Cyberpunk as a sub-genre label was a marketing label almost from the beginning, and hence, almost completely meaningless. However, I'd say you need the following features to really have a cyberpunk game:
- Dystopian future - No happy ending. Maybe you win a battle, but the general crappiness of the world stays untouched.
- Silly Cyberspace - You have to spend a fair amount of the game in a virtual reality environment. Forget everything you actually know about computers; Gibson has said he could never have written Neuromancer if he hadn't been computer illiterate. This is actually a very good thing, since you need to including hacking, and this approach is more gameable.
- Corporate Dominance - The world is largely controlled by huge multinational corporations, most (not necessarily all) of which are corrupt and irresponsible (but not bwa-ha-ha-ha evil).
Note that not all listed sources have all these features. However, for an indisputable cyberpunk game, you really need all three. This presentation provides a somewhat cliched view of cyberpunk, but while writers should avoid cliches, designers of a genre-centric game should embrace cliches. They make easy handles to get the player into the world. Innovative interpretations of the genre can wait until the basic cliched version has been worked over a bit, at least.
(largely the work of Ray Dillinger)
- Skatepunks with razor-edged-frisbee launchers.
- MicroWire whips.
- Cyber-enhanced attack shrews.
- Musicians with diesel-powered assault bagpipes and weapons-grade amplifiers.
- A clone created by your medical provider, who escaped missing his right hand (it was handcuffed to the bed) and now wants to harvest *you* for spare parts.
- AI's plotting to take over the world - but what cyberpunk game *doesn't* have those?
- Shark brains repurposed for torpedo guidance.
- Performance-enhancing drugs that have a cumulative deterioration effect. "live now, pay later..."
- Cloned sex toys - gorgeous nymphomaniacs. The problem is people who get these and then get bored with them, or just can't have as much sex as they thought they wanted, and abandon them. The ones who've been abandoned (or "set free") are still gorgeous nymphomaniacs, but shunned by normal society, rejected by their owners, bitter about it, and consequently most of them resent and hate normal people .... they're actually pretty dangerous.
- Cloned soldiers. They're eight feet tall, they regenerate like mad, they're ridiculously strong and ridiculously fast, they grow to maturity in six years, and they die automatically before they turn forty (which saves retirement benefits....).
- Clone Liberation Front (as terrorist organization, weapons dealers, medical spare-parts network for clones, legal advocates in clone-related cases, etc...).
- Nuclear Family: properly speaking, nihilists rather than terrorists. But the distinction can be pretty thin... HQ is on the bikini atoll.
- Camera flies: genetically engineered houseflies that broadcast a low-powered television signal with audio. Frequently used to breach security.
- Gas Rifles: Police weapons which fire gas grenades. Choice of rounds ranges from incapacitating to permanently disfiguring to lethal, including doses of various otherwise-illegal street drugs previously seized as evidence.
- Legion of Dynamic Discord: Practical jokers gone very, very overboard. Consider it funny to spike a city's water supply with a mixture of amphetamines and aphrodisiacs and fund the operation by investing beforehand in the stock of the local brothels. Would also consider it funny to organize simultaneous conventions for opposed hate groups in the same hotel (managing to offer the best rates to both groups by first shorting the hotel's stock...). Their activities are closely but clandestinely monitored by investment analysts and securities brokers, who plant operatives in the group for the investment tips. It is unknown whether the group has any *other* members.
- Investment Analysts as a source of industrial espionage work for the characters.
- Monocycles: The speed-like-an-idiot vehicle of the 2050's. They have one wheel and use gyroscopes for stability, control, and power storage. They mount a small turbine engine, have regenerative braking, and are incredibly maneuverable.
- Streetsweeper autofire assault shotguns. With the drum magazine, these things are awesome. When launching minigrenades instead of buckshot, they're devastating.
- Needlers: blistering rate of fire and tens of thousands of rounds of very tiny ammo. Individual needles don't do much, but getting hit by a thousand of them in a couple of seconds will wipe most of the meat off your skeleton. A relatively light armor will make you immune to these. They are short-range weapons (effective out to 30 feet or so) and often used by security personnel indoors because they don't penetrate walls.
