The INSIDER Summary:
• “Westworld” partially takes place in an interactive theme park.
• Co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy played videos games as research.
• Their faves? “Red Dead Redemption,” “Grand Theft Auto,” and “BioShock.”
If you’re a fan of both video games and HBO’s new series “Westworld,” odds are you’ve already noticed the similarity in point-of-view style the showrunners use during action scenes. Since a chunk of the storyline takes place inside the fictional theme park of Westworld — where a lot of gun slinging is encouraged — we often get to see showdowns between the robot characters and the “players”/guests.
Co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy (who also happen to be husband and wife) were on hand during the “Westworld” panel at New York Comic Con where they explained more about the video game inspirations for the show.
“Yeah I used to play video games and now we have children, so… ” Nolan joked. “No more video games for me. But we played some as research before making the show, because when [Michael] Crichton first wrote his film video games literally did not exist, and now of course it’s in many ways a bigger industry than film or TV.”
Nolan is referring to the original 1973 movie, which was written and directed by Michael Crichton. The HBO show is based on that work.
“So we did a little research, we played some games beforehand — ” Nolan continued before Joy cut in.
“By the way, how happy was my husband to be like ‘Honey, it’s research, you have to play ‘Red Dead Redemption’ with me,'” she said as the crowd laughed.
Aside from “Red Dead Redemption,” the co-creators also played another well known open-world game: “Grand Theft Auto.”
“I have to report that my wife is the world’s most boring ‘Grand Theft Auto’ player,” Nolan said. “I’ve never seen anyone who will actually obey the traffic signals.”
Joy defended herself, referencing the well-designed graphics involved. “The city looks beautiful if you just slow down and take the time,” she said. “There was a lot of work that went into it! It’s gorgeous.”
We see the influence in these games the most whenever guests of the park are rolling through town, shooting at the hosts or exploring different narratives.
Another way in which “Westworld” derives from video games is the concept of non-player characters (or NPCs, as video gamers know).
The hosts in Westworld speak with each other, working off narrative scripts or minor improvisations, even when guests are not around. Just like NPCs in some video game universes.
“I was a big fan of the ‘BioShock’ video games, which I thought were amongst the most literate and thoughtful pieces of entertainment that I’ve seen in the last ten years,” Nolan said. “Just brilliant.”
“I listened to the commentary with Ken Lavine, who was the designer of those games, talking about the non-player characters,'” Nolan continued. “And in a scene that I just ran through and shot everyone and kept going, he was talking about how much craft had gone into all the conversations the NPCs have. All their dreams and aspirations, and I just thought ‘Oh isn’t that tragic. That’s sad.’ The player just ignores them all, you bastards.”
Nolan has instead opted to make the hosts/NPCs of Westworld the main protagonists of the show, so that each viewer at home has to pay close attention to their narrative. There was also a rather meta line of dialogue about this concept included in the second episode, “Chestnut.”
Quality Assurance director Theresa Cullen talks to the Head of Programming, Bernard Lowe, about the hosts. “Your creations never shut up — they’re always talking to each other,” she said. “Even when there are no guests around.”
Bernard’s explanation strays away from video games and into the realm of artificial intelligence design, but Cullen’s commentary sticks as a nod to NPCs.
“They’re always trying to error correct, make themselves more human,” Bernard replied. “When they talk to each other it’s their way of practicing.”
So next time you’re careening around the “Grand Theft Auto” or “BioShock” universes, maybe take a page from Joy’s book and stop to enjoy the scenery and dialogue a little bit more.
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