If the storied Stargate
TV tie-ins whet your appetite for an MMORPG
experience that impacts a companion television show, you won't need to
wait for CME to get its ducks in a row. Syfy and Trion Worlds are
teaming up for a project dubbed the "Syfy Action MMO" (working title)
and described as a "3rd-person action-shooter with visceral gun play."
While we wait for production cycles, television seasons, and myriad
planning challenges to resolve and align, Trion Worlds Executive
Producer Rob Hill offers us the latest on the Syfy Action MMO.

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alt="Syfy Logo"

Ten Ton Hammer: Let's
talk a bit about the collaborative process. You're at Trion Worlds' San
Diego studios, and Syfy is in LA?

Rob Hill: Syfy
is in LA; their chief office is in New York, but we deal primarily with
their office in Universal City.

Ten Ton Hammer: Even
apart from this project, it seems like Syfy is one of the more
experimental, creative networks.

Rob: Yea,
totally, and the really nice thing is: they're a great group to work
with. Very creative, they really listen to you, it's very
collaborative, and it's actually a lot of fun. It's not what I expected
at all.

Ten Ton Hammer: Who
would you say is in the driver's seat with the Syfy Action MMO project?

Rob: Right
now, we both are actually. The whole idea from the beginning was to
build the show and the game simultaneously, so that we weren't just
looking at what's important for the television show or the game. We
made sure from the very beginning that we could do both, and make both
really strong products. Really intertwine them - that they could do
things that we could pull in, we could do things that they pull in.
It's been really collaborative.

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alt="A Beached Ship"
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A Beached Ship

Ten Ton Hammer:
I would think that the production cycle for a TV show versus a game
would be very different, and very hard to sync up.

Rob: Yea,
that's been one of the big challenges so far. For us, we have to define
the world, we have to define what it looks like, because we have to
start building stuff really, really early. For them, they'll go through
several drafts of outlines, then they go through several drafts of
scripts, then they get it approved. And then they go through casting,
and then they're ready for the question we're dealing with right now -
what is this world going to look like?

So we've really drawn them into - ok, work with us now because we have
to make sure we don't have to build this stuff again. And they've been
really receptive to that.

Ten Ton Hammer: When
the time comes, it seems like you'll have to get some pretty versatile
actors, when it comes to voiceovers, possibly motion capture, that sort
of thing? Is casting for this project challenging?

Rob: Oh it's
completely different. [TV producers] are typically focused on smaller
groups of people, usually - telling a couple of stories that evolve
from week to week. We have to build an entire universe and tell
hundreds of stories pretty much at launch. So yea, the process has been
a little out of the ordinary. We've really been working with them to
say, 'ok, here's your little niche in the world, you can start it.
We're going to start telling all of these stories, and you can evolve
the show into these stories.'

Ten Ton Hammer: Games
offer a much broader canvas than television shows, and some television
show producers (like Battlestar
Gallactica's Ron Moore
) noted that structures like the sheer
expense of CG actually fueled their creativity, leading to plot
cornerstones like the predominant human cylons in the cited example.
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Rob Hill: And
you know what? That's really going to be the case here too. Show events
are going to visit places within our world that are obviously places
that they can take the television show to. When you're making a game -
particularly an MMO - you have to have a ton of variety. We could
really go off the deep end with the kind of stuff we want to do. Those
are the kind of places where the show doesn't go to, or goes very
rarely, because they obviously can't produce 100 tentacle creatures
that talk and do all kinds of crazy stuff very easily. But, again,
we're working with them to make sure they can move and evolve within
that world and maybe not make every single thing appear on the show.
What we do know is that they can do robots.

Ton Hammer:
We saw some really cool imagery of what
looked like a northern port city (you can href="http://www.trionworlds.com/en/games/syfy-action-mmo.php">
see them on the official site). Is it near future, or based
on earth?

Rob: It's
near future Earth. I can't really get into specifics of the situation,
but we're really looking for a way of being fantastical with
near-future earth because we want that variety. A bunch of people
walking around on the earth we know isn't nearly as exciting as players
in that genre will really, really want.

