?
MP: I’m gonna give it my best shot. OK, so… First thing you really have to remember is back in the eighties cyberpunk was primarily a literary genre and that meant it had that extra hurdle that peaople had to read. And then from there, as with most literary styles, the interior part of a literary style is that you place your own mental pictures into it. You imagine what the characters look like. You imagine what the city looks like. You imagine what all these things are like. So there are entire dimensions of a literary genre that are pretty hazy.
You know, they are not super well determinded because they rely on the interpretation of the reader. Even “Blade Runner” to that extent, although it’s beautiful (I love “Blade Runner”) it doesn’t really give you a lot to extend on, because on top of the visuals, it doesn’t have a great deal of literary material behind it. And you need a combination of both to make something work. You need to have literary to explain and to open up the world but you need to have visuals so that everybody is on the same page.
And one of the big things we were aiming for when we did the first “Cyperpunk 2013”, or the original “Cyberpunk”, and then “Cyberpunk 2020” was to establish a visual dialog of how things looked, what the city looked like, what clothing looked like, what the Avs and other vehicles looked like. So that was a big chunk right there. And we went out of our way to get really tight, clean, for that time, drawings and artwork that would allow the person reading the book to really make associacions. So we didn’t have you guess what Johnny Silverhand looked like. We gave you a picture of Johnny Silverhand. OK, so that’s one side of it. But you know, we also did fiction, so that you would have world stuff working as well. You would be able to see and have sections of the world explained to you in a way that a mere drawing or a set of rules wouldn’t do.
The third part was writing rules that simulated, as closely as possible, what you would then read about or see on a screen. And that was very important because if you do your rules right, what’s happening is people you get are interested for both the literary and the visual aspects and then they want to be in that world but they need to know what the rules are going to be in it.
So what I would say is the “2020” was a very much a “learner’s manual” for how to do cyberpunk stuff. Not anywhere near as, you know, the books and so forth like that. And not as pretty as what you would see in “Blade Runner” but it gave someone who was interested in the genre a feeling what it looked like. A feeling of how the world operated. And how they would fit into that world. And that was, I think, far more useful at the time because the genre wasn’t really well known, so people needed those clues. For example, terms that we come up with now like “netrunner” and so forth, those were the terms that we created that were there to describe what people did and we went out of our way to have people understand what those words were because there had been no guide.
You know, even “Star Wars” had a guide. You kind of knew how Han Solo looked like when you saw him at a bar, with a low slump blaster. You went: yeah, that guy is a cowboy-kind of badass. And you kind of could get pictures of… yeah, that spaceship over there is supposed to be fast, and that one is supposed to be clunky and the old guy with a light sabre is supposed to be, you know, a kind of a hidden master. But we had nothing like that for cyberpunk. So if we did anything with our creations, we primarily were setting a tone that people would get a hold of. And we’ve always been amused that, as the genre progressed, how much of that tone-setting became defined elements of that cyberpunk genre. All right.
MW: Sounds great. One more question about this. Today, ten years ago, twenty years ago… If you’re watching a movie or playing a game that is a bit cyberpunk-themed… Can you still see some reminiscences of the illustrations, the drawings that you did back then? Do you see that people really were inspired by what you did in the first or the second “Cyberpunk” game books?
MP: Actually my running joke is that before we did “Cyberpunk” people in dark future did not have highlighted colllars. Which is now… Basically if you look around the genre now, everyone has colllar up to here and then floodlights all inside it. We did that because at the time I had this idea that then collar actually serves as a kind of passive maginetic flux-driven protection against bullets. Which then I would’ve talked to a guy, a neurosurgeon, like giving his adivice, he said: what would happen if you put a handful of metal into somebody and then put a strong magnetic flux around their head, yeah, you’d blew the brains out. But by that time the collar would’ve been drawn, everybody liked it and we said: yeah, we have no idea what it does but it’s badass. And what we found amusing is that, you know, over and over and over again, now we see high lighted collars around, you know, cyberpunk stuff.
