Show Of Force: Defiance

By Dan Grill on August 29th, 2011 at 1:04 pm.


Defiance is the next MMO from Trion Worlds. It’s a sci-fi action MMO styled after their first game, Rift. But there’s something even more weird about it: the game is going to be tied into a TV show running in parallel on the SyFy (hnngh) channel. We got to see what this cross-media complication actually means at Gamescom.

[Roving reporter Dan Griliopoulos was left behind after GamesCom and is wandering somewhere in Europe. For those keeping track, today he's near the ominously named Lago D'Isola.]

Your mum* is watching telly. She is watching a B-grade science fiction show on SyFy, the home of (denigrative comment on highly-popular channel excised due to punitively-strong British libel laws – Ed.) The phone rings, she answers. It’s you, buddy! “Mum”, you cry, voice bubbling with joy, “Mum, they’re talking about me on TV. On SyFy! Right now!” She gasps in disbelief, almost spilling her Lapsang Souchong; “You… you’re bloodkilla254?” She forgives your behaviour at Aunt Prunella’s funeral and reinstates your place in her heart’s affection / her will. The Earth detonates in a burst of happy flowers.**

This, thanks to Defiance, is a plausible scenario, though I estimate that the chance of you being one of the handful named on TV is probably going to be about 1 in 300,000, given recent MMO initial purchasers. (I’m not sure about the planet-flower-explosion either.) Y’see, Defiance is a cross-media entity; it will be both a multiplatform MMO and a TV science fiction show on SyFy, set on an Earth that’s suffered fifty years of internecine warfare and the appearance of an alien ark carrying multiple invasive species. We’ll get to what the game actually consists of in a moment, but crucially characters from the TV show (set in St Louis) will be able to say “Hey, I’m just popping down to San Francisco, to y’know, hang out, visit the Apple store, and defeat an alien menace likely to destroy civilization as we know it”. They’ll then appear in the MMO world (the San Francisco Bay Area) and players will be able to go down to the train station, meet the character (presumably an NPC) and adventure with them.


The TV show will launch simultaneously with the game globally, according to the hyper-polished presentation dude, whose name I missed in an amazing example of shonky journalism; “The TV show and game will develop side-by-side. They’re two windows in the same universe. For example, if there’s a disaster, the sky turns red and rains acid rain on the TV show, you’ll see that happen in the game.” The hour-long weekly TV show will reference in-game events, in particular the previous week’s quest; it might even name-check people who are particularly high-achievers – leaderboard-heading PvP players or players who found every secret in the game.

“If the St Louis cast are sitting around in a bar saying ‘hey, did you see the game last night?’,” says Presentation Man, sounding increasingly like he should be on The Shopping Channel or QI, “the game they’re talking about is the PvP one you took part in. Games are great at delivering action; TV is great at drama; now we can combine that to give you a meaningful story and meaningful accomplishments.” Meaningful to the extent that you can affect the actual plot? “We’re not intending to allow players to kill the main character in the TV show.”

Having got the structure of this article completely arse-about-tit, let’s talk about the actual game now, m’kay? The MMO is a science-fiction shooter, set on an earth over-run by alien creatures that arrived in an ark. Now, I can hear that sharply-drawn in breath from here; this is no Tabula Rasa, indeed it seems much closer to Trion’s previous MMO, Rift.

Indeed, whisper it, this may well be a SF-skinned Rift. Design-wise, it’s a mish-mash, a jungley-Fallouty-Warhammer 40K, sections of modern human civilization mingled with the various species brought on the ark. Take, for example, the appearance of the Arkfall large scale public quest we saw. Arkfalls are sections of the destroyed spaceship tumbling to earth, appearing as a falling star. In this case, the star-crystal landed and then great Tyranid-style claws rose out of the ground, representing a different burrowing alien race seeking to claim the rewards contained within.

Players, human or alien, entering the area automatically join the quest, and fight against a range of smaller mobs seeking to acquire the ark crystals as well as destroy the claws, before the main mob (in this case, a squat alien giant) spawns; functionally and structurally, the area is identical to Rift’s rifts; polished but already a bit tired.


As we saw in this section, the combat isn’t complicated or unduly sticky – it seems quite agile, reminiscent of Global Agenda and faster than Planetside, though a little bit light at the moment. “It’s not just a run and gun shooter – it’s a persistent open world.” explains Basil Exposition, “It’s seamless, without loading screens, meaning you can walk from end of this world to the other without loading.” You can duck, roll, melee, shoot and so forth; it’s designed to be usable by anyone familiar with a shooter. Players also unlock special powers as they level up, such as super-speed and invisibility – the usual stuff. It also sounds like it has open PvP; at any time you can either ally with a passer-by or attack them.

