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[SXSW] The Defiance Panel Now in Text Form

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I was sitting at work looking at the site earlier and I realized that maybe like me, you all can’t watch game videos. So I thought I’d do you all a favor and transcribe the entire panel for Defiance. You’re welcome, all you audio challenged readers out there.


Hit the jump to find out about the odd little experiment that is an interwoven TV show and video game.

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Tell us a bit about the premise of Defiance.

Kevin Murphy (Executive Producer of the TV version): The premise of the show is it’s 2013 and aliens show up in Earth orbit. They are looking for a home because their solar system has been destroyed. There is seven races of aliens known as the Votans and they’ve come on giant alien arks. Aboard the arks is some kind of terra forming equipment. The arks fall through some sort of act of sabotage, that remains is a mystery, the terra forming equipment goes berserk and as a result, the planet earth is essentially plowed under and the world that we know ceases to exist. the show itself takes place 33 years later and earth has become a terrifying, wild hybrid of the old familiar Earth and the new and strange Votan world. These are the stories of human beings and seven different races of aliens all learning to share one planet.

So Nick and Mark, maybe you can go over some of the obstacles and what’s different in the development of the product. You have a game that works with a TV show and a TV show that needs to work with a game. That’s different than anything done before. Talk about that and how it was different for you.

Mark Stern (SyFy Channel): I think one of the things we had to figure out was how we work together in terms of how we develop. We figured very very early that the way that you do video games, which was a complete education to us, is that they are building an amazing, deep, rich world that you’re the star of and you’re playing your own hero. We’re kind of in the reverse where we are creating heroes and then figuring out what’s that world surrounding them. And that was, in a word, like a tunnel where we’re on opposite sides of a mountain where we hit in the center together as we were working in reverse of each others process. Part of that was why we had to figure out what common world we’re in. Part of it was also then having to determine some things about what we do easily that they have a hard time doing and vice versa. For instance, I mentioned we were separating our world because we didn’t want crossover. One of the other interesting conversations we had was whether or not we had horses in our world because we’re doing a frontier town with a western paradigm. We really wanted horses in it because it’s kinda cool. Horses are really hard.

Nick Beliaeff (Trion Worlds): I couldn’t give Mark his pony. I’m sorry Mark. For us, we’re a 3rd person shooter. We’re pixel perfect accurate and if you’re on a horse you’re this big fat giant target. That’s not a lot of fun right? You lose the coolness of a horse, but also the uncoolness of being everyone’s pin cushion. What we thought would be really awesome would be flying vehicles because its the future with these giant spaceships. Of course there would be flying vehicles.

Mark: Right, but flying vehicles was hard for us because if you’re a frontier town, you don’t want to be able to take a jump jet to someplace else because you aren’t a frontier town anymore. So transportation needs to be limited because that was the whole idea of the frontier. There were compromises we had to come up with. Part of it was very lively and even argumentative and back and forth where you have two groups that are dedicated and pledged to each other to create the best possible game or series they can do, and protect that, then you are going to have a lot of clashing over it. That was part of the process and we think it was fun, but we came out of the other side better for it.

Nick: One of the things that was really cool that came out of that is that you guys had worked before with that scientist at JPL and he came in and basically explained how we could have this low flying asteroid field in orbit from the wreckage of the spaceships and actually work physically. That in turn beget Ark Falls which are one of the main features of the game where pieces of the spaceship come down and land in the San Francisco Bay area. It’s a big social event where you get 50 or 100 players in a shooter world working together to take it down. This is now one of our most popular features in the game and it came from this content.

Mark: I think similarly, and Kevin can speak better for this, but there are a number of things that the game guys did that were really inspirational for the writers in terms of the kinds of stories they were trying to come up with and the things they wanted to use or tap in to from that world.

Kevin: Yeah we used some features in the game, such as Razor Rain, which is bits of Ark Fall that coalesce in the atmosphere and turn in to shrapnel. A Razor Rain storm became a great centerpiece concept for one of our episodes. We had the Volge our character of one of the alien races and they are sort of our big bads in the pilot (if you are playing the game you can shoot them), so it was incredibly incredibly helpful when we were breaking the television stories to have this deep game mythology that was evolving at the same time we were evolving the television mythology. What was key was the fact that we were doing it at the same time so we could have the game make changes to make the overall world better and we could make changes to make the overall world better where because we didn’t have a situation where the game was iterative of the show or vice versa and that was an incredible creative luxury.

