I'm supposed to be telling you about a new video game called Defiance, but... I have to tell you something else: I saw one guy controlling the game on an Xbox 360. Another was playing in on a PlayStation 3
But they were playing the same game, on their two distinct consoles, with each other.
I thought the cool thing about Trion's upcoming shooter-MMO Defiance was that the players of the console and PC game will somehow affect what happens on a related SyFy channel TV show.
That's why I went to meet with the Defiance people.
But I've got to keep pointing this out: this was one game, one shard of a game world, and yet I saw it played on two TVs hooked up to an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3 that were linked together for multiplayer.
I had expected science fiction from from Defiance, but I didn't expect this. It wasn't a magic trick. It was multiplayer console gaming without borders. And it won't be coming to a home near you.
Defiance is a third-person shooter set on a future earth that has been invaded by aliens. The game will play as a massively-multiplayer online third-person shooter, letting gamers team up for co-op missions or battle each other. In the brief gameplay sequence I saw in a theater demonstration earlier this month at the E3 gaming showcase in Los Angeles, the Xbox 360 player and the PlayStation 3 gamer teamed up to secure valuable crystals from a fallen alien terraforming satellite called an Arkfall. In the process, of course, they wound up in a massive firefight against aliens who wanted to protect the Arkfall from human pillaging. I saw what seemed to be solid third-person shooting amplified with the effects of coordinated team play.
That's cool, right? The world could use another attempt at the shooter-MMO, and PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC gamers would all be the richer for it?
By the time Trion global brand director Alex Rodberg started talking about how the game was tied into an upcoming Syfy TV show involving this same fiction, I must confess that I was already too distracted by this sight of cats and dogs playing together. Xbox 360 with PS3? How? And would that mean.... Xbox 360 vs. PS3?
Officially, Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s can't be wired together. Not with finished games. Rodberg told me that the demonstration I saw involved development hardware. Any device running a Defiance client (read: program) could be connected to the same server, he said. That's what I was seeing: developers showing off a unified-Germany of a video game, a game where divided console populations could mingle. This was something I'd never seen developers show off in the half-decade I've seen PS3 and Xbox 360 games demoed for me and my fellow reporters. And you, reader, will most likely never see this for yourself, not just because the Trion people wouldn't let me take a photo (these are basic single-console Defiance screenshots in this story, I'm sorry to say).
As cool as this sneak peek was, Trion can't let the finished Xbox 360 game connect to the PS3. "Microsoft won't let Sony players play against them," Rodberg said, before suggesting we change the topic to something less sensitive. Presumably the barrier is a corporate and/or technical incompatibility between the Xbox 360's Xbox Live and Sony's PS3/PSP PlayStation Network. Those services are separate enough that people who play, say, Call of Duty on one, can't play that game against owners of the other, rival console.
I checked with Microsoft to be sure Rodberg wasn't maybe just mis-hearing them. Maybe Microsoft wanted to break the barrier too? Here's a Microsoft spokesperson saying "no," while promoting how awesome the Xbox 360's online service is: "Xbox Live delivers the best entertainment experience unmatched by anyone else, with 35 million actively engaged members. We have a high level of expectation for our game developers to ensure that all Live experiences remain top notch. Because we can't guarantee this level of quality, or control the player experience on other consoles or gaming networks, we currently do not open our network to games that allow this cross-over capability."
It wouldn't matter much, I guess, if Sony was into this thing while Microsoft wasn't. It would matters as much as if DC Comics wanted Superman to punch Spider-Man again while Marvel Comics was holding out. I checked with Sony's public relations team, but they didn't come up with an official statement yet about how their company feels about the possibility of cross-console gaming.
Sony Online Entertainment's DC Universe Online does segregate its PC and PlayStation 3 players. The game's creators explain the division in their game's FAQ: "We want DC Universe Online to be an experience that's fun, rewarding and balanced for both console and PC gamers, so we've decided to keep the platforms separate."
Cross-platform multiplayer does exist. The Xbox 360 game Shadowrun let console gamers battle PC gamers. The upcoming racing game WipEout 2048 will let PS3 gamers compete against players of the PlayStation Vita. World of Warcraft gamers can group together regardless if they're on a PC or Mac.
Players of Final Fantasy XI say that they've been able to connect the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 versions of that game together. The game's creators at Square-Enix even boast about their game's platform-agnostic sharing of worlds on their site, though, not having played FFXI I must confess that I'm having a hard time nailing down just how cleanly and completely that MMO's Xbox 360-PS2 cross-console play is supported. UPDATE: Several FFXI players have confirmed that cross-platform and cross-region play is fully supported, no strings attached.
Defiance won't allow for PS3 gamers to play with 360 gamers, but maybe we can forget that if their actual cross-platform connection between video games and a TV show works. The game will connect to Syfy's TV show that involves the same world. The drama of the invasion in Defiance isn't exactly humans vs. alien invaders. There are aliens who are trying to live happily alongside humans and others who hate them. That more complex friction will produce what will hopefully be a complex drama. Within that televised drama, Trion's Rodberg said, top Defiance players can expect to hear lead characters mention their gaming character. The show might demonstrate in some way that you, a top Defiance player is at the top of the game's leaderboard, Rodberg said. You might be "featured." And, in turn, as the TV series unfolds, the game will in some ways change. Rodberg kept things vague and wouldn't commit to players seeing their characters actually being played by actors. For all we can guess, the integration might be no more involved than a Defiance leaderboard ticker going across the TV screen while the show plays. But Rodberg made it sound like the connections would be cooler than that.
I went to to see the game Defiance with the same expectation I have when I attend most demonstrations for an upcoming video game: to write about an expected future. I saw one, but it was accompanied with the side distraction of a prohibited future. TV-that-connects-to-a-video game vs. rival-consoles-that-connect-to-each-other. Which of those futures really has the best shot? They both sure are wild.