Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What's up with Cyberpunk 2020

Okay, so apparently Mike Pondsmith, the brains behind R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk RPG and its sequel, Cyberpunk 2020, has signed on to work on a new videogame project called Cyberpunk 2077.  This co-incided with my reading the excellent Altered Carbon, a cyberpunk genre novel by Richard K. Morgan.

So, I say to myself, I should see if I remember if my Cyberpunk 2020 books survived the Great Gaming Purge of 2010 (I'll talk about that another day, but over 100 books were involved).  I hadn't seen them when I was organizing the shelves, so I decided to take a quick glance at Amazon to see what it would take to buy a used copy.

What the hell?  For those of you who don't like clicking links, the cheapest Cyberpunk 2020 main rulebook on Amazon costs $995.00.  Now, that's not to say anyone is buying that rulebook at that price, merely that some person thinks they can sell it at that price.  It actually goes up all the way to $1,500, by the way.

So, I comb my shelves and find that in fact I had not thrown out the main rulebook, but may have thrown out all the sourcebooks.  I could understand this; in my opinion the supplements ruined Cyberpunk 2020 by continually cranking up the "stuff" element of the game.  As Pondsmith says in the Youtube video linked above, the cyberpunk genre is about the interfacing of humanity and machine, but it is ultimately about the humanity.  Full conversion cyborgs and guns, guns, and more guns (the general content of most of the "Chromebooks" and "Solo of Fortune" supplements) didn't make the game better, but worse.

What I can't figure out is why people are craving this game so badly.  I like the game, and I'm a little sentimental about the game (it being the medium for some of my favorite in-game moments as a player), but there's a bazillion other cyberpunk genre games out there.  Savage Worlds has even done one, and now that it is no longer 1990 you could actually have a game that incorporated some of the actual horrors that have occurred that were only speculated about then.  Not to mention the fact that Pondsmith way underestimated hand-held telecommunication devices (the whole "wifi" thing seems to have never dawned on him, since you have to physically plug a computer into something to access the internet in Cyberpunk 2020).

Maybe it is because we're now in the years of the first edition of the game, and have that sense that the game is now realized but not as we thought.  We've got Citizens United and people constantly accessing the internet (even at a funeral reception I saw two weekends ago), but no cyborg limbs with guns or IR eyes.

Maybe it was because it had some fairly innovative ideas for its time, including the notion of having PC's command resources as a quantifiable ability (nomad gangs, police authority) that could compare with straight-up combat abilities or netrunning.  That evoked more in the way of co-operative roleplaying than a lot of games were offering at the time.  It was also one of the first really adult games--it openly talked about sex and drugs and other mature themes in a time when it was still pre-World of Darkness.

Regardless, I'm glad I spent some time hunting through my stacks and finding it.  It had random character lifepaths, scantily-clad women, and of course guns.  Apparently it also has some sort of lightning in a bottle for fans, as well.

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