Cyberpunk 2077’s Futuristic Score Isn’t Your Grandfather’s Dystopia
The long-awaited game is finally out this week
CD Projekt RED is in a bit of a unique situation when it comes to this week’s release of Cyberpunk 2077. On one hand, the game is sure to top sales charts, will be loved by millions of fans and is likely to be a critical favorite. On the other, it seems like even an absolutely flawless game wouldn’t be able to live up to the unprecedented amount of hype built behind the title since its initial announcement in 2012.
The futuristic RPG’s great expectations are certainly deserved considering that CDPR’s last major project was The Witcher 3, which not only earned numerous awards (and considered as one of the best video games of all time) but also received a second boost in popularity due to the success of last year’s Netflix series. Years before its release, Cyberpunk 2077 was already a multi-time winner of ‘Most Anticipated Game’ awards, and the last several months (or years) have seen gamers scour the internet for absolutely every rumor, detail, or tidbit of information they could possibly find in a level of obsession usually reserved for cultural phenomena like Game of Thrones or Star Wars.
Now mere hours from launch, SPIN spoke with the three mastermind composers, Paul Leonard-Morgan, Marcin Przybyłowicz and P. T. Adamczyk to find out what went into scoring the sounds of Night City.
SPIN: What’s it been like to be working on one of the most highly anticipated games in recent memory — and possibly in history?
Paul Leonard-Morgan: It’s been amazing, and genuinely a process of the likes of which I can’t remember. We’ve been working on it for God knows how many years, and finally it’s in those closing stages and everyone’s just anticipating it. I think the funny thing is that the fans are so wonderful and enthusiastic for the game. All along, they’ve been asking questions like “What’s the soundtrack sound like?” or “What instruments are you using?” and yet when they hear the few tiny little four-second teasers that Marcin, P.T., or I might have put out, they’re all like “This sounds amazing. What about this? What about this? What about this?” The hardest part is trying to keep it all secret for however many years. Now we’re nearly there, so you can almost let it out to the world.
P.T. Adamczyk: When I began in 2017, the project was obviously already announced, but it was still shrouded in mystery. No one knew what to expect, so at first, it felt like any other project. Here’s an IP that no one’s scored before, so we don’t have to abide by any rules. We can be bold and try out stuff. I started to feel a bit more pressure after our presentation at E3 2018, but it was the good kind of pressure. We were hyped by the positive reactions, and with the feedback we got, we felt like we were on to something.
Marcin Przybylowicz: It’s scary, yet also intoxicating with excitement. I’ve been working on it since 2016 — when the game was still pretty much a blank slate, music-wise. I did play a little Cyberpunk 2020 [a 1990 tabletop RPG] in high school, so I thought it shouldn’t be that challenging — after all, I’m kind of familiar with Night City and so on — but the deeper I went into the project, the more I realized how much of a big deal Cyberpunk 2077 is for everyone.
How does it feel to musically build this entirely new world that no one has ever really heard before in this depth?
P.T.: Having a clean slate in a brand new IP is really a composer’s dream. We were aware of the previous works set in the cyberpunk genre, but after playing the game ourselves and looking through the designs and concept art, we realized that Night City is a cyberpunk setting like no other, so its music should be unique. Rather than following ‘80s tropes, we decided to focus more on ‘90s genres and try to score the game with musical idioms of techno, industrial, rave, and hip-hop. Obviously, we had to bend and twist those to our creative and narrative needs, nevertheless the colors and textures of those I think help create the singular quality of the Cyberpunk 2077 score.
Paul: The sheer scale and scope of Cyberpunk 2077 is massive, so what you’re trying to do is create a sound for this universe and this world that hasn’t been done before, that no one’s ever heard, and that fits. For about the first six months, the three of us were just playing around with sounds and sending each other things, because finding a sound that’s unique is really hard. I like surrounding myself with images while I work, so they sent me a kind of cyberpunk bible as it were. I printed out about 300 pages of images from storyboards and rough animations to get me in the zone, and we would just be playing stuff on synths and sending it back and forth. It was a lot of synths, but it was a lot of sounds that we created ourselves with lots of distortion and ambient pads. Gradually, that became the sound. After six months, we really got to work and we already knew what kind of color palette we were going to be using to start making our compositions.
Seeing as the development process for Cyberpunk 2077 has been going on for almost a decade, how different is it compared to projects you’ve worked on where you only have a few months or a year to get everything done?
Marcin: Shorter production cycles usually mean you either deal with a project of a smaller scale, or you have an army of people to aid you. Even though we’ve gathered a very strong team for Cyberpunk 2077, the scale of the project demands you have enough time to design the musical layers carefully. The one thing I love about working on CDPR’s games is that you really have the comfort to take your time. I think this led to one of the hidden strengths of music in Cyberpunk 2077, which is how well it works with the action on the screen.
Now that we’re closing in on the long-awaited release date, what would you want people to know about the game and the score before they plunge into it?
Paul: I just want them to feel the energy, attitude and love that we put into this game. It’s very hard to describe the soundtrack that we’ve done, and there’s been so much interest in it, but the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is not just any old cyberpunk — it has a specific kind of vibe going for it that changes with each area of the game. So for the really dark places in Night City where a lot of shit happens, we’re like “OK, how do we get that really edgy sound?” There’s a lot of EDM flavor, electronica flavor, industrial drums, and all of this stuff. It was like this energy where 100,000 people are at a concert in a stadium feeling the buzz of this music, and I think that’s what I want people to feel. I want them to feel the energy, the edginess, the ominousness and all of this stuff that we feel.
P.T.: Cyberpunk 2077 is a story-driven action RPG. Don’t skip dialogues, because you might miss some great acting and story details. I think the players are up for a memorable ride.
Marcin: Oh yeah, don’t skip the dialogues. Don’t do that to yourself. And be ready to be wrecked emotionally. You haven’t seen anything yet.