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The Untold Truth Of Cyberpunk 2077's Night City

The setting of Night City in Cyberpunk 2077 is among the game's biggest draws: PCGamer called it "the real star of the game," noting that the streets feel alive, thanks to the "monumental job of world-building" that developer CD Projekt Red (CDPR) has done. GamesRadar+ called Night City an "aesthetic joy." Reviewers seem to like the game, and the opportunity to explore the open world of Night City is a major reason.

Night City isn't just the setting of a video game, though — it's also the location of the pen-and-paper RPG games from R. Talsorian that Cyberpunk 2077 was based on, as originally envisioned by creator Mike Pondsmith in the late '80s. It's a neon-heavy, dystopian city inspired by Akira, Ghost in the Shell and the highly influential Blade Runner. It's riddled with gangs and cool vehicles and ruled by sleek and unscrupulous corporations. It even has its own tourist site, complete with a body count report and an NCPD Threat Level. 

But there's more that you may not know about Night City. 

Night City is based on real locations, but the game version is something new

Night City, which is said to be in northern California, is based on real places: Morro Bay and nearby Los Osos on the west coast. Pondsmith said in a Reddit post several years ago, "I picked the location because it matched the general terrain and geology I wanted, and was at a choke point on the Cali coast that would be perfect for the Free State."

The real Morro Bay has a distinctive landmark — Morro Rock, part of a chain of volcanic peaks and home to nesting falcons. Pondsmith said that in his original design, the rock is north of the actual city. Also, he placed Night City at the top of the isthmus, but ended up filling in the bay and cutting the isthmus apart to allow for a lower harbor. 

However, Cyberpunk has taken a few liberties with reality. "Night City is a heavily fictionalized locale [emphasis his] and there's no reason that the end result has to look like Morro Bay," said Pondsmith. "I've given CDPR plenty of room to mess with stuff as they see fit." 

It may not look like reality, but Pondsmith notes, "The resulting project looks a heck of a lot like what was in my head."

Night City was made with "Disneyland design"

Pondsmith has said that a reason he picked CDPR to render Night City for gamers in Cyberpunk 2077 is that they seemed to understand and enjoy the world, even noticing and appreciating obscure facts about the area's history. "The fact that they remembered that the Afterlife used to be a morgue and made sure to put that in is the level of detail I've come to expect from this team," Pondsmith said on Reddit.

This level of detail includes a specific, international feel that was necessary to keep the location faithful to its roots in one very important respect.

 "One of the cool things that has made it through in translation from [tabletop RPG] to videogame is the idea of lots of cultures living side by side in an intensely packed area," Pondsmith said on another Reddit thread from 2019. " At [R. Talsorian Games], we nicknamed this 'Disneyland design,' after the idea that, like the theme park, many kinds of worlds were represented in microcosm, so that the player could rapidly travel from one very different representation of The Street to another equally different interpretation." 

The writer who inspired Night City

Among other more high-profile influences, fans have writer Walter Jon Williams to thank for inspiring different aspects of Cyberpunk, including character creation — but the cyberpunk genre author also influenced the true nature of Night City: gritty yet romantic.

"One of the things I love about cyberpunk as a genre is that there is a romanticism to it." Pondsmith said in a RockPaperShotgun interview. He added, "Me and my wife were staring out over the chasm of the city one night and seeing the neon and hearing the sirens, and when you're there, you're aware of this whole manic aspect living underneath you ... Walter Jon Williams wrote the book that really got me into this, Hardwired."

Pondsmith valued Williams' input so much that he even brought the author into his own fictional world, publishing the Hardwired sourcebook as a Cyperpunk supplement. About Hardwired, he said, "It's total whack-out fable of doomed romance against desperate stupid odds. You know it's not going to work but you really hope that it does, and that's what cyberpunk is all about."