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March 10, 2018

Surviving Westworld at SXSW

by John_A

HBO is making the dreams of Westworld fans come true at SXSW 2018. The company built a replica of the show’s Sweetwater town in an undisclosed location in Austin, Texas, and we were there to experience it firsthand. Before I tell you how it went, though, it’s worth noting that this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill installation. HBO says production for the project started in November of last year, and it took a 40-person crew five weeks to build the sci-fi park. In addition to that, the cast playing Westworld robotic Hosts, had a script that came in at 444 pages.

This is important because when you’re there it actually feels like you’re part of the show, which isn’t something my colleague Jessica Conditt and I expected before we arrived at the park. The more time you spend in there, the more that characters interact with you, the more the story unfolds. At one point, for example, shots were fired and a character named Jack was murdered. As it happens on the series when things get out of control, a programmed Host called for evacuation of the park and all of the other Hosts started to walk around like zombies saying “Thank you for coming to Westworld” repeatedly.

The experience was also enhanced by the fact that, upon our arrival, we were welcomed by a Host wearing an all-white dress — like you’d see welcoming guests to the park on the show. She was standing behind a shelf full of western-style guns and knives, though we weren’t actually able to choose a weapon of our choice. They did have cowboy hats for the visitors, though, so that gave it a more realistic feel. Then, after you go to through the train that takes you to Westworld (this one was just a prop, as we actually got there in themed shuttle bus), our first stop was the Sweetwater post office. Weirdly enough, both Jessica and I had letters waiting for us.

Mine was from someone I didn’t know, who warned me that the people in the town were acting strange and I needed to be on the lookout. Hers was about women suffrage and said that the revolution was imminent. Thankfully, we both managed to make it out alive after two hours. Is it wrong that we both wish we could go back?

Catch up on the latest news from SXSW 2018 right here.

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