If ever there was a TV show that should have an artificial intelligence-based and voice-enabled game built for it, it’s HBO’s Westworld.
Clearly, the folks at the network feel that way because today HBO launched Westworld: The Maze, an Amazon Alexa-powered choose-your-own-adventure-style experience which offers everyone from casual watchers to superfans up to two hours of storylines and narrative choices.
Featuring two of the show’s main actors–Jeffrey Wright, playing Bernard, and Angela Sarafyan, reprising her role as Clementine–The Maze is HBO’s latest foray into multimedia, or at least unusual, experiences meant to promote Westworld. Following on a simple chatbot, an AR and VR project, and a life-size replica of the show’s main town, Sweetwater, complete with actors fully in character, built for South by Southwest, the Alexa project, first conceived of in March and completed in just three months, is timed to the highly anticipated finale of season two, which airs this coming Sunday.
“We’ve been exploring the voice space in a lot of ways,” says Tanner Stransky, director of digital content at HBO. “We really wanted our first original voice experience to be a big splash.”
Those who have an Alexa-enabled device and download The Maze skill will start their adventure by saying, “Alexa, open Westworld” before venturing into the show’s world as an unnamed Westworld host–as the humanoid AIs in the show are called. They’ll be tasked with answering questions about the show, and trying to advance through three levels of increasing difficulty.
Among the storylines users will explore are an encounter with a posse of bandits riding through Sweetwater; a ravenous family of homesteaders in Python Pass; a devious barback at Las Mudas, a run-in with a Confederado in Pariah, and more. Keeping in mind tips like showing the blackjack dealer at the saloon some respect and not pestering a traveler outside The Ranch about her experience at La Cantina in Las Mudas will help users do better.
Fundamentally, explains Andrew Hunter, creative director at 360i, the advertising agency that oversaw the project’s creation in conjunction with Kilter Films, which produces the TV show, The Maze is a game. In all, it should take about 20 minutes to play, and the challenge is to make it all the way through without exhausting your Westworld knowledge. HBO has been “grooming” superfans for the last two seasons to be able to make their way deep into the experience. “Westworld is lucky enough,” Hunter says, “to have a rabid fan base that will go down rabbit holes.”
But casual fans should be able to enjoy playing too, even if their character ends up dying a few times and they have to start over.
The Maze isn’t the first Alexa game to launch this week. On Monday, U.K.-based Sensible Object started taking orders for When in Rome, the world’s first Alexa-integrated board game. And there are already a number of choose-your-own-adventure games for Alexa. But The Maze is probably the first to feature so much rich content–not to mention actual voice talent–for a show as popular and culturally relevant and of-the-moment as Westworld.
“This space is still so new and evolving,” says Stransky, “and the majority of [Alexa] skills are really in the realm of utility or information versus entertainment . . . It’s a wide-open space, and we looked at the market and what existed out there, and we saw a blank canvas. We saw it as an opportunity worthy of Westworld and HBO.”