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Defiance Interviews: It's a Massive Online Shooter & More

By Robert Lashley on October 17, 2012

While in Toronto and the set visit and hands on demonstration for Defiance I had the opportunity to sit down one on one with the Senior Producer Rob Hill and talk to him about his thoughts on Defiance and much more.

MMORPG: Since you were here since day one can you talk about the genesis of Defiance, where the idea came from, Trion or Syfy?

Rob Hill:  All of that stuff happened on an executive level, but I do know that previously we were looking because NBC owns some shares of us.  We really looked early on at their existing IPs to see if there was anything we could make an MMO out of.  The thing we learned was that television shows and movies tend to be very focused. They are a smaller group of people telling very intimate stories where as we as an MMO have to tell thousands of stories.  So instead we came back and were like “well why don't we develop a new IP that we can work in from day one with Syfy and really decide what works on both sides” and that was really the key.  Instead of taking something that was a show and trying to make a game out of it or taking something that was a game and try to make a show out of it we really just start from scratch.... We really got together with NBC and Syfy and said let's do this from scratch so we can make sure from day one we are really doing something that can tie-in together and not sacrifice one for the other.

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MMORPG: How many different ideas did you go through before you finally settled on Defiance?

Rob Hill: Quite a few.  It was kind of natural.  When we talked to them earlier we wanted to do something reflective of modern times and modern thinking with some kind of through back stuff but we really wanted to do not a fantasy setting, that was something they really did not want to do, and we really didn't to do because there were tons of them, so we settled on something that required guns.  We didn't want to try and do a game that was on land and try and have to build an entirely separate game that was in space, so that leaves a terrestrial sort of thing.  Now typically in the past with Anarchy Online and Tabula Rasa they took part in a terrestrial world and it was science fiction but it was pretty foreign in my mind, it wasn't grounded, so you walk into this world and you are like I have nothing to tie me to this world because it is just so alien and so weird.  So we said ok we really want to do something that is grounded so people can look at it and go ok, "I understand this, this world for the most part," and then we can through some crazy stuff into it. That's when we decided on Earth, a changed Earth. The change being the aliens that come, the disaster that happens, of course there is the terraforming, it changes Earth but you can still see things that are really familiar it's what Syfy referred to as the Planet of the Apes type of moment, where I'm running around and I'm like, "Yeah this is kind of different" and then I turn to something and I go, "oh shit that's Earth," I'm still here it's just different.


MMORPG: Why San Francisco and Saint Louis?

Rob Hill: San Francisco we picked particularly because of the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is extremely iconic. There are lots of things in San Francisco, Alcatraz, The TransAmerica building, all that kind of stuff that people look at and go, "Yeah that's San Francisco," like California street signs, all that kind of stuff.  They choose St. Louis, for a couple of reasons, because of the Arch, it is another iconic symbol, but also they have the river there that they can take advantage of within the show.

MMORPG: So why an MMOFPS?

Rob Hill: Well it's a third person shooter but yeah, mainly because Syfy really wanted to do guns, they wanted to do this sort of frontier theme.  They did not want to do swords and sorcery or anything like that kind of stuff and a lot of the MMOs that have come out have utilized guns but it is basically been, like the Old Republic for example, you have lasers but you stand there until somebody falls over, which really isn't indicative of gunplay or how you would expect guns to work, maybe Star Wars can get away with it, but if you are using ballistics it just seems kind of strange. So we went along the lines of how do you make guns feel like guns and so we started to look at third person shooters and first person shooters and those really kind of had it down and that's really kind of where the genesis of going down that route was and then of course when you started looking at going to the console we realized, "holy crap," there is this gigantic market out there of these shooter players that pretty much just shoot each other in the face in these smaller engagements but they never really experienced a large scale us versus the environment and they also don't really have what MMOs do very well which is all the social structures.  So we felt that if we could make the shooting fun we could get people into the game who are shooter fans and then introduce all these other layers that MMOs bring that the probably didn't even know they wanted.

MMORPG: Since you focused on Defiance as a shooter first over the MMO how do you put this game to market as opposed to what you did with a game like Rift?

Rob Hill: That's actually been the trippy party, when you say MMO to a first player shooter player or a third person shooter player they yawn and go, "Yeah, some guy in this basement playing these games."

MMORPG: As opposed to MMO players, "FPS is some kid in his parent's basement playing these games."

