Not a lot is known about Defiance, apart from the fact that it caused a little bit of a kerfuffle amongst Journalists a couple of weeks back, and even then, no one actually knew what the game was. Finally though, the curtain has been lifted and we got to have a decent look at what this new project is offering. We spoke to Executive Producer Nathan Richardson about the specifics:
Strategy Informer: So, Defiance has been in development for a couple of years now but we’re only just finally getting a real idea of what it is. When a player puts the disc into the machine for the first time, what will they be confronted with?
Nathan Richardson: Three things that you’re going to notice: It’s a third-person shooter, it’s a large open-world, and that it’s massively online. It’s very story-driven in terms of what you go through in the singleplayer and the co-op missions. There’s even story-based 4-player co-op missions. Then we ramp it up in terms of players and throw them into massive, multi-part boss battles, and these take place within the world itself – we call these Arkfall events, and they can have 30, 60 people. We also have the ‘Shadow Wars’ which is the competitive multiplayer. In this you just have two teams that fight over objectives in the open world, and we have a variety of game modes for this, team deathmatch, capture the flag etc...
Strategy Informer: The big thing about Defiance is the TV show that’s running at the same time – do you think it’s fair to say the game’s only purpose is to link to that show?
Nathan Richardson: No, absolutely not. A long time ago, Trion wanted to try and come up with a Trans-media project. So they partnered up with SyFy, and the two came together and developed the initial Defiance concept. It fits well with doing this kind of experience – TV show and game. What’s happened since then is that the two have been developed to stand up on their own. You don’t have to watch the show to play the game, and you don’t have to play the game to watch the show. You won’t lose any of the experience, but there’s added experience if you do both. What happens if you imagine a common world, and then there are cross over events. So if something happens in the game, it is then crossed over to the TV show and visa-versa, but it’s explained contextually on both sides. There’s that connection there but they still both continue on their own. I mean the TV show in terms of budget and resources it’s bigger than Battlestar Galactica. In fact many people who worked on BSG are working on Defiance.
Strategy Informer: When will the TV show start effecting the game?
Nathan Richardson: So, the plan is at the moment – the game launches a couple of weeks before the show. The story and missions that are already in the game lead up to the pilot of the show, and then the TV show will start altering various elements of the game. It’s important that the TV show airs at the same time globally as well.
Strategy Informer: What kind of population can we expect per server?
Nathan Richardson: Well each platform as one single-super shard per platform, per territory. So NA PS3 is one shard, we’re talking about true MMO levels here. There’s no cross-compatibility though… it’s technically possible as we’ve had PS3 and PC running together on the same server today, but Sony and Microsoft won’t allow it, and then there’s also the things bout Console players versus PC players when it comes to PvP.
Strategy Informer: How are you going to manage all those people on one ‘shard’? Surely they’ll get in the way of each other when they try and do missions?
Nathan Richardson: There are a lot of different things with the population dynamics, we’ve got a lot of tools that we use to help with that. We won’t we really know what will happen until we go in to open beta. We’ve been in Alpha since July, but we really need a large population to see what would happen. We have this thing called Phasing where in basically instance vertically on the same shard, but we also have specific instancing as well. It’s going to be a mix on how we use these tools. In most cases you don’t really need a proper group, you just jump into an area and then if people are there you can ‘team up’.
We also have a very aggressive expansion schedule, so we’ll be a lot of new content that will be divided between story driven missions and more action missions. At the moment we basically have a lot of tools that can help us here, but we don’t know how to apply them yet, we need the feedback an open beta would bring.
Strategy Informer: Why no go *full* MMO? Like a third person Planetside or something?
Nathan Richardson: That’s a very good question. IF this was a PC-only title you would see us doing more that would typically be in an MMO, but because we’re also on consoles there are some things that exist in MMO’s that don’t exist on consoles.
But I wouldn’t call Defiance a full MMO because I feel MMO’s have much broader feature sets – there’s not a complex crafting system, for example, there’s not a housing system. IF you look at the feature sets of Rift etc… you’d see there’s a lot more to offer there. With Defiance though, we’re taking the shooter route, which is unusual for an MMO, and we’ve streamlined it that very much fits in with a console audience. That’s why it’s closer to an ‘open-world’ game as opposed to specifically a MMO.
Strategy Informer: How is the game world divided up? We were playing on what looked like quite a big map but we couldn’t see all of it.
Nathan Richardson: Well that was one part of one zone - There are five in-game zones, set around the San Francisco bay area. It’s important to note that the game itself is part of the larger world, and to make sure both the game and TV had room to grow, we’ve set them both in different geographical locations – The game in San Fran, and the TV show is in St. Louis. They totally different environments as well, with different feels. San Francisco is pretty barren because of all the wars, but St. Louis is more ‘Cradle of Civilisation’ feel as people are trying to rebuild society – it’s more character driven.
Strategy Informer: For players who want to take part in watching the show and playing the game, will their time be ‘managed’? Obviously they can’t rush ahead with content if the relevant part of the show hasn’t aired yet – will you be deliberately pacing how gamers interact with the cross-over content?
Nathan Richardson: Well, there’s a Yes and a No to this question – the Yes part is that there are certain sequences or events that are only switched on in relation to what’s happening in the show, so parts of side-quests are enabled when the relevant bit of the show happens. But at the same time you have events in the show that have a more ‘World’ effect, so for example if a plague happens, the game will reflect that. It’s more like changes to the environment and the type of missions that are available. They’re not blocking your progress, but are only available for certain amounts of time etc…
Strategy Informer: Community feedback is important, and PC players have the luxury of already being at their PC so they can give that feedback easily. Console players not so much – how are you going to allow console players to give feedback on the game?
Nathan Richardson: So we’re going to have a pretty strong presence online and on mobile and other platforms. So we will be exposing players to a lot of avenues with which to provide that feedback. But yes, it is a challenge on the console – we’re trying to figure out how to get a basic level of feedback from the console audience, which is a challenge because there’s no keyboard! We have things that will encourage you to go online anyway thought – item unlocks etc… it slowly encourages you to get involved in the community. We have some other ways that are more structured that should help solicit feedback.
Strategy Informer: How much content does the solo/co-op portion of the game offer?
Nathan Richardson: The main mission sequence will be 20-30 hours, but then you also have the side missions and the Arkfall/Shadow Wars events. Well we don’t really have a level system – even though you do ‘level up’, it’s more to do with improving your skill tree over time with eco points. When you progress through the game, everything you do applies to everything else – there’s no specific MP path, or SP path, it’s all connected. At the end game the multiplayer really takes over, but if you look at our update schedule there’ll lots more content there, new maps, new game modes, new missions.
Strategy Informer: What’s your update schedule going to be like? Are we talking more traditional DLC drops or Storm Legion–like expansions?
Nathan Richardson: Two weeks after launch is when the first one will drop. But it’s going to be in-between. We will have big drops every two months, and then bi weekly updates between those. These are better than average ‘dlc’, but we wouldn’t be able to do a Storm Legion like big expansion for the console. This is going to be both paid-for and free DLC.
Thank you to Nathan for taking the time to speak to us. It’ll be interesting to see how Defiance is received by gamer when it releases next April, and even more interesting to see how people actually take part in the crossover between the TV show and the game. Don’t forget to check out our Hands-on Preview.