Defiance Launches Today! Learn More about the Video Game/TV Show Crossover's Challenges, Languages and Cultures, Soundtrack, and Lots More!
"Defiance" is a highly anticipated TV series/video game crossover project from Syfy and Trion Worlds with the game being released today, April 2nd, and the show premiering on April 15th.
To celebrate the game's launch and to help whet your appetites for the debut of "Defiance" on Syfy in just a few more days, we have the highlights of a conference call with the executive producer/showrunner for the series, Kevin Murphy, and Trion's vice president of development, Nathan Richardson.
Q: Could one or both of you fill us in on how this all started?
Kevin Murphy: I'll jump in on that. It's been five years in the making. About five years ago Dave Howe from Syfy and Lars Butler from Trion got together because Syfy had made a large investment in Trion, and they were looking for a project to do together. So they looked through the various properties that Syfy had in development and settled on this sort of a world. It took five years of development to get the video game up and running, which is not unusual for a video game. It took that long to figure out how it would work as a television show. I came on board the project about two years ago and kind of got us over the finish line in terms of the shared world.
And the big idea really was about, "How do we create a big universe with two distinct portals that would allow you to enter that world?" And by creating a new world, it gave you sort of an infinite sort of number of permutations of ways to tell stories and ways to find characters.
Nathan Richardson: Yes, also part of it of course is that it's happening in two different geographical locations so that instead of the problems you have with licensed games and licensed shows, in that they're usually restricting each other, and also of course selecting the right kind of world and intellectual property that actually fit for both mediums, both parties are actually quite free to tell pretty compelling stories.
Kevin Murphy: Yes, what's really special about this is that, unlike an adaptation, rather than one intellectual property being iterative of the other, the game and the show are equals. And because they were developed together, the mythology is seamless.
And whenever there's something that serves the needs of the game, we work it into the mythology of the show. And if there's something that's important for the show, the game works it into their mythology. And that allows for a better gaming experience and a better, hopefully, television viewing experience.
Q: When you're putting all of this together, how do you draw the line or tell where the line is between what's going to be strictly game-focused and what's actually going to make it on the TV screen, and then what's the conversation like in terms of how those two are going to play off of each other?
Kevin Murphy: Well, one of the things that we learned early on that we needed was a way to keep the mythology of the game and the mythology of the television show up-to-date and current because we were having real trouble communicating. At Trion they would do a big beautiful bible of everything that was going on in the game, and we would use that as a reference. And we would pull something out - like some creature or some political figure - and they'd say, "Oh sorry, that's not it anymore; we took that out." And they would have the same frustration with us.
So we created the position of a "mythology coordinator," who serves as kind of an editor between what goes into the game and what goes into the television show and helps define connections. And they make sure that there's nothing we do in the show that contradicts the reality of the game to make sure that when we do an episode with hellbugs in the television show, we're being accurate as to the biology and what they look like and how they breed and what the various subclasses of hellbug are. Everything we're doing is exact so when gamers watch the show, they really have a feeling of recognition that this is the same monster they've been having fun fighting and killing in the game world. Nathan can speak to this, too, but that's really been a big help in terms of keeping everything straight and keeping everything unified.
Nathan Richardson: Yes, I think that the way this is actually happening is that we have this repository - the world in its entirety - but it's also simply talking quite a lot together, to say the least.
Kevin Murphy: Yes, we're on the phone at least about 9, 10, 11, 12 times a day.
Q: It's a big challenge to create this franchise of a game and TV show; why did you decide to do both things at the same time?
Kevin Murphy: The big reason is because no one's ever done it before. And one of the big challenges, as we move into sort of what many people are calling a "golden age" of television and of gaming, is people are really looking for [things like] second screen applications and experiences. So the idea here is to take that idea of a second screen presence and build it into the DNA of the actual project. And I think that creates a form of entertainment that is not available elsewhere. And I think that with so many great games and so many great television shows on right now, creating something that sort of cuts through the clutter and noise is something that no one has ever seen before. And that's one of the reasons I was attracted to be involved with the project because I love this particular challenge of figuring out how to make it work.
