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Have you started watching Westworld yet? No, then what are you doing? The show’s amazing!
Maybe you haven’t heard of it. Westworld is based on a film by Michael Crichton, the Jurassic Park guy, and follows the events in the titular Westworld, a game set in the American west. People buy tickets to visit the place and they are given carte blanche to act out their western fantasy. It’s heavy sci-fi show with a kindly “spare no expense” founder played by Anthony Hopkins, so things inevitably go wrong.
With the show taking place largely in a video game you would think that the creators would have played one or two before starting the script, and you’d be right.
Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy sat down with Vice for an interview. In the interview, Nolan was asked if video games had any influence over the script0. Here is what he said.
Yeah, very much—I used to play video games before we had a three-year-old.
He went on to say that he drew inspiration from RPGs Like Irrational’s Bioshock, Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls:Skyrim, Bioware’s sandbox games, and, of course, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption. Specifically, Nolan likes the way their worlds works. The way you walk into a village, tavern and the like and you’re not always the most important person there.
A lot of interesting storytelling that’s happening right now is in video games—which literally didn’t exist when Michael Crichton was writing the original film. Now, video games are a bigger industry than film or TV. I’ve never worked in that industry, but we have friends who have, and I was fascinated by the concept of writing a story in which the protagonists’ actions aren’t part of the story. In games like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption, or the sandbox games that Bioware make, morality is a variable. How do you write a story in which the hero’s moral component exists on a spectrum? That’s a fascinating challenge. I’m also fascinated by how non-player-characters in video games have their own lives. In Skyrim, when you walk into a village, you aren’t necessarily the most important person there. The NPCs have lives that happen whether you’re there or not.
Nolan called out Ken Levine and his team saying that the care and dedication they have for their characters is different than the relationship between a screenwriter and their characters, mostly because in video games their characters do things.
I was listening to directors’ commentary from Ken Levine about building Bioshock Infinite and the affection that game developers and designers develop for their characters. It’s a qualitatively different relationship than the one screenwriters have with their characters because video game characters don’t just recite dialogue—they do shit, and the players interact with them.
Westworld premiered last Sunday to great reviews. Currently, you can check out the first episode for free over on HBO.