Cyberpunk 2 devs say Unreal Engine is a “challenge”

Cyberpunk 2077‘s lead quest designer Pawel Sasko has shared a few thoughts on the next Cyberpunk game, the mysterious “Orion” project. It’s at a very early stage, with a core team that currently includes Cyberpunk 2077 game director Gabriel Amatangelo, narrative director Igor Sarinski and Sarah Gruemmer, expert quest designer, who worked on the storyline for Judy Alvarez in the previous game. They’ve all moved or are in the process of moving from Poland to Boston in the USA, where CD Projekt have opened a new office. One of the major challenges, right now, is getting to grips with Epic’s Unreal Engine.

Orion runs on Unreal Engine, where its predecessor ran on CD Projekt’s in-house RED Engine. “We’ve been working for quite some time already at this point on Unreal,” Sasko observed, in a wide-ranging interview with The Neon Arcade. “There’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to the toolset specifically and so on, because there are so many I would say specific things that our RED engine was tailored for.

“So of course, we need to make sure that all of that is built properly, so that we can do the games exactly the way we we want to,” he said. “And you know, the work is ongoing here.” He commented that “the advantages of Unreal are probably quite apparent”, but it’s far too early to go into details.

Learning how to develop an Unreal Engine game has also meant learning how to work with Unreal’s publisher, Epic Games. “Working together with Epic is a completely new thing for us, it’s a challenge for one thing but also it’s an honour,” Sasko said. “It’s a huge studio – they have an incredible amount of engineers, very seasoned engineers. So it’s something that we can also learn from.” He added that “I don’t understand the challenge as a difficulty, but more as an opportunity – I see so much space to actually do something awesome, so I’m actually really looking forward to that, but there’s lot of work to be done on that front.”

Sasko also talked about the importance of retaining that core Cyberpunk 2077 team to work on Orion. “It’s so important when you have a group of leaders, managers who just know each other, know each other’s quirks, know each other’s strong and weak sides, know how to work with each other,” he said. “I think this is very powerful. It’s really, I would say, an understated and really unseen element of game design and game dev in general, just retaining that spine of directors and leads, who can basically build around and sort of retain that knowledge.”

Hiring for the project started “quite a bit of time ago”, according to Sasko, and CD Projekt are keeping Orion’s team small for the moment. “As always when you are forming a new team, at first you’re starting from a director level, then lead level, then expert senior level, and then the teams,” he went on. “We are at the stage of taking care of our leads, of our directors as well, but mostly leads, and probably at some point in the future we will start a bit more, I would say, intense hiring, to fill up those senior and expert positions.”

“The thing is, when you’re in the ideation phase and pre-production phase, you don’t want to have too big of a team, because it it just complicates so many things,” Sasko observed. “To iterate vision the best way possible, you just need a couple of stake-holders, and it’s always best to just iterate it between that group, to just keep it consistent and to be on the same page and true to the IP.”

Sasko’s points about preserving teams and not staffing up too soon make interesting reading, in a year defined by massive industry layoffs and an associated brain-drain that will likely shape how games are made for many years to come. CD Projekt are among the outfits who’ve cut back, letting around 100 people or nine per cent of their workforce go in July due to “overstaffing”, which prompted some CD Projekt developers to form a new union. Epic have made even bigger staff reductions this year following a period of over-investment and lower-than-hoped returns from Fortnite.

Little is known about the next Cyberpunk game, but CD Projekt have suggested that it won’t necessarily be a first-person experience. The company are also working on a whopping number of new Witcher games.

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