MW: The style is everything even if it does not make sense from the physics perspective, right?
Actually the lighted collars in some respects were very much an artifact of anime. You know, I’m an anime fan an I started an anime magazine way back then and every badass in an anime has a high collar. Because it’s just goals of the genre. So I was carrying that part over. Other things, such as the fact that the guns in “Cyberpunk” resembled guns that we would see now as opposed to laser pistols, that was a really big thing we aimed for. The vehicles and so forth like that, although I love “Blade Runner” and I would love to own a spinner personally, at no point did they ever tell me how the hell a spinner gets off the ground. It does an anti-gravity? What is it doing? So we had to sit down and justify things like that. Why do we have flying cars and how do they work, you know.
And I’ve actually been amused by the fact that recently, I think it was the Israeli army, but somebody very legit just finished doing an evac vehicle that works on the same four-posted thrust version that we did for the AV-4. And the damn thing looks like an AV. Because logically that’s how you’re gonna need to do it. So a lot of the things that we did in “2020” and “2013” they moved forward in the genre simply because either they were cool and people flied on it because it was a way of learning how they worked. Or they were the only really solid way to do a particular thing, like the AV-4. You know, unless I invent anti-gravity, I ain’t going to throw a multi-tonne vehicle in the sky.
MW: And I think your game was prophetic in multiple respects. For instance, I remember reading that… In year 1998 KGB took over power in Russia. And then what really happened? Putin won the elction in 1999. So it’s a prophecy.
Yeah, it’s kind of scary in some ways. There’s a lot of today’s that was forecast in “2020”. And some of it bothers me because there were things that I threw out and went: “that will never happen, that’s too stupid”. And then somebody wanted hit and did it. I’m reminded of many years ago that the famous science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein went out and he did a thing set in the future history called “Crazy Years” and he was showing these various headlines of the crazy years going, saying: “see, see how wacky it’s going to be in the future?” And I looked at the headlines from our perspective and went: “dude, we’ve already done weirder stuff than that”. The things you though were wacky in 1950-something we blew by that so far ago. I can go in the Internet now and find things that would just make your hair shrivel to look at it.
The thing is you end up doing, like me, a “prophecy”, by the simple fact that in order to build a realistic word, you’re going to have to look at what is happening in this existing world. You know, just like Avs would only work in a certain way, you also have to ask what political things will happen, what king of social things will happen and I spend probably about two hours a day just coming into the Internet looking for information and yanking the files while I look at them and looking at future forecasts going: “OK, this is unreasonable. Could this happen? Yeah, OK”. So, you know, Putin for example isn’t that surprising if you look back at what was happening back in late 80s or early 90s where Russia was trying to work its way to something resembling capitalism and it wasn’t really working too well. Sooner or later you’re going to get somebody saying: “Ah, what the heck, they don’t have anthing to replace it with. I will make sure I am the one who replaces it”.
MW: Yeah, and the KGB is the suitable power structure behind this man.
MP: Yeah, and there’s a lot of weird ones… For example, we weirdly enough forecast the Panama incident running Noreaga out. And South American adventurism wars but they’ve never got as bad as we though. We though it would be a ground war Vietnam. Luckilly we had more sense than that.
