BlizzCon 2011 - Blizzard Authors - Interview

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During BlizzCon 2011 at the Simon & Schuster booth, I had the chance to interview the three authors responsible for most of Blizzard's expanded universe novels. In particular, I was able to conduct a lengthy interview with Nate Kenyon, the newest author to join Blizzard's family. We talked about his experience working with Blizzard, how his past novels have influenced his current work at Blizzard, and what we can expect from the unreleased Diablo III prequel book, The Order.

I also briefly got to ask Richard A. Knaack and Christie Golden a handful of questions that RPGamer's own Anna Marie Neufeld helped come up with before BlizzCon. Before we get to those questions, I will start off with the detailed interview with Nate Kenyon.

I know you have received a lot of awards for your horror work, so you definitely know how to write with a darker tone. Do you think this is why Blizzard specifically chose you to write the next book in the Diablo series?
Nate Kenyon: That was one reason yeah, but another huge reason is that we had just worked together and we clicked so well and I think we both played off each other really well. The creative experience on both sides was really exciting, so it was a natural fit in a lot of different ways. For me, it is definitely a sweet spot and they wanted to go dark with it; they wanted to reboot and really make it a real horror novel.

You also brought that darker tone to Starcraft: Ghost Specters as well right?
NK: Once a again, yeah, a real sweet spot for me. I had just written my sci-fi novel and I had written horror and this came along and they said to me, "look we want to take this in a really dark redirection." We have the specters and we want to tell their story, which is creepy. The whole ethos of the specters is a creepy thing.

Then we wanted to take the whole thing a step further and make the Terazine experience like a drug, like an addiction. So when you read it, you should get the feeling that the specters or anybody that is affected by this gas hallucinates or has a flashback; it's unpredictable, it's scary. You might turn around and see a dead body from your past standing next to you, and it's as real as though they were really in front of you.

So we wanted to do that with Nova in the story and have her experience some of the more traumatic parts of her past again. Even though she has been mind-wiped, we wanted to bring some of this stuff back but done so in a very unnerving way. She is seeing things in the middle of meetings, in the middle of battles, and all of a sudden, she is in the middle of something else, and it is in her face. We wanted to bring that home and make it gritty.

Were you a Blizzard fan before you started?
NK: I didn't know as much as I do now. I played Starcraft way back and I played Diablo a little bit. But I had no idea of the scope and size of Blizzard and the fan-base. So when I went out there for the first time to talk about specters, I was just blown away. You just see the level of expertise at their campus and the number of different operations. The scope of everything was just incredible. I was a bit star stuck that first day. It was apparent to me right off the bat that we clicked and it just worked. The brainstorming experience with them was really exciting. I had done a lot of research before I had even gotten there, and I wrote down my ideas and thoughts. I started throwing things out there right away, and I think that they responded to that very well. We had a really great back and forth.

So you must be really entrenched in the Diablo universe right now.
NK: I'm out of it now. I just finished and we did a revision. They were really happy with it, and I'm really happy with it. It was a different experience than Starcraft; it was a tougher novel to write. In some ways, it was a bigger book, and they wanted to do some different things with it and wanted to bring some lore back to inform the fans who weren't really familiar with the games. But I didn't want to derail the main story either so there is was a lot of work to do to intermesh/ interweave that stuff. I think it was successful, a real epic-feeling book. It's long and it's big. The story itself is fun. It's called Diablo: The Order and coming out at the end of March. That's the target date but don't hold me to that.

So, The Order directly ties in to Diablo III?
NK: Yeah, it's a bridge book. The setting is in between Diablo II and Diablo III. Cain and Leah on the road. It's a quest novel. Deckard Cain is looking to see if he can find the last of the Horadrim order to see if there are any left at all or if he is the last. It is also a chance to retell a lot of the story of the whole universe: what came before and Deckard's history. There is also a great main story line and a great new villain. It's dark there are a lot of intense creepy scenes. We didn't pull any punches.

So it sounds like you really enjoyed the whole Blizzard experience. Are we going to be seeing any more of your books?
NK: I think so yeah.

Have you done a lot of licensed work before?
NK: No, these are the first two books that I have done. So yeah, it is totally new to me, but a lot of fun in ways that I did not necessarily expect.

I can imagine that it must have been a different shift from your own universe and everything out of your own imagination to having to play in someone else's.
NK: Exactly. I was really concerned about that in a way. But I found it to be very exciting and very different. It was a much more collaborative experience in writing, which was a lot of fun. Writing is a solitary thing. When you are writing original stuff, a lot of it is you locked away in a room playing with concepts that you come up with and you solving them. With something like this, you are working with other people and bouncing ideas back and forth and things come out that you probably would never have come up with on your own. It's a different experience but a really energizing one.

Here is the interview with Richard A. Knaack and Christie Golden:

How do you feel about major events/deaths/changes occurring in books that then affect the game?
Christie Golden: I like it because each one enhances the other. There are a lot of things you can tell in game. Sometimes you don't have the room in a video game for these epic story lines, but we are really striving to have this interweaving narrative. For example, in the next book that we are working on, you can play out a scenario in the book. We are really striving for interweaving.

Richard A. Knaak: It's all part of the world, but you are just seeing it from a different perspective. If you didn't read the book, then you wouldn't have the story or background.

Do you enjoy or dislike the challenge of writing in a persistent universe that changes outside of your own books?
CG: My first book 20 years ago was a tie-in book, so I have gotten used to these kinds of stories. You need to have the mindset that a tie-in is not yours but your work is yours. Blizzard is also nice to work with, and it keeps me on my toes because Blizzard is a living entity and always changing

RK: I enjoy it very much. It's changing all the time and there are always new story ideas. I have been writing these kinds of stories for 20-some years so I'm used to stories that change.

Do you play any Blizzard games? If you play World of Warcraft what class/race do you enjoy most?
CG: I play every class/race in WoW and I'm on three servers. My favorites are playing a Blood Elf Mage and a Human Warlock.

RK: I play Diablo 1, Diablo 2, and a Worgen in WoW.

What one thing do you think fans need to know about your books before reading them?
RK: I was a reader and a gamer before a writer, and I appreciate that the fans like what I write. They should also know that Blizzard has tried to make the games and books cohesive so you should check the books out.

RPGamer would like to thank Nate Kenyon, Richard A. Knaack, Christie Golden, and Simon & Schuster for taking the time to discuss their novels with us. You can look for Diablo: The Order in early 2012. Check back with RPGamer soon for more upcoming interviews!

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