Some enemies seem to take their inspiration from Starship Troopers, insectoid creatures of varying sizes and agility, but mainly mouth. Others are humanoid cyborgs; the explanation entity explains that “they’ve modified themselves so much in search of alien technology that they’ve replaced their hands with drills or their arms with pick-axes.” Personally, I think this is a classic sign of light SF, of designers not thinking things through; why would you ever remove an irreplacable tool that allows you to manipulate several objects, ie the hand, for a single blunt tool? Duh. Anyway, we watch these cyborgs attacking a garage called the Tar Pit; walking near the garage automatically gives you a quest to help out Rosa, the owner, which the players do, by killing lots of cyborgs..

Though the game is going to be on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, we were assured that they have no plans to let the three platforms play together. We saw the demo on all three platforms for GamesCom; on the consoles it’s a twin-stick Gears of War style, control system, but on PC it’s somewhat changed. “On PC, we’ve made accommodations for the more precise interface and better graphics the PC has.” says that guy again who, if you’re reading, I liked to say sorry to for missing your name. That was a lovely suit you were wearing.


The story is being written by the delightfully-monikered Rockne S. O’Bannon , the head writer behind the B-grade SF shows Farscape, SeaQuest, and V, and the movie Alien Nation. Yet, though SyFy is producing the show, it’s not clear yet whether they’ll broadcast it, or someone with a bigger reach, in more territories. “It’s likely that the TV show will be available, not just online, but also in the game itself, in a building called the Defiance theatre.” Demo Dude says. “We want to make sure that you can catch up to what’s been going on in the story.”

“I very much doubt that you guys are going to see anywhere in this show another persistent, open-world, massively multiplayer shooter like this.” Well, maybe not, but they’re coming; Planetside 2 and Firefall to name the most exciting two. Defiance seems like a more traditional MMO than either of these, on the face of it, and I can’t pretend I’m excited about either its plot or the Rift-style gameplay; but the TV series tie-in and console development could, potentially, be huge – if there’s enough crossover between the global SfFy demographic and WoW/Halo players. Trion Worlds are betting that there is. They could be right.


(* Not actually your mum, but a fictional instatiation carefully calibrated to represent the potential average mother of RPS’s given demographic, derived from survey data and from Kieron hacking into all your computers when his mighty X-brain is bored and wants lols.

** You see how careful I was to avoid your mum jokes? I have total respect for your mother. And, y’know, sympathy.)

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43 Comments »

  1. DainIronfoot says:

    Farscape is B grade sci-fi?

    I don’t want to live on this planet any more.

    • CMaster says:

      MUPPPETS

      IN

      SPACCCCEEEEE!

      Seriously, I know lots of people who say it got good, but it started off pretty so-so.

    • Dominic White says:

      Farscape actually had a proper, linear story. It took time for characters to develop, but boy, did they develop. The main character started out as a clueless, well-meaning ‘Prime directive’ space-hero wannabe, until everything went horribly wrong. By the end, he’s a pissed off gunslinger who *always* shoots first and just kinda shrugs his way through all the stuff he doesn’t understand, instead of just standing around looking baffled.

    • aircool says:

      1. I have watched several series of Farscape with the episodes in the proper sequential order, yet I still haven’t a bloody clue as to what’s going on.

      2. Combat sounds like DDO.

      3. Rift was a by the numbers MMORPG, but it was very well polished upon release and lots of fun if you like that sort of thing.

      4. If you think programs on SyFy are bad, you should try The Lost World (and everything else) on the Horror Channel!

    • McDan says:

      I thought farscape was great, yeah, not much else to say apart from that…

      This defiance crossover thing looks kind of interesting though, but then again could fall flat on its face. Which would be a shame as then it’d obviously doscourage future tries at this sort of thing.

    • WMain00 says:

      B-grade? Farscape.

      No no. A better comparison for a B-grade sci-fi show is Lexx.

    • Nalano says:

      tho Lexx did have its moments of funny.

    • CMaster says:

      Lexx makes B-grade?
      I mean, it’s no Cleopatra 2525, but if that’s B then an awful lot of stuff must make the top A-grade…

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      I’m such a troll, aren’t I?

    • Premium User Badge Anthile says:

      Quick, somebody do a Mass Effect-style Lexx game.

    • Tei says:

      Farscape, Lexx and Babylon are on the top 5 best science-fiction series. I think is ok to describe Lexx as B-style, …theres nothing bad in B-style if the script is good.

    • Dozer says:

      @Griddle it is not nearly obvious enough that “Griddle Octopus” = “Griliopoulos”. I thought Jim had edited out a trolling statement from your comment at first!

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Yeah, bit of a problem with that. I asked for special admin highlight, because I spend so much time in the comments, but apparently that involves blood pacts and sacrificing part of my brainstem to the hivemind. Which I was okay with, but apparently John’s got a bit squeamish about all the blood.