Another thing which really chills me is that we kind of looked at the idea of what eventually became September 11th and at the time that we did it we just simply needed a away to get rid of all of the major characters of one fell swoop. And I don’t who’s came up with it but it was like: “OK, we’ll drop a nuke in the middle of Night City. How small a nuke can we do? And nobody’s going to find them after that, you know, gone”. And I tell the story, which is absolutely true, but what totally blows me away that it was is, I was working on a pasage for “Cyberpunk” what we call “V3”, the alternate universe version and it was a screnario, scene, fiction, where a first-responder firefighter through the wreckage of the Twin Arasaka Towers to pull bodies out and all the stuff that was going on in that sequence. And I was writing and I just but got it done and I though: “wow, this is really a great fiction working, here’s a character I’ve had before”. And I was at home and babysitting my son at the point because my wife was on a trip and I look up in time to see the second plane fly into the twin towers. And I go: “nah, nah, nah, that’s gotta be a movie”. Then I started flipping to the dial and I go: “it’s not a movie”. And my immediate reaction besides “oh my god!” was, well, I cannot ever publish what I just wrote.That line about “too soon”, yeah, way too soon. But the weird part is, if you’d thought about it and looked into nature of terrorist attacks, we’d had enough warnings that this was a possible someone would attack United States. They would, you know, use some kind of bomb system or whatever and, you know, jet plane is one hell of a big bomb. As anyone who studies World War II can tell you, looking at the kamikaze. It’s pretty bad news. So we have kind of a rep for reading the future but I think anybody who actually bothers to study how history works and the forces in play, ends up doing the same thing.
MW: So I think that we can say…
MP: I should make a sign “I’m done talking”.
MW: So I think that we can say that to some extent at least we live in a cyberpunk time, right?
MP: Ah, yeah, pretty much. I’m amused because at this point cyberware and so forth is rapidly catching up and in some cases, surpassing what I thought we’d be at. Things like this cell phone are basically light years ahead of anything we’d thought communication was. I mean, while I’m holding this conversation with you, I could’ve been doing that on my phone. And I could’ve been practically anywhere where there was a semi-satellite connection. I could be talking to you. We’ve never had that level of direct interface in human history. We regularly do amazing stuff and yet, we take it for granted. But in the 1980s and 90s that would’ve been way, way far science fiction.
So we’re there and the other thing that makes it very cyberpunk is that I think we hope that the future would be better, cleaner, less unfair, a lot more straightforward technology would move us forward and instead, you know, inequity is pretty stagerring even though the world overall I think is better, few people starving, work gets you a living, you know, that sort of thing. Comparatively between the levels of society, there’s a lot of, you know… power differentials. You know, if you’re a megacorporation you can influence things lot more than the dumb Mike Pondsmith can. And that is I think a big chunk of what makes something cyberpunk. It’s not just the technology. A big chunk of that is dealing with an unbalanced society where the powers would be particularly at corporate levels, oligarchical levels, are going to do their thing, they don’t really care about you. They’re going to get what they need and what they want and if you’re getting in the way, we’re gonna squish you.
And how you get around it, well, you take that technology and you use it yourself. So if there’s a dictatorship locking you out, you go in the Internet and summon the Arab spring. All those are elements of technology trying to redress an inequity in some way ore another. You know, people argued about: “Is cyberpunk political?” And I’m going: “Yeah dude. Of course it’s political. That’s the >punk< part”. It’s not just about the technology or the “cyber”. Otherwise it’d be science fiction.
MW: I would like to move to the “Cyberpunk 2077” part. So, it started a long time ago. You did a kind of reveal or first press conference back in 2012 together with the head of CD Projekt. It’s been a long time. You’ve probably spent hours working with the people at the company. And I also think you’ve had a pretty strong position in this process because obviously your company is the owner of the original license. Yet you were still a part of the team developing the game. Could you tell us a bit about this process: meeting with the devs there, developing ideas, and then, have anybody there had balls to oppose you, to discuss your ideas or were they always approved and not even discussed?
MP: That’s a fun part. We argued about a bunch of things and I’m not going to get into some of it but when a group of people are putting together a complex project, you’re going to get arguments about which way you’re going to go. And I don’t think I’m really at liberty to discuss some things we were going into but originally when we talked about doing “2020” or “2077” it was a much more science fiction-y world and that was because many of the people there had been bored when the genre started so they didn’t get it. So I had time, long periods of time sitting there with everybody from all the studios at the time and talking about what the genre was like, how it works. You know, what the style of it in our incarnation is like. And bring people up to speed.
