Monday, May 13, 2013


I meant to write more about Defiance long ago, but actually working on Defiance kept me so busy that I just didn't have time!  So what's this game I've been working on?

Defiance launched on schedule on 2nd April.  That date was non-movable due to the tie-in with the TV show launch, so yes, there were definitely some late nights coming up to launch. At least 6 months of them. Yep, it would have been nice to push the date back, but we hit the deadline and the game is live.  It was an amazing experience to watch how much and how well the game improved and grew to completion over that time! As the first game on which I've worked as a producer (they hired me as an associate, but soon promoted me to producer of the design team) it was one heck of a learning experience, without doubt.  One I value highly.

I'm going to assume anyone reading this blog is somewhat familiar with the Defiance story, but in a nutshell: set a few decades in the future. Group of alien races in ark ships flee a dying star system and arrive at earth intending to colonize it, only to discover -- oops -- it's already occupied.  Years of negotiations ensue, earth not being at all happy to welcome intergalactic immigrants onto an already-crowded planet.  Some settlement starts but also some fighting, and at some point a disaster occurs: the ark ships parked in orbit (still containing most of the aliens and their colonization equipment) explode.  Accident or sabotage? Human or alien doing? Nobody knows, but the damage from the destruction of the fleet, the ensuing war, and the not-as-occasional-as-one-would-hope alien terraforming equipment falling to earth and running amok result in a very changed planet.  After years of war, remnants of both human and alien armies band together and defy orders that would result in massive civilian deaths, and the "defiance" movement begins to spread peace (albeit a highly-armed and rather jumpy type of peace).  

Set in the area once known as San Francisco, the game allows players to take the character of "ark hunters", highly skilled types who make their living from recovering ark tech and similar valuables.  Meanwhile in what was formerly called Saint Louis, the TV show follow the town of Defiance and its new mayor as they try to rebuild their city and protect themselves from outside dangers, of which there are no shortage.

The main characters from the show actually started off in the game, offering a series of missions that allowed game players to interact with the characters Nolan and Irisa.  At the end of the mission line, the two depart, taking with them a crystalline bit of ark technology that later plays an important role in the pilot episode of the show.  

Screenshot of Irisa, Nolan, and my character retrieving the ark tech in the game:

...And two weeks later, in the TV show pilot episode, Nolan and Irisa using the same tech to help the town of Defiance.

Here's the Defiance launch trailer and one with a little more back story:

And also, the live-action trailer and digital comic Ark Hunter chronicles that led up to the game's release:

Defiance is a strange beast, one from which nobody quite seems to know what to expect. It launched on three platforms: PC, Xbox, and PS3, which I believe is the first time any MMO has ever done that (and, having seen what was involved in getting that to happen, I fully understand why).  It is an MMO, but not what you'd call an MMORPG. And in the gaming world of today where pretty much everyone hears "RPG" at the end of "MMO", that's definitely unexpected.  It's a shooter, but third person, and massively multiplayer. It ties in with a TV show but is not dependent on it nor dictated to by it.  As executive producer Nathan Richardsson described it, Defiance is an "MOTSCTPOWS": Massively-Online-TV-Show-Connected-Third-Person-Open-World-Shooter.  I think Defiance's refusal to fit neatly into any existing game category is illustrated very well by the extremely polarized reviews on sites like Metacritic:

User reviews have totally polarized into "love it" or "hate it" with almost nobody in between, while critic reviews do the exact reverse. My interpretation of this madness (also based on reading comments) is that players who had a particular expectation ("it'll be an MMO like WoW!" "it'll be just like Call of Duty!") are strongly disappointed when it is not, but those who didn't have a strong expectation just play it with no expectations and have a ton of fun.  Meanwhile the critics really have no idea what pigeonhole to fit it into, so they judge it on every possible category that a MMO or shooter might be judged on, which of course ends up right on the fence, since Defiance does some MMO things well and doesn't do others; and some shooter things well and doesn't do others.

I quite liked the review from TotalBiscuit which I think does a fair job summing up the things Defiance does well and still needs to improve on, and why a shooter MMO has to do some things in slightly different ways.  Defiance is definitely an odd beast, but I'm very proud of all the design team did in the year up to launch.  There are some amazing talents on the team and it's been impressive watching them at work.  If you picked up, or will pick up, Defiance then I hope you enjoy it!  It's not my normal type of game but I find myself enjoying playing, and it's great to have an MMO game where you can hop in and have fun for an hour without feeling you need to set aside your whole evening. Having played through the entire game post-launch I definitely had a lot of fun, while also seeing places there's room for future improvement.  But of course, that's always the case with MMOs, the development is never really over.  Looking forward to seeing what future DLCs and expansions will bring, and hopefully many other players are also!  Since apparently over a million players have registered for Defiance so far, seems there are a lot of other people looking forward to it also. 

Above: Nolan talking to my character, while Irisa waits.  
Below: a little accident I had in San Quentin. Did I do that?  Er, well, yes I did. Fun times...

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