Defiance is a first-of-its-kind television show AND video game. Trion Worlds and the Syfy channel are collaborating on this massive project that will launch Defiance simultaneously as a global television program on Syfy and the first-ever open-world shooter MMO from Trion. The game will be released on April 2, 2013, with the show following on April 15, 2013. With the game release fast approaching, we sat down and chatted with Bill Trost, Creative Director at Trion Worlds, about some of the features of the opening game.
How long have you been working with Trion, and what were your first thoughts about the brand tie-in with the show?
I’ve been working with Trion since 2007. I was there from the very beginning so we first talked about it and we never really thought it would actually happen. I admit, it sounded a bit crazy at first.
Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games can very expansive and daunting to pull off, what were your biggest fears going into this?
I’ve had a lot of experience with MMOs; helping the development the original Everquest. The MMO part wasn’t scary to us, it was developing a high-quality shooter was what we’ve focused a lot of our time on. We want to make sure we can deliver that experience, and then tie-in the appropriate elements from MMOs that would make the experience better.
What was the most difficult aspect of designing a shooter and tying it in with an MMO experience?
Traditionally, MMOs have been focused on character skill, while a shooter is an expression of the player. We wanted to make sure that whatever we did, the character progress, the loot, that none of that would overrun the expression of the player skill. Shooter players don’t want some dice roll interfering with a clear shot on an enemy. That was challenging both internally and simply to communicate.
One of the interesting elements of the game is the Ego Power System, can you tell us about that?
The ego (fictionally) is alien nanotechnology that has been further developed by the human combine. In the game, it’s expressed through the character that you can see, as well as your UI and character progression. You have an activated ego power, as well as ego perks. Players will earn ego units that you then spend on these things and navigate this ego grid that represents all of these skills and abilities of your character.
The ego grid in particular seemed like one of the biggest personalization aspects of the game, is that something you spent a lot of time on?
Definitely. With this large seamless shooter that we’re developing, we wanted to make sure that players never felt like they were locked down into any particular role. However, we still wanted to have a sense of progression. We had this idea that you’ll start on one corner of the grid based on whatever power you initially choose, you can navigate around the grid in a bunch of different ways. You’re unlocking and investing points into way more abilities than you can equip at a single time. So this leads the player into creating various loadouts that contain your active ego powers, your weapons, your grenade, and your shield. As the situation changes throughout the world, you’ll have the ability to jump between these loadouts. It will automatically pick the abilities for you.
It seems like you’ve guys have really lowered the barrier-of-entry for those who are new to these MMO experience, can you talk a little bit about the design ideas, such as instantly being in a co-op experience and thee world events?
One of the key things we like about playing on the console is the ability to play with your friends easily. When you’re playing with your friends, you don’t want anything to disrupt that at all. We wanted to make things as seamless as possible when it comes to entering these experiences, whether alone or with friends. We don’t have any lobbies, but you can queue up for these different events as you play. So, you could be in a co-op adventure but when enough people are interested in a Shadow War, and then it’ll instantly switch over to that. We also have big co-op events called Arkfalls, which will spawn throughout the world. These are huge massively multiplayer boss battles that require a dozen or more players to accomplish. These can be smaller, but they can also easily escalate.
How closely did you work with the SyFy team when it came to creating a consistent and expansive universe for Defiance?
We’ve been working with them very closely from the beginning. We quickly narrowed things down to, and to the idea of aliens. We didn’t want it to be a typical alien invasion scenario. So we latched to the idea of it being immigration, not an invasion. From the beginnings until now, we have nearly daily contact with people from SyFy. Our primary writer was involved with Defiance’s initial creation from the show’s end. We took trips up to the set in Toronto to make sure everything fits nicely. The television show is pretty much finished and the game is in beta, but because of our marketing efforts we still have daily contact with members of the SyFy side.
What was the most exciting part about having that working relationship?
It’s pretty cool, having worked in games for a while; the world of TV has been completely foreign. We were wondering what these Hollywood guys would be like, and they turned out to be very cool and collaborative. They were very excited about the idea and curious about the realm of videogames, just as we were about the creation of a television show. It was a lot of teaching and sharing of exactly how each side works. For videogames, we have to create the entire world that we need to present, and not just what the camera is pointed at. We have been Communicating that idea and having plenty of conversations. I remember showing them the months of work put into our engine, and showing off the water shaders once we put them in. Mark Stern on Syfy was like “Yeah, if we want water, we just turn on a hose”.
Have you seen any surprising actions or reactions from those participating in the beta?
It’s just been awesome to see people playing the game after all of the work put in. A lot of people are excited. I’ve put a lot of time working out the fiction of the world. We got this one email that was a beginning-to-end analysis of our story. It broke down the parts of the game that the player liked and what he didn’t like. We actually received this email pretty early on in the testing process and it gave us plenty of things to think about, and we agreed with some of the things they brought up. Those moments have been really rewarding; having a player who cares enough to give us honest feedback that can be used to help improve the game for all players.
The show’s release is right around the corner, what are you most looking forward to seeing from your players?
Like any MMO, the thing that is most exciting for me is the stories that players will tell with the world that you’ve provided for them. While we’ve created these quest lines and NPCs, and backstory, but the real stars of the game is the players who immerse themselves within the game and mold their own stories from these experiences. I just look forward to seeing what people do with the world that we’ve given them.