So the first time I knew we had a problem was when they turned in the first weapons and they all looked like Buck Rogers weapons. They were chrome and silver and had rings on them and I went “no no no guys, no. Let me show you why the guns are like this and let me show you why they don’t look like something Luke Skywalker carries”. And in fact, to be honest, Luke Skywalker carries a more realistic gun than most science fiction. So another big advantage I think that most people who do a licensed product have… don’t have rather, is that I was familiar with how we’re gonna have to do this. I’ve worked on a game called “Matrix Online” which basically was matrix-cyberfunky… and so forth like that. I had worked in video game industry at that point for about twelve or thirteen years on various projects. So I had a pretty good idea of what to do, what we can get away with. Which meant that I wasn’t going to as a guy with a license going: “well, we’re going to do this…” at least I knew, yes we could do this but here are the tradeoffs, cost and so forth.
When we first started members of the team came all the way to Seattle and hung out. We spent literally a week or two at a time going over ideas and messing with things. At one point the project head, Adam, came out and him and I spent week or so just going over how would gameplay work. What things do we want to put in. And we went back and forth on, you know, the feel, the technologies and all that. Usually every time I come to Pyrkon for example I come out early and I go over to CDPR and we spend a week going over stuff there and also even with huge time lag, for the first couple of years I would drag myself out of bed and get to the computer and Skyped in at what would effectively be like 6 or 7 in the morning our time and everybody over in Poland is already going home and we’re calling up and saying: “time for a meeting, how we’re going to do this?” So really, it was pretty collaborative.
We’ve had a few bumps when people would go: “we don’t acept this idea” but when it was looked at holistically, those people could oftentimes see why we have made those choices. But you had to start explaining. You couldn’t go: “hey, I wrote it, it must be right”, you had to go: “Here’s why we’re with there. And here’s why we made these choices”. And that way at least if you explain it to people you don’t end up with someone saying: “yeah, he ramped it down our throats”. So it’s actually been a pretty collaborative process. The last year has been less collaborative only because when you’re doing game development, the pace is blistering. It’s just insane. I remember when I was still in video game development there were a lot of times when I slept effectively under my desk. In fact, the joke was that I actually had an office so I actually bought a couch and put it in there and half of the times I had some devs sleeping on the couch as I was working, cause I was the only guy with a couch. So knowing that you can’t really step in that much because things are happening like that, decisions had to be made and people had to try and test things constantly.
But throughout it, the team has been remarkable in keeping in touch with me. And, you know, there are things that I would probably do a little differently. But for most of it I’m astounded at how close the result has been to what was in my head. I get up, I look, I hear people using the terms, I see people in the video game moving around. I remember the first time I was out at the studio and one of the environment guys said: “Hey, you might want to take a walk around here, we’ve got Watson on”.. I said “Yeah, OK”… And walking along I said: “Yeah, this is it, this is exactly what I was talking about”. They got down the idea. And one of the most fascinating things was that they got the idea that it didn’t always have to be wet and rainy and too much purple and blue neon. That, you know, a cyberpunk world happens 365 days a year, 24/7. And they found ways that it worked to be cyberpunk even if it wasn’t tidy in all the tropes.
So, to sum up, it’s been actually a pretty fruitful shared work, a lot of it. And I love it because now I can be looking at a nearly finished part and go: “oh my god, they put that in there, I had no idea they going to…” Something the other day popped up, I try to figure what it was but, I was looking at the background and I went: “oh my god, they put that in there”. You know, these little tiny things. I go: “Somebody was really thinking. Somebody was really reading the book. Somebody was remembering a conversation I had with them about something”. And there it is on the screen. And that was great. And I can’t give away too much but there are some really cool things in there that we mutually did that… you know, you need to know the background, the “2020” to pick up the gag that we have down there. You see something, you go: “Hey, that was over in >Home of the Brave< . That was one line sentence and they put it here”.