Rob Hill (Writer): You know one of the things that really helped us was learning how you guys build stories on the whole writer’s board thing. Once we went to the writers room we actually sat down and said “Oh my god that’s the way you have to generate stories, not the way we have been doing it.” So we were able to take away a learning thing from your guys and it really helped our game storytelling as well.

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Alright so the game is available April 2nd, so help us out Nick and Rog. what should the gamers mindset be going in to the game. What type of character can they be, what can they play and will they be able to meet the two leads of the TV series Nolan and Irisa?

Nick: The players can play humans or aliens, specifically the Irathient. They take the role of Ark hunters which are sort of soldiers of fortune in the San Francisco Bay area. As Kevin mentioned We’re sort of rebuilding this world so laws are more of a concept than reality so it’s fast and loose. In the San Francisco Bay area there is sort of a 2nd gold rush where people chase Gulanite which is a new terraformed wealth material. Players come in and can expect a real fast paced frenetic open world. It is an online game on the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. You can go from Marin up in the bay area down to Sausalito and have a planet of the apes moment when you see the ruins of the Golden Gate Bridge as you go down in the city of San Francisco itself. While you are doing this, there are thousands of people in the game world with you and you can choose to interact with them just as you can here.

Defiance is going to play out in 13 episodes, so how does the show affect missions you might get in the game and can you guys talk about some time sensitive missions in the game that are going to be related to what you see in the show.

Kevin: For instance, we have a storyline in the show where a cyber plague takes over the town of Defiance. That triggers a mission in the game where the player in Marin County then has to go about getting components of the plague and figuring out how to get the cure from San Francisco all the way back to St. Louis. They only have a week to do it because that mission is only good for the week between the areas because we follow up the storyline the next week in the show. So there is a lot of handoffs back and forth.

Rob: One of the big ones happens right from the beginning. The game actually launches two weeks before the television show and you get to play with and go on missions with the two primary characters Nolan and Irisa. So during those two weeks you will be going on missions with them and interacting with them. The result of those missions gives you something that has a huge influence the pilot of the show. At the end of those missions, the main characters leave the game and they then show up in the pilot.

During the off season you have special plans for the game and the TV show where you can get players involved in the 2nd season of the show.

Nick: One of the things we were talking about that we were hoping to be able to do is have one of the players avatars have a walk on role in the 2nd season. We think its cool because its like winning the lottery and last time we checked, winning the lottery is cool.

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For the Xbox 360 version, will you have constant updates to the game or will it be downloadable content as the show goes on?

Rob: Absolutely. This is a massive online game and its constantly evolving including with the television show during the season and even beyond season 1, we’ll be constantly evolving content.

Nick: One of the things Trion has made its reputation on with games like Rift is that we’re very aggressive with updating our content.
Person: You talked about the mission with the two main characters that you can play with for 2 weeks before the show launches. What happens if we delay purchasing the game for a month, do we miss on the mission content?

Rob: Initially you will. The incentive is really to try and get people to want to be a part of that experience. Not only from the beginning, but from week to week to week to week. That’s really important for the crossovers because we want them to evolve in real time over time. This doesn’t mean that its dead forever, but during the season while its going on.

So is there a chance during the off season where you can go relive missions if you miss them the first time around.

Rob: Absolutely. We will replay them again at some point, potentially during reruns. We haven’t worked out the specifics. The thing is, we have tons and tons of other things to do as well. The game is not about those missions by any means. We have dozens of hours. It is a massive online game.

Mark: I think that speaks to the whole idea that you shouldn’t have to know anything about a TV series to want to play this game. Similarly you shouldn’t have to know anything about this game to love this TV series. Its standalone. So if you know about both that’s great because there are scenes and stuff for both. There’s little easter eggs on both sides, but it should not be reliant on some big aspect at all.

Right now on the main page, there is a mini-game to find Ark Fall codes. Will this persist through the show?

Nick: Right now, that’s about launch goodies where you collect Ark Fall codes. It turned in to a much more popular promotion than we thought. We’re not sure if we’ll carry this throughout the season or not. Right now it’s scheduled to end at launch.

What are the other strategies you are thinking about to empower your fans in social and other platforms to engage your players in your game.

Mark: There is a ton of second screen with this show that we’re starting to roll out. You are already seeing some of it roll out. Because of the detail with the show and with the game, you are already seeing a lot of interactivity with fans touching all sorts of aspects of this show. There are 4 complete alien languages you can learn. If you want to learn Castithan you’ll be able to learn Castithan. The deeper you want to get in to this, the deeper you can go because of how much richness there is. I think you’ll be able to see this roll out in the more traditional sense as well as in the game’s interactivity.

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As far as fighting aliens go, are any of them allies or is it strictly humans versus aliens?

Kevin: One of the cool things about this is that it’s not War of the Worlds. Its not us versus them. Irathients and Casthitans have a lot of enmity. Irathients have been conquered by other races before and have had to fight back. Sometimes you’ll have humans and Casthitans siding against the Irathients. You’ll have everybody siding against the Volge in the pilot of the TV show. It allows you to have really complicated relationships because the idea here is to create a melting pot. Its really a show about the immigrant experience in a certain way and many different cultures getting along. It just happens that 7 of them happen to be cool aliens.

Rob: In the game you will be able to as both human and alien. They are not against each other. You’ll be able to play as humans against aliens or humans with aliens or whatever.

Will there be any disc locked content on disc?

Rob: No. What you get at launch is what you get. When we add stuff it will be coming down as a download over time.

Do you have anything before season 2 where the end gameplay is going to affect what happens in the TV show?

Nick: Like Kevin mentioned where people in the game need to find the cure for the plague in the show, we actually pass characters back and forth, not just Nolan and Irisa. For us, we have planned this within an inch of its life. You should expect whenever there is one of the episodes on that there is a crossover feed from game to show and show to game for each one.

Mark: There is a lot of stuff that will feel spontaneous. It’s engineered spontaneity where it all interacts and you’ll be able to see something in the series you may know in the game that will submit the world change and vice versa.

How much is prescripted as opposed to what the game will affect in the show?

Kevin: Everything is prescripted. We’ve wrapped principal photography for season 1 and we’ve had it since November. The missions we’ll involve and the things that will happen back and forth are not actually changing whats happening in the show. You are not actually changing what happens in the show. We have not shot alternate versions that the gamers get to vote on how it goes.

Rob: Its really an evolution of the two over time for the 13 episodes and the game. This hasn’t been done before. One usually happens one after the other. Things will be happening back and forth.

Kevin: What we’ll be happening as we develop season 2, we’ll be looking for ways to complicate the paradigm and find new ways to make the crossovers work.

For season 2, will it be another disc based Defiance game or will it be DLC?

Nick: We don’t have the answer for that question yet. It depends on where the market is. There is a lot of change right now. What I do think is that you should look for something big. With season 2 we’ll be looking for that big splash with all that attention that that’s going to get. As for DLC you should look at it as a big expansion size one.

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How does the campaign work? Is there an end to the game before the show comes on or is it a constant open world thing that never ends?

Nick: It’s a constant open world thing that never ends. Absolutely. There are a ton of different game modes. There’s the open world where we tell the story of your character as an ark hunter through the world. There’s the story of the world itself as it moves through time in conjunction with the television show. Theres open world co-op and co-op maps; open world multiplayer and multiplayer maps. If you think about every single feature of top line tier we have all that and then we bring scale to it with multiplayer. Right now the biggest multiplayer is up to 4 players, we have hundreds. We have open world capture the holePvP with emergent gameplay with our shadow warmup. We have time trials with our vehicles. We have vehicle combat. There is quite a lot to do. There is no end. Have you found an end to the internet yet?

Rob: We also provide the social tools you need to build friends and groups and clans and communication that you would find in a large open world game.

When the game is released in secondary markets, will the game be influenced overseas?

Nick: The game is shipping simultaneously in North America and Europe on April 2nd. The show is North American and western Europe that same week of April 15th. So it’s pretty much western world simultaneous release for the game and the show.

Do you have dedicated servers because it would be really bad if it went down for the first week of release?

Nick: Are you a Sim City player per chance? Trion is in the business of online games. Yes we have dedicated servers, a data center in Dallas and one in Amsterdam. We have been doing technical stress tests for the last month. We are also doing a beta event. We have a beta starting on the 21st where you’ll be able to play the game on the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 where we’re taking care of a lot of that load testing along with everything else.

So can people get on Xbox Live and Playstation Network to get a demo later this month?

Nick: So the guaranteed way to get in is to preorder. On the Playstation if you are a Playstation Plus member you’ll be able to get on the 21st. The PC also comes up on the 21st. You can sign up on Defiance.com. As for the Xbox, we haven’t released the date yet, but it should be close to those other two.

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