Designing Tension in Cyberpunk RED
Wanted to share that my upcoming Cyberpunk RED adventures tentatively titled “Bathed in RED” and “One RED Night.” While their stories can be told separately, I wrote them as two distinct parts of a larger narrative.
One of the reasons why I wanted to write for Cyberpunk RED, is because I was keen on exploring narrative tension in Night City as you moved from scene to scene. My approach to introducing that tension is through the introduction of hard choices to shape your story and advance the plot. If you were reading a novel or comic book, those choices would be made by the protagonists. In a game, however, you are the protagonists actively contributing to the narrative fulfilling your own motivations and your group’s goals. Ultimately, it’s not my decision what happens next. It’s yours. My job is to present those gut-wrenching decisions that help you feel vested in the game.
I love presenting difficult choices, because they’re a great way to add depth to your story. To make them emotionally-compelling, I took the project’s guidelines to heart and made these choices personal. Smart technology, cool locations, even corporations aren’t enough of a story hook. They’re just props to interact with and cool set designs. What makes a story personal, are the characters you interact with during the game. In Cyberpunk RED, there are compelling challenges like that computer virus designed to wipe out your data. What I consider is who designed that virus and why they’re targeting you. Same thing with corporations, too. After all, a “greedy conglomerate” isn’t as interesting as a CEO who decides to cut your salary to give themselves a bigger bonus.
Characters also give you ways to interact with the story, learn more about the setting, and provide clues. That said, I didn’t design them according to their plot delivery function, because that wasn’t interesting enough to me. Instead, I priortized “who” they were and “where” they were from before I worried about the plot. This approach allowed me to revel in what I enjoy writing—worldbuilding and characterization—even though I had some rules already in mind.
Though I had the basic idea for a mystery plot in the outline phase, I didn’t figure out the specifics right away. My breakthrough happened after I finished my first draft of both adventures. Oh, I remember that eureka moment very, very clearly—and not only because I had a wonderful Ah-hah! feeling. I was having so much fun writing in Night City, every character and cinematic scene I imagined flowed together as if I was watching a movie. I could even imagine this exact plot in a video game. That visualization is the moment I knew this story was cohesive and filled with jaw-dropping moments.
I’m extremely lucky to write for Cyberpunk RED, because the project allowed me to explore new-and-existing aspects of Night City and its people. That said, this two-part story scales more toward cyberpunk thriller with horror elements than a straight-up adventure.
If you’re keen on learning more about game design so you can write your own adventures, I encourage you to sign up for my upcoming class.
Thank you for listening!