You may never come back from this virtual ride.
Virtual reality was the first thing that came to mind after seeing the mysterious trailer for HBO’s Westworld back in June. Whether or not the sci-fi series produced by J.J. Abrams and written by Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight, Person of Interest) and Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies) will actually put VR front and center during the show, one thing’s for sure, HBO isn’t being shy about using the immersive technology to promote their ten-episode season premiering next month.
Passing by this discreetly placed booth at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, you’d have no idea this was home to HBO’s first internally built experience in VR. The installation lacked all HBO branding, instead greeting you with a “Westworld: A Delos Destination” sign flanked by staff dressed head to toe in white. Minimal and clean — the reception desk and pursuing waiting room felt more like entering a high-priced Beverly Hills plastic surgeon’s office rather than any sort of tech demo.
When it’s finally your turn, an escort ushers you into a room with more staff, having you don a HTC Vive and asking if you prefer a female or male host for your trip — they are insistent you make a choice.
That’s when the VR experience begins — finding yourself standing in a gun room, resembling a high-end jewelry shop. A virtual host explains there are “no rules” in Westworld and proceeds to hand you a gun.
It’s at this point when you are again teleported, but this time into the old west-themed virtual environment of Westworld — and it only gets weirder from here.
We won’t spoil much of what happens next, but just like the host said, there are no rules in this world. You can use your gun like an upstanding citizen and target practice shooting glass bottles. Or you can be the terrible person you are and turn it on an innocent crowd gathered outside a saloon.
Whatever your choice, Westworld wants you to “live without limits.”
There was even one point during the VR demo when you take a seat on a virtual chair and at the same time, a physical chair is also moved into its place. They’re playing tricks on me!
The whole experience is one big trip and at points, quite a disturbing ride, mirroring what we can probably expect from the dark odyssey we’ll be taken on when the Westworld series finally kicks off.
The experience blends traditional CG content, 360 live action video, and real world object interaction into a pretty ambitious piece. It leverages Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 and is built to run natively on HTC’s Vive headset system. The live-action 360 video portion was shot on the Westworld set using a custom 360 camera rig and gyro stabilization system made by Spherica and was directed by Michelle MacLaren.
Westworld is based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 film of the same name, taking place in a semi-apocalyptic future where you can visit a vice-laden old west-themed virtual theme park, exploring a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged. The one-hour drama series kicks off its ten-episode season SUNDAY, OCT. 2 at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
Additional reporting by Stephen Ip / Image Credit HBO