Viewers of the final episode of HBO's Westworld received a shock that was mind-bending even for a series that makes a habit of bending minds. The show is set in and around a futuristic Wild West theme park, and even when we've been allowed behind the scenes, we've only ever witnessed the park designers building stuff in keeping with that theme: robot cowboys, robot horses, robot farmer's daughters, and robot hookers with hearts o' gold. But in the season finale, a few characters stumble upon robots that are dressed in Edo-period armor and brandishing katanas. We see a logo with the letters "SW" on it. This may well be our first glimpse of an entirely different part of the Westworld universe: Samurai World.
Fans have been buzzing about the possibilities. Michael Crichton's mediocre 1973 film Westworld, which the series is based on, also had a Roman World and a Medieval World. A few samurai robots appear briefly in Futureworld, the 1976 sequel. Others point to an obscure 1996 first-person shooter called Westworld 2000. The game, which was also based on the Crichton film, features a Westworld area, a sci-fi area called Orbitworld, and... a Samurai World.
It might also be one of the worst games ever made.
Westworld 2000 is a Doom-style shooter interspersed with FMV cutscenes that feature "Tanya, your personal hostess" who pops in occasionally to welcome you to the park, extol its many virtues, and inform you that the robots have begun to malfunction and kill people. The game's box art features a robot samurai, a robot cowboy, and a futuristic cyberbot. There's also a quote from PC Gamer magazine: "A shooter that picks up where the movie left off." (Pro tip: never play a game or watch a film that uses a flat factual description of their product as a cover blurb.)
Reviewers were not kind. Computer Games Magazine said the the original movie was lousy, but Westworld 2000 was far worse. "Bad films and bad computer games are two completely different animals," they wrote. "The former chug along automatically, leading viewers smoothly from one gaffe to the next. The latter require gamers to actually interact with a flawed game world, and that leads to frustration. That's why, despite more than a passing resemblance to Ed Wood's cinematic masterpieces, there won't be a cult following for Westworld 2000."
We owe the game’s existence to Byron Preiss, a prolific book publisher who branched out into CD ROMs, eBooks and games. "It started as a licensing company, because that was Byron’s expertise," says Jeremy Ross, who was vice president of Byron Preiss Multimedia. "He had great contacts in the comics and sci-fi world, so he knew he could round up appealing licenses. Spider-Man, Bradbury, Asimov, Westworld." (The company also created a bizarre shooter based on a business magazine: Forbes Corporate Warrior – a game whose design document is a Venn diagram of Quake, the Trump Tower bathrooms and leftover sets from The Mummy.)
"The games... weren't very good," Ross concedes. "There was more of a marketing focus than a level of resources applied to development. Westworld 2000 was also our first attempt to develop in-house. It was an inexperienced team, and there was a learning curve just getting Renderware to work and getting the game to function."
Even if the game has justifiably faded into obscurity, we desperately wanted to believe that it served as an inspiration for the surprise reveal in the final episode of HBO's Westworld. We reached out to the show, and asked if they'd received inspiration from the Samurai World in the game, or from the brief appearance of samurai bots in the movie Futureworld. A representative of the showrunners got back to us: "We can tell you that they've never watched Futureworld or played the game, so it's just a happy coincidence."
Given the state of the game, that's probably for the best.