Cyberpunk 2020-2077: a defense of retro-futurism

Five years ago the first trailer of Cyberpunk 2077, the next great Projekt CD game, left many with serious doubts about the approach that the Polish studio was making to the universe conceived by Mike Pondsmith at the end of the eighties. The famous express execution of an android responsible for a massacre in the street showed a tone that, despite the trip hop of the British group Archive sounding in the background, it seemed something more solemn, formal and contained than one might expect from the future of Cyberpunk, a dystopia that always had a youthful, expansive and hooligan character. With the reappearance of the game in this E3 2018 those concerns have dissipated: the new trailer focused on showing the setting of Night City that overflows that satirical rebellion and that vocation of brainless pimp that one can more easily identify with the role-playing table original.Blade Runner and less RoboCop .

Cyberpunk 2020-2077: a defense of retro-futurismThe essence of Cyberpunk 2020, which went on sale in 1993 and is based on CD Projekt (the first edition was published in 1988, takes place in 2013 and is often called Cyberpunk to dry), is well described in the first pages of this rule book with four guidelines to follow by the players to create a certain cohesion between the universe they enter and their own way of acting: one, “style above substance” -it does not matter what you do while doing it with grace-; two, “the (bad) attitude is everything” -not enter: bursts in; three, “live to the limit” -get all your money, provoke rebellions, set fire to society-; and four, “break the rules.” Three rules and a final clause that invites us not to obey them and what Cyberpunk 2020 best defines:

The future imagined by Pondsmith lives on the verge of absolute collapse and clings very strongly to the concept of “high-tech low-life”, the highest technology at the lowest social level, with an overpopulated, hypercontaminated city, mostly ill and victim of a fierce economic polarization.

Stripped of the ethical restrictions of the extinct civilized world and completely alien to its once-obligatory contribution to the progress of society, in Cyberpunk 2020, science has advanced unchecked and in all directions, driven by the capitalist expansionism of large private corporations that have erected in states and focused from the most reckless utilitarianism. Night City is a moribund in its last throes that technology keeps tubed, connected to a machinery that only serves to lengthen the agony and silence with its sophistication the desperate cries of an impoverished majority and pushed to crime, chemical addiction and digital , and the definitive loss of hope and dignity. The future is, Orwell said in 1984, a boot trampling a human face, again and again, “forever.”

The focus of Cyberpunk 2077, judging by what has been seen so far, seems very consistent with this vision of the future extremely pessimistic and dark but full of intrepid disobedience and recreational violence. Everything is well on track so that the CD Projekt game accurately traces the concrete atmosphere of the source on which it is based, except for a detail that I come to point out today in this text: retro-futurism. 

It must be remembered that, despite the eighties spirit of Cyberpunk 2020 with its supermodels of combed hair and its “rocker” class, this second edition came out in 1993, in full grunge fallof the erotic joy of glam rock, in a time of angry reaction and affected against fashions and the apparent superficiality of pop. The young people became sad phantoms of worn-out clothes who opted for a more bitter and cowardly cultural escapism that glorified the word “alternative.” In 1993 films like Terminator 2 or The Lawn Cutterthey warned us of an apocalyptic future where there was no room for aesthetic lucre. The attitude that cyberpunk 2020 was nourished was outdated, young people no longer behaved this way and therefore their youthful identity felt out of place, not because the role play had been a victim of the implacable advance of the generations, but because that It is another facet in which he felt very comfortable. Although it is located in a specific future, Cyberpunk is a deliberately anachronistic universe and carries with it a type of technology that reflects this duality very well.

Cyberpunk 2020-2077: a defense of retro-futurismFor those who are not clear about what I am talking about, retro-futurism is the name usually given to artistic expressions that speak of the future from an antiquated approach. The best-known example in video games may be that of Fallout and its continued veneration of that enthusiastic publicity of the North American of the fifties, with its mixture of suburban costumbrism and its obsession with the miracles of science and a horizon full of progress and sophistication. But if we reduce it exclusively to the technological side, retro-futurism is the same expression used in industrial design: products for a future life made from an obsolete perspective.

