Defiance: A New Experiment

For those who haven’t explored Defiance yet, it’s an unprecedented venture to marry a serialized TV drama with a multiplayer FPS. With the cataclysmic arrival of extraterrestrials and the ensuing wars that followed, our planet has been reformed and repopulated with new lifeforms. These events change the face of the earth and create entirely new environments and ecosystems. Alien tech from the crashed Ark ships can be salvaged and cashed in, forming the basic motivation for the FPS gameplay and storyline, which takes place around the fractured San Francisco Bay area. Meanwhile, halfway across the continent, St. Louis has been mostly buried, apparently from the collateral terraforming (and lets face it, I’m sure there are certain parts of St. Louis that could be improved by this sort of thing) and the new frontier town of Defiance is built atop the remnants, where the vampire Darla tries to maintain a semblance of order as the town’s mayor, a role which is complicated by the influence of such characters as an alien Vincent Van Gogh, the father of two werewolves, and the captain of the Kahana.

SyFy fully intends that the show will impact the events in the game and vice versa, despite the distance between locations. I assume that there would be more flow from show-to-game rather than the other way, and definitely anticipate that characters from the series will be referenced or make appearances – although I doubt individual players and accomplishments will be mentioned in the context of the show’s script.

Because, honestly, how is any writer going to make the line “I heard last week that KillaBotz422 sniped his 900th Hellbug just north of Sonoma…” sound legitimate?

For those interested in the story arcs that might arise, you can be assured that the production teams did not skimp on the talent for their creative think tanks. Defiance is helmed by people who cut their teeth on Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones, and other highly acclaimed sci-fi/fantasy properties. The showrunners have stated that Defiance will be an immigration show, consisting of a melting pot of cultures in a frontierlike setting, eking out an existence in a harsh reality (sounds very much like The Best Show Ever to me). But let’s look at this more from the game side. What does an incorporated ‘verse mean for gamers?

Firstly, I anticipate a much richer storytelling experience and a stronger focus. In my own gaming career, it seems that the FPS genre has a very difficult time building a compelling narrative thru action gameplay. Note the “thru action gameplay” element there. Halo possesses a rich backstory and narrative, but the history is mostly told in cutscenes and sound bites. The Mass Effect series consists of an incredibly diverse setting and strong drama, but again, the storyline advances primarily through the dialogue on either end of the missions rather than via the missions themselves. Welding the game to the show will give the studio flexibility to use the TV series for exposition and depth, while focusing on the combat and customization aspects of the MMO. Of course, that’s not an imperative; it’s a storytelling strategy choice that will be up to the studio’s discretion. But they’ve at least given themselves multiple avenues for communicating with viewers and players alike.

The studio has also put itself in a position to give players a much more meaningful involvement with the game. Most times on an MMO (particularly on an FPS), your in-game character is a tool, a means to an end – preferably someone else’s end, and as spectacular an end as a rocket launcher can create. And when my Team Fortress 2 Demoman gets the wrong end of a flamethrower, though, I don’t mentally wince because the BLU Team has had a meaningful loss; I’m just peeved that I have to run all the way back to the cap again. By giving us a universe populated with realistic characters having realistic conflicts, Defiance lets us pull the lens back and hopefully see why we need to salvage that recently crashed Ark, why we can’t just let the raiders or the mutants just take their own territory. The show can serve as an avenue to shove your face into the grit and the struggle and the pain of survival and give a gamer a reason to keep coming back besides the leaderboards and the kill count.

And, of course, there is an intangible reward that can be very satisfying, that fuels the imagination, and that serves (for me, anyway) as the lynchpin for this whole endeavor. I want to see how player actions make life simpler (or more difficult) for the show characters. When I play Call of Duty, I don’t see how a successful multiplayer match eventually destabilizes the local warlord’s regime or swings the balance of power away from other political and military forces. But I want to see that in Defiance. If I check out that week’s episode, I want to feel a sense of satisfaction, however small, if someone references an event in which I took part.

So that’s why I have hope for Defiance. New Earth. New Rules. New Game.

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