This was a weird year for video games. Lots of amazing titles came out and I loved many of them wholeheartedly. Final Fantasy 7 Remake showed me how good a remake could be, Half Life Alyx proved that virtual reality could be more than a passing fad, and Hades was an intoxicating mix of challenge and narrative. But I spent most of the year in quarantine putting more than 200 years into a completionist run of Red Dead Redemption 2. I struggled some of the year to remember why I had wanted to write about video games in the first place and honestly considered focusing on other journalistic beats entirely.
Then Cyberpunk 2077 came out and I remembered why I love writing about video games.
Cyberpunk 2077 went from being the most anticipated game of 2020 to the worst release of the year in a few hours. The game is a disaster. It runs well on next gen systems, for those that can find them, and high end gaming PCs. PlayStation 4’s and Xbox One’s don’t handle the game well and every system experiences game breaking bugs. My favorite is when I’m driving through Night City and I suddenly spawn pantless above my vehicle. Oddly, it’s one of the only times you can see your character genitals despite semi-robust customization options during character creation.
Everyday brings a new disaster for developer CD Projekt Red. Most recently, as of this writing, Sony said it was pulling Cyberpunk 2077 from its digital store and issuing a refund to anyone who asked for one. The release was so terrible that it destroyed $1 billion of wealth for CD Projekt Red’s founders.
When news broke of Sony pulling Cyberpunk 2077 from its digital store, I was playing Cyberpunk 2077. I had started a second character on very hard difficulty because I wanted to see a different life path and wanted to try out a different character build. I had also started this second character because my main playthrough is bugged and I want to see if a rumored upcoming patch will fix it. It’s not a huge bug, but it’s annoying. Delamain, one of the side characters, is stuck in my video call window and won’t leave.
That I’d push through the bugs and build another character speaks to my love of Cyberpunk 2077. It’s the ultimate Eurojank game. As Rob Zacny said in his review, Eurojank is “where very high levels of technical competence are contrasted against obvious resource constraints and over-ambition.” Cyberpunk 2077 is a Eurojank masterpiece in the style of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl. It’s ambitious and weird and draws me in, but I have to fight with it every step of the way.
More importantly, Cyberpunk 2077 reminded me why I love to write about video games. This industry is, and always has been, dumb and surreal. Companies spend millions of dollars to produce dreams, the production of which often crushes the souls of those who worked on them. The last few years of crunch, the period in which employees work devastating overtime leading up to a product’s release, is described as a death march.
I grew up devouring stories about Daikatana—a long anticipated video game from Doom co-creator John Romero. Publisher Eidos took out full page ads, black on red, that simply said: “John Romero’s about to make you his bitch.”
The game was a disaster and in the fallout after its release, we learned of Romero’s hubris. Developer Ion Storm’s Dallas studio was a penthouse atop the 54-story Chase Tower. The light from the sun was so dazzling that workers had to drape blankets over cubicles to work. Romero’s design document was, allegedly, a 400 page incomprehensible mess.
Reading about disasters like this and others (I’m looking at you Peter Molyneux) made me want to cover the industry. Where else could I find stories like this? Stories where hubris and expectation collided with capital and finance. It’s a medium where art and commerce are fighting to the death. I get to write about that and I love it.
As Ion Storm Dallas flamed out and produced Daikatana, a game no one wanted, its Austin office was busy at work on Deus Ex. The weird little immersive sim inspired a generation of players and developers. It was the joyous surprise of the Daikatana disaster and a direct inspiration for Cyberpunk 2077.
This year, I needed to be reminded of where my passion for writing about video games came from. Cyberpunk 2077 gave me that. And, as a bonus, it’s a pretty great game underneath all the bugs and performance issues. For those with the patience and the hardware, there’s a lovely bit of Deus Ex underneath Cyberpunk 2077’sDaikatana exterior.