In video games there are not so many examples of this (although the Pip-Boy 3000 could well be framed in this current), but one of the most satisfactory and recent may be that of Alien Isolation. With its monochrome screens and its luminous keys overflowing huge control panels, The Creative Assembly imitated the design of Alien, the eighth passenger in space stations that today remain an unrealizable fantasy made with futuristic technology of vintage appearance. The aesthetics of the electronic devices of the original film never sought to offer anything more than a credible industrial aspect (the Nostromo ship was a commercial freighter, the space version of a freight truck), but to follow the same design line in a developed game in 2014 it became an inevitably retro-futuristic game. This is what,

Cyberpunk 2020-2077: a defense of retro-futurism

The original Cyberpunk 2020 manual is full of illustrations that both the teaser and the trailer of Cyberpunk 2077 clearly honor – a showcase of the prosthetics shop in the 2013 video shows, in fact, a replica of the fourth page: a model with a mechanical arm adorned with a corset, and it is clear that the volume has become a groped reference book that each CD Projekt Red employee has on his desk. However, it seems that the technological area of ​​the game will not have an inspiration totally out of the volume of Mike Pondsmith.

Cyberpunk 2020-2077: a defense of retro-futurism

Cyberpunk 2020-2077: a defense of retro-futurismThe external wiring and bulky systems of tubes that the characters wore in the drawings have been replaced by what seems to be some advanced cybernetic circuitry on the skin of the face, although the prosthetic technology continues to have indisputable links not only with the illustrations of the book, but even with detailed descriptions: the design of the orthopedic arms matches word by word with the text; In the gym in which a character uses sparring an android in the new trailer, you can also see another guy exercising his metallic right biceps with a design identical to that described by Pondsmith in the chapter dedicated to cybernetic implants. There is no reason to be concerned about the fidelity of Cyberpunk 2077,

Cyberpunk 2020-2077: a defense of retro-futurismThe chapter of the Cyberpunk 2020 manual dedicated to everyday objects is the true battlefield of retrofuturism: “Pocket” computers that look like record players have a different section to the foldable case that the book calls “Mini Cell Phone”, because in 1993 nobody suspected that mobile phones would end up becoming the real pocket computers. The Video Cameras in 2020 according to Pondsmith continue to work with tapes, yes, smaller (the size of a deck of cards) and “high density, capable of storing audio and video.”

Cyberpunk 2020-2077: a defense of retro-futurismNot all are tender exercises of failed technological speculation, there are also elements such as the Datachip, “the storage medium of the future to store digital information”, whose description is reminiscent of a memory pendrive; or the Digital Cameras, which practically succeed in everything except the storage format, which the book describes as “a cartridge the size of a pack of cigarettes”. It is quite logical that a volume that describes the future in such detail, with texts that also note that the authors were thoroughly documented, guesses right in some of their technical forecasts, but it is interesting that contrast between brains connected to «The Network »In still impossible ways, yes, using external modems in the form of brick. Everything seems to indicate that none of this will be in Cyberpunk 2077, that the obsessive coherence of its setting will phagocyst any possibility of exciting technological inconsistencies; that the work of its developers will be exhaustive and there will hardly be anything left in the game that is not authentically futuristic, without the “retro”. Ina 2012 interview with the studio’s CEO, Marcin Iwinski , it was clear that the game renounced the retro “because it would not be credible for the younger audience”.

To be entirely fair, it makes sense that science has advanced between 2020 of the original book and 2077 of the game to have that more refined aspect of current futurism, but as a worshiper of pots with fat buttonholes and tube screens would prefer that the game would have taken an even more reliable direction to the source material. The feeling that with Cyberpunk 2077 we are going to laugh a lot is more palpable than ever after his last appearance with a tone that reminds a lot of what Rockstar usually does in his GTA, and if the gentlemen of CD Projekt (which, by the way , has a name the sea of ​​retro futurist) do not allow us to do something as funny as breaking the glass of what my mother calls a TV “ass” with the head of an enemy, I say that by asking we are not hurting anyone , do not?

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