Designing the future: creating the cars of Cyberpunk 2077

Published: 08 December 2020

► From the makers of the Witcher 3
► Behind the design for the game’s vehicles
► How Cyberpunk 2077 predicts the future of transport

We’re cruising through Night City, a sprawling metropolis of the future that seems to double down on everything wrong with the modern world. Mankind has lost the fight with climate change, violence and crime hangs on every dank corner we pass, and billboards glow through the hazy pollution. Night City is the mood of Black Mirror with the looks of Bladerunner, and in Cyberpunk 2077, it’s your steampunk playground. 

From mega-skyscrapers that shade the city centre, to flickering neon signs that serve to illuminate the alleyways and shady business of Japantown, it’s a fantastically detailed vision of what the future might hold. And that’s why CD Projekt Red, the force behind 2020’s biggest game, has put just so much thought into getting around it.

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‘Vehicles are an important part of that world, along with architecture, characters, and weapons, and we wanted to offer players an immersive experience, so they could enjoy taking part in street chases or simply cruising through the streets of Night City.’ says senior vehicle designer Paweł Breshke Czyżewski. 

With literal gigabytes of Night City to explore, transport is just as important as the look and feel of the city itself. CD Projekt Red is no stranger to making big environments (it made the tremendously-detailed Witcher franchise) – but while that game had a horse, Night City requires an ambitious garage of automotive wonders.

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‘Designing and creating vehicles for a whole ‘universe’ is a very expensive, difficult, and time-consuming undertaking,’ Pawel Mielniczuk, the game’s art director tells CAR. ‘It requires not only a group of experienced modelers, but also the involvement of designers who understand the language of car design. We wanted to create unique, original vehicles that would become one of the hallmarks of our game.’

Cyberpunk’s creators assembled an eight-person team to design cars that made sense within Night City and its troubled history. ‘The main principle was to make Cyberpunk 2077 cars look ‘weird’, make them look intriguing, attractive; believable, but not familiar — like they came from a parallel reality,’ Mielniczuk explains.

The design process used the ‘futuristic’ looks of the 70s to 90s as starting point and began to apply a century’s worth of climate crisis and technological development: ‘We analysed every single concept car that was created between the 1970s and 2000s,’ he adds.

The work formed a thriving, diverse automotive market; Cyberpunk features over ten brands of vehicle, each with its own timeline of models and trims – and all of have oddly familiar backstories. For example, the Indian Mahir brand focuses cheap, mass consumer vehicles, while Villefort is an ambitious American brand with poor reliability.

‘The six-wheel technology this car utilizes affected its proportions, causing the bonnet to be longer than normal, thus making it difficult to manoeuvre in the city and limiting visibility while driving,’ Czyżewski tells us. ‘The Alvarado is powered by a huge 600-horsepower engine, which unfortunately, due to the weight of the vehicle, did not provide particularly high performance.’ It’s also favoured by gangs. 

And just like we’re seeing in the automotive industry, the creators of Cyberpunk have charted the impact of new and emerging technologies. First off, EVs haven’t won the battle for sustainable transport – synthetic fuel has. ‘CHOOH2, a synthetic, modified grain-based alcohol, was invented and quickly became the world’s main fuel,’ says Mielniczuk.

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‘There are autonomous systems installed in each vehicle, interior mirrors with cameras coupled with screens, holographic licence plates and barcodes on the roof to facilitate identification via drones,’ he adds. Besides the licence plates, it’s all very believable isn’t it?

Newer cars have the tech built-in, but older cars require retro-fitting a good deal of third-party accessories. Think about putting Apple CarPlay or AEB in a car before 2000, and you’re pretty much there.

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‘We wanted our vehicles to exhibit a mix of retro and futuristic elements. For that reason, we used weird proportions, asymmetry, sensors, lidars, and other accessories attached to the bodies,’ explains Czyżewski. ‘You can typically see these on older models from the first couple of eras, but then if you look at the younger, more expensive models, their bodies are much sleeker and cleaner with few external accessories.’

All that design is worthless if the cars don’t interact with the player as you’d hope, and it falls to Seamus Epp to ensure each car handles as it looks: ‘We needed to engineer “flaws”, aka character, for all of our cars,’ he explains. ‘Each should have a center of mass that feels right for its drivetrain type and have some degree of the characteristics these types of cars typically have.’ 

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‘For every car we tune, we try to decide first what its character is going to be, and what role it serves in our game. By the time we get to the handling dynamics, every car has a backstory and history in our universe, influences from real cars and a unique artistic vision, complete with fully detailed engine bays and interiors.’

So, the future is bleak, but there are still a number of varied cars to drive, and there are still petrolheads, too. Those interested in modern performance will drive things such as the 2000hp, Militech performance car, and it appears the restomod bubble hasn’t burst by 2077 either. 

Cyberpunk’s main character, Jonny Silverhand (played by Keanu Reeves) owns a Porsche 911 Turbo, which is around a century old in the game.

‘It was immediately obvious that his vehicle of choice would have to be just as iconic as he himself is,’ tells us. ‘The answer could only be the classic 911 Turbo from the 1970s.’

‘This 911 Turbo we created is a very unique car on many levels — it’s the only real-world classic in Cyberpunk 2077,’ Czyżewski reminds CAR. ‘After completing the basic 3D model, we were ready to add all the cyber elements that were established in the concept phase, i.e. lidars, interior screens, fuel port, and futuristic number plates.’

You can drive the eFuel powered 911 Turbo and play the rest of the game now.

Buy Cyberpunk 2077 for console and PC here

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast