I don't usually talk about specific games in this column, but I'm going to make an exception for Defiance, which launches today for PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Defiance is a joint venture between Trion Worlds (best known for the MMO Rift) and SyFy, and Defiance isn't just a game, it's a television series too. Syfy and Trion are calling it a transmedia experience. So what does that mean? We'll come back to that after some background.
From a purely game point of view, Defiance is an MMO (massively multiplayer online) 3rd person shooter. I had the chance to play in the alpha and beta test stages and found it to be a great deal of fun. Trion has kept the basic gameplay very straightforward: you run around and shoot aliens and mutants. Anyone who has ever played a game can parse that. There are also vehicles with rather silly but very fun physics, and a quite decent storyline going on. There's more complexity lying beneath the service for serious gamers, but that'll suffice for the purposes of this post.
Defiance takes place on a near future earth, after an alien collective called the Votan arrived in orbit in enormous ark ships. They've fled their own solar system to avoid a catastrophe and are looking for a new home. As you might imagine there's some friction between us and them (I'm glossing over a lot of details here...learning the lore is part of the fun of playing) which eventually leads to their ships being sabotaged. As these ark ships crash into the earth, terraformers on board become active and start changing the environment, leading to all kinds of new plants and animals.
The end result is we have a near-future, post-apocalyptic earth being inhabited both by humans and the various Votan races. Still in orbit are remnants of the ark ships, and from time to time they come crashing down to the surface bringing with them advanced alien technology. As a player of Defiance, you are an Ark Hunter; someone who makes his or her living collecting this alien technology. Defiance the game takes place in the area around what used to be San Francisco.
So let's get back to this transmedia buzzword. Defiance is also a TV show that debuts in a few weeks (April 15th) on SyFy. The TV show takes place in the city of Defiance, formerly known as St Louis. Defiance (the city) has a bit of an old west vibe, but with the addition of random bits of alien technology. At least that's the sense I've picked up from previews.
The idea is that game and TV series have been developed at the same time and are meant to support and supplement each other. Events in the TV series can impact events in the game (and possibly the other way around on a long term scale). For example, early on in the game you'll meet a couple of the main characters from the TV series (in CGI form), but eventually they'll head out of the area. Then you tune in to the TV series and the two come riding into town. This is a pretty simple example.
How all this will work out is thus far anyone's guess, and that's what makes the project so interesting to me. Obviously they're not filming the TV series one week at a time so I can't imagine the game can have much impact on the show (with the possible exception of events that happen between seasons) since the writers can't know what the players will do in the game ahead of time.
But the writers do know exactly what's going to happen in the TV series, of course, and so the game's developers can schedule weekly events that riff off of happenings in the TV series. How much these events will engage players or make the game more enjoyable is another open question. The game setting and show setting are physically separated enough to give each other enough room to breath, but will this hamper cross-over possibilities?
Defiance is a $60 game, and generally speaking these days I'm comfortable waiting for $60 games to get a price cut or go on sale before I take the plunge, but in this case I'm buying day 1 because I want to experience the game and the TV show together, as they're 'meant' to be experienced (though both SyFy and Trion emphasize that either venue can be enjoyed on its own). From that point of view this is a brilliant bit of marketing, if nothing else.
There's still a lot that can go wrong. With Defiance being an online game, there's always the potential for a disastrous launch (SimCity, anyone?) which could cast a shadow over the TV series. Of course the TV series could be awful, too. But I can't help but salute the idea of designing game and TV show to support each other. I'm cautiously optimistic about the outcome of this transmedia experiment. Anyone else interested?
TV Show Trailer:
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.