Syfy's new show Defiance aims to combine a traditional TV show with an online gaming experience. And based on what we saw yesterday, Syfy might just pull it off.
One part science fiction series, one part story about the melting pot of a burgeoning society, Defiance features seven alien species looking for asylum after a huge disaster. The twist? The television show takes place in the town of Defiance (the modern-day St. Louis) — while Defiance's massively multiplayer online shooter takes place two thousand miles away in San Francisco. Players will go on missions — and your choices in the MMO can wind up affecting the outcome of the TV show.
Aliens in need
Set 35 years in the future, Defiance tells the story of a planet ravaged by decades of war after a forced population influx.
A group of seven alien species, the Votans, journey to Earth looking for a safe haven after the destruction of their solar system — but the nations of the Earth refuse to help. This forces the hand of the Votans, leading to a war that destroys most of the planet's resources. The war eventually ends with a truce between the humans and Votans, and all species are now joining forces to re-create civilization in the post-apocalyptic town of Defiance... on the site of the modern-day St. Louis.
Seven alien races
Within the Votans are seven unique races, making the core of Defiance a story about eight distinct groups of people working together to rebuild society. One of the more interesting secondary characters planned for the series is a geisha-like figure who operates the underground club NeedWant — a place where any of the eight species can have their wildest fantasies realized.
Tony Curran and Jaime Murray will play a couple with an unusual background in the series, Datak Tarr and Stahma Tarr. Stahma hails from from the highest caste on her homeworld, while Datak was born into the lowest. Their marriage would be scandalous amongst their people, but it becomes possible once they're aboard the Ark, traveling to Earth after the destruction of their solar system.
Grant Bowler plays the protagonist Jeb Nolan, a veteran of the Battle of Defiance and the Pale Wars. After the wars ended, Nolan becomes a Han Solo-esque scoundrel, scavenging his way around San Francisco.
Nolan does this while taking care of Irisa, a young Votan warrior, who acts as both deputy and surrogate daughter to Nolan.
Maintaining continuity between mediums
In order to maintain continuity between the video game and the series, everything brainstormed in the writer's room is passed on to a mythology coordinator — who then informs those working on the Defiance video game game at Trion. Nick Beliaeff and Kevin Murphy likened this to the machinations of an editor working on a series of comic books, when the duo sat down with reporters to talk about how they plan on achieving story cohesion.
The world building — a process four years in the making — will be key to the show's success. Concept art for the video game series has been rigorously tested, for the ability to physically create the designs in the show... with a couple of comedic problems.
For example, an early character design for one species of Votan looked great — until they looked closer and realized that the alien would cut its own head off every time it raised its arms. This attention to detail and desire to create a livable world could be the difference between success and failure for Defiance's transmedia hopes.
Hands-on with the video game
The Defiance video game will launch prior to the debut of the television series. The first few hours of gameplay will put the player in the role of Jeb Nolan, as he finds an artifact that allows him to operate a terraformer in the town of Defiance. From the ten minutes of the game I played, the third person shooter has the feel of Borderlands, mixed with the jumpiness of early versions of Unreal Tournament. That's a very good thing.
Within the game, there are distinct "tent poles," set to connect the video game experience with the television series — starting with character introductions and moving on to full-on crossovers with the television series, where the actions of MMO players can actually save the town of Defiance. Defiance will debut on Syfy in April 2013, with the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC versions of the accompanying Defiance MMO hitting the shelves before then.