The History Of Cyberpunk Before 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 is arguably one of the most anticipated upcoming games. Despite numerous delays to ensure the best end result, CD Projekt Red's sci-fi RPG has the entire gaming community abuzz with excitement. Announced way back in 2013, it immediately caught everyone's attention - but this popularity isn't unfounded. The game is the latest entry in a franchise stretching back to 1988.

Some might think it's awfully generic to wear a genre as a name, but there's good reason for it - Cyberpunk is what named the genre in the first place. Conceived as a tabletop RPG game in 1988 by Mike Pondsmith, it sought to transplant the atmosphere of the cyberpunk fiction - named as such later, of course - into a playable format. Blade Runner and the novel Hardwired were the biggest inspirations, with the author of the latter - Walter Jon Williams - actually helping with playtests.

Cyberpunk's iconic dystopian future setting where greedy mega-corporations have taken control and wrangled technology to suit their needs has become synonymous with the game's name. The future is high-tech, but not the elegant, clean, muted high-tech we see in settings like Star Trek. Neon-drenched, gritty, dirty and unforgiving, Cyberpunk is a world of squalor, cybernetic prosthesis and rampant crime.

In Pondsmith's original setup, the Cyberpunk timeline is adjacent to the real world, diverging after 1990. The first edition's story was set in 2013 - and we're very lucky it didn't end up being prophetic - with subsequent editions moving forward in the timeline through 2020 all the way to the late 2030's. CDPR's game is set in 2077, as the title implies.

This allows the developers to enjoy a greater degree of freedom from the old source material which, unfortunately, most players these days are not familiar with. That said, many easter eggs and callbacks will be present in the game. The 2077 setting also places the game's events comfortably in the distant future, making the kind of technology that is currently impossible seem plausible.

To form a bridge between the original material and the game, Cyberpunk RED will be launched this year. A new tabletop game set in 2045 serves as a direct prequel to the video game Cyberpunk 2077. R. Talsorian Games is publishing, which is the same company that published the original back in 1988. We should have had our hands on it by now, but like the video game, it was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cyberpunk gained a great deal of popularity upon release, and while it isn't the first piece of media we'd categorize as "cyberpunk" these days, this setting and style didn't have a name before. A 1983 short story by Bruce Bethke actually coined the term "cyberpunk", but it wasn't widely used until Cyberpunk came along. Since it lent its name to an entire genre, countless imitators appeared and Cyberpunk went on to inspire some of the best known pop-culture properties.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall

One cannot discuss the cyberpunk genre without mentioning Shadowrun. Another iconic cyberpunk IP that began life as a tabletop RPG, Shadowrun was clearly influenced significantly by Cyberpunk. Setting itself apart by mixing fantasy elements such as typical fantasy species into the setting, Shadowrun continues to enjoy popularity and also has its own series of video games, though they are closer in style to the original tabletop than CDPR's take.

Another interesting, but little known fact is that Cyberpunk 2077 won't be the first video game set in this world. Cyberpunk: Arasaka's Plot, a 2D platformer game was released back in 2007 on mobile devices. As is to be expected of any pre-smartphone mobile game that isn't Snake, it was barely noticed and quickly forgotten.

Additionally, two separate trading card games wore the Cyberpunk name, published in 1996 and 2003, respectively. The first, Netrunner, spiralled off into being a completely separate property from the Cyberpunk franchise and was re-released following the separation.

Cyberpunk's influence can be seen across popular media, influencing fiction produced all over the world. Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, Syndicate, Beneath a Steel Sky, Deus Ex, System Shock, .hack and countless more too numerous to list owe much to Pondsmith's original tabletop.

While fans new to the IP, or even the genre, may feel intimidated by having to step into a 30 year old franchise with Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red are creating a prefect entry point with their game. As mentioned above, the 2077 setting ensures that the game is far enough removed from past material to be enjoyed as a standalone. That said, long-time fans of the series will find plenty - including Johnny Silverhand - that calls back to the series' storied past.

Aron Gerencser
Gaming at least as long as he's been walking, Aron is a fan of all things sci-fi and lover of RPGs. Having written about games for years, he's right at home reporting most of the breaking news in the industry and covering the happenings of the e-sports world. Graduating summa cum laude from Università degli Studi Guglielmo Marconi with a BA in Media Production, Aron has been a game journalist since 2014. When not writing, editing or playing, Aron is building models which you can find on Instagram.
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