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HBO's Westworld captures the highs, lows, and possible future of game dev

As the show continues into the second half of its first season, Westworld continues to mirror some of the personalities and situations game developers may have experienced first hand.

“During [the] pilot episode, I was torn between just loving the stories happening on screen and just being infuriated by all of the PTSD of development that was just flashing through my mind.”

- Spec Ops: The Line and The Darkness II writer Walt Williams on how he related to Westworld’s take on the game design process.

Comparisons between video game development and HBO’s sci-fi western Westworld have been drawn since the pilot episode aired last month. In the show, guests visit a Wild West-themed park, filled with lifelike robot NPC’s and branching questlines to explore. The show also takes a look behind the scenes of the themepark by following characters like writers and designers through the park creation process.

For game developers, many of situations and personalities explored in the show are similar to things they’ve experienced first hand. Recently, io9 spoke to developers and writers from games like Spec Ops: The Line, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, and Telltale’s The Walking Dead to find out what they thought of the video game-esque world in the show.

“I would say [Westworld] gets right all the details—how Anthony Hopkins’s character makes a distinct point of the tiny discoverables within a game experience,” said Firewatch writer Sean Vanaman. “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.” 

Despite the similarities, the park in Westworld is able to create adaptive narratives that modern video games aren’t able to even come close to replicating quite yet.

“The NPCs in Westworld have these real emotional stakes that are happening for them, and when certain things change in their storyline, the tumblers that have been built into them begin to fall into place and move into different AI paths. And we don’t have that yet,” said Williams.

“At the end of the day, we try to make games that embrace the player. We believe that the player is the ultimate power and guiding force in these worlds. Which is interesting, because no other art does that.”

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