- Water Wars: Climate change forced the third and fourth world wars to be fought over water rights. Perhaps these wars are ongoing in the time of your game; perhaps they are part of the history.
- HMD sunglasses: What they do depends on the software; combat programs are available to map routes through freefire zones, retrieve satellite or camera-fly views in realtime to give you the power to "see through" most things, plus IR and UV vision, and interface with your gun to put the crosshairs in your vision exactly where it's pointing. Or they can make the best non-surgical interface available to a cyberdeck. Or you can get a consumer OS and surf the web for free, while being programmed to shop at the stores of the companies who paid Redmond Software for your business. And incidentally programmed to not mind that. And also programmed to buy the next upgrade from Redmond Software....
- Radio-coded pacemakers: Often an inescapable part of a lucrative employment contract; don't worry, your boss won't turn yours off unless he hears that you've been working for the competition.
- Assassin vending machines: Vending machines that dispense robot assassins (only found in FreeTrade Zones). You have to give the system a photo, a name, and an address when you deposit your money. The robot will "wake up" after you leave, not knowing who you are. They have enough power to operate for six weeks. Some of the better companies advertise a "clearance percentage" in the high seventies. You can provide extra weapons, vehicles, or tools for your assassin 'bot if you're willing to spend the money.
- FreeTrade Zones: After several decades of wrangling about jurisdiction, controlled substances and items, and laws that disagreed about what transactions were illegal, the problem sort of solved itself, in the form of FreeTrade Zones -- areas where *NOTHING* is illegal. FreeTrade zones grow up where governments are weak, overextended, or crippled by jurisdictional or diplomatic problems; some permanent FTZ boat communities now exist in international waters, and land-based FTZs exist in areas where the governments are nonexistent, powerless, or can be bribed to look the other way. And BrightLand Station, parked in High Earth Orbit, is notorious as the FTZ of the ultra-wealthy.
- If it's a near-future game, be it cyberpunk, post-apocalypse, post-cyberpunkalypse, or other, you could have "drunk" and "pimp" player classes. "Stoner" and "whore" too while you're at it. Not everyone can be a "cybersamurai" or "hacker".' [this one's me, RDH]
- Janitor would be another possible class, or Corporate Deadwood for a clock-punching middle manager.
- I want (somehow, somewhen) to allow using duct tape to bind together several kinds of weapons, so that you can wield it and shoot simultaneously, just like at the end of Aliens 2. [-- The Sheep]
- Cybernetic implants: "humanity loss" idea is common drawback, but largely arbitrary and unrealistic. There are realistic problems for cyberware:
- For weapons, consider size limitation, difficulty of loading your arm, inability to drop weapon if you want to surrender, heat problems, etc.
- [quoting another of my old posts] I've thought of cybernetics as the sci-fi equivalent of fantasy "mutations" or "chaos thingies", although not so random, of course. Many could translate directly over and the value of many of the mutation weapons is that they give *extra* attacks. So I'd hit with my mace and *also* slash with my cyber claws, bite with my cybergoth pseudovampire fangs, and lash with my cybertail. All at once. Instead of guns in my arms, I'd leave those free for holding my pistols, while firing off poison darts from the dartgun in my skull and, against tough opponents, firing the low-level nuke "crotch rocket" installed in my groin.
- How about some "reactive weapons". A subdermal network of electroshock weapons would active when your skin was penetrated, giving that rat that just bit you a nasty shock. If I get knocked out, the vents on my shoulder release a cloud of neurotoxins (to which I've been immunized).
- And cyberimplants should be salvageable, so you can *really* loot bodies when you loot bodies. This suggests using called shots to avoid shooting up the implants you want, a skill to remove equipment from corpses, and a black market cyberdoc you need to establish relations with in order to use your salvage.
- Cybergoths: Subculturalists with a suite of "vampire" implants.
- Drugs. I can't imagine cyberpunk without drugs. They could give temporary positive effect, and then some more longterm negative side effect. [-- Milesss]
- You can have it as potions, pills, injections, etc. but I think the most cyberpunkish and cool options is to have them in form of derms and inhalers. [-- The Sheep]
- "Realistic" gory violence, no just ticking off hit points. Nice descriptions would be good.
