A Senior Concept Designer at CD Projekt Red Ben Andrews walked us through the workflow behind weapons and vehicles from Cyberpunk 2077 and discussed the sources of inspiration for high-tech machines present in the game.
My name is Ben Andrews and I am an Associate Art Director and Concept Artist at CD PROJEKT RED, and I’ve been working professionally as a Concept Artist for 11 years. I started out studying as a traditional painter, but soon quit to live the dream of having no money – working in bars and learning how to become a Concept Artist in the middle of the night. Fun times! From there, I landed a gig at a small indie studio and had a blast making point-and-click adventure games. I've freelanced quite a bit and been involved in several projects for The Chinese Room, and before CD PROJEKT RED I was at Frontier Developments for four years, where I made a lot of cool space stuff for Elite Dangerous!
My primary interests lie in hard surface design, worldbuilding, and game design. I get a kick out of creative problem solving using art; I love to make cool things for players to use that are believable and heighten their immersion within a game world. Outside of work (okay, during work, too) I'm an evangelist for immersive sims and bore my friends to death talking about them every chance I get.
Joining CD Projekt Red
Joining the team at CD PROJEKT RED to work on Cyberpunk 2077 was a no-brainer. For an artist, the ideas, themes, and creative possibilities afforded by the cyberpunk genre are extremely attractive. I first met the CD PROJEKT RED team at the Industry Workshops event in London, 2016. We had a few drinks in the evening and discussed flying car technology, and the next thing I knew I was on my way to Poland for an interview!
Since the game’s launch, our Cyberpunk 2077 Concept team has grown to 16 people and is divided amongst specialties: Character, Hard Surface, Vehicle, and Environment. Over the last four and a half years I've been involved in mainly the Character and Hard Surface teams, covering a wide variety of topics from cyberware to weapons, tech, military machines, vehicles, and robots. Alongside the more traditional concept design tasks, I've really enjoyed being involved in topics such as developing the Cyberpunk 2077 Art Bible and worldbuilding documentation, the integration of gameplay and art, as well as UI visual development.
Working on Cyberpunk 2077
It's been amazing to have such a wide variety of topics to work on for Cyberpunk 2077 – the project really aligned with my own interests very well. I'm a huge nerd and I've always been into machines and technical stuff, so inspiration came very naturally for me in my work.
Honestly, I think I'm more of a designer than an artist; I love to dig into a subject and figure out how things work and how and why they were built. I much prefer to think logically and practically about a design. The more “artistic abstraction” I can remove from a creative problem the easier it becomes, and using the internal logic of the world you are creating helps to break down the decision-making process. Of course, this requires a lot of effort. When you’re working on something totally new, you need to build the world itself – the rules, the society, backstory, the framework of that place to begin with. This takes lots of time, research, and planning. In my opinion, this process is just as rewarding as creating the art itself. With Cyberpunk 2077 we used Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk 2020 as our source material – but even then, figuring out how to translate a pen-and-paper RPG into a first-person perspective video game, envisioning the world in our own way, is not a simple thing to do.
Once established, ideas can start to grow and feel grounded and believable in that world. I'd say that the strong foundation of worldbuilding became the main source of inspiration while working on the game. After a while, it became very easy to be inspired by the stories, lore, and core art pillars we developed together. Working with other departments is essential in order to create a cohesive experience, and to create designs that support the larger goals of the project. Wherever possible when working on a concept, I like to reach out to other teams to ask for their input, their expectations, and limitations; collaboration is one of the best parts of working in-house.
Designing Militech Basilisk
The Militech Basilisk is a good example of a task that required close cooperation to get right. I worked together with my talented colleague Mikhail Solovarov on this design. As a playable vehicle with a completely unique driving model, the task was pretty complex. Using a mindmap to think through and gather all of the requirements was very helpful; questions, problems, and goals were roughly divided into overlapping categories – what are the technical requirements of the model? How will the player drive it? How will they see it? How big should it be? How will it be used in quests? How can we animate it, etc?
Lots of research followed. In the Cyberpunk lore, “Panzers” are armored smuggling vehicles that hover to maneuver at high speed across the desert. I focused on VTOL jump-jet systems from an F-35B as inspiration for the function of the engines, deciding that this would give the tank some grounded, real-world believability. So I implemented large downward thrusters mounted in wide “wings”, and rear-facing jets to help it speed across the landscape.
Inspiration for its defensive capabilities came from the Israeli Merkava tank, such as the shape of the armor, deflecting angled surfaces, and its low overall profile. I wanted the tank to look aggressive but also utilitarian, and I tried to balance the futuristic idea of a hovering tank with functional elements and details to ground the design.
