CD Projekt Red’s music director Marcin Przybyłowicz was hardly finished with the Polish developer’s last major tentpole, “The Witcher III: Wild Hunt,” when he had to start thinking about its next, “Cyberpunk 2077.”
In fact, when CDPR announced “Cyberpunk 2077” in 2012, he was still working on the music for “The Witcher III’s” expansions. Though Przybyłowicz, who in high school played the pen-and-paper “Cyberpunk” RPG on which the video game is based, was eager to jump into the futuristic new game — he was confronted with a project that’s truly massive in scope, something that happened with “The Witcher III” as well.
“We agree to do something, so OK,” he tells Variety via a Zoom call. “We’re gonna make a game [holds hands slightly apart] this big. And then, somehow, by accident, it happens, it’s gonna be this big [widens hands]. And then, I’m off the screen [widens hands even more], because it’s this big.”
Przybyłowicz was joined by P.T. Adamczyk, who had already been working with CDPR on “Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales” and “Gwent: The Witcher Card Game” and Paul Leonard-Morgan (“Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III”) to take on the score. All told, the composers say that over the past five years — three since Adamczyk and Leonard-Morgan came on — they’ve created a staggering eight hours of original music for the game, which is coming out on Dec. 10 after three delays.
“When I joined CDPR, I just couldn’t wait to start getting my teeth into ‘Cyberpunk,’ because that seemed like a dream project and I sort of still think of it as a dream project — I just didn’t know that it would be this hard to do,” Adamczyk laughs.
When Adamczyk and Leonard-Morgan first joined the team in 2017, they spent six months simply trying to nail down the feel of the score. Although they had a limited amount of time — Leonard-Morgan jokes that he urged the team to “get cracking” because they only had three years, while Przybyłowicz reassured them that “come on, we’ve still got three years” — it gave them the chance to establish the game’s unique musical vocabulary.
And there was plenty to consider when nailing down that sound: It’s a “cyberpunk, futuristic game,” Leonard-Morgan says, “but yet it’s still gotta have emotion, but it’s still bloody dark.” Eventually, Przybyłowicz says the team came down on one word to guide them.
“We found out that the key word for our music would be ‘attitude,’ because this is not a fairytale kind of setting we are working with. We are not telling bedtime stories,” Przybyłowicz says. “Our Night City is a grim, dark, dangerous place, and story-wise, the story touches upon very serious matters.”
The team searched through the gamut of musical history to find inspiration that would fit that attitude they were looking for. The ’80s, Przybyłowicz acknowledges, would seem like a natural fit, with the prevalence of synthwave that became synonymous with the sci-fi soundtracks of that decade.
But the more they looked into it, the more they found that the ’90s had more of the sonic attitude that they were looking for.
“There was Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys, Nine Inch Nails, the whole techno scene in Berlin. The Prodigy in Great Britain,” Przybyłowicz says. “When you put them together, you quickly realize that despite all of these acts or bands playing in different styles, they all share this common denominator, which is the fucking attitude. Their music slaps, basically. And that’s what we wanted to achieve with our music: to slap you in the face when necessary, and play on a more tender note with all those human-to-human moments.”
The result is a soundtrack that is hard-hitting much of the time, clearly drawing from ’90s techno and rave. But it’s also one that shows influences from everything from jazz to metal to hip-hop — which makes sense, given the vast area that Night City, where “Cyberpunk 2077” takes place, is purported to cover.
Checking out test pressing CD of @CyberpunkGame score, and it sounds ?
Can’t wait to finally release the music!
Btw. this is prob my fav track @PaulLeonardMorg has wrote for this project. So dark, moody, and emotional ? pic.twitter.com/L2lAxK8Dnn
— Marcin Przybyłowicz (@kwazol) October 21, 2020
Night City, which is run by corporations and has been besieged by gang wars, is comprised of six distinct regions. But the composers made their distinctions more so by the different factions and characters than the areas themselves. The Haitian gang Voodoo Boys, for example, is accompanied by music that has elements of creole culture — but, of course, with a “Cyberpunk” twist.
But their guiding principle, along with the ’90s attitude, was to follow the story of V, the customizable character controlled by the player. Although “Cyberpunk 2077” is an open-world game, Adamczyk says they wanted the score, at least, to feel more linear, and custom-made to the path the player has taken as V.
“I think you can easily get sort of swamped with the world, the lore, the internal politics, and you would try to score all that,” Adamczyk says. “But this score, at least our score in this game, follows V. So I think that was one of the sort of unwritten rules when it came down to spotting and writing the music, is the state of V in that quest, the state of V in that moment in the game.”
Unsurprisingly, “Cyberpunk 2077” has drawn comparisons to other futuristic media, like “Deus Ex” and “Blade Runner.” But the composers stress that, from the beginning, they didn’t want it to sound like any other cyberpunk property, and Leonard-Morgan promises that “there is no other game out there that sounds like this.”
“That’s what everyone keeps saying: ‘Is it gonna be like “Blade Runner”?’” Leonard-Morgan says. “No, it’s gonna be like ‘Cyberpunk 2077.’”