Syfy’s "Defiance" has a lot of people tuning in out of curiosity, because it’s a show that’s being designed simultaneously as a video game and a television series. The game came out at the beginning of April 2013, and the TV show’s pilot aired this week on the Syfy Channel; both are currently receiving mixed reviews, but it's early. The series continues Mondays at 9 p.m. ET.
Here’s a look at the show’s crossover concept with executive producer and show runner Kevin Murphy, and Trion Worlds’s Vice President of Development Nathan Richardsson.
Can you fill us in on how this all started?
Kevin Murphy: It’s been five years in the making. About five years ago, Dave Howe from Syfy and Lars Butler from Rion got together, because Syfy had made a large investment in Trion and they were looking for a project to do together. So they looked through the various properties that Syfy had in development, and they settled on this world. It took five years of development to get the video game up and running, which is not unusual for a video game, as I think many can attest. And it took that long to figure out how it would work as a television show. I came on board the project about two years ago and got us over the finish line, in terms of the shared world.
And the big idea was really about, how do we create a big universe with two distinct portals that would allow you to enter that world? By creating a new world, it gave you an infinite number of permutations of ways to tell stories and to find characters.
Nathan Richardsson: Also part of it, of course, is that it’s happening in two different geographical locations. One of the problems that you have with licensed games and licensed shows is that they’re usually restricting each other, so with the geographical difference, and also of course selecting the right kind of world and intellectual property that actually fit both mediums, both parties are actually quite free to tell pretty compelling stories.
Kevin Murphy: Yes, what’s really special about this is that, unlike the adaptation, rather than one intellectual property being iterative of the other, the game and the show are equals. Because they’re developed together, the mythology is seamless. And whenever there’s something that serves the needs of the game, we work it into the mythology of the show. And if there’s something that’s important for the show, the game works it into their mythology. And that allows for, I think, a better gaming experienced and a better - hopefully - television viewing experience.
Q. When you’re putting all this together, how do you tell where the line is between what’s strictly going to be game-focused and what’s going to make it on the screen? What’s the conversation like in terms of how those two play off each other?
Kevin Murphy: Well, one of the things that we learned early on that we needed, was a way to keep the mythology of the game and the mythology of the television show up-to-date and current because we were having real trouble communicating. At Trion they would do a big beautiful bible of everything that was going on in the game, and we would use that as a reference. And we would pull something out - like some creature or some political figure - and they’d turn around and say, "Oh, sorry, that’s not in it anymore, we took that out." And they would have the same frustration with us. So we created the position of a mythology coordinator, who serves as kind of an editor between what goes into the game and what goes into the television show and helps define connections, and makes sure that there’s nothing we do in the show that contradicts the reality of the game. To make sure that when we do an episode with Hell Bugs in the television show, that we’re being accurate as to the biology and what they look like and how they breed and what the various subclasses of Hell Bug are. And that everything we’re doing is exact, so that when a gamer watches the show, they really have a feeling of recognition that this is the same monster that they’ve been having fun fighting and killing in the game world.
Q. When you buy the actual game, there’s an endpoint. So if someone finished the game right away, how do they still get the crossover content? Can you still play in the world?
Nathan Richardsson: There are actually a couple of angles to that question and the answer itself, simply because the game is based on a main storyline, of course, which is telling the story and getting you immersed. But it also has so many other different aspects of the online aspect, which provides much more longevity in gameplay. What happens there is that we have the crossover elements between the show and the game, but there are also live events happening in the game itself when it all continues. So you’re still affecting the world itself, even though the show hasn’t actually finished its last episode. I mean, what happens essentially in the game is material for what would happen on season two. So the opportunities, like the number of opportunities that we have to actually work with how we play the game and how we work with season two - is essentially too many options.
Kevin Murphy: One of the things that’s really exciting now that we’re going through the process of beginning to think about the shape and form of season two, is now that the game is actually up and running and the TV show is up and running, we’re now going to be able to really plan things for season two that we can be setting up, because a lot of the game is being created as we go along. It’s constantly changing and there are new levels and new missions being introduced. So that’s something that we’re really looking forward to, because as we move forward we’re able really to make the convergence between the two even deeper and more meaningful as we get to season two.
Q. How much crossover will there be during the first season from characters in the series into the the game?
Kevin Murphy: There’s a fair bit. I’m going to be a little coy about it because I don’t want to lay it all out and create a situation where we have spoilers. But we are passing several characters back and forth in both directions. And one of the things that we have to be very careful about is - if you remember from old high school probability class or whatever, where you had the Venn diagram where you would have the two big circles with the intersecting middle - if you imagine that there’s one circle that is gamers, and another circle that is television views, and you look at the point where they intersect, those are our super-fans, our people who are going to immerse themselves completely in the world.
And what we want to do is create an amazing experience for all of our immersive super-fans, while at the same time making this enterprise accessible to the people who are just interested in the television show or just interested in playing the game. And hopefully over time we intrigue them and tickle their curiosity and get them to get a bigger and bigger sample and create more super-fans.
But to do that we have to be very, very tricksy in how we go about creating our crossovers. We have to make sure that when we do a crossover element that the one side doesn’t feel that they’ve missed a chapter or that they don’t feel frustrated or [think], "I can’t enjoy this television show if I’m not also playing the game, so I’m not going to bother watching the television show."
So to give you a for instance, when Nolan and Irisa get the terra-spire at the beginning of the pilot, they take out a glowing little GEM, which is not really commented upon. Nolan refers to it as a whatchamacallit, or "Do you have the whatsit?" And they put it on the terra-spire and that’s what allows them to get the Terrasphere, which is the big deal later in the pilot. If you’re a television viewer, that moment will probably pass by you without incident. But if you’re a gamer, you’re going to have a huge emotional connection for that, because that is a big part of a mission in the game.
So we’ve had to be really, really careful making sure that our crossovers are done in a way that they work on two levels, that the work for both the viewer and the super-fan.
Here's a look at the video game: