First and foremost, a special shout out to everyone who worked on Cyberpunk 2077. Those forced to endure the six-day 100+ hour work weeks for excessive periods of time to try and make it the best they could, I genuinely feel sorry for everyone involved in this game to have it turn out the way that it has.
I think Cyberpunk 2077 is beautiful, the design teams really hit it out of the park in the aesthetics department. You really do feel as though you are walking around in a dark gritty Cyberpunk-esque world where corporations and rebels are at odds with one another.
From the non-existent subway system to poor combat mechanics, dumb AI enemies, instant spawning police who shoot first and ask questions later, weird key mappings and lack of wanted system, the game definitely feels half-baked and rushed.
How can a game that was going into development seven years ago feel rushed? It’s a valid question.
By piecing together information revealed over the years in interviews, the game itself and tidbits from CD Projekt Red themselves, a picture of what happened to Cyberpunk 2077 begins to form.
The game hasn’t been in continuous development
The first trailer was released in 2013. Now, if we assume this trailer was driven by the core game itself, the game would have had to be in development prior to the 2013 trailer. This would bump the development time up by a year or more.
In the following video from the CD Projekt Red Group Summer Conference 2012 (around the 11:48 mark), a team was supposedly working on this game in 2012.
Based off of these figures, Cyberpunk 2077 has been in development for 8.5 to 9 years, so almost a decade. The end result is certainly not representative of a game in development for 9 years.
It’s not until an interview in 2018 where we get some more details about the inner workings of CDPR and development on Cyberpunk 2077. One of the lines that immediately stands out is the following.
If we don’t like something, we have no problem saying, ‘OK, we have to redo this part.’ It can mean we are throwing away six months of work, and there were bits and pieces happening like that.
It sounds like CDPR had some issues in the early development of this game, not knowing which direction to go and possibly facing pushback from developers internally which caused a reset (quite possibly numerous times).
Further down, we get more information. Essentially, CDPR thought they could work on The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 concurrently. However, it was all hands on deck to finish The Witcher 3 and its expansions, with a small team working on Cyberpunk 2077.
This is all speculation, but looking at the current state of the game, my hunch is the real development on Cyberpunk 2077, never started until around 2016/early 2017. This explains why in 2018 we started hearing about the game a little bit more. At this stage, the game had been in development for a year or two.
With everything that we know and do not know, it’s clear what happened with Cyberpunk 2077 is they severely underestimated the ambition and scope of the game they were trying to create. Starting an entirely new IP from the ground up, understandably that is a huge undertaking.
Coupled with the fact it seems they spent a good 3 to 4 years barely treading water trying to work out what kind of game they wanted to make and went back to the drawing board a few times on some of the aspects of the game.
I suspect that many of the missing features (that we know were not scrapped entirely) actually already exist, even if only in some half-baked form. Over at CDPR, I suspect they have a much more sophisticated AI for NPCs, that they have a wanted system and smarter police that don’t just instantly spawn.
With pressure from investors, the constant pressure from gamers and media publications asking where the game was and why it was being delayed to the death threats the studio received, it’s a cacophony of things that led to the disaster we are now bearing witness to.
As a developer myself, I have been in situations before where you have no choice but to deliver and get to the point where you have to sadly remove features and make last-minute decisions to get something out the door. Many of the behaviours and broken aspects of the game reek of last-ditch effort to release something.
Now, of course, this is all speculation. I am just going off feeling more than I am any hard evidence they pulled out incomplete features to launch the game. But, it makes sense given there are things we were being promised in 2018 noticeably absent without an explanation.