Having those little pieces, those little appetizers, as we did once upon a time, that was really interesting. They sell the idea. They sell the concept. They sell the what-ifs of it. But really, as we’re becoming more mature storytellers and we’re telling more mature stories–we have three generations of people who are used to interactive. Maybe not VR necessarily. But there’s the promise of VR and then what we can actually deliver. I think people are hungry for interesting experience. They’re hungry for stories. It seems a no-brainer to say that we’re going to double down on story and character, and then put it into a very approachable method of telling that story. That’s the road we’re headed down.

Westworld Awaken

Above: Westworld Awakening

Image Credit: HBO

GamesBeat: Is some of the experience a bit like Alien: Isolation? Where you’re constantly hiding from something.

Clark: We don’t fit cleanly into any one particular sort of game, but Isolation is definitely–there’s that same sense of fear and hiding and evasion, as opposed to a stealth game like Metal Gear Solid or whatever. That’s what our evasion gameplay plays into. Definitely the notion of being pursued by a stalker that you cannot meaningfully stop — you need flight rather than fight instincts. That’s definitely a good genre touchpoint.

GamesBeat: Why do you think that works well here instead of the opposite, something more like a shooter?

Clark: Having a gun — it’s an incredibly powerful weapon. It’s incredibly empowering. We wanted to tell a story of agency lost and agency regained, power regained. To give you a gun creates a tremendous ludonarrative dissonance. Why do I feel fear when I’m packing heat? Instead, by forcing you to have to survive without that firepower agency, we can tell that story of how you regain power without direct violence, without these sorts of traditional gaming conceits. We wanted to make something that wasn’t just a shooter.

Foshko: There are other characters in this universe who have guns, and they don’t all do well. There are other things coming into play.

GamesBeat: I think we’re getting to why this is a story better told in VR than a regular video game, a 50-level PlayStation 4 game.

Foshko: It’s not a shoot-’em-up. We’re telling a story that — we’ve played this thing a bunch of different times and I still get surprised. We had a writers’ room. We played it often. The tight loops that we had between the writers and the different departments, that was extremely important. We didn’t just hire a writer and hope for the best, as sometimes happens, and then engineers deal with it or they don’t. This was a highly collaborative process. Kilter Films was involved. We had a writer from Kilter. We were involved. We would work very closely with the departments.

With all the playing and all the trying to tune things to where the actual scenes and moments would play out, I can put it on and walk in and still get surprised by certain things. It’s really effective, because I look behind me. I can look above me. You can do all these things. You’re literally enveloped in it, as opposed to–I’ve played a bunch of games, and I’m always looking at two-dimensional panel in front of me. There’s always that separation. There’s so little of that here.

You do forget, after a while–yes, you’re doing this, but it fades away. You really aren’t thinking about it. The more you engage with things–Kate is relying on her newly-established wits. We’re doing the same thing in this environment. It’s a very synonymous sort of journey. But quickly that fades away and you’re focused on the sense of where you are. You’re in these moments. I’ve never experienced that fully. I always felt like I would see myself playing the shoot-’em-up du jour.

This is something where you’re thinking. You’re not just relying on targeting or running and gunning with a weapon. You’re literally thinking, where am I? What am I doing? You need to rely on your wits and the things in front of you. That makes me super open to the environment. It causes me to think. It engages me in a way which is very unusual. This is a very interesting and unique situation, one that had to be done in VR. It’s a very intimate and personal story, told in a very intimate and personal way.

GamesBeat: I don’t know if this is a parallel, or if it’s just apocryphal, but I heard this story that Lionsgate has never done a Hunger Games video game because the author felt like it was a commentary on violence in society.

Foshko: Yeah, it would celebrate it in some ways. I have heard this.

GamesBeat: She didn’t just want to turn it over to game makers, traditional video game makers. I wonder if there’s an ethic here as well, in a sense that–in normal video games, you just create characters are objects, that can or can’t be killed, maybe. The show is one of these that steps back and analyzes whether you should do this or not, treat these things as things or treat them as humans. It seems like there’s an ethic here, that you want people to think about this.

Above: Might be a good time to get out of Westowold

Image Credit: HBO

Clark: Absolutely. The hosts in the Westworld mythos are video game NPCs. A lot of the attraction and the horror of these situations is, what if all those video game NPCs that you were mindlessly mowing down–what if they were people with hopes and dreams and desires and lives? Yes, that’s definitely the ethos. We didn’t want to reduce this to a more basic sort of video game thing. We wanted to build a relationship with these characters.

Being in a world, contextually, where you’re never broken out by the necessities of a video game–if you’re solving a puzzle while you’re being stalked by Hank and you’re trying to bypass a door in the shadows of the lab and get to safety, you’re not doing that by disconnecting from the world and diving into the puzzle interface, changing your sense of how you manipulate things. You’re doing this with your physical hands. You’re touching things, pulling levers, wiring things. You do that intuitively. You do that while you can look over your shoulder and think, “Oh, no” when you hear footsteps behind you.

Foshko: It’s very far away from regular video gaming. Also, there are other dangers. We talk about Hank, but there’s a lot more in Westworld that’s much more of a problem. There are other dangers, other stuff as well. You constantly have to be concerned. Nobody wants a host that’s a sentient being. There’s a lot of motivation. It seemed like these were the right things to bring together to make this kind of story for this kind of product.

GamesBeat: VR controls maybe still haven’t gotten to a point where they’re super precise, the way you might like them to be, like with a traditional game controller. Did that cause you to design this in a different way as well? I can’t imagine that you can do some things really rapid-fire in this environment.

Clark: There are times where you’re moving through the environment, avoiding people, and you need to either move stealthily or quickly as you’re crossing an open area or whatever. We’re not overtaxing the player. The goal here is not to make this be an experience that requires tremendous feats of agility. The goal is to have a continual tension, a continual risk, and a challenge in front of the player, but not one that’s requesting Street Fighter-style pattern recognition and reflexes or whatever.

It’s not so much the technology so much as it’s the ethos of the game. It’s not one that’s going to require immediate, perfect execution on the player’s technical level. I feel like that would introduce a barrier between the emotional connection to what’s going on and what the player’s doing, if you suddenly have to perform extremely precise movements or inputs to solve something.

Foshko: Also, as we were saying earlier, multiple generations are familiar with interactive, but–this should be fun and challenging for people who play games with some regularity, but the people who like Westworld, who aren’t the most precise people in the world, who aren’t perfectly comfortable with shooter action, they should be able to pick this up, put it on, and engage with the story and characters in a way that’s like their own lives. You still have to coordinate and do different things, but in a way that’s very natural and organic. They should be able to take to it, as Michael said, while keeping that tension, which I think it does provide. But not having to feel like they’ve had to train for a long time to be good at something and compete with a system that, like with most games, is always against you.

Delos is against you. Westworld is against you, because of who your character is and who you are. That’s enough of a challenge. You really are engaging with it in a very organic way. But we want the majority of people to be able to play this.