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Interview - Defiance, World Creation
Syfy’s "Defiance" is both a TV series from the SyFy Channel and a video game from Trion Worlds. They're being developed in tandem as a brand new IP, which means new characters, new worlds, and new alien races. The game came out at the beginning of April 2013, and the TV show’s pilot aired this week on the Syfy Channel. The series continues Mondays at 9 p.m. ET. Here, Trion Worlds' Nathan Richardsson and Executive Producer/showrunner Kevin Murphy talk about the creation process.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the original language created for this show?
Kevin Murphy: So David Peterson is not only our language creator but he's also our Cultural Consultant on the show. He really has a mind for that sort of nuance. And from his perspective, you can't really create a realistic language without knowing a lot about the culture of the language - the language creators. David Peterson, prior to "Defiance," is best known for creating the Dothraki language on the HBO series "Game of Thrones." And this presented an even bigger challenge to him because the Dothrakis on "Game of Thrones" are illiterate; they don't have any written form of their language. We asked them to come and not only create a spoken version of Irathient, but also a written version; a spoken version of Castithan; he's also done Indogene; and Liberata is a work in process, we don't use that as much. But at this point, last time I checked, we were at 1,962 Irathient words and counting.
And there are complete rules for grammar, syntax, verbs, and irregular verbs; there's an 150-page orthographic document that he's created. Along the way there are things he's created in terms of what our alien cultures are and who they were on their home world that I don't even completely understand. Likw every now and then when he was creating the Irathient language, I would get this weird phone call from David and he'd go, "Is it okay if the Irathient home world sky was kind of red?" "Okay David, sure." "Great, that's going to make everything work." And I had no idea why a red, Irathient sky made the language work but I know that David knows, and that's what's important.
So that's really how we do it day-to-day, and Nathan could speak to how they do it in the video game. But in the show we basically write in English and we put carats around it and say what it is we want the character to say. David chooses the appropriate language and then makes up the words and the syntax and then adds it to the overall vocabulary. And the languages get bigger and bigger and grander and grander.
Nathan Richardsson: The way that we do it in the game itself is essentially not to the same extent. It's more that we pick up individual, for example, swearing and stuff like that from different languages, which add a certain type of flavor to the conversations that are happening in the cinematics in the game itself - because obviously you aren't required to know caste to be able to play the game.
Q. How did the designs for the races come about?
Kevin Murphy: Well, when we were first figuring out the races for the pilot, the initial idea came from Trion. But we could only have so many races that are CGI, just because of the limits of the budget and the limits of technology in terms of acting. So we knew that we were going to have to use flesh-and-blood actors. So we really had to look at, "What can we do that's cost-effective?" For the Irathients, we decided that we would do most of what they do with makeup and we would use a forehead prosthetic. And so that affected the way that Irathients look in the game. Of course in the game you can do anything because it's an entirely digital domain, but that's a case of the game cooperating with us. The Castithans, we decided we would settle with contact lenses. And we did a lot of experimentation with makeup to make them glow, but they don't actually have any latex. The Sensoth and the Liberata are very expensive suits, so we see fewer of those aliens. And the Indogenes are also very expensive because they're an entire latex head.
But we really had to look at, "How do we make it not look like rubber suits?" We looked at the way that we were painting the latex to make sure that it didn't shine under stage lights. And all of this had to get sort of reverse-engineered into the look of the game. This is a case where the game [developers] were generous and wonderful teammates in adapting to our needs. On the other hand, one of the other things that we did was, we appropriated the Volge from the videogame for the pilot. And they appear in a couple of other episodes. But what we discovered is, when you put them in kind of a photo-realistic environment with actual flesh and blood actors, they looked a little too "Buck Rogers" - they didn't look grounded. So Gary Hutzel, who was our Visual Effects Supervisor, did some tweaks to the design and then ran it back with the folks at Trion. And happily, the folks at Trion really loved what Gary did and so they incorporated those changes into the design of the game. And I think we ended up with something that was better than we would have come up on the TV show on our own, and it was better than the original first pass that Trion had, and the gamers are the beneficiary of that sort of cross-pollination of the artists.
Nathan Richardsson: This is one example of where these two different mediums...have something that could work better than either of them. Actually getting to know each other better and going back and forth like that - for example, with the Volge - it ended up it being a much better result in the end. That was a pleasing surprise for both of us.
Q. What kind of compromises did you have to make in the world, in terms of translating the video game to television?
Kevin Murphy: So flying is one example. That was something that could have been cool in the game. And for us to do that, my fear was that it would make everything feel a little too "Buck Rogers" to have flying cars. So we decided that we were not going to have that. And that there's a Stratocarrier that you enter the game in, but it crashes.
Nathan Richardsson: We are even still now exploring, like when we were thinking about, "What do we actually have in our expansions to Defiance," because you have an aggressive schedule of expansions post-launch. So we have planting of seeds. We're asking ourselves, "What could actually fit here," and then we also have to take into consideration, with the show, what could merge well together and actually create more compelling stories. Because when we look at how want to move the game forward, whether we're doing crossovers at that point in time or whether we're just thinking forward, we don't want to paint ourselves into a corner. It's a relationship like every other, that you have to be well aware of each other.
Q. With regard to vehicle and equipment design, who take care of that? Do the live action people mostly do that, or is that done from the game first?
Nathan Richardsson: The vehicles they come from both sides. As with the television show, in many cases you would like to at least base them on something that's currently available or close to [reality], which you would modify. We don't have that restriction inside the game, of course; we can go pretty much everywhere. But in terms of which one is more contributing, I think it's pretty similar, even though the reason that people see less in the TV show is simply that it's a different type of story that's being told. In Defiance a lot of your travel is vehicle-based. So we have everything from quads up to trucks and stuff like that. Some of them we actually have made ourselves. But a good example is that in the pilot, the car that Nolan and Irisa are driving, it actually didn't exist in the game itself and it's actually just being finished as we speak.
There are restrictions. For example, you will see that we have Dodge Challengers and stuff like that. And that's not just because they're good partners and sponsors, it's because that it fit very well with the universe. Because you want to have a certain amount of alien, futuristic views of it, but you also have to have a certain amount of familiarity to the world.
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