So collaboratively-wise I’m pretty darn happy with what I’m seeing. It may come out I might go home and say “my god!” But so far I’ve seen it, as far it can go, and it’s looking pretty damn good to me.
MW: Yeah, it definitely is, watching the trailers, it blows your mind how good this game is looking. Talking about this collaborative work and adapting a story from one medium to another, I think it’s a very hard job to actually do this properly. Like adapting a book into a video game or a movie. That’s a totally different language. Is there a one recipe to do it right. That’s one thing that I wanted to ask you about, and a slightly related question: I spoke to a friend of mine who used to play your game back in the 90s and he told me he’s a little bit scarred that the work that you created back then was a bit more like “noir”, so black and white, not too many colors that they can see in the trailers right now… Aren’t you a bit afraid about reaction of some real old hardcore “Cyberpunk 2020” fans?
MP: Good, that’s actually two questions but I’ll handle them one at a time. The first one is… when you are, you know, putting a history together, there was a big argument in the beginning as to wheter we’re going to continue and link the histories together, or not. And some people really felt like this should be like, when you’re reading a book, but it’s all the way different here. But the thing is, if you’ve got as much material as we had at that point, generated for the “Cyberpunk” world, it was foolish not to follow that up and use it. It gives you something you usually don’t have when you go to a video game which is… context. Stuff that people can look at. Things that are worked out for them already. Why are the cars doing this? Here’s how they look like etc. So we soon moved past that to the point that what we had was a shared timeline and it’s kind of amusing, it’s the way it kinda works like is: there’s “2020”, we both are doing the the “2020”… Now there’ve been some retcons, which allowed them to do some things. But oftentimes what we do is we’ll work that retcons into what we’re doing or we’ll call up essantially and say: we got this character here and this is cool, we wanna use them and figure out what they’re gonna be in like 50 years from that. So, here they are, what would we do? How do they fit into “77” when they were around in “2020”? And there are several characters, I would get into that directly, but there’s several characters, yo go: “Yeah, that makes sense. This character would have done this all these years later”.
We also go in the other direction because we’re doing a project now coming up before the “77” called “Cyberpunk Red” and what we did was we deliberatly placed a new extension of the timeline that happens in the 2040s. So kinda to give you a picture of it, the 2020s up to the 2040 is Talsorian, with occasionally CDPR reaching back into there and we agree who does what, where. Then from about the sixties onward it becomes CDPR’s territory. And they now take a step forward. But they do it looking at what we have jointly agreed what’s going on all the way up to the 40s and 60s. So what that means is things don’t drastically change. He world stays pretty consistent and “Cyberpunk Red”, the ideas that we asked, what happened after the war that ended in 2020 and how did it eventually end up in 2077 what changes had to happen, what characters came into play, what characters bowed out or took other backgrounds. We basically look at it like on a long-term comic book. Or as I use to say, “2020” is “Star Wars” and “Cyberpunk Red” is “Empire Strikes Back” and the “Return of the Jedi” is at “77”. There was another question you had and I kinda nattered on that…
MW: The question was, at least a friend of mine feels that what he sees in the trailers is the colors, there is the sun shining and when he looks at the old books, it’s black and white, it’s more a “noir” thing. Aren’t you afraid that some fans…
You can’t stay stuck. You can’t stay stuck in a time. OK, three big things. First of all, cyberpunk comes out of a noir background. And the reason I’m saying “noir background” is that it is about a lone wolf who basically is up agains much more powerful forces and through determination, luck and lots of other things, gets through and wins the situation.
But when Sam Spade goes up agains the bad guy, he’s not winning and then burning down the bad guy’s place and going “I saved the world!” He’s going: “Allright, you killed my partner, now you’re going over for it”. It sure becomes very personal. But it has noir roots. And that was why, when the “Blade Runner” was done, adding the extra dialog patch. While it wasn’t in the original plan for the movie, it made sense because people could go: “OK, a hardboiled detective case where he’s dealing with a bunch of robotic-like killers… OK, I can get that”.
But cyberpunk wasn’t always in black and white anyway. For example the book that inspired me the most was Walter Jon Williams’ “Hardwired” where a lot of “Hardwired” takes place in broad daylight, people are doing stuff in the desert, and are doing stuff in cities during daylight and stuff like that. If you think of your world as a monoculture it becomes pretty static. If it’s always dark and raining then it’s more like a… Disneyland version of the genre. You know, I took the ride, I got out, it was all dark and raining, there was a lot of purple and all of that… And that genre not only has been done, but it’s been done so much that now it’s a running trope. You know, people laugh at that idea of it: always raining, always purple, always so forth. And that’s because the genre has moved forward, people have learnt the tropes and now they want to see what it’s like… beyond the trope. There will probably be people who’re not going to be happy with that but I think that, to be blunt honest, they will be a minority and other people will adapt because they will see dark streets and rain, they just won’t see them 24/7 because the real world doesn’t work that way.
And at some point in any kind of creative work you have to make a decision, and the decision is: do I stay there, where I started, or do I let this work evolve. You don’t necessarily want to have everything locked down and be the same throughout. You know, I’m a Transformers fan and I remember people screaming bloody murder at the idea of Optimus Prime being a giant gorilla in “Beast Wars”. But we lived through that. Everybody screamed “G1” and “Truck not monkey, monkey not truck!” And it went back and forth and we’re a bunch of years later and people go: “Hey look, they’re doing Beast Wars figures again” and I was like “Yeah!” because people adapt. Now there are some guys, in Transformers called “G-Oners” who will go: “It was only good when it was G1”. Well, OK, watch G1. But the rest of us are going to try some other stuff too. And that’s because any kind of creative endeavor needs the room to evolve. And so… sorry guys, it’s not all in black and white but it was never in black and white. It was a mixture of many loose elements and too, it needed to evolve. Otherwise you’d be doing the same thing and it would almost become a parody of itself.
MW: I can understand that. And I think it’s probably a moment of a kind of excitement when you are waiting for a reaction from the hardcore fans. But then, as a senior creative person you probably know that, what you said, there will be some who won’t like it but they will need to adapt to it.
MP: Well, they are welcome to stay where they are as well. And we’ll put a lot of softener in that little touch base. But on the other hand I got to create the damn thing, me and my team, so we don’t particularly feel like we should be gate-kept. We made it and we really feel like, people shouldn’t gate-keep us. They weren’t when we did it and we came out OK. Trust us. The other thing about it is that, like I said, people adapt and what we’re now seeing is an entire generation of “Cyberpunk” players and fans who were maybe five or six when we did this game and they have brought their own pictures of what that genre is like in the context of the world they grew up in and live in. Just like, for certain number, Transformers fans, they’re gonna go: “Yeah, Beast Wars is no big thing. We got to all the Japanese versions like Headmasters. We can deal with Beast Wars”. And the battle between monkey and truck is so far back in the taillights that that generation don’t even know about it. So, people adapt.
MW: Allright Mike. Now it’s the moment when I’m gonna ask you about some surprises or hints of what’s going to happen in the game. I think all the fans who are waiting for the game, they have seen a lot already as CD Projekt is releasing lots of videos right now, trailers. Some people might think they already know everything about the world, about the game theat they haven’t even played. Can you maybe share a little surprise or a hint of what they do not expect and what is going to happen in the game?
