For the first time, a television programme and a video game will be released at the same time, set in the same futuristic world.
Defiance will comes to UK televisions tomorrow (16 April), two weeks after a first person shooter MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online game) of the same name came out. The ambitious project is a joint venture by television channel SyFy and video game developer Trion Worlds.
Fans of American television will recognise many faces in Defiance. The cast is led by Grant Bowler (Ugly Betty, True Blood) and Julie Benz (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dexter), and also includes Mia Kirshner (24, The L Word) and British actress Jamie Murray (Hustle, Dexter).
Both the television series and the game are set on earth circa 2046, where humans and aliens now co-exist. In order to give each project room to manoeuvre, the television programme and game have different geographical settings. “The game is in San Francisco, which is more the wild west, and the TV show happens in St Louis, which is the rebirth of civilisation,” explains Nathan Richardsson, vice president of development at Trion and an executive producer on the Defiance game.
Despite the geographical separation, there will be significant interaction between the two media. “We trade characters and plotlines back and forth,” says Kevin Murphy, the television series’ co-creator and executive producer, “Events that happen in the video game have an impact in the TV show and vice versa.”
For the first season, at least, all these interactions have been pre-planned, but if Defiance is renewed for another season, Richardsson suggests that the process will become more organic. “The magic will happen more between seasons one and two,” he says, “because then we put the storytelling in the hands of the game and the gamers. The events that happen in the game will affect what happens in season two of the television show.”
There have been some difficulties in marrying the two worlds of the television programme and the game. For example, Trion digitally created several vehicles for the Defiance game, and SyFy attempted to build working versions for the filming of the series. “We discovered that when you translated their designs into metal, plastic, tyres and an engine they didn’t actually work,” says Murphy. “We had to go back to Trion and say: ‘Here’s our suggestion of something that we could actually build and not kill actors.’ And then they went back and adjusted their designs.”
SyFy and Trion are betting a lot of money on the joint venture’s success: according to Forbes, the combined cost of the project will be over $100m. “This is a massive investment and there is a lot of risk involved,” says Richardsson. “But we are trying to break that mould and experiment and see what’s next, and to do that you have to have two very dedicated parties.”
The success of the project may hinge on how the audience of each medium embraces the other. Richardsson says: “We don’t know how many people will participate in both, but we’re eager to see, and we’ll find out in a couple of days.”