Out of all the shows in-the-works for Syfy, probably none is under as much scrutiny and garners as much anticipation as the MMO/tv show hybrid, Defiance. At a recent Comic-Con panel, the show’s cast and creators, along with the senior VP of development for Trion Worlds (the company developing the game), unleashed a slew of new info about the show, the game, and how the two will work together. It’s beginning to look like there might be a lot more crossover between the two media than you might think.
Defiance takes place in a world that has been shattered by war after a group of seven alien races, known collectively as the Votan, come to Earth seeking to colonize it but find the humans unwilling to just hand over their property. Once the war has ended in a ceasefire after a titanic battle from which the show gets its name, both the humans and the Votan decide to work together to create a new society in the middle of a half terraformed (or, in this case, “Votanformed”) world. Even though it takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting, the show’s executive producer, Kevin Murphy, maintains that the show is the antithesis of dystopian science fiction. He says Defiance is a settler drama and not an invasion story, and that it was their intent to create a science fiction world that would leave the viewers feeling inspired.
Murphy said they were really telling the story of how these seven alien races came to earth looking to start a new life after their planet was destroyed, found an indigenous race already there, and now it’s all about them looking to create a better life together. When it was pointed out that usually in these situations things don’t go so well for the indigenous people, Kevin Murphy responded, “In this case the indigenous people are the humans and they don’t require expensive prosthetics and makeup effects. I really like our chances for survival.” Murphy went on to hint that an as-yet-unnamed race that the Votan thought they left behind is somewhere out in space and will end up being the show’s “Big Bad”, further uniting the races of Earth, both old and new.
The show stars Grant Bowler as Jeb Nolan, the main hero of the show, who he describes as a “redneck scavenger.” Nolan brings his adopted alien daughter, Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), with him to St. Louis to start a new life. Julie Benz will play Amanda Rosewater, the new mayor of the town who finds herself in over her head running a city populated with scavengers and alien beings. The show’s villains will be played by Tony Curran and Jamie Murray, a husband-and-wife team that runs the seedy underbelly of the town. Murray says the alien race her character belongs to has a strict caste system where the females are submissive, but their new environment in St. Louis offers her the chance to break out of those predefined roles. Both Benz and Murray agree that one of the show’s strong suits is that it portrays women as empowered characters, and that they basically run the show in St. Louis.
The game made to coincide with the show starts out with Nolan and Irisa taking the players through a series of missions in a shattered San Fransisco. Once the player completes a dangerous mission where they steal an unnamed object from someone, Nolan and Irisa steal it and head for St. Louis to show up again in the pilot of the tv show. This means the game itself will actually launch before the show. With no details being given on what the mysterious pilfered object actually was, it may or may not end up being a major plot point for the series itself.
The senior VP of development at Trion Worlds, Nick Beliaeff, said that a lot of considerations were made to have the game and the show mesh well together. He said that they had to make sure to keep all of the player aliens human-scale to fit with something doable in the series. The vehicles also had to be worked on to make them feasible to build for the show, while the showrunners decided not to make horses a major form of conveyance in the setting because game developers have always had issues with making them look realistic. Beliaeff assured the audience that he knows successful MMOs have lifespans that can stretch over a decade, so there is enough separation between the show and the MMO that when the show ends naturally, or gets cancelled, the game will be able to continue on without it.
The question-and-answer portion of the panel resulted in what will probably be remembered as one of the most surprising nerd boners to happen at this year’s Comic-Con. When a member of the audience asked Nick Beliaeff about the possibility that large player groups could conspire to ruin the show by controlling the game space and taking actions that could result in killing off the cast, using the ultra-hardcore, super-complex, player-controlled space MMO EVE Online as an example, the audience was floored when the actor Grant Bowler jumped in to answer the question:
That changes and evolves in an MMO, in Eve Online you know you had ASCN dominate the universe for a long time, then Band of Brothers …so it’s gone on and on and on. Am I wrong or am I speaking Australian? So, although you may have it in any MMO where one group, alliance, affiliation, or whatever starts to dominate, you know the beautiful thing is, is the game guys are always going to be capable of altering at least the landscape of the universe to create a level playing field again
Needless to say, the crowd went wild. Looks like the main actor in Syfy’s new drama is a nerd too, and not just any nerd, an EVE nerd, which probably elevates him to godhood in the pantheon of nerddom now. Bowler went on to say that if players did find some way to mess with the show, he would make sure to pop online and kill them. Judging from his EVE reference, I believe him.
As for future crossovers between the show and the game, Kevin Murphy said that every episode would contain a crossover element and then teased some interesting tidbits. Murphy said that at one point both the show’s location of St. Louis and the game’s location of San Francisco would be working together to cure a mysterious plague that was spreading by a “razor rain” storm that was moving across the continent. The “razor rain” is pieces of a broken up Arkship that get pulled down out of orbit and fall like a shrapnel hailstorm from the sky. Murphy also went on to say that a number of the cast would be leaving the show at the end of the season to go to San Francisco, and so end up being in the game, while a planned contest would bring a player’s character from the game to star on the show. It was at this point Trion’s Beliaeff reminded the audience to name their characters appropriately. So sorry, Bieberfever69, you might have to pick a different handle if you want to make it onto the show.
Here’s a look at some Defiance gameplay shown a couple of weeks ago at E3:
While my ingrained skepticism of licensed video games is still firmly rooted, I can’t help but be optimistic about Defiance at this point. Trion promises a beta is coming soon and the show is set to debut in spring of 2013.