SDCC 2012: The Source of SyFy and Trion's 'Defiance'

The latest project from SyFy plans to blend a weekly science fiction drama with an expansive MMO from developer Trion Worlds. During SDCC, the cast and creators talked about blending the two formats and why they really, really think it'll work.

The vision for the TV show/video game seemed to be an attempt to provide a rebuke to the kind of challenges that come with tying pieces of fiction across media. But according to SyFy's head of content, Mark Stern, the goal was precisely that: to evolve an IP beyond the typical game/TV show hybrid.

Stern was joined by Defiance actors Julie Benz (Dexter, Angel), Tony Curran (Blade II), Stephanie Leonidas (Mirrormask), Grant Bowler (Lost, Killer Elite), Mia Kirshner (The L Word), and Jamie Murray (Dexter, (Ringer). The assembled group talked about the unique demands of a game that's also a TV show and a TV show that's tied to a game, along with the specific concerns of creating a new sprawling science fiction universe from scratch.

The series sees Earth subject to widespread alien immigration following a protracted battle with the extraterrestrials. Now the mix of alien races known collectively as Votans, have settled on our planet, and in the remains of the world's devastated cities, humans and ETs have settled into something like a series of frontier community (between this and Revolution, sci-fi/Old West mashups seem to be the rage right now). Bowler plays Jeb Nolan, a war vet and one-time hero who scavenges the wastelands for technology and loot along with his adoptive alien daughter Irissa (Leonidas), a soft-spoken wild-girl with a ridged brow.

Nolan provides our most direct link to the game, existing in both media as our POV character. In fact, the very first mission for the game serves as a prologue to the series, which sees Nolan discovering a high-tech "skeleton key" which could potentially unlock an army of deadly killing machines. Nolan and Irissa flee east to St. Louis, renamed "Defiance" for a pivotal battle in the war. Nolan was actually a member of the unit that fought in the Battle of Defiance, but Bowler says that when we meet him in the series, he's now simply an overgrown, irresponsible kid.

Bowler describes the show as an immigrant story: the aliens aren't on Earth for conquest or anything so devious. They simply wish to make better lives for themselves, by hook or by crook. This is exemplified no more than in Tony Curran's Datak Tarr and Jamie Murray's Stahma Tarr, a married power couple who control the criminal side of Defiance. While he's a hotheaded crime boss, she's a methodical presence who uses her cross-caste marriage to increase her position in her patriarchal society.

Kirshner's character, Kenya, is a "pleasure ambassador" whose club the Need Want serves as a hub for the underworld activity in Defiance. Benz is the new mayor, Amanda Rosewater, looking to bring law and order to the lawless town. She's very aware of how well that turned out for the last mayor.

The series has a total of eight alien species, each of them "cast" on the game side based on how well they could be visualized in the live-action series. The mix of languages in the show were created by David Petersen, the linguist behind the Dothraki language in Game of Thrones. We were assured that all of the text that you'll encounter in the show actually has meaning.

I'd love to know more about the nitty gritty of the series, and will be talking to developer Trion Worlds about the game side of the project in the coming days. Based on what I saw during their presentation and the infectious enthusiasm of the assembled cast, it's hard not to get at least a little excited about a new long-form science fiction series.

Defiance makes its debut on the SyFy Network and on the PS3, Xbox 360, and PCs next April.

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