Mention a video game based on a television series or film and you’re likely to elicit groans and eye rolls, both of which may be well deserved. Such adaptations rarely live up to the source material, often ending up a playable shadow of their former selves. But what if a game was co-creating the fiction in parallel with a television series?
That’s the aim of Trion Worlds and NBC Universal’s SyFy cable network, both of which will launch Defiance this April. Pairing a massively multiplayer online shooter with a weekly science fiction TV series, the two properties will coexist in a way not seen before, with events on one affecting those of the other while delivering a fuller experience for fans who consume both.
Allowing dozens of players to interact simultaneously, Defiance looks and plays a bit like a less-aggro take on Borderlands.
Despite varying locales for each, both incarnations of Defiance share the same general premise. In the near future, alien races collectively called the Votans coexist with the human race on Earth, but not happily. An uneasy truce was established following a lengthy war, during which alien ships that reached the planet started terraforming the land, leading to uninhabitable areas and bizarre changes to the ecosystem. While the war is over, the tensions remain — surely creating rich drama to be mined by both the series and the online game.SyFy’s original series is set in St. Louis, where the famed Gateway arch overlooks a desolate refugee camp dubbed Defiance. Grant Bowler (Lost, Ugly Betty) stars as Jeb Nolan, a former soldier who returns to his childhood home to take on the role of “lawkeeper.” Other notable leads include Julie Benz (Dexter) and Mia Kirshner (The L Word), who will interact with an array of alien creatures, such as the flame-haired Irathients and the pale-skinned Indogene, which have striking, hexagon-shaped irises.
Plenty of talent is found on the other side of the camera, as well, with Battlestar Galactica visual effects supervisor Gary Hutzel aiming to bring a believable edge to the action, while Galactica and The Walking Dead composer Bear McCreary provides the original soundtrack. In addition, linguist David J. Peterson, who created the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones, has been brought on to develop multiple original dialects for the alien races. Precious little of the actual series has been shown as of this writing, but SyFy clearly sees Defiance as being worthy of significant effort and investment. (This isn’t another Mansquito or Sharktopus vs. Piranahconda.)When the show debuts come April, so will Trion Worlds’ multiplatform online universe, which will be available on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Each version will feature its own closed-off network, due to manufacturer restrictions on the console side, but all three will be identical and run concurrent with the series. While taking place at the same time as the show, Trion’s Defiance is set in Sausalito, California, allowing players to create their own character, team up with others, and battle it out against rival factions and vicious creatures while exploring the world.
Allowing dozens of players to interact simultaneously, Defiance looks and plays a bit like a less-aggro take on Borderlands, albeit from a third-person perspective. Teaming up to battle enemies and collect loot along the way is a core part of the experience, and in addition to little missions scattered throughout the environment, players can also experience large Arc Fall events — these appear randomly in the world and pit all nearby users against large creatures, which drop powerful items and gear upon defeat. And traditional shooter-esque deathmatch and area control modes are available for focused bursts of action amidst the exploration.
How will the two Defiance realms, with their disparate settings and modes of storytelling, interact? One example seen during a recent hands-on with the game depicted Nolan — looking and sounding just like Bowler, who did motion-capture and voice acting for the role — thanking your customizable hero for helping with a mission before driving off into the sunset.Nathan Richardsson, executive producer on the game, says he hopes to feature notable players’ characters on the show. “If you have a name that’s fit to print and can be on television and you’ve been part of some of the events that are happening while the show is running, you can get named [on the show],” he claims. “In the second season, we actually want to have players show up in the television show.” Granted, the real-life players will be portrayed by actors if that plan comes to fruition, but seeing your creation appear in full makeup on the screen will no doubt be a thrill for die-hard fans.
Blending the two sides has been a challenging process, however. Richardsson admits that Trion is limited in what it can do with the game world for now. “This merger between a game and a television show not only hasn’t been done on this scale before,” he says, “but it’s also basically a problem preventing us from doing all the crazy stuff we want to do right now, because that requires changes on both sides.” He says that years of content has been planned for Defiance, which can continue on as a game even if the TV series doesn’t catch on.
With luck, however, Defiance will prove the rare exception in the realm of licensed adaptations, and demonstrate that perhaps the appropriate model isn’t simply turning an existing property into a game, but rather building both simultaneously while catering to each individual audience.
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
April 2nd, 2013
by Andrew Hayward