Rob Hill:  Haha. Yeah.  So that has been a little bit interesting in trying to market which is why we use the term Massive Online Shooter as opposed to MMO.

MMORPG: How do you feel that you differentiate between some of the other Massive Online Shooters out there besides the TV  tie-in? Global Agenda?

Rob Hill: It is very instanced.

MMORPG: Planetside 2?

Rob Hill: It is PvP only.

MMORPG: Firefall?

Rob Hill: Yeah, Firefall is PC only so that is our big differentiator.  We also rely more on cover than just movement. They are very, kind of, run around an object until it does, it's still fun, I still enjoy the game, but we are much more cover and movement, we want you to periodically have to get behind something to recharge your shields or health while other people cover you and that kind of thing instead of just strafing combat.  We are also on X-Box and PS3 which Firefall is not.

MMORPG: How difficult was the game to work on since it is multiplatform?

Rob Hill: It was a huge challenge because we have to make an MMO and you do not control what the players do. When you are making a single player game you pretty much know what the player is doing and can control the environment around the player even with a four player game, as long as you plan on those four players always being on your screen and then everything else you can layer on top of that. We can have 100 people sitting in the same game space and fitting that into the memory of a Playstation or and X-Box was really challenging but we found several ways of doing that.  We know how many NPCs we can render, we know how many players we can render, and we basically make a rule set on what's the most important thing as the player to see.  The things that are trying to kill you.  Second to that is the people in your group. Third is your friends and then your clan.  Anything that starts dropping off that list we just don't render anymore. 

MMORPG: With the limitations on how many players and NPCs that you can render on screen has this limited how many people you can design an Ark Falls for?

Rob Hill: We had an Ark Falls the Friday before last where we had 50 people at an Ark Falls.  We only rendered certain amount of characters and monster but it looked very crowded.  The players still exist because it is all server side.  The sever is tracking all the damage and that kind of stuff so they are still participating you just won't always necessarily get to see them, but we did show them on the radar so it was just a mass of purple dots.

MMORPG: Will the difficulty of the Ark Falls scale to the amount of people that are present?

Rob Hill: Yes. It does.  It scales to the amount of people present, not only that we have these locals called points of interest (POI)s that will also scale to the amount of people that show up. The enemies get tougher and have a slight health increase per enemy. The benefit is that the more people that are there participating the better the reward that everyone gets for doing it.  It's not a typical MMO where it is get the hell away this is my thing it's more like come on and help us out because I know by you being here and helping we are all going to get better stuff.

MMORPG: So this is an inclusive system?

Rob Hill: Yes.  One of the things we are also trying to do is educate the shooter players that you want to have these people around to engage in these social structures and if you made it an exclusive event it would negate what we are trying to do.  And it is the same with loot.  Loot is all personal drops, so when you see something on the ground only you can get it.

MMORPG: What kind of different qualities of loot will there be?

Rob Hill: It is what you typically see.  Green up to purples and things like that so we do have that kind of gradient. So the rares obviously drop less but they are more powerful.

MMORPG: Are there going to be specific Ark Falls encounters that will reward the top tier of loot?

Rob Hill: Right now it is random, but the more players that participate the higher up the scale you go and the more difficult the encounter becomes and the better the chance is you will find higher quality items.

MMORPG: The Ark Falls that are in the game will we also see these in the show?

Rob Hill:  Maybe not in season one, although the thing that they are chasing at the beginning of the pilot they actually encountered an Ark Fall.  Ark Falls mean many different things, we use Ark Falls for our dynamic combat stuff but an Ark Fall could be just part of an Ark ship that happens to fall and there is nothing associated with combat, just oh shit that thing came from the Ark I want to go get the technology.  In San Francisco we use it because it attracts different groups like the Scrappers.  They use Ark Falls to build themselves and to build more of themselves. So they are actually attracted to Ark Falls and that is how we explain the combat. 

MMORPG: Any plans for the business model?

Rob Hill: We are already doing a subscription game, and End of Nations coming out is free/MTX, so we are looking at all the model, not just subscription or MTX, maybe there is a hybrid model that works best.

MMORPG: Thanks Rob, I appreciate your time.  We look forward to the game on April 20th 2013.

If you have any questions that were not covered in the interview please leave them in the comments below and we will try to cover them in future Defiance articles.  You can also follow Rob Lashley on Twitter or friend him on Facebook

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