- Dealers? Why not vending machines? Or convenience stores? "Yeah, I'll take a pack of smokes, a fifth of vodka, a 6-pack of uppers, and some bubble gum." Then walk next door to the weapons shop. <g> [-- Auric__]
- Insane AI's with eccentric behavior, not just "take over the world" stuff.
- Industrial espionage.
- Cross-Cultural exchange follows from multinational entities in charge. Japanese still works, but it would be more current to include Chinese and Indian influences in the post-industrial world of tomorrow.
- Urban Spawl + Urban Highrise: A BIG city to play in (plus possible trips to other cities, orbital stations, possibly lunar or martian colonies, if you want -- but a single city ought to be room enough). Lots of corporate buildings to visit/raid/apply for a job at. Socializing areas (bars, clubs, thrill sport arenas, whatever).
- Public transit (subway, elevated train, whatever) to get to specific locations in the huge city (while you can also wander through random city if you want).
- Shadowrun (published RPG books and supplements, spin-off fiction, fan material on web, possibly the CCG contains some useful ideas; also console games). Note that Shadowrun is a hybrid of cyberpunk with high fantasy.
- Deus Ex series
- System Shock 1 and 2
- Fallout 1 and 2
- GURPS Cyberpunk
- Cyberpunk 2020 (R.Talsorian Games)
- Cyberpunk 2077
- Cyberspace (ICE [Iron Crown Enterprises])
- Uplink (http://www.uplink.co.uk/)
- Neuromancer (DOS, abadonware)
- Rise of the Dragon (DOS, abadonware)
- Syndicate (DOS)
- Neuromancer (Gibson)
- Count Zero (Gibson)
- Mona Lisa Overdrive (Gibson)
- Idoru (Gibson)
- Snow Crash (Stephenson)
- The Diamond Age (Stephenson)
- Tekwar series ("Shatner", later TV show, computer game[s])
- Altered Carbon (Richard Morgan)
- Broken Angels (Richard Morgan)
- Woken Furies (Richard Morgan)
- "A Good Old-Fashioned Future" (Bruce Sterling)
- "Heavy Weather" (Bruce Sterling)
- Ghost in the Shell
- GITS 2 - Man-machine interface
- Appleseed, Black Magic
- Battle Angel Alita, GUNNM - Last Order, Ashen Victor
- Blame!, Noise, Biomega
- Syrius Scars
- Red Eyes
- Blade Runner
- Minority Report
- The Fifth Element
- The Matrix
- Robocop (and sequels)
- Ghost in the Shell
- Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer
- Serial Experiments Lain
- Bubblegum Crisis
- Johnny Mnemonic
And, of course, wikipedia and Google will allow one to find many more items of source material.
The "Cyberpunk Alphabet"
Here's a start on brainstorming identity for your encounters.
- A: automobile, accountant, ambulance, armored vehicle, airplane, android, AI, admin(istrator), alien, anarchist, activist, avatar
- B: bus, bioweapon, businessman, beancounter, bartender, beggar, bodyguard, bounty hunter, bureaucrat
- C: child, cat, car, computer, cyborg, cop, cleaner, cyber*, coder
- D: dog, drone, data, doctor, decker, driver
- E: employee, engineer, executive, enforcer
- F: firewall, fireman, firetruck, fanatic, Free Software (rebel AI), file, fixer
- G: gang member, guard, gyrocopter
- H: hovercar, helicopter, hacker, hologram, hitman
- I: ICE, infant, investigator
- J: janitor
- K: "kriminal", killer
- L: lawyer
- M: man, mech, manager, motorcycle, medical worker, military, mime, mercenary, mechanic
- N: nanotech, nerd, ninja
- O: organic tech, office worker
- P: pirate, policeman, psychic, pimp, police vehicle, prostitute, punk, program, politician
- Q: queer
- R: robot, reporter, rebel, rat, Rastafarian, root
- S: soldier, spy, salesman, sex worker, sniper, scientist, secretary, security, spam, server, samurai
- T: truck, trojan horse, terrorist, tank, technician/tech/techie
- U: unlicensed pharmaceuticals distributor
- V: virus, van, vehicle
- W: woman, worm, worker, wizard
- X: xenoform (alien)
- Y: yesman, yuppie
- Z: zoo animal
See also: Themes