The chief unique selling point of Defiance was announced long before the title or any other details about this massively multiplayer action game were.
A joint project between ambitious online gaming startup Trion - which recently scored a hit with its first game Rift - and the Syfy TV channel, the game would offer a science-fiction universe in two live media simultaneously. Events in the TV show would influence those in the game, and vice versa.
As it turned out, there was an even more audacious claim and unlikely link-up for Trion to make when it came to finally unveil Defiance. At E3 last month, the game was demoed to press and industry live on two consoles, a PlayStation 3 - and an Xbox 360.
Since I started covering MMO games as a journalist half a decade ago, I've lost count of the number of times a console game has been promised but failed to materialise. Age of Conan, APB, Star Trek Online and Champions Online were all said to be up and running on Xbox 360, but early, confident statements about their availability on consoles had been withdrawn with red faces by the time the games launched. It wasn't a tech issue, we were told, before executives muttered something about business relationships into their beards.
Other projects like Huxley and The Agency languished in development hell for years (before being canned, in the latter's case). It wasn't until this year, with the launch of Sony's own DC Universe Online on PS3, that the halting steps made by Final Fantasy XI in bringing massively multiplayer gaming to a console audience were consolidated upon.
Sony has proven its commitment to this style of gaming, then, and it's perhaps not the platform holder's fault that the PS3 version of Final Fantasy XIV Online is still AWOL - that game has deeper problems. But it was Square Enix who came out and said what everyone else was thinking: Microsoft wasn’t interested in MMOs.
"Are Trion brave, stupid - or do they know something we don't?"
Although the two companies had partnered on FFXI, Microsoft was no longer prepared to compromise the "closed environment" of Xbox Live in the way that MMOs require, Hiromichi Tanaka told me at E3 last year. "We couldn't come to an agreement."
It wasn't a surprise when, at E3 this year, Sony announced CCP's Eve Online spin-off, Dust 514, as a PS3 console exclusive. And yet, two days later, here is Defiance running on an Xbox 360 before my eyes. Are Trion brave, stupid - or do they know something we don't?
"We are very, very much developing a console shooter, it's our key priority," the Trion rep demonstrating the game swears to me. "Microsoft was in the previous presentation. They were pleased."
What's changed? Trion will only hint that this "revolutionary game" will have a "revolutionary business model". It adds that Defiance will not be cross-platform, with the PC, PS3 and Xbox versions having separate servers.
We'll have to take it on trust for now. At least Trion has earned a little trust - unusually for an MMO developer, it is not yet in the habit of promising more than it can deliver.
Rift, a generic fantasy game in the EverQuest and World of Warcraft mode, surprised everyone by launching on time, fully-featured, technically polished and fun to play. Although the company is still learning how to manage server populations, the game has been a notable non-flop - perhaps the only one since WOW established its dominance.
It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that Trion's second in-house game (it's also publishing Petroglyph's MMORTS End of Nations) appears to be Rift crudely mated with Gears of War.
Nominally set on Earth, near the San Francisco of the far future, the foggy countryside spattered with colourful alien vegetation I see in the E3 demo looks strikingly familiar. (Granted, there's a rusting hulk of what appears to be a Toyota Prius over there, in place of an S&M inn.) The player characters, though, are bulky, armoured space soldiers, manipulated with twin-stick shooter control schemes, and the camera snaps tight over their shoulders when they aim.
Creative daring isn't really Trion's strong suit - this is the developer that, in Rift, brings us such characters as Alsbeth the Discordant (she defiled the Iron Tomb, don't you know). Perhaps it's a good thing that Syfy's TV writers are involved, with a team sitting alongside the developers in Trion's office. Perhaps not. The channel's record is hardly unblemished, although we're told it's shooting for the substance and quality of its reimagining of Battlestar Galactica with Defiance.
Many years before the events of the game and show, multiple alien civilisations flee their solar system and aim their space arks for the only refuge they can find - Earth - not realising that it's inhabited. They negotiate colonisation rights with humanity, but human rebels sabotage the alien ships and trigger a global radiation catastrophe.
A long time later, it's a time of regrowth, and various human and alien factions are competing and collaborating to rebuild the world.
The TV series and game will be kept geographically separate, with the game centring on San Fran and the "human drama" of the show on St Louis. But global political and environmental developments in the show will be reflected in simultaneous updates to the game world, while characters from the TV show might disappear from our screens before reappearing as NPCs on, well, our screens.
Trion is even making the foolhardy promise that this process will cut both ways, and prominent players who achieve famous deeds in-game might get mentioned in the show. Setting aside the name-vetting nightmare, this is surely a community protest waiting to happen since gamers, especially MMO gamers, are known for their overdeveloped sense of entitlement. "Where's my five seconds of airtime?"
And what if the show gets canned after half a season? Even in the current troubled climate, your average MMO has a longer life-span than your average TV series. Trion's aim is to make "a huge and compelling game that stands on it own," it says.
"Prominent players who achieve famous deeds in-game might get mentioned in the show."
I don't know about compelling, but as you would expect from Trion, it does look competent - and the company stands a chance of being first to market with an MMO which looks and feels just like the co-op cover shooters you already play.
The demo is very sparing on detail. You can create a human or alien character; Trion is evasive on the issue of character classes, saying it will blend standard shooter gameplay with the "long-term specific roles" of MMO convention. Defiance will be an RPG in that your character will build power and amass abilities and loot as you play, but combat is in very action-focused, with constant movement, dodging, reloading and free aiming. We see shooter staples such as breaching a room with a flashbang and providing covering fire from a turret.
There will of course be an arena for players to fight each other - important in an MMO, nothing less than crucial in a shooter - but Defiance will be predominantly a co-operative player-versus environment game. We see a standard mission to rescue a character from some self-augmenting cyborgs mining precious minerals at a tar pit - but Defiance's gameplay party trick is borrowed, like its environment art, from Rift.
An Arkfall is, like the Rifts themselves, a dynamic, multi-stage event broadcast across the server and designed to bring players together without the need for formal grouping. The example I see is a large-scale boss-fight, reminiscent of the Lost Planet games perhaps, but with an added second front. A chrysalis opens to reveal a gigantic alien biped which is also a source of valuable minerals; some players need to target its limbs to bring it down while others fend off a wave of alien enemies intent on harvesting the same loot.
This kind of event is Rift's greatest success, a fluid interpretation of the 'public quest' idea that offers up the best of MMOs - dozens of players congregating ad hoc, and working together on a massive challenge - with a low barrier for entry. Married with the formal accessibility of a third-person shooter, it's easy to see it being a more persuasive argument for massively multiplayer gaming to the console crowd than getting to design your own cape and show it off to strangers.
As a game, Defiance looks solid but unremarkable; it's nothing like as far-sighted or thrilling a concept as Dust 514; its TV series link-up, while a cool idea on the surface, is fraught with danger.
But it might be that Trion's unambitious professionalism is the secret weapon needed to finally bring the massively multiplayer world, the action game and the console controller together, after so many failed attempts. All it needs are willing partners. Microsoft, it's over to you.