Ten Ton Hammer: And it's
a brand new show?

Rob: It's a
brand new show, a brand new IP actually. That really allowed us to make
sure that we built it together to hit both sides. We looked early on at
doing an existing IP, but none really had the depth that would have
really allowed us to do an MMO the way we wanted to do it. And that's
why the Syfy thing is perfect; they really wanted to get into games,
and we really wanted to leverage a television show with the game.

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alt="Remnants of a Museum"

Remnants of a Museum

Ten Ton Hammer:
Where would you say the center of gravity is at in the storytelling?
The show or the game?

Rob: The TV
show is going to tell the stories that they're going to tell, which
will be in sync with ours. But we get to tell many, many more stories
than they do even in multiple seasons. We're making sure that the
stories that they tell perfectly dovetail and even translate and come
over to our game, but also making sure that the stories that we're
telling in the game will have an influence on the show. Things that are
happening in the game, such as a plague, that could start in the game
and translate over to the television show, and when the players solve
that in the game, that again is translated over into the television
show.  Even to the point where the characters are talking
about the players and the guilds in the television show.

Ten Ton Hammer: You
must have a really special group of writers. (laughter) In terms of
plot development and especially character development, most
screenwriters (I would think) treasure the nice closed system in which
their ideas can take form. You're talking about creating a IP whose
story, though I would assume (like any game apart from sandbox-style
MMOS) is heavily directed, is still somewhat of an unknown. Players
alone are developing and maturing on their own aside from the
overarching plot. I have to say you're blowing my mind a little bit

Rob: Which
is a huge part of it, right? But depending on how you tell the story,
even those players are involved in a greater arcing story in the world.
They're the focus and the center, but they're still dealing with all
these other stories that are happening in the world.

Ten Ton Hammer:
And players are helping to create the canon?

Rob: Yea,
we've defnitely built that simultaneously. We've sort of laid the
foundation because we need to get the ball rolling.

Ten Ton Hammer:
Have any advice for guilds or player associations that want to see
their name referenced and immortalized on the television show?

If we have organizations in the game that grow big and well-renowned,
the TV show is definitely going to want to take advantage of that, so
long as its named appropriately and the guys aren't a bunch of
assholes. But the opportunity is really cool. It really permanently
makes you a permanent part of the canon whether you continue to play
the game or not.

Ten Ton Hammer:
Even things which typically come later in the TV show production cycle,
like the soundtrack and sound effects, have those been easy to sync up?

Rob: We
haven't actually really gotten to that point with the show, but we've
been sort of driving that effort on our end. We'll be able to
incorporate anything that they want to do coming backwards, but they do
realize, with the way things look and feel, that they're sort of going
to have to follow in our footsteps, because we just have to get that
stuff done soon.

Ten Ton Hammer:
Have you gotten lots of attention from Hollywood? I imagine that there
must be huge interest in seeing how this goes?

Rob: Yea,
I've read a few things, and they're definitely interested in seeing how
we're going to shake this out. But we've been talking to them for a
long time and thinking about a lot of great solutions for this. It
takes a lot of planning, but at the same time, it'll be really cool if
we, for example, had an NPC in the game that becomes really really
popular, we want to be able to grab that character and bring them into
the show.  And the same thing with them.  It's really
particularly nice in the off-season, we're going to be a lot of stuff
that they can look at and go, 'ooo, people really dig that kind of
stuff, we want to bring that back in.'

Ten Ton Hammer:
There's a lot more our readers want to know and a lot more I want to
ask you, but it's early. So we'll wrap up and thanks so much for
letting us in on the ground floor!

Rob: It is
early, and obviously I wish I could tell you more. One of the reasons I
came to Trion was because this is a huge, unique experience. Nobody
else is doing it, and for me, it's a really good chance to see how
Hollywood works and how TV shows are made. And they're learning how
games are made, it's really cool.

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016

About The Author

Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game he could since.