Westworld Awakening

  • Client HBO and Survios
  • Platform Virtual Reality
  • Year 2019

Step into the park and bring yourself online. Cubic Motion is proud to have worked on HBO and Survios' new virtual reality experience, Westworld Awakening.

HBO’s hit science fiction series Westworld takes place in a theme park in which guests can live out their every fantasy with convincingly lifelike AI characters. It’s textbook uncanny valley, and exactly the kind of experience that virtual reality technology was made for, leading to Survios’ recent VR game, Westworld Awakening.

Set during the second season of the TV show, Westworld Awakening is a stealth-driven, narrative adventure game that puts you in the shoes of Kate, an android host who has become self-aware. Startled by this surprising twist, you must explore the laboratories and offices of the Mesa facility while engaging with and manipulating fellow hosts, as well as solving puzzles. And to make matters worse, a serial killer is on your tail. Can you survive, let alone break free?

Survios is one of the most prolific VR developers today, known for popular games such as boxing brawler Creed: Rise to Glory and frenetic shooter Raw Data. However, Westworld Awakening represented a different kind of project for the studio: a deliberately paced experience in which players would spend a lot of time examining and interacting with characters, with the VR vantage point letting them get up close and very personal.

To help nail those interactions and ensure that Westworld Awakening lived up to the high bar of quality established by the critically acclaimed HBO series, Survios enlisted the facial capture and animation specialists at Cubic Motion. The Manchester-based team, anchored by computer vision Ph.Ds, has developed lifelike facial animation for some of the biggest games of the last several years—both traditional and for VR headsets.

Cubic Motion worked on six hero characters for the game, mapping a captured facial performance onto an intricate rig created for each one. Both high fidelity animation and a well-designed facial rig are critical for making sure character performance comes across correctly. If either factor drops in quality, then the game will struggle to convince players that the characters are ‘real’. Players need to feel a connection with characters to become properly invested in their narrative.

Maintaining the illusion is especially critical in a VR setting, as players are fully immersed within the experience and shut off from the real world. Facial animation often needs to be at a higher fidelity than that of traditional, television-based games, because you really feel like you’re there in the world with the characters. Hitting the benchmark of 90 frames per second to avoid motion sickness is also key—and all told, the output is rather demanding.

Based in Los Angeles, Technicolor handled performance capture shoots for the game, and was Cubic Motion’s primary contact for the collaboration alongside Survios in a 3-way feedback process. Cubic Motion worked from the feedback provided by Technicolor, while Technicolor integrated Cubic’s facial animation output into the final cinematics for the game. Working under Survios’ creative direction and the stewardship of HBO’s technology team, Cubic Motion helped to create the incredibly lifelike main characters that populate Westworld Awakening. That, in combination with the creative involvement of Westworld creators and producers at Kilter Films helped ensure that the game felt like an authentic extension of the series’ universe.

The end result is an immersive and absolutely authentic-feeling VR experience that perfectly nails the tone and atmosphere of the Westworld series. And while licensed games have historically been a hit-or-miss venture over the decades, Westworld Awakening is the rare, standout exception. Fans agree: Westworld Awakening has “Very Positive” user reviews on PC distribution platform Steam. Critical appraisals have also been strong, with Gaming Trend writing, “From start to end, Westworld Awakening is a thrill ride,” and that it’s “an experience that could easily live in the well-written and twisted world HBO has created.”

As on the show itself, it’s the believability of the characters that really sells the experience in Westworld Awakening—and it’s a testament to Cubic Motion’s facial animation capabilities that the virtual hosts look and feel so alive.

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