If you look past the sounds, sights, sounds, smells, and ear-splitting sounds of E3 2011, you'll find plenty of intriguing new games on display, including Defiance, the next game from Trion Worlds' San Diego studio. This unusual shooter will be massively multiplayer (just like Trion's other projects, Rift and End of Nations); it will appear on the PC, the Xbox 360, and the PlayStation 3; and it'll share its name with an upcoming SyFy Network TV series based on the game, as well as its ongoing events. The TV series is being written by screenwriter Rockne O'Bannon, whose previous writing credits include the motion picture Alien Nation and the TV series Farscape.
Defiance takes place within a near-future version of the city of San Francisco that has been partially terraformed by an army of invading aliens. Apparently, the majority of the alien invasion was averted, but the extraterrestrials have still dug in on terra firma, and it's up to players--armed with futuristic weaponry and extraordinary powers--to go on the proverbial bug hunt. We watched a brief but impressive demonstration of the game running simultaneously on the same back-end server--but on the front end played simultaneously with one character on an Xbox 360, another character on a PS3, and a third character playing on a PC--in real time, together, in the same world and in the same adventuring party. While this is no small technical feat, it sadly won't make its way into the final game because the consoles' publishers obviously want to keep their online services exclusive to their own customers.
The session we watched showed players running through what appeared to be a leafy, forested park, but it was partially transformed with weirdly colorful alien flora. We watched as the team of three characters (which the developers suggested were "mid-level" characters dressed in blocky, Master Chief-esque armor suits) sprinted through the area, taking down small pockets of alien invaders using both their powerful assault rifles and various unique abilities. These included a cloaking ability that rendered one character temporarily invisible and an electronic lasso that pulled a single enemy closer--switching the angry alien's attention (known to online game players as "aggro") to the lasso's user.
The group then took on a quest (known in the game as a mission) by entering a mission area, without having to talk to anybody or hunt down any quest items. The mission area was called The Tar Pit (as indicated by a collapsed neon sign with the name written in huge letters) and was a swampy area that seemed suspiciously out of place. Any Californian will tell you that there aren't any tar pits in San Francisco, where the game is supposed to take place; they're all in Los Angeles. In any case, this mission required the team to hunt down "99ers," a group of mining robots originally sent by the alien invaders to harvest minerals. The 99ers went rogue and are now attacking Earth's population of humans and friendly aliens (in the game, you'll be able to play as either a human or as a member of a friendly alien race). This area had a good amount of varying elevation and even had several mounted turrets in key locations, which one player used to provide cover to his other two teammates as they rushed in on the low ground.
The final in-game leg of our journey was something called an arkfall, which was more than a little reminiscent of the rift events in Trion Worlds' recently launched Rift. The idea is that the aliens arrived in the Earth's atmosphere on huge starships called arks, and although the invasion was halted before it became a full-on siege, numerous arks remain in the sky and occasionally come plummeting down. We watched an ark land with a spectacular crash and then spread open into a trio of red, fleshy pillars surrounding an enormous blue crystal. Trion representatives suggested that the crystal was hugely valuable if recovered and that other aliens coveted this prize, which is why more aliens happened to appear and attack the small band of adventurers. After diligently gunning down the opportunistic aliens, the group focused its fire on the gigantic crystal to dislodge it from the fallen ship, but the crystal shattered. It revealed an enormous, blue alien monstrosity with a spiky lion's mane that assumed an animalistic, four-footed stance and lunged at one of the characters as the game demo abruptly drew to a close.
At this point, Trion representatives took the opportunity to speak about the connection between the game and the television show. Specifically, events that take place in the game might be reflected on the TV show in one of two ways. As an example, the developers offered that characters from the show, which apparently may take place in other parts of the world than just San Francisco (such as Saint Louis, Missouri), may make an appearance in the game to attend an in-game event and then return to their other location (again, such as Saint Louis, Missouri) and make mention of their time in San Francisco on the following TV episode. The other way you'll be able to get on TV will be to become a highly accomplished player who has gone through huge amounts of the game's content; the characters of these hardcore players may get mentioned on a future episode of the show.
There's a lot that has yet to be disclosed about Defiance (such as its pricing structure: free-to-play or subscription-based?), but we can say that it's already an entirely unique game. No other game has been tied in real time to an ongoing television show in this manner, and it should be interesting to see how this relationship plays out. Defiance will be launched sometime later this year for the PC, the Xbox 360, and the PS3.