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Blizzplanet Interview – Micky Neilson & Matt Burns Discuss Diablo III: Book of Tyrael

diablo-iii-book-of-tyrael-cover-full-sizeMontoya and I had a blast interviewing New York Times Best Selling author and Blizzard Lead Publishing Micky Neilson and Blizzard Associate Publishing Developer Matt Burns.

We asked a few questions about the Insight Editions’ Diablo III: Book of Tyrael which is currently available at a bookstore near you and online.

I recommend buying Diablo III: Book of Tyrael and reading my recent review which has a list of content.

I also recently posted photos of the booksigning of Diablo III: Book of Tyrael held at the 2013 New York Comic Con where I met Joseph Lacroix (DC Comics Diablo: Sword of Justice artist) and Doug Alexander (Senior Art Editor in Creative Development at Blizzard Entertainment).

Note: Added a transcript at the below the video embed. The interview lasted about 24 minutes. (Added Sub-titles to the video through YouTube CC/Closed Captions)

Transcript

This is Medievaldragon from Blizzplanet. We’re here to interview Micky Neilson and Matt Burns about Diablo III: Book of Tyrael. We also have Montoya from Blizzplanet.

Hi, everyone!

(Everyone says Hi)

Let’s start with the first question here.

MD: Blizzard Entertainment and Insight Editions published Diablo III: Book of Cain as a primer to Diablo III mythos. Where does Diablo III: Book of Tyrael fit in Blizzard’s grand design? What is the purpose?

Neilson: There was a lot of reasons for doing Book of Tyrael. Probably the main reason was — because we did Book of Cain and we came up with a ton of amazing content, and all kinds of great ideas and everything else, and backstory and characters and all this juicy stuff, and then we figured — you know, ok — we’ve a certain number of pages to be able to tell up this ending and we just didn’t have enough room for everything.

So the biggest thing for Book of Tyrael was — Ok, we’ve got all this amazing information that we want to share with people. Let’s do it in a follow up book and let’s see what other opportunities we have to convey this information. So that was one of the big ones; and then of course, tying into upcoming game content and having something that’s going to serve us to bridge to the next expansion — you know — that was also a big consideration. Matt do you want to add to that? (More after the break)

Burns: No, that was all good. I think the only thing I’d like to add is that — as far as of the in-game mythos, Book of Tyrael really falls into line with Book of Cain in that unfortunately Cain is no longer with us, right? So Tyrael is kinda taking on that role in a certain way with the new Horadrim as the provider of all this information, as its researcher and stuff like that. So it very much is the continuation of that tradition.

Montoya: I got a question for you guys. How did the experience writing Book of Cain form your next book Book of Tyrael as far as how you approach telling the story to people; because it seems to be slightly different told from an angel’s point of view. How was that like?

Neilson: We learned a lot of lessons from Book of Cain. So when we went through and we did that, we kind of we did a post-mortem after that, and we looked at: “What worked really well? What didn’t work as well? What changes can we make? What can we do better?”

So there’s that, but then also in addition to that there’s just the difference of the book itself. This is from an angelic perspective. Originally, it was going to be the Book of Leah, and so the structure of everything else and the tone overall would have been a little bit different. It was going to be Leah’s notes, and then Tyrael was going to take over and go from there; and we still like that structure – but the more we developed the book then it became obvious that “well this is really Tyrael’s book.” So we made some adjustments based on that as well.

Burns: … and I think between Book of Cain and Book of Tyrael there were some interesting differences just in terms of the character purpose. So cain was — you know — he was telling the history of the universe basically, and he was throwing all kinds of really cool information, but Tyrael had a very direct purpose here. He was providing this very specific information for the Horadrim, the new Horadrim. So that informed the writing style, and just the layout of it quite a bit as well.

MD: The first part focused mostly on Adria. This is the first time we get to explore Adria’s past and motivations. Why is the timing perfect now to introduce her story?

Burns: Well, part of the reason is that when we were developing Book of Cain we had created a lot of content that we wanted to create, that we didn’t have room for. So we ended up cutting some of that. And Book of Tyrael was kind of the perfect place for a lot of it, and that was — one of the things was Adria. It gave us a chance to really explore her backstory, and much of what she has been up to and kinda her motivations and stuff like that. She is a character that is still in the lore, so we don’t know what she’s up to, we don’t know when we are going to see her again, but you know – we got to keep our eyes on her. We got to know what we got to know about her to prepare if we ever meet her again.

MD: As I was reading some of the Book of Cain story in Book of Tyrael I could see Leah writing annotations. What is the function of Leah throughout the book?

Burns: Yea, she has these journal entries, and she has little notes on Deckard Cain’s pages. Leah was a character also that we wanted to explore a little more and get into her head a little bit more and again this was a great opportunity to do it, and we wanted to see what thoughts were kinda going through her head during the events of the game. Maybe stuff we didn’t see in the game. So her function, I’d say, is as much as providing lore, she’s kinda annotating a lot of stuff about her mother’s past, and about Zoltun Kulle, and as much as kind of [###]. Probably from Tyrael. He is putting a lot of her journal entries in here as kind of a sign of respect for the struggles that she went through, and how much he respected her.

MD: What I liked about the way you set up Leah in the book is that she is writing this notes along the way when she is in Act II and in Act III when she’s in Bastion’s Keep. So there’s like a continuity between the game and the moments she is writing these notes.

Burns: Part of me always felt like this is the way for us to touch on the events of Diablo III without actually having all sections sort of retelling because that wouldn’t be as interesting, but kinda viewing that through the lens of these journal entries and Cain’s study of Adria, and Leah’s notes that are in there — it kinda gave us a little opportunity to remind readers of these events without it being kind of a dry and straightforward retelling of every single Act.

Montoya: Something that I appreciated about