Acquiring a thorough knowledge of a similar existing design can give you a huge head start. Not just to replicate the shape, mood, or feel – but to really understand why things look the way they do. Many of the problems we face have already been solved by designers before. We can use this knowledge to our advantage to make more informed decisions and understand which elements can be modified/combined/borrowed in order to create something new while retaining believability. A good example of this comes from the design process for the Basilisk – as I knew from research that the front of the tank should have the thickest armor and the plates should be angled to not only deflect impacts, but to maximize the distance a projectile would have to pass through the armor to penetrate the hull.
Another crucial part of this design was to think about its driving model and animation. I used 3D blockouts to animate and test what parts could move to give feedback to the player as they manipulated the controls. I decided to split the hull into three sections with “wings'' that would move independently in relation to steering – a bit like winglets on an airplane – which would add dynamism to the craft and help the player understand its movement better. Additionally, I used flaps surrounding the rear engines to act as air brakes, reacting to the movements of the craft and giving visual thrust feedback from the third-person view.
Quest-related requirements also necessitated careful consideration. I created cramped, coffin-like cockpit “pods” for the player and their co-pilot, Panam. The tight space was intended to feel like a real tank interior but packed with high-tech equipment and a real-time display of the outside, while pilots jack into the vehicle so they can synaptically control the craft in unison. It also had to accommodate for the possibility of an intimate, neurally-linked romance scene – a typical everyday gamedev problem to solve
Militech Manticore AV
The Militech Manticore’s design phase was pretty long and encompassed the development of AV (aerial vehicle) technology itself. AVs have been a part of the Cyberpunk lore right from the original tabletop game, and we didn't want them to be drastically different in Cyberpunk 2077. However, what we did need to do was adapt the design to fit in our established Neomilitarism art style and add enough functionality and detail to be believable in-game. I explored different propulsion methods, including superconductors and magnetic rooftops, however, it was decided that conventional jet engines suited the role best even if in reality this would make the vehicle completely impractical in the crowded streets of Night City.
Once design parameters were established I made some sketches over the top of my 3D blockouts to explore the look and feel of the craft. Militech designs are utilitarian, functional, and aggressive. I had previously decided on a mythological beast theme for the names of Militech products, and I used some previous designs such as the Centaur exosuit to draw on for inspiration. I started to explore the idea of it feeling like a predator ready to pounce, an idea that evolved from the 4 engines positioned like feet or legs. This drove a few design elements of the vehicle. From there, I went on to translate this sketch into 3D. It had to be made smaller so more iterations were required. I also had to figure out some more issues such as the interior dimensions, as well as ensuring that smaller animatable elements – such as the hydraulic articulated joints – had detailed, working 3D for the modelers to refer to.
Designing weapons for Cyberpunk 2077 was an absolute pleasure. I got to put a lifetime's gun-nerdery to good use. The Concept team had a lot of fun here, for certain!
We also created a timeline for products in the world, so not only do they have a manufacturer but a date when they were made, so you can track the development and advancement of technology developed in the world of Cyberpunk. As in real life, wars in the Cyberpunk universe instigated some major changes and development of munitions and technology – including the introduction of Entropism, which is all about ‘Necessity Over Style’.
One of my favorite designs is the Budget Arms Slaughto-Matic, a disposable uzi-like gun made mostly of plastic that is available from vending machines. I wanted this weapon to support the idea of the overt gun culture in the game, and be unique in the way it is presented – hopefully making it memorable for the player. It's a product, driven by demand. The idea behind this weapon is that Night City is an extremely violent place where gun culture is taken to extremes. Guns are mass-produced and widely available – after all, arms manufacturers advertise to the family market. So the idea of picking up a cheap weapon for home defense or personal protection is totally normal. It is brightly colored and marketed to the masses, designed for ease of use; you tear out the plastic safety and pull the trigger. You can't even reload it – once the mag is empty you toss it and buy another. It's not pretty, reliable, well made, or accurate, and it’s definitely not that useful for the player – but that's the point of this design. It supports the themes and logic of the world, and hopefully, that's where its value comes from.
Another highlight for me was creating weapons that are designed to be used by cybernetically-enhanced owners – especially ones so powerful that, when fired, they’ll literally throw players to the floor if they aren’t strong enough to handle them. Creating simple, brutal visuals combined with unique ideas like this and seeing them come to life in the game was one of my favorite parts of the entire project.