MP: Oh boy, OK, how can I tell things without telling too many things? One of the first things I’m gonna warn everybody is do not take anything you see at face value. Look in the corners. There are things throughout the game that are not just easter eggs but clues scattered throughout that world. And even with somebody who has been involved in the process, I’m always looking into versions and going: “Uh, they did that? Oh wait, that’s going to happen over here.” There are a lot of what are called “Chekhov’s guns”. And they are not specific special guns but the idea that something is in the scene that may be important later. So don’t just blow through it, pay attention where you are. And on the same light, you will also see cool things that you didn’t expect. For example… I can’t get much further into it but make sure you look at things like framed paintings on the walls and pictures. There’ll be information there… that will tell you stuff about the characters and story line. Make sure that you actually listen to the auditory tracks, music, the radio station, DJ music in the background. Stuff will be laid down there. And you’ll find things out. So never take anything in this game at face value. There’s a lot of cool stuff that will blow by you and you may get to another mission and go: “why is that happening?” The clue for it was buried three or four different times in a commercial series that was running. And you’ll go: “ooh, If I’ve had paid attention I’d knew about a… Crispy Weed or whatever”… but I wasn’t paying attention. So: pay attention to your environment.
Along that line… we were talking earlier about the idea of it all being kinda black and white.. This is a living world. It’s a lot of living things going on. When you go through the environment, remember that the environment is going to be three-dimensional spacially. So when you leave your apartment, it’s more than just “I leave the apartment”. It’s: how many levels do I go down, what do I see, who’s currently running around in the mall section versus the deep-down section can I reach the street level from here. Understand that the universe is very deep. And there’s a lot of stuff buried in there that you’ll gonna find out about. Plot-wise… I think everybody’s kinda gotten some of the possible joke about Johnny but that’s not half of it. There’s a lot of things going on that got us to this position. Lot of characters who you might make assumptions about and then find out: “yeaah, I was wrong about that”. So do not assume that you know the entire story because there may be three or four tangents, even to the main story line that they are there, and you can miss it. The story does a lot of things that I’m fascinated and then went “OK!” I had had hand in some of that but then look and go: “oh, that’s an interesting twist”.
So don’t expect it to be straightforward and linear because it’s not going to be. There’s going to be a lot of weird things going on. And that’s about it until I astart about the specifics. Oh yeah, expect that you gonna have a lot of weird customisation stuff like that. And that is because in the main we wanted people to feel like they had a character belonged in the world and that owned the piece to the world. So even if you don’t always see it, the very fact that you know your character inside and out, you know what they wear, you know what they do, what their apartment is like you bought things that they use, they have favorite places they may go, directed by you all those put you into that world. And allow you to actually enjoy it instead of just following a FedEx quest around.
MW: Thank you for that. I think that all the people who are going to watch it will appreciate this little hint. So my last two questions now. I wanted to ask you a question about our reality. All the people I talk to, probably al the people you talk to can confirm that 2020 has been a… very crazy year so far. We have the virus…
MP: Yeah, 2020…
MW: The virus forces people to stay at home, changes the way people work, that families interact, companies work, states work etc.
MP: You know how many masks I have around? I’ve got probably five masks in every car.
MW: Plus, apart from the virus, if I’m watching the news from Europe and looking at what’s happening in the US now from European perspective it looks like, I don’t know, a civil war. So much like what you described in “Cyberpunk 2020”. Now, how do you feel about all the stuff that is happening right now as a person living in the US? That’s one question. And what’s going to happen next?
MP: Oh boy, one, I’d like to say that 2020 is not my fault. I picked a time out of a hat so to speak. I may have killed your “Cyberpunk” character but I did not wreck your year 2020. As to what’s going to happen, it’s much more post-holocaust right now. I mean, last week the skies around here looked like “Time of the Red”… I mean literally red skies… usually we’re wearing masks to stop the virus, we were wearing masks so we can breathe, literally. I didn’t even believe it until I went out to my car and ran my fingers over the top of my car and it was gritty and I went: “oh boy, I couldn’t be breathing if I wasn’t wearing a mask”. That’s a sort of thing that you would expect in “Cyberpunk”. We have a plague, we have wildfires, we have a lot of social collapsing things…
To be really honest I’ve been happy because it could have been worse. There are… You know, people usually don’t adapt really well to massive changes. It’s been lot of massive changes. But for the main, most of the people, excluding the real nutcases, the people who… message from aliens and so forth like that, most of the people kinda get on with ther lives. And I’m really surprised lots of times how positive people can be, at least where I am. You would’ve expected by now people would be barking at each other and yelling and screaming but the fact that some of the worst cases of bad behavior make the news tells you something. It tells you that they are newsworthy because they don’t happen all the time.
