Well, I’d originally planned to make a “reading list” of books, comics, films, games etc.. in the cyberpunk genre for people who want inspiration for making stuff in this amazing genre, but who don’t know much about it.
But, since many of the things I could think of were commercial products (eg: games like the original “Deus Ex” and films like “Blade Runner”), I was worried that this article would sound like a giant advert. Likewise, not everyone has a large enough budget to instantly buy lots of films, games etc.. just because they saw them on an online list.
So, instead, I thought that I’d challenge myself to create a list of inspirational cyberpunk things that can be legally viewed for free, legally read for free and/or have been released as freeware by their developers. Although all of the things on this list are still copyrighted (the genre isn’t nearly old enough to have any public domain works), their creators have made them freely available to anyone who wants to look.
Before I go any further, if you’re not sure what the difference between taking inspiration from something and copying something is, then check out this article which might enlighten you, and help you to avoid plagiarism.
Oh, and one more thing – I originally wrote this article a couple of weeks before I discovered an amazing free cyberpunk flash game called “The Last Night” [Note: The page will start playing music as soon as it loads]. It’s a really short, but astonishingly atmospheric, “Blade Runner”-style game and it’s well worth playing if you like the cyberpunk genre. But, I found it too late to “officially” add it to the list in this article.
Likewise, I also forgot to mention a freeware cyberpunk first-person shooter game called “Hacx: Twitch ‘N Kill” despite writing a review of it last year (you’ll also need a free Doom engine source port – like “ZDoom” – to play this game).
Anyway, here’s the list……
1) “Cyberpunk” By Bruce Bethke: This is the short story that started it all and it can be read for free on the author’s site. Yes, although the genre was only really popularised and defined by films like “Blade Runner” and novels like William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” in the early-mid 1980s, it technically began with this short story that was written in 1980.
The story itself doesn’t contain all of the features that would later come to characterise the genre, but it provides a slightly more comprehensible example of the cyberpunk narrative style/ visual style (which usually includes a lot of information overload and/or sensory overload ) and an early example of the futuristic computer hacker protagonists of cyberpunk fiction.
2) Valenburg’s Art Gallery: All of the awesome cyberpunk art and animations in this amazing online gallery can legally be viewed for free. And, if you’re an artist, then this gallery is well worth checking out if you want to learn some general things about how to make cyberpunk art.
For example, pay close attention to the artist’s use of colours in many of the pictures. There are many possible cyberpunk colour schemes (in fact, any complimentary colour scheme, or combination of complimentary colour schemes, will work), but the blue/purple/pink/black one here gives the art in Valenburg’s gallery a very “modern” look.
Likewise, his artwork also contains many great examples of how lighting should be handled in the cyberpunk genre – namely that it should come from things like computer screens, neon signs, windows etc… and that the lighting should be emphasised by setting cyberpunk art and comics at night.
3) Dreamweb: “Dreamweb” is an old cyberpunk computer game from 1994 that was later released as freeware by it’s developers. In order to get it running, you’ll probably have to use another free program called “DOSBox“, which emulates an old MS DOS computer.
It’s been a long time since I’ve played any of this game but, although the game uses a fairly minimalist top-down perspective, it isn’t short on atmosphere. If you want to see an example of a grimy, gritty, dystopian cyberpunk story then this game might be a good place to start.
This game might also give you some inspiration for creating cyberpunk characters, as well as giving you an interactive example of the well-used “high tech low lives” quote that is used to define the cyberpunk genre.
4) “Vurt” Partial Comic Adaptation by Leo Connor: This intense, nightmarish cyberpunk comic by Leo Connor [NSFW] is an adaptation of the early chapters of an old cyberpunk novel called “Vurt” by Jeff Noon, and it can be viewed for free.
Although it is quite far from some of the traditions of the cyberpunk genre, it provides a great example of how the cyberpunk attitude, narrative style and atmosphere can be applied to stories that don’t actually involve computer hacking or high technology. It also provides a good example of how to incorporate elements from the horror genre into the cyberpunk genre too.
The story focuses on a group of stoners who access an alternate dimension, similar to cyberspace, through the use of hallucinogenic feathers. It’s strange, it’s bizarre, it’s disturbing, but it’s still cyberpunk. Somehow.
5) Beneath A Steel Sky: “Beneath A Steel Sky” is another freeware game from the 1990s that you’ll probably have to use DOSBox to run. If you can’t be bothered with setting up DOSBox, then it is also available for free (with a pre-made DOSBox launcher) from an online game shop called GoG, although you’ll have to create an account there in order to download this version.
Although I go into more detail about the game in my review of it, it’s a slightly unusual example of a cyberpunk game. Although it still contains all of the classic features of 1990s cyberpunk (eg: cyberspace, mega-cities etc..) a lot of the artwork in the game is significantly brighter than most things in the cyberpunk genre. Likewise, the tone of the game is slightly more comedic than you might expect from the cyberpunk genre, even if the humour can be slightly dark.
Still, as an example of something that is both within and outside of the traditions of the cyberpunk genre, it’s well worth playing. Although you might need to find an online guide for some of the puzzles though!
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