Defiance is an upcoming cross-media sci-fi story from Syfy and Trion Worlds. The television serial and video game of the same name will be tied together, so that the actions of one affect the other.
The world of Defiance is one which has been decimated by a short but fierce war with alien conquerors. Now humans must live in the blasted landscape alongside several alien races, each with their own agendas and roles in the society. The aliens themselves are not particularly cleverly portrayed in the show. Think Star Trek style aliens: the different races are just humans with various skin colors and brow ridges, but that’s what one can to with a cable television budget, I suppose.
In the Havok-powered game, however, there are plenty of exotic monsters to fight, alien in nature as well as modified Earth flora and fauna. The video game side is an MMO with all the mechanics that implies: quests, guilds, competition, and a variety of ways to interact with the world.
The PvE portion will focus heavily on community and teamwork in the face of long odds, similar to the themes of the television show.
The PvP portion of the game is being called The Shadow War, and is something like the PvP system in Guild Wars 2: Players who want to do battle with other players head to a special location which transports them to the front-lines of a turbulent on-going territory war. The actual combat plays out more like a standard team-based first-person shooter, but the territory system provides for lasting consequences when the players do well or poorly.
So far, despite it being the big gimmick, it’s looking like the two halves of the project will have very little narrative effect on one another, as most of the interaction will be totally scripted—rather than player-determined—and mostly consists of characters leaving the show to appear in the game as NPCs and vice versa.
As an example, given by one of the developers last year:
“…if you play the game right away, you get to hang out with Nolan [Grant Bowler] and Irisa [Stephanie Leonidas] as non-player characters. When they leave the game, they are gone into our [TV] world… In the pilot, there is a very small role of Ryn, who is a spirit-rider. She becomes very important in episodes four and five, and then she leaves the show in episode five to go into the videogame. If you are watching/playing both, she comes into the game in a very big way, then returns to the show at the end of the season.”
When I first heard about the project, I assumed that players would be vying for one side or another, and the results of their war would be the thing reflected in the show, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Yes, that would likely require each episode to be shot with several alternate scenes, but it would not have been impossible. Whatever happens, it’s an interesting experiment at least.
The official synopsis of the project is thus:
Set in the near future, Defiance introduces an exotically transformed planet Earth, its landscapes permanently altered following the sudden – and tumultuous – arrival of seven unique alien races. In this somewhat unknown and unpredictable landscape, the richly diverse, newly-formed civilization of humans and aliens must learn to co-exist peacefully. Each week, viewers will follow an immersive character drama set in the boom-town of Defiance, which sits atop the ruins of St. Louis, MO, while in the game, players will adventure in the new frontier of the San Francisco Bay area. The dramatic tapestry of the series and the intense action of the game will exist in a single universe where their respective narratives will inform one another and evolve together into one overall story.
The success factor
As cool as Defiance sounds, I’m personally worried about its ability to succeed. I’m concerned for the MMO because it’s an MMO, a genre in which it has been infamously difficult to succeed in recent years, mostly due to the entrenchment of incumbent titles.
I worry more about the show, however. The fact that it’s tied so closely to a video game may turn away a lot of viewers who would otherwise have been satisfied with it, and if Syfy and Trion don’t do their marketing just right, audiences may feel like they’re not getting the whole picture when they don’t want to play the game. All that, on top of the general difficulties already inherent in keeping a science fiction serial on the air, make it feel like a daunting prospect.
It’s a tough balance, but I would like it to succeed, as it would be great to see more projects like this in the future. If it fails, we’ll be unlikely to see more attempts any time soon. Personally, I am very interested in seeing what various creators could do with cross-media narrative—the more closely intertwined, the better—and this is the grand experiment which will tell others whether or not to bother trying.
Defiance, the game, is slated for April 2, 2013. Defiance, the show, will premiere with a double-length episode on April 15 on Syfy.