Nathan Richardson: Yes, it's definitely the challenge, and people often ask, "Why would you try to start a new franchise?" and think about it that way, but if nobody starts trying to kick off new franchises, new intellectual properties and worlds, we'll be watching Call of Duty 9 and Rambo 13 in a couple of years. And for me that's not a very compelling future.
So everybody is trying to find and figure out, "What is the new form of entertainment which is going to be interesting to people?" and this is one approach. I believe it's a good approach. It's risky of course. That's the reason why people haven't taken it on. But I think we're going to be doing some amazing things.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in creating a project like this?
Kevin Murphy: I think the biggest challenge is figuring out each other's nomenclature and process. Coming into this, I didn't know anything about how a video game is put together. And I think on the Trion side they didn't have any idea of how a TV show is put together. For this sort of television, you're breaking the story maybe six weeks before you actually go before a camera, which seems really, really fast. And I think it was a little shocking for our partners at Trion when they were saying, "Yes, well, we don't know that because we haven't gotten to breaking that episode yet." And then it's suddenly, "Okay, now we're breaking the episode. Sorry, we shot it." It just seems incredibly lightning fast.
Every single thing that is in the game has to be lovingly created and digitally rendered. It's very difficult for them to make a small change. So when we would call and say, "Oh, can you just maybe tweak this one thing or this one look or this one color," they would look at us like, "You're crazy." And then we realized, "No, I guess they really can't." And that educational process for me was the biggest challenge.
Nathan Richardson: Yes, it's very much that understanding because like we've just gone through in some of the previous questions, they rely a lot on actually learning about each other and how we actually do things…With a game, there is no pre- and post-processing as such. We are always creating the full 3D assets. That takes considerably a lot of time, especially when you have a lot of terrain, like recreating parts of the San Francisco Bay area.
But secondly, I'd also say that one of the challenges, especially for me coming into this, is creating a game which is not only just a game. It's a massive online game on Xbox, PlayStation 3 and PC, and they're all connected together. This is the kind of mild insanity that intrigues me.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the original languages created for this show?
Kevin Murphy: David Peterson is not only our language creator, but he's also our cultural consultant on the show because he really has a mind for that sort of nuance. And from his perspective you can't create a realistic language without knowing a lot about the culture of the language - the language creators. David Peterson, prior to "Defiance," is best known for creating the Dothraki language on the HBO series "Game of Thrones." And this presented an even bigger challenge to him because the Dothrakis on "Game of Thrones" are illiterate; they don't have any written form of their language.
We asked him to not only create a spoken version of Irathient, but also a written version, and a spoken version of Castithan. He's also done Indogene, and Liberata is a work in process - we don't use that as much. But at this point, last time I checked, we were at 1,962 Irathient words and counting.
And there are complete rules for grammar, syntax, verbs, and irregular verbs; there's an 150-page orthographic document that he's created. And along the way there are things he's created in terms of what our alien cultures are and who they were on their home world that I don't even completely understand. Like every now and then when he was creating the Irathient language, I would get this weird phone call from David, and he'd go, "Is it okay if the Irathient home world sky was kind of red?" "Okay, David, sure." "Great, that's going to make everything work." And I had no idea why a red Irathient sky made the language work, but I know that David knows, and that's what's important. So any time we have a question about culture, we ask him. He created the Castithan caste system, which are called liros, and all of that is all in that magnificent brain of his.
So that's really how we do it day-to-day, and Nathan could speak to how they do it in the video game. But in the show we basically write in English and [highlight] it and say what it is we want the character to say. David chooses the appropriate language and then makes up the words and the syntax and then adds it to the overall vocabulary. And the languages get bigger and bigger and grander and grander.
Nathan Richardson: The way that we do it in the game itself is not to the same extent. It's more that we pick up individual [words], swearing and stuff like that, from different languages, which adds a certain type of flavor to the conversations that are happening in the cinematics in the game because obviously you aren't required to know caste to be able to play the game.