Ten Ton Hammer had the extremely rare opportunity to tour the live,
working set of Defiance, an upcoming, cross-media, cross-platform SyFy
television show and online shooter MMO. After a quick chat with the
producers and cast, we had our first look at an aspect of the game we
haven't seen before: world PvP.
Quiet on Set!
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Walking around a hot set was a new experience for me and even most of
the entertainment press on the tour. At one point, Murphy hustled us
into the lawkeeper's office while we quietly waited for a street scene
to be filmed outside.
The set was huge, even by movie industry (let alone TV
industry) standards. Murphy praised the Production Designer Steve
Geaghan's ambition, noting that every time a show is cancelled around
Toronto, Geaghan would sweep in and appropriate much of it for use in
Defiance. The approach works especially well because Defiance itself is
a patchwork town, built from the rubble of the old world. The result of
Geaghan's work is a sprawling outdoor set that's bigger than some small
town commercial districts, with the equivalent of three avenues and two
Many of the structures aren't mere facades - the set crew
dresses an interior as needed, then the interior is kept for future
use. Only the most frequently used interiors - Kenya's Need/Want Cafe,
the residences of the industrialist McCawley and the mayor's office,
for example - have been moved inside.
Defiance is described as a rebirth, and it seems that the show
is offering cast members a chance at a kind of rebirth too. During a
cast Q&A, Julie Benz noted that playing mayor Amanda Rosewater
allowed her to play a strong, dynamic woman, a sharp contrast to the
somewhat damaged character she played as Dexter's wife, Rita, on the
Showtime drama of the same name. Asked about acting against the
apparent nothingness of a green screen - a must for many scenes -
Emmy-award nominated actor Graham Greene noted that it makes him feel
like he's five years old again, living in a highly imaginative world.
Greene's role as industrialist is a sharp contrast to his typical roles
too, which tend to honor his Oneida heritage.
Contrasting Settings: St. Louis and San Francisco
Speaking of sharp contrasts, in both look and feel, the
settings of the game and show offered far more differences than I was
expecting. Executive Producer Kevin Murphy invoked DC Universe's Gotham
City and Metropolis in explaining how the show (set in a rugged,
post-apocalyptic St. Louis) and the game (set in a futuristic,
still-apocalyptic San Francisco) can stand alone, but are better
Describing the feel as "quasi-western" (and evoking memories
of Janestown and Firefly), Murphy noted that the show is centered on
the new town of Defiance, with themes like restoration and inclusion,
as the surviving human and alien races seek to put their past behind
them. The game's setting, however, has more of a gold-rush mentality,
as players brave existential threats for their shot at individual
Art Director James Dargie explains it like this: "This is kind
of a rebirth period. The races are harmonizing, and areas like St.
Louis are flourishing. It's not an urban mecca, but it's a sustainable,
functioning city. In San Francisco, we're on the fringe. We have all
the benefits of the technology, but we don't have a civic center yet.
Players are ark-hunters, trying to find riches and fame. Players don't
live in a safe town, which kind of justifies the differences you see."
The contrast between the sainted cities is a big part of the
reason Dargie was parachuted in nine months ago. Dargie, with
experience in set and character design in the television and games
industries, is one of the primary forces keeping the game and TV show
visuals in sync.
It's an interesting challenge, given that environments are
easier to change on the game side, while character models tend to be
easier to create in a live action setting than in a game. "We'll design
settings in-game that the show producers look at and say, 'we can't
build that, it's too expensive.' With characters, they'll come up with
creatures like a six-legged bear, and we'll say we don't have the bones
to support or animate that. We can always find a middle ground." In the
case of the six-legged bear for example, Visual Effects guru Gary
Hetzel noted that the middle ground was using non-articulating insect
legs in place of bear legs.
Read on for a hands-on look at Defiance world PvP.
Defiance World PvP Preview
The Defiance cast had a show to shoot and we had a game to
play, so it was back to the hotel and a swanky rooftop demo area for
some quality time with the game. I sat down with an attractive female
character that could have been modeled on Julie Benz and took a look at
Though the Sausalito playfield is intended to fall somewhere
in the middle of the game (one of its five mammoth playfields at
launch), my character's abilities were fairly limited, with only basic
equipment and no ego point enhancements (buffs and debuff abilities,
such as enhancing run speed). That suited me just fine for a fast
The character - we'll call her Amanda in homage - was packing
an assault rifle, a holographic decoy ability that works on players and
AI-controlled enemies, and the handy ability to summon a zippy
four-wheeler (or quad) anywhere. I immediately did so, and it was
shades of Farcry or GTA as I splattered some raiders, flourescently
accented enemies that could have stepped out of Mad Max's highlighter
factory, on the way to a mission.
Missions are repeatable, and players get new missions by
interacting with a prismatic cloud (for lack of a better description)
near mission objectives. This one had me and my closest 12 demo-mates
assaulting a raider farm to shut down their generators and destroy
their weapons caches. Little did I know that this was all just a warmup
for world PvP, but fortunately I did discover a sticky grenade launcher
sitting in a crate at the farm, an elegant weapon that came in very
Senior VP of Development Nick Beliaeff had us kick off world
PvP, which was as simple as joining a queue. To my surprise, a 4 second
countdown phased us into the exact same zone with nary a loading
screen. The difference: the map had nominally fewer AI enemies, two
teams of perhaps fifteen each, and (in lieu of missions) three capture
points. I hopped on my quad, dodged a teammate traffic jam, and set out
for objective A. The location was well chosen, nestled in a combination
greenhouse / solar farm with plenty of cover opportunities.
Since this was the initial blitz, I easily captured A and set
out for B, but soon spotted a handful of enemy players heading for A. I
doubled back, ran over one unfortunate guy on foot, but discovered a QA
ringer (one of a handful on each side) toting a hellbug gun, who made
quick work of me with nasty little bugs that could hone in around
corners. I respawned nearby (you have a choice of spawn points
depending on what your team has captured), and decided to change my
tactics. Outing my decoy as I swept in, I loaded up the capture point
with sticky grenades and waited for an enemy to return and finish the
cap. Hitting the reload button blew one enemy halfway across the map,
but her teammates discovered my hidey hole and put me down. As in any
online shooter, sheer numbers usually decide the encounter.
I picked up an Xbox controller to see how the game played with
these ancient instruments of gaming, and though the keyboard and mouse
felt more natural to me (being a PC gamer through and through), I
didn't embarrass myself and even managed a kill or two with my thumbs
and trigger finger. Nick reminded us that the game is not only
multi-platform - playing on PS3, X360, and PC - but will be
cross-platform as well, meaning that players on each platform will play
with (or against) each other.
Time ticked down, and a defensive approach (capturing two
points and defending them well, rather than going for all three) seemed
to work well. Victory was ours, and my fifth place finish (just behind
the QA folks) didn't shame my family. We returned to the PvE map, and
Nick immediately spawned an arkfall nearby. The experience was
extremely reminiscent of Rift, with waves of scrappers spawning - drone
scrappers, boss scrappers, all pretty scrappy. Close-quarters dynamic
events perhaps work better in a melee & magic game than a
shooter, but the experience was fun enough. No rewards came as a result
of winning the event - perhaps itemization is still a work in progress
- but with six months to launch and a fun, functional foundation for
the game, Trion has plenty of time to flesh things out.
Defiance's two hour season premiere will air in April 2013,
with the game slated to release two weeks prior. Syfy has gone all-in
with the IP, and is deep into production in the show's ten episode
first season without airing a pilot. Ten Ton Hammer will continue to
cover Defiance as the game nears its groundbreaking release next year.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Defiance Game Page.