Fifteen years after the first run of Cyberpunk 2020, Mike Pondsmith brought out Cyberpunk v.3, a new edition of the game which advanced the storyline and offered up a significantly different experience than the previous edition. Where the second edition dealt with how individual crews might assemble (and get disassembled), Cyberpunk v.3 seemed to pull its focus back on larger "altcults" (alternative cultures) and how they were trying to make a place for themselves in the world. As an experiment, it was interesting. As a commercial product, it was a dismal failure, so much so that it has basically been excised from the "official" Cyberpunk timeline. However, some elements were later reworked into Cyberpunk RED.
A Funhouse Mirror
In the first two editions of Cyberpunk, your allegiances were more or less your own. If you were a Solo working for Militech, it was because you chose to work for Militech (and possibly couldn't leave due to booby trapped cyberwear). If you were a Fixer who helped various businesses on the outskirts of the Combat Zone, it was because that was your business plan. Whatever role you chose, you and your fellow players were free to pursue your own schemes. Things changed with Cyberpunk v.3 and its focus on altcults. In one regard, it helps give players a genuine cause worth fighting for, something clear cut and unambiguous, a marked change from the murky and morally gray world of the second edition. But if the offered altcults don't necessarily grab one's attention, there's no good mechanics in place for freelancers.
There also seems to have been a narrowing of influences in the third edition. Ostensibly, the designers wanted to simplify the setting, to try and make it accessible for new players while giving veterans new directions to take their stories. Where the first two ran the gamut of classic cyberpunk media, Cyberpunk v. 3 seemed to draw from a very narrow sort of pool. There was a decidedly more anime flavor to the third edition, and some of the altcults feel very much like they were lifted from the societies depicted in Appleseed, Blue Submarine Number Six, and Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex. There were still literary references, such as the importance of accurate records for governments found in George Alec Effinger's "Budayeen" novels, but they seem overshadowed by the bigger cultural focus. The desire to simplify the setting for new players backfired.
Previously, In Night City...
Between the release of Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk v.3, R. Talsorian Games released a pair of adventure books referred to as the Firestorm arc. The events in Firestorm were meant to advance the continuity of the setting and ideally pave the way for new editions to build overarching narratives. A third Firestorm adventure book ended up mutating into the foundation for Cyberpunk v.3. What follows is a summary of events from the Firestorm arc on through the third edition.
The Fourth Corporate War started in 2022, and like any major conflict, it began with the smallest of events: an attempted takeover of a failing submarine shipping concern. When the usual dirty tricks of stock manipulation and data sabotage didn't work, the participants decided to bring up the big guns. One side hired Militech, an arms manufacturer and sometime PMC supplier. The other hired Militech's arch-rival, Arasaka. Both Militech and Arasaka had been itching to slug it out for years, and now they had a perfectly good reason to do so. When the two biggest arms manufacturers in the world decide to go in for an extended period of product testing with the added bonus destroying a hated rival, everybody gets caught in the crossfire.
Possibly the most high profile casualty of that crossfire was Rache Bartmoss, the half-dead elite Netrunner who'd been (very) slowly expiring in a hidden life support chamber somewhere in Night City. Nobody was ever sure if it was dumb luck or carefully plotted targeting that finally did him in, but the result was the same either way. A mass driver projectile from an orbital platform smashed into Bartmoss' apartment, destroying both the apartment and its occupant. But the projectile would do something far worse than kill an already dying man. It inadvertently destroyed the Net as most people understood it. Being both insanely paranoid and an asshole, Bartmoss had an ace up his cryo tank, a virtual deadman's switch which unleashed an elegantly simple computer virus called DataKrash. Rather than simply wipe information off the Net, it rearranged data files, swapping file headers, sending copies of secrets to those who were intended victims of corporate or government hostility, and creating altered versions in countless permutations. In effect, it made the truth as it appeared on the Net entirely subjective. It was the creed of the Assassins made manifest: "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted."
As a final little "fuck you" to Netrunners and organizations he considered his enemies, Bartmoss also unleashed hunter-killer AIs known as "RABIDs" (Roving Autonomous Bartmoss Interface Drones). Being AIs, they learned and modified their programming, eventually attacking and killing any Netrunner they caught up with. The Net's security force, Netwatch, was forced to pull the plug and the Net was lost, save for a few points here and there which only the suicidally brave would dare try to explore.
