While you create your own character to be the hero of your journey in Cyberpunk 2077, Night City itself is the true star of the game. "The city is really the core of Cyberpunk 2077. We approached it very holistically; we started with very big ideas of the city and then went into detail and detail and detail and detail," says Marthe Jonkers, senior concept artist and co-ordinator of the concept team at CD Projekt Red. "We have an urban planner in the team, for instance, which really helps us with the map and the layout to make the city feel very realistic."
"We now have this option of vertical exploration that we didn’t really have in The Witcher, which was more of a spread-out map," says Jonkers. "We really take advantage of that, and we have a lot of ways of going up and down."
In the latest 14-minute gameplay demo, V explores the half-finished resort district of Pacifica, walking seamlessly through streets and markets set up in those part-built hotels and casinos. The whole city is open from the beginning (though some areas are rather more dangerous than others). This builds on the gameplay demo from last E3 that had V starting off their exploration in Watson. It's a city filled with different sights to see wherever you go, and it's all open from the very beginning.
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"Night City is enormous. But we also value quality over quantity, I have to be honest about that,” says Jonkers. "There's a lot to explore, but we would never just make all these half-empty buildings. We make sure that wherever you go, you actually get this high quality of exploration. […] We really try to make sure that around almost every corner there’s something interesting. When you're somewhere you can already see another thing that might be interesting."
"So it's really like a puzzle, actually, when you think about Night City and how we designed it," laughs Jonkers, "a sort of big 3D puzzle to make sure that stuff stays interesting and not repetitive."
You'll come across diverse characters and areas across Night City’s six unique districts. "You don’t want a city to be repetitive and boring and just have buildings," he continues. "We really wanted to make sure that every district has its very own atmosphere and vibe, and they all have different people and their own different history."
Detailing the districts that make up Night City
The first big gameplay demo introduced us to Watson. "Watson was really colourful, full of many people, it was really crowded," says Jonkers. Buildings there were once home to the bigger corps but have since become more run-down and bustling with life, with strong Asian cultural influences.
"Pacifica, on the other hand, is really like this abandoned sort of eerie, mysterious district," he continues. The half-finished big money resort area is home to the Voodoo Boys gang, with people hustling to make a life for themselves amid the unfinished dreams of the rich.
"You also have the City Center. That's very much the corporate part of the city, where all the rich corporations are, so their buildings are really tall skyscrapers." That's the kind of place you can expect to find characters like Militech's Meredith Stout, who in the very first Cyberpunk demo, shown at E3 2018, sent us on a mission to recover tech for the company.
"You have Heywood which is completely different, there’s a lot of Latin American influences there," Jonkers continues. Given that each district has its own factions vying for power, this area does of course have its own undercurrent of gang influence that will make it dangerous to traverse. It isn't all bad though; thanks to plenty of new money pouring into the up-and-coming district, it's also one of the liveliest parts of Night City.
"We have Westbrook. This is a more rich area of the city, so you can expect that neokitsch style." Neokitsch is one of the game’s four major style pillars, around which you can style your own character for various street cred perks. "It’s a newer style from the later history of Night City. The gap between the rich and the poor got bigger and bigger, you get these super-rich people," Jonkers elaborates. "They have their own sort of visual language, visual style, and that’s neokitsch. Neokitsch is really defined by being very colourful, but also using expensive materials, because they're really rich. Usually, that means very natural materials, animal prints and things like that."
Santo Domingo is toxic and dangerous
Which leaves one district. "One of my favourite areas is actually Santo Domingo," says Jonkers. "[It houses] the power plants of Night City – all the power is basically generated in Santo Domingo. So it’s very industrial and different from the other neighbourhoods." After all, the immense use of energy in this technological world has to come from somewhere. "It’s toxic and people have umbrellas there because it’s dripping down. It’s a very unwelcoming place."
"Not only does it look different, but it’s also dangerous in a different way," says Jonkers. "If you go to Watson at night in the streets, you will probably run into some gang. But in Santo Domingo, and especially in the factory areas, it's really dangerous because it’s so polluted." People there are less friendly, but then everyone in Night City is after something. "That’s what this whole city is about. All these tensions between all these people in power." Every little thing makes up Night City, from the individuals vying for power, the layout of its streets, and, most importantly, its culture.