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Here’s What Real Life Game Designers Think About HBO’s Westworld

If you’re all caught-up on Westworld, you know it’s a complicated show and it has a lot going on. It’s interesting to look at it from almost any viewpoint–politically, psychologically, aesthetically, there are fascinating tidbits pretty much anywhere you look. Is it a dystopian warning about the future, or just the fun new thing for us to snack in front of until Game of Thrones returns? Depends who you ask.

Turns out, game designers have a lot to say on the subject. When it comes right down to it, Westworld is a show about gaming. Sure, it’s using gaming as a futuristic lens to peer back into the soul of humanity and find all the weirdest bits. But isn’t that kind of what a really good video game does?

According to this recent Gizmodo article, Sean Vanaman (co-founder of Campo Santo design studio and lead writer on season one of Telltale’s The Walking Dead) is a big fan. “I would say it gets right all the details—how Anthony Hopkins’ character makes a distinct point of the tiny discoverables within a game experience. I love that so much. It’s not about the big boss fight, it’s about the small stuff you didn’t notice at first. That’s where the magic is.”

One of the best things about Westworld is how many delicious little questions pop up in every episode—we still don’t have a clear idea at all of what’s going on, and that’s part of what makes the story so intriguing. What’s Eric Holmes’ (writer/designer on Batman: Arkham Origins, Gears of War 3, and Battlefield 1) biggest game design question about the park? “My biggest unanswered question is how they can modulate violence between guests. So far, that seems like a very difficult thing to do when knives have to be able to cut and people can get liquored up; the question hangs in the air. As a designer, I love to explore user edge cases and figure out what appear to be rules.”

But as great as Westworld is, even from the point of view of the experts, nothing is ever perfect. Walt Williams (writer on Spec Ops: The Line, The Darkness II) would switch it up a little. “I think the real characters are the hosts. I think the humans are the ones who are not really changing. The hosts are the people who are the audience’s entry into the story. They’re the ones who are going to have the journey in this story. And I would have maybe focused on that.”

It’s always great to hear the real experts peel back the layers on stories as complicated and enigmatic as Westworld. Here’s hoping our real-life game designers are a little less… morally conflicted than the fictional ones (we’re keeping an eye on you, guys).

Watch new episodes of Westworld Sundays at 9e 6p on HBO Canada.

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