With the DataKrash, one would think hardcopy records would become vitally important. One would be correct. One would also be fatally underestimating the head of the Arasaka Corporation, Saburo Arasaka. He'd either correctly understood the implications of DataKrash long before anybody else and moved quickly to contain the damage to his company, or he was at least as paranoid as Rache Bartmoss. A completely standalone system called the Alpha Secure Database was built under the Arasaka Towers in Night City's Corporate Center. Every file worth preserving, every operational plan, every dirty secret Arasaka had was put into the system and fenced in with formidable physical and electronic security measures, including a small two kiloton nuclear demolition charge. Compounding the defense was an offensive strategy to ensure only Arasaka had a lock on the truth, a bioengineered virus which didn't harm living organisms, but destroyed the acid-free paper used for virtually every hard copy document, textbook and physical ledger in existence since the 1970s.
If Arasaka was feeling like they'd won, the unruly Edgerunners of Night City were ready to spoil their victory celebration. An ad hoc strike team, led by Morgan Blackhand and Johnny Silverhand, intended to capture the Alpha Secure Database or destroy it if capture was not feasible. Their small satchel charge set off the much larger nuclear demolition charge under Arasaka Towers, destroying the heart of Night City and forcing Arasaka to flee to Japan.
The Fourth Corporate War would rage on for another two years, with nuclear and kinetic weapon strikes devastating large portions of the globe, designer plagues ravaging populations and biomes, and orbital infrastructure weaponized as rebellions spread throughout the various colony platforms at the Lagrange points. It would see the megacorporations finally broken and humbled, the U.S. amputated, and the survivors using everything from genetic engineering to nanotechnology to try and make a place for themselves. The floating cities of Japan were cast adrift to form their own nation. Full body cyborgs retreated into the deserts of New Mexico, carving out a home in the Land of Enchantment. With the Net gone, small intranets known as DataPools have become the repositories of knowledge, tracked by a "veracity index" which tries to help separate the wheat from the chaff. Even the calendar seems stuck at 203X as reliable electronic timekeeping is a lost art, destroyed by the DataKrash.
Old Familiar Faces
Perhaps one of the other big problems with Cyberpunk v.3 was the fact so many of the characters from the earlier editions weren't there as an anchor. It's fine and well to pass the torch from one generation of heroes to the next, but for a setting where fifteen years more or less has passed, it's a little weird that none of the "old guard" survived. Of course, life is cheap in a Cyberpunk game, so it's somewhat understandable if they're simply "overlooked."
Kerry Eurodyne: Somewhere between the start of the Fourth Corporate War and the current uncalendared present, Kerry Eurodyne got married and had a daughter, Kelvy. Rather than following in her father's footsteps, she became a media personality. Presumably, Eurodyne is still writing music and railing at the increasingly screwed up nature of the world, though touring is not necessarily feasible.
Morgan Blackhand: The Solo indirectly responsible for setting off the "Night City Nuke" hasn't been seen in years. A few eyewitness accounts indicate Blackhand got into a one-on-one duel with his longtime nemesis, an Arasaka assassin named Adam Smasher, as the strike team was evacuating Arasaka Towers via the roof. Blackhand's body has never been found, but it seems unlikely he or Smasher survived the collapse of the building.
Alt Cunningham: Because Cunningham was as much a prisoner of Soulkiller as she was its creator, she was uniquely positioned to try and turn the tables against Arasaka, but didn't seem to be making much headway. During the raid on Arasaka Towers, she was rescued by a Netrunner named Spider Murphy, a friend of Rache Bartmoss. In the aftermath of the Fourth Corporate War, Cunningham discovered a spot where DataKrash hadn't trashed the local servers and established an enclave for the personality matrices Soulkiller ripped away, as well as anybody else who wished to leave meatspace behind for the promise of digital immortality.
Rache Bartmoss: Dead. For real, this time.
Johnny Silverhand: One of the great mysteries of the "Night City Nuke" is the whereabouts of Johnny Silverhand. To hear it from the survivors of the Arasaka Towers raid, Johnny Silverhand went out like a hero, buying his compatriots time to escape at the cost of his own life. The collapse of the Towers more or less ensured that his body would never be recovered. But for a guy who'd been flatlined more than a few times in his life, there's an aura of uncertainty, the sort of mystique that follows genuine icons like Elvis or Jim Morrison. A feeling he might have beaten the odds once more and is just laying low till the world needs him again.
For all of the mechanical and story fumbles Cyberpunk v.3 suffered from, it wasn't a complete failure. As William Gibson noted, "The street finds its own uses for things," and as we'll see in the final installment, Cyberpunk RED certain found its own uses for its immediate predecessor's discarded history.
Stay tuned for Future Imperfect: A Cyberpunk 2077 Primer, Part III on June 11th, 2020!