Cyberpunk, a genre of speculative fiction popularized by works like William Gibson's novel Neuromancer and Katsuhiro Otomo's manga Akira, has been a major part of the sci-fi genre since its rise in the mid-20th century. Generally themed around low life and high tech, cyberpunk often looks at the transformative effects of technology combined with radical changes in the social order. In many works, this comes across via megacorporations that possess ridiculous amounts of wealth and power while many others scrounge out lower-class lives. The AAA video game market is expecting a major entry in the genre in the form of Cyberpunk 2077 later in September. However, we got the chance to talk to Marko Dieckmann, founder of ION LANDS and developer of Cloudpunk, about their thoughts on the cyberpunk genre and their upcoming story-based exploration game.
Cloudpunk, the second game by ION LANDS after the 2017 adventure game Phoning Home, has players take the role of Rania. It's her first night working for the titular semi-legal delivery service based in the futuristic city of Nivalis. Rania's work will take her all over the city, from the slummy Marrow to the skyscraping spires high above. Everyone Rania meets, whether they be AI, android, or human, has a story, and over the course of a single night, everything in Nivalis is going to change.
Cloudpunk explores many of the classic hallmarks of the cyberpunk genre, but Dieckmann and the team wanted to explore different kinds of stories in the game.
"To me, Cyberpunk is a mixture of things that bring together a combination of atmosphere, visual aesthetic and colour," Dieckmann said. "I don't think cyberpunk has to be focused on all things dystopian, as the world would not function without light and dark." Dystopian worlds aren't the only things cyberpunk stories focus on, however. The genre has always been ill-defined in what exactly it entails.
In cyberpunk media of all types, there are plenty of common aesthetic choices, like neon billboards, hackers, and Eastern cultures (an aesthetic choice birthed from a fear in the late Cold War era of Japan becoming the next economic superpower and buying out America). Some cyberpunk authors elect to use the setting to explore themes of transhumanism, whether it be through bionic augmentations, gender identity, or more philosophical questions on the nature of humanity. Works like Deus Ex, Shadowrun, and The Matrix trilogy have all examined these sorts of questions. As for Cloudpunk, the game's stories will cover themes such as "social equality, the rich and poor, and ... the role of corporations in modern society." The game's smaller side stories will also focus on simpler topics like friendship and escapism.
A wide variety of other cyberpunk media feed into Cloudpunk, with some other well-known titles being direct inspirations for the game's aesthetic and world.
"I've always been inspired by reading things such as Snowcrash as well as films such as Blade Runner and Altered Carbon which inspired the creation of the world we have built. The aesthetics of films like Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 were especially inspiring," Dieckmann said.
As a whole, the main story will take about eight hours to complete, according to Dieckmann, and players will have to make some tough decisions along the way. These choices will "affect the players in terms of how the player feels about making these moral decisions, as well as the state of the characters," he said. You'll also see a diverse array of side stories that can be explored at any time, even after the main story is over. The city might go through some big changes during Rania's first night of work, but you'll always have the opportunity to hang out and chat with your cyberpunk clients.
Explore the city of Nivalis when Cloudpunk releases on April 23 for Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.