Much like the television show that it is based on, Westworld: Live Without Limits built an experience to fully immerse attendees into a new world. This Comic Con pop-up was a special treat for fans of the show and nothing like anything we’d experienced to date.
Dating back to the program’s inception, HBO has strived towards creating unforgettable Comic Con experiences. In 2016, the company installed a booth in E-Hall with representatives from the Delos Corporation who would register guests for appointments at an off-site location. The experience consisted of a virtual reality trip to Westworld. Although brief, this 10-15 minute VR experience showed what it was like to get acclimated to this dystopian escape. The experience left me with a real sense of exploration and immersion into one of my favorite up and coming television shows. Little did I know, that feeling would be nothing compared to what was in store the following year.
Given the spike in popularity the show had experienced over the previous twelve months, our group knew that this would be the hottest pop-up to take place over the course of the weekend. Each morning at 7 AM, the Westworld Twitter account would release an animated map of the area surrounding the Javits Center hinting as to where to line-up to gain access to the experience. At 6:45 AM on that Friday morning, our group turned Twitter notifications on and anxiously awaited the clue release. As soon as our phones rang, sheer panic set in as we attempted to determine which street corner to sprint to. We had a little help from Reddit threads and were given a good indication that we were headed in the correct direction based on a group of badgeholders briskly making their way north on 11th Avenue. We eventually found our way to the correct location at the corner of 42nd St and 11th Ave.
Thinking we had beat the rush of attendees, our hearts sank when we saw the droves of fans already waiting on line at 7:15 AM. Our group nervously got on line and began the long wait. As 9 AM approached, the HBO staff began to survey the line, which at that point, had wrapped around the block. Eventually they handed out placemarkers which read “Last Spot for Guaranteed Entry” & “Last Stand-by.” Even with our early arrival, we ended up about 15 spots shy of the “Last Stand-by” marker.
As the Delos Corporation “hosts” began to check people in, we slowly crept closer to the elusive white tent. The clock struck 10 AM and we had finally made our way to the front of the line. Luckily we were able to still make stand-by appointments for later that afternoon and were handed reminder cards with the time and address.
After a video briefing us on what was to come, each guest was individually called into the back by a “host.” Once seated, I was interviewed by a woman dressed in all black. Questions ranged from the obvious to the bizarre.
“Do you consider yourself to be a good person?”
“If there was a button you could press that would end world suffering but it would eliminate half the population, would you press it?”
From there, each guest of Westworld was fitted for their hat. This wasn’t any ordinary cowboy hat, but rather it was a symbol of character within the world we were just about to experience.
At that point, we were regrouped and brought to an elevator. Stepping off of the elevator, we found ourselves in the Westworld saloon. Dimly lit, we were greeted by several barkeeps & ladies of the establishment. They provided us with several cocktails as we were each asked about what we wanted out of Westworld. Guests’ hat color influenced the way in which they were treated which leaned into the immersion of the whole experience. Wearing a white hat myself, each “host” approached me in a compassionate & friendly manner, compared to the man next to me in the black hat who the same hosts were cold and distant to.
After several questions & several drinks, one of the female hosts led us to the self-playing piano. Our eyes were all drawn to the music sheet feeding into the piano when suddenly, blood began to smear across them. As soon as we were able to register what was happening, sirens began to engulf the saloon. What was a once a candle lit bar, was pierced with flashing red lights. Disoriented and confused, we quickly turned around to find the “hosts” frozen in their tracks. Panic set in when a different elevator than the one we had used opened across the room. At this point, a two man team of Delos security guards rushed into the room, grabbed us, and pulled us into the second elevator. These men assured us that the threat to our lives had been avoided and we were free to leave.
Looking back on my short trip to Westworld, I’m still astonished at what HBO was able to create. While gaining access to this experience was one of the most agonizing mornings I’ve had – the long wait times, early wake-ups, and anticipation as to whether or not we’d gain entry – they were absolutely worth the ordeal. The level of immersion from the moment you get to interact with the appointment hosts all the way through to the grand finale was second to none. Fans will love the process in which you are classified as a white or a black hat, just like in the show. Even if you are unfamiliar with the show’s premise, getting thrown into an android saloon that goes haywire is an experience one will likely never forget.
Promotional immersive experiences can be hit or miss. If done correctly, they can convert new fans and turn existing fans into die-hards. This Westworld experience was the talk of the convention and those lucky enough to get in received an experience they’ll revere until the next Westworld New York Comic Con showing.