Beyond that there are a lot of ways the outcomes in the 2020 would could come out. I don’t have idea. I don’t even try to guess. Two reasons. One, I don’t necessarily know. And the reason two: because we’ve been right about things before, I don’t want people to start thinking that we do have the forecast. Because we don’t. You know, we don’t know. I don’t know. Much of what I was right about was basically very good forecasting in a way of weather man… we’re looking at a cold front moving and go: “we’re gonna get rain after the cold fron hits that…” So it’s forecasting but it’s with a lot of data. And I really want to avoid people thinking that we have the solutions and the knowledge because in the end if we don’t want to have a really messed up world we’re all gonna have to get up of our butts and we’re gonna have to start working to make it better. That’s the only way this is going to get out of the way, is we’re going to have to make choices. And worldwide we’ve had it pretty comfy. We had AIDS, we had ebola, and we had all these other things… But we didn’t have mass pandemics. We should’ve been ready to deal with mass pandemics. It was going to happen. We know we’re going to have wildfires. We know we’re going to have certain ecological shifts. We need to deal with it, it’ll now go away. We just need to get off our butts and say just like people who didn’t want to see cyberpunk change: “It’s going to change man, better get on and deal with that”. So if we do that, if we treat it as though we’re dealing with World War III or something, then we have a chance to have a better situation. But we’re gonna have to do the work. And that may not be easy for some people so sometimes, just like you help someone on an obstacle course, somebody’s going to help other people get over the hurdles and climb the ropes. Human beings can be remarkably flexible and work with each other pretty well. So, get on it people. It’s as dark a future as you’re going to make it.
MW: The last question is back to the genre again. I would say what people, a general public mean by “cyberunk” has probably evolved over the last 30 or 35 years. And in this evolution, was there anything that surprised you particularly? Or were there any things that pissed you off or you actually liked very much in the way that the genre has changed over the last 30 or 35 years?
MP: Actually I’m pretty pleased at what I’m seeing in the genre. I’m also kind of surprised at how much stay constant. You know, when I first looked over and saw people wearing lighting collars I kinda went: “I though that would have died in the 80s”. But I had a lesson about that. When my son reached about 12 or 13, he and his friends decided they wanted to play “Cyberpunk” and I was going to play a more modern kind of “Cyberpunk” stuff and they said “No. We want the big leather jackets and all the guns and street gangs and the whole bit like that”. What had happened was the 80s had passed long enough now in the 20s, they basically can look at it nostalgically. And nostalgia is always pretty cool. So a lot of what made the cyberpunk genre work then is there. But when you look at it through a lense of nostalgia it would edit out the rough parts. You see it as you would see a movie as opposed to being there real life. So I’m amused that certain elements of it had continued. I have not really seen other than, you know, really bad fiction out there, mostly fan fiction, I’ve really not seen anything someone’s doing that I haven’t thought: “yeah, that’s kinda interesting” Because there’s a lot of different ways to go to the genre. Just like there’s a lot of different ways to write a western, there’s a lot of different ways to science fiction, space opera and so forth. So there’s absolutely nothing I’m gonna cross so far by going: “oh my god, that really offends me”. Because the genre is very wide open. And there’s a party a lot of people can join.
And I’d like to also say to everybody out there that I planned to see you at Pyrkon. I am really sorry we haven’t been able to make it. I actually got all my tickets, I was ready to come out cause Pyrkon is one of my favorite conventions and I always have a great time when I’m out there. So: sorry I couldn’t have make it this year but, you know, save me a beer and we’ll meet up next year, OK?
The interview was recorded on Allegro PyrkONline. You can find more materials from this event on the PyrkONline website.