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The most interesting booth at the Techcrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco was the clean and corporate-looking Westworld exhibit, featuring models dressed in white who invited you to get a taste of the ultimate travel destination. It was a virtual reality demo designed to promote Westworld, a remake of the sci-fi thriller that debuts in October on HBO.
I watched the trailer on a big TV and signed up for a demo. When I returned for it, the man in white asked me if I wanted a male or female to show me the tour. A woman escorted me to a black room on the right. There, a representative had me put on the HTC Vive virtual reality headset.
I was welcomed by a model in a tight white dress to Westworld in a kind of fancy modern-day corporate travel office. She explained Westworld as a Wild West theme park. She showed me a choice of two guns, and I reached out with a single HTC Vive hand controller to grab the pistol on my left. I couldn’t pick it up, so I grabbed the gun on my right. Then I turned around, as instructed, to pick up six bullets. I did so and then a virtual world loaded. I was in front of a Wild West saloon, where the model was now dressed in cowgirl attire. She showed me how to shoot at some practice targets.
I loaded the gun, spied a bottle, and fired. The bottle shattered. I did this five more times and hit all the targets. Then a U.S. Marshal came over to talk to us about gathering a posse to go after a criminal in one of the canyons. I nodded that I would join. But then the marshal started malfunctioning. It was clear he was an android, and he started attacking my guide. He butted her head until she was dead, and I couldn’t do anything about it, as my gun was empty. Then he pointed his gun at me and fired.
At that point, I was directed to sit in a chair. But it was glitchy. I tried to locate the right spot for the chair, but it kept flashing in and out of various positions. My real-life guide then grabbed my hand and pulled me into a physical chair. Then I watched as I was transported to a 360-degree environment that showed a scene that was behind the curtains at Delos Entertainment, the fictional company that created Westworld.
There were a bunch of people in lab coats, some talking to me as if I were just a mechanical possession, an android. I was put in a chair and wheeled around the lab, which had a bunch of glass doors. I could look in any direction to see what was going on. There were naked androids walking around (yes, full frontal nudity), with lab technicians checking them over. In one room, someone was hosing down a bunch of android bodies with water, evidently washing blood off them. The lights were glitchy, as power was browning out.
Then I heard some people talking behind me while I was watching a particular lab room. A naked android male rose up and started attacking a lab technician. Then all chaos broke loose, and the demo ended.
The original Westworld came out as a sci-fi movie in 1973, and its director and writer was Michael Crichton. It featured actor Yul Brenner as an android in a Western-themed adventure world where people pay to live out their fantasies. Brenner and the other amusement park robots malfunction and begin killing visitors.
HBO has been working on the new show since 2013, and it announced in 2014 that the series would premiere in 2015. A year ago, it said the show would start in 2016, and it is now slated for its debut on October 2. Stars include Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford, the brilliant creative director of Westworld. Ed Harris plays the Gunslinger, which I would wager is the Yul Brenner character.
I received an access number in binary code to access the Discover Westworld website. If you visit it, you can watch the trailer for what appears to be a travel site. A model dressed in white invites you to Westworld, where you can discover your true calling and live without limits. It is a world of adventure, danger, and fantasy. Without consequences or judgments.
If you click on the site, you can try to book a stay. But if you click on the Westworld logo, you’ll see a bunch of glitches, including a draft of the web site with someone’s scrawl on it criticizing the site’s layout. Clearly, they’ve got some kind of alternative reality game going here.
I’m in. Or rather, I will be if they accept me.
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