    • Tei says:

      @frightlever

      Thats okay. The earth session was pretty bad. Except the joke about the mass of the boson higgs. Most TV series end poorly, except these with a story arch. A tv serie that never ends, usually finally “jump the shark” and become his own worst. (?).

    • DrGonzo says:

      Farscape was very very B grade, I still really enjoyed it. But I’m not sure how that could come as a shock to anyone who’s watched it. I mean LOOK at it!

    • Arglebargle says:

      The SyFy channel only produces good shows by accident.

      The depth of their thinking is, it is Science Fiction if it has a robot. Or an alien. Or whatever their flavor of the month thing is. They don’t understand their subject material at all. And it shows.

  2. CMaster says:

    You say the gameplay was like Rift, but then that you can dodge, roll and actually shoot. I thought Rift was a classic “click and wait”, tab targeting style MMO. Just that shift is enough to make me more interested, even if the world sounds pretty duff (which is worrying for a multimedia project like this).

  3. trotty says:

    I bet it is “lago d’iseo”

  4. Choca says:

    TV shows and a MMOs, two things that tend to die miserably in their first year and they want to mix them, good luck with that.

    • Premium User Badge Daiv says:

      Be thankful.

      Just imagine a world in which MMOTV becomes the next “reality TV”.

      Tonight, on Celebrity PUG

    • Nalano says:

      Personally, I can’t wait to figure out how to troll internet and TV audiences all at once.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Surely, I’m not the only one thinking how a certain group of players will almost certainly (voluntarily or involuntarily) try to mess up any in-game broadcasting.

    • Shuck says:

      It is a dangerous matching. There’s some potential for something interesting to happen, but the drawbacks seem to outweigh the potential benefits. For example:
      If the show and the MMO are really tied in together, then coming into the game at a later date means you’ll get a significantly different experience from someone who played just after launch. This is something that MMO designers avoid, unless they’re making niche-audience “sandbox” games that change due to user activity.
      What happens when the TV show gets canceled? (I’d ask what happens if the MMO collapses, but the show is more likely to be canceled first, and if the MMO tanked, I suspect it frankly wouldn’t impact the show negatively.)
      Production times mean that any direct references to events in the other medium will be rather old or general/superficial. I also wonder about the MMO’s ability to crank out time-limited quests to tie in with the TV show – the constant production of content will be a bit of a grind, especially in addition to everything else that needs to be done in an online game.

    • Nalano says:

      To be fair, it’s not on Fox, so you can expect the show to last at least a season, which is longer than most MMOs last.

      Also, I’m pretty sure the cycle will allow the show to keep up with the game with, perhaps, a week’s production lag.

  5. nubbuka says:

    Sounds like an interesting mix, I shall wait for the results.

    P.S. I want lols too =(

  6. Westcreek says:

    glad i’m not the only one who cringes a little when saying/typing/hearing the “word” SyFy

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Yeah, me too. It was dated the moment they changed it.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Imagine the type of person who would even -think- of such a thing. I’d say it’s someone from marketing. Or a powerful person (say, board member) who thinks he/she has a bright idea.

    • Arglebargle says:

      SyFy happened because they discovered they couldn’t copyright/trademark SciFi. Simple bean counter money grubber move.

  7. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Sounds like they’re trying to fly before anybody else has even properly worked out walking. It’s all guna end in tears if you ask me…

    Also Farscape is good sci-fi but I think people forget that B grade isn’t that bad considering the quality of “A grade” Sci-Fi series.

  8. Balm says:

    Objection! Lapsang Souchong is MANLY tea!

  9. Salt says:

    The first half of that video had me expecting a strangely-accented Australian to start talking about infinite point cloud data.

  10. Premium User Badge Fede says:

    Wasn’t he supposed to be in Eastern Europe? First the Alps, now a lake in Liguria… he’s in Italy. I wonder what he’s doing here :)

    • sneetch says:

      He’s gone rogue! We need to send in a crack team of no-name actors led by a (fading) A-list celebrity to bring him back dead or alive.

  11. PleasingFungus says:

    The unlikely part of that premise is not that you’d be one of the ones featured on the TV show, but that your mum would be watching a sci-fi show based on an MMO in the first place.

  12. Hensler says:

    This is the sort of thing I was hoping for from DC Universe Online. Pick up Blackest Night and see Black Lanterns destroying the DC Universe, then log onto the game and have Black Lanterns everywhere causing trouble and as the focus of quests. It would take a lot of content developers and coordination with the the book editors, but it would have kept my interest in the game. Or even take individual storylines from the books and put them in the game concurrently.

  13. Josh W says:

    Hang on a second, the TV show of the game is available in the game? So people in the TV show will be able to go into the MMO and watch themselves on a screen, then talk about the next day?

    They could do Escher proud.

  14. Osi says:

    Its a shame its made by Trion, it had potential until I read that.
    I’ll be never paying money to Trion again.