New York Comic-Con 2016: Westworld Experience
"Westworld" is a new science fiction series based on the 1973 film starring Yul Brynner. This show has received a lot of hype so it was no surprise that HBO was on hand at New York Comic-Con to promote it.
Registering for Westworld
My Westworld experience began in the Javitz Center where most of New York Comic-Con 2016 took place. There, HBO had set up a registration desk in the style of the television show. There was a clear desk with minimal items on it. On a black wall was a television playing an advertisement for "Westworld" as if it were a real life destination (primarily using footage from the show). This looked great, but the real finishing touch were the actors they hired to register everyone. The actors were clearly asked to portray androids from the show, so they spoke in a calm, almost unnerving voice. They also moved very deliberately and slowly. I have to give these actors a lot of credit. They never broke character and it enhanced the fantasy of being a "client" of Westworld right off the bat.
Once your registration was complete, you were given a metal card with the corporate logo for Westworld, an address and a time to show up. If you did not secure a time but instead were put on a waiting list, your card was cardboard. I was lucky enough to get a metal card for later that day.
The space HBO rented out for "Westworld" was located a couple blocks away from the convention center. Outside was a huge "W" corporate logo for Westworld. When you entered there was a long, sterile hallway you walked down to sign in. The only clue you were not in the "real" Westworld was the building security guard off to the side and an HBO poster hanging on the wall. The registration desk was similar to the one at the convention center. There was a clear desk, minimal equipment and actors who were "in character" as androids. After a short wait, I was escorted into Westworld.
Going to Westworld
When the "android" host opened the door to a room, a "technician" was standing inside in a black suit. It was clear he was standing in place waiting for me to come in. There was an extreme formality about it that worked brilliantly to put you into the right mindset. The room was roughly ten by ten feet and the walls and floor were black. In the corner was a chair, a VR headset and headphones. The technician helped set me up, explaining that if any aspect of the experience disturbed me to much I should raise my hand to stop it. We had been warned earlier that there would be blood and violence. Having played many video games that involved both in the past I assured them I would be fine.
Once the headset and headphones were on, I was handed a hand device that was basically a gun without a barrel. There was a handle and trigger and this would be the primary way you interacted with the simulation. Finally I was told I could walk around the room to interact with the simulation. If I saw blue lines I needed to stop as that was where the actual walls of the room were (and yes, some people had walked into them). Then the experience began.
You begin the experience by meeting with a hostess (you choose male or female) and they help you get equipped in a showroom. First you choose a gun, then a cowboy hat. I made sure to look up, down and all around (even behind and down) to see how immersive the experience was and it was very impressive. The host android actually walks around a part of the room while talking, forcing you to soak it all in. Once you have your gear, the world around you transforms into a Wild West landscape.
Much like the setting of the show there are rocky vistas, a beautiful blue sky overhead and a carriage and table nearby. Your host android is also dressed as a cowboy and she introduces you to shooting with your hand held device. You use it to load the weapon by interacting with "bullets" on a table, then you shoot a bunch of bottles to practice with your gun. When you are introduced to the town Sheriff, things take a horrific turn. Soon you are sitting in a chair (a host stays in the room to move the chair just at the right moment) and you are being moved in the chair around the laboratory where the androids are created. The whole experience then comes to a very violent end!
Back to Reality
As you left there were mini-posters for Westworld (I didn't take one) and you were sent on your way.
As marketing experiences go, this was absolutely perfect. The live action experience with the registration and the actors was elevated by the brilliant concept and the actors themselves. I also loved the look of the space they rented and even the costuming was on point. The actual VR experience was amazing and the storyline flowed perfectly with the mood of the show. I was very impressed and consider this one of the highlights of my New York Comic-Con 2016 experience!