When Defiance launches in April 2013, it will be much more than either Trion Worlds’ newest massively multiplayer online game, or Syfy’s latest science-fiction series. It will be the first-ever true cross-medium entertainment franchise.
It is a massive undertaking, requiring multimedia coordination between two completely separate, and yet now inextricably connected sides of the same property, working towards expanding the same universe following a failed alien invasion that left the Earth a changed place. Trion’s game will take place in the remains of the Bay Area and follow hunters searching for an alien mineral, while the Syfy TV show will focus on survivors in the city known as Defiance.
Walking around the massive set in Toronto, it’s obvious that the show will have a big-budget feel. And playing the third-person perspective shooter MMO, it’s clear that the last four years of development have resulted in what looks like yet another hit for Trion Worlds in the ultra-competitive online gaming space.
“Defiance is the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard of,” said actor Grant Bowler, who plays Jeb Nolan in both the game and the show. “When I got asked to look at the show, I initially had no idea that we were going to be here doing this. This idea of bringing those media together, TV is in everybody’s home, and we play our games, generally, on our TV at home. It’s a natural fit, but I think it has always seemed so complicated and difficult to do that, it’s been beyond the realm of the possible.”
According to Bill Trost, lead game designer at Trion Worlds, from the very beginning the game developers in San Diego have been working with Syfy as a partner. They’ve had regular calls and meetings and discussions on how to craft this new intellectual property.
“It’s something we’re excited about,” Trost told us in a recent exclusive interview. “It’s something that hasn’t really been done in that way before.”
It’s taken a lot of work to craft a story that begins in the game world in the Bay Area with two of the protagonists of the TV series leaving the area, then picks up in the show with those same two characters driving into Defiance, which rests atop what was once St. Louis.
“When I started doing TV in the early ‘90s, the idea of having something that was as immersive and gigantic as this overwhelming mythology would not have been possible,” said Kevin Murphy, who wrote and executive produced Desperate Housewives, Reaper, and now Defiance. “Something like Game of Thrones or Defiance would not have been possible because TV was much more close-ended. Now, with the advent of online, you can really do a lot of things you were not previously able to do. We’re really trying to see how far can we push those boundaries. What can we take advantage of in terms of creating an actual world that is unlike anything that we know today, but at the same time is very familiar.”
Both the show and the game take place 30 years in the future after an alien race known as the Votans attempted to immigrate to Earth. The governments of the Earth decided to turn away the Votans, which led to a disastrous war that partially terraformed the Earth and forced the two races to attempt to peacefully coexist. Players will enter the universe as “Arc Hunters,” exploring the Bay Area and looking for alien technology that occasionally falls from the sky. Although there will be TV characters migrating in and out of the game world, because the locations are so far apart there’s plenty of space for two separate stories to be told.
“There are big events and small things that will cross over from game to show,” said Trost. “Everything from the flora and fauna in the game world and the television show matching up, to these huge crossovers with characters both coming from the game world and going into the show, and from the show coming into the game world.”
When the game debuts, the first crossover will already be well under way.
“I’m finally in two places at one time,” joked Bowler. “My character, Nolan, starts off in the video game and then goes into the series. When we launch the video game, there’s a point where Nolan leaves, and then exactly in that way, we begin the television series. So right from the beginning, there’s a synthesis between the two. The two worlds of game and show are connected, and they’ll stay that way.”
The show features some of the creative minds behind Syfy hits Farscape and Battlestar Galactica, which bodes well for this new series. While the game will focus more on action, the show will involve more character development and drama — and there’s plenty of drama to go around with so many different alien species living together in one town.
“I play Irisa and she’s an Irathient alien [a subspeciaes of the Votans],” explained actress Stephanie Leonidas, who is almost unrecognizable with all the prosthetics on. “There are many species of alien in Defiance. The pilot is about Irisa and Nolan’s journey to Defiance. Nolan is basically her father figure. And then the show picks up from when they get there.”
The series is being filmed in Toronto, where a full-sized recreation of the town of Defiance has been built outside of large sound stage areas.
“What we’ve done up there is build an entire city,” said Bowler. “What’s really exciting about it is, there are different parts of town. There are parts of town that are built from parts of old billboards, bottles, or anything that comes to hand. They’re the more affluent, or commercial parts of town. Then there are the poorer parts of town that are built out of old shipping containers, or pellets and crates. It’s amazing to see this town and to be able to work within this set.”
Thanks to the online game, Syfy is already thinking about season two of the TV series. That’s a luxury that a typical show doesn’t get. Given the success Rift has had in the online space and the positive momentum End of Nations is riding on, the odds are good that the past four years of development will result in a quality Defiance game world. Given the loyalty and devotion that online gamers have to their games, the thinking is that they’ll also gravitate to a TV show that involves the same world and some of the same characters.
“I think there’s a huge appetite for this,” said Leonidas. “It’s exciting to combine both the game world and the TV show. If it all works well, it could be really exciting for people who watch TV and play games. People that have never experienced an online game might want to go play and gamers who don’t watch Syfy may want to watch the show.”
That’s exactly what Syfy and Trion Worlds had in mind when they ventured into this uncharted territory four years ago.