Cyberpunk – the kind, not just the video game – is back. Modified carbon and Westworld were successes, there is a new Matrix film in preparation, and Cyberpunk 2077 is poised to be the most successful and hottest video game of the year. For Mike Pondsmith, one of the founding fathers of the genre, it all makes perfect sense. In the cyberpunk world, technology has the ability to create miracles, people struggle for power, the future is uncertain, and businesses have the power of the gods.
Seems familiar? “We have a more cyberpunk world than ever before,” Pondsmith says. “Things have collapsed. The result is that we have higher levels of uncertainty and more is at stake. ”
Pondsmith can’t remember the first time he heard the word cyberpunk. In the mid-1980s, when Pondsmith was working on the tabletop RPG that would inspire Cyberpunk 2077, he was just trying to rip off Blade runner and leave the replicants behind.
“I think the aesthetics of Blade runner do it, ”Pondsmith says. “A big part of the cyberpunk genre is the atmosphere. This is the feeling. Blade runner is important not only because of the technology, but also because it contains the elements of film noir that cyberpunk always recalls.
For Pondsmith, the genre seems so vital right now, in part because that feeling and aesthetic is so closely tied to ours. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and travels frequently to Torrance to visit his family. It is a city of large refineries spitting fire in the sky. “His Blade runner, but cars don’t fly, ”he says.
Pondsmith has been a lot in his nearly 40-year career – a graphic designer on early video games like Latest, a designer for The online matrix, and creator of the pen and paper role-playing game Cyberpunk Red, the base of Cyberpunk 2077.
Developer CD Projekt’s new video game is set in the world of Pondsmith and his team from publisher Talsorian Games created in the 1980s. Cyberpunk, as Pondsmith put it, is an aesthetic and thematic label that encompasses the written works of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, movies like Blade runnerand video games like Deus Ex. In a cyberpunk world, high tech meets low life, and the power lies with those who can tinker with the code and the credits to grab it.
“Cyberpunk, when you think about it, is what would happen if the world we currently live in was positioned 10 or 20 years later,” Pondsmith says. “The story is about a society like ours just enough that we can seriously associate with it, but at the same time all of this technology has reached a certain level of alienation. What is our relationship to all of this? How does this affect us? How does this change the way we get along? “
Cyberpunk was a huge genre in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Books like Neuromancer and Snow crash told stories of a future rooted in the present. “You were facing great economic uncertainty with Reaganomics, social change,” Pondsmith says. “The world you expected to be the future has not happened. We were meant to get The Jetsons and instead, we don’t know if we’re going to be fed. There was a lot of uncertainty and fear, but at the same time, there were these wonders.
In the mid-1980s, Pondsmith says an engineer friend redesigned a $ 300 scanner to do the job of a $ 42,000 machine they had to rent from a downtown office. It changed the way he did business. “Technology had started to come out of a science or tech class and was getting to a level where a guy like that could say, ‘I don’t like this scanner, I think I’m going to rethink it.’ He had moved to the streets, ”he says. “And I think those two things come together, you have some uncertainty but you have wonders. Your immediate thought is, “Whenever we’ve had something wonderful, usually the people in power get it first. They don’t let us have it. They are against us. ”
The bad guys in cyberpunk stories are usually corporations; its heroes are usually street kids, hackers, and anyone else smart enough to find a loophole in the system. “We have a very cyberpunk universe. A mega-incorporation in the ’80s was a huge, slow, monolithic thing. Think of GE. But today’s businesses are ubiquitous, they’re fast, they’re mobile, they’re all over the world, ”he says. “You can at least vote for a politician. You don’t get a vote when a company starts something new. You can use it, but you’re not really sure they aren’t using you. “