Defiance’s Game-TV Crossover is Disappointing
The result of ambitious trans-media collaboration between Trion Worlds and Syfy, Defiance poses an interesting proposition as both an online third-person-shooter-cum-MMOG and a TV show. Its grand fiction deals with the aftermath of mass alien migration to Earth and promises themes of hope, prejudice, alienation and redemption set against a post-apocalyptic backdrop. The TV show begins on Syfy on Monday April 15, while right now thousands of concurrent players can engage in cooperative and competitive game play on PC, PS3 and 360. Trion Worlds is also eyeing a possible move on to next-gen consoles and sees no reason why it can’t stretch to Sony and Microsoft’s new machines in the future.
It’s a shame, then, that throughout the opening hours the potential scale of the concept is matched only by the magnitude of its failure to convey any of its rich fiction or deliver on its grand plans. IGN’s review will reveal if the below par opening gives way to more positive longer-term impressions but muddy textures, lackadaisical AI, thinly veiled fetch quests and monotonous point-defence missions do little to inspire confidence.
Poor first impressions aside, one of Defiance’s most interesting potential strengths is the buzz surrounding the intersection of the TV show and game. The Defiance website claims that “the Defiance TV series is a revolutionary weekly drama that impacts the game, and gives you the chance to change the show.” But after speaking to key members of the project on both sides of the medium-divide it’s apparent that there is very little room for meaningful crossover any time soon.
It’s apparent that there is very little room for meaningful crossover any time soon.
“[Content] is relatively set now, because a lot of things have to be determined up front for creating game content or shooting a TV show,” explains Trion Worlds’ VP of development Nathan Richardsson. “Tie-ins with the TV show for when both go live aren’t that many, but going forward there’ll be much more of the dynamic content [and they] will have a bigger effect on each other.”
This seems to point to a wait for any meaningful potential crossover to occur sometime further down the line, when both the game and TV show have had a chance to establish themselves and move beyond their opening seasons. However, as the TV show’s supervising producer Michael Nankin concedes, “We don’t know yet if there’s going to be a season two… Presuming that there is, I think there will be much richer integration between the two because we’ll have an element that doesn’t exist now that wasn’t available to us, which is 6 months of game play.”
It’s unsurprising but nonetheless disappointing to hear of resource constraints preventing the creators of both the game and TV show from producing more crossover content at inception. Richardsson repeatedly describes both game and TV show as “a full experience in their own right’, referring to each as being “an additive experience” to the other. Despite this, when describing the collaborative process Nankin cites more examples of each team making concessions to accommodate the limitations of the other’s medium than he discusses how one has meaningfully enhanced the other.
Much of the crossover exists only as a potential strength in an uncertain longer-term future.
“Around 75-80 percent of the show has nothing to do with the game, so perhaps only 25 percent has to crossover,” Nankin says. “Originally, we were rooting for horses, because it made sense to us in a post-apocalyptic world that people would get around by horse, but the game designers said ‘no we can’t do horses, sorry.’”
Currently, much of the crossover between game and TV show exists only as a potential strength in an uncertain longer-term future, rather than a guaranteed deliverable. This contrast is reflected in other areas too, with some niggling inconsistencies in Richardsson and Nankin’s messaging. While the former claims that Defiance represents “Syfy’s biggest investment ever; they’re doing more than they did for Battlestar Gallactica,” Nankin acknowledges that “Defiance is actually not a huge budget show.” Overall, there’s what feels like a general lack of cohesion between the two projects that does not bode well for future collaboration.
Having experienced the opening hours of Defiance and watched the pilot TV episode, it’s clear that its biggest strength is the potential longevity offered by its fiction. Several alien species living alongside humans on a terra-formed earth offers wide scope for tales of racial tension, betrayal and intrigue. However, it feels as though both Trion and Syfy have missed a prime opportunity to better integrate with one another from the start, especially as both mediums are being promoted side-by-side and promises of how each might affect the other are prevalent even now.
Defiance should have been aiming for dazzling first impressions in order to inspire confidence in its long term future. Instead, its game initially offers a clunky and aesthetically unappealing end-of-generation console experience while the pilot episode of the TV show carries an inelegant and laborious script that its recognisable cast struggle to sell. The IP has potential but so far neither of its constituent parts is doing enough to convince that its reach won’t exceed its grasp. It’s apparent that without the long-term backing from audiences, neither arm will survive long enough to prove whether or not it can deliver on all of that potential.
Stace Harman is a freelance contributor to IGN and is convinced that zombies will one day inherent the Earth. You can follow him on Twitter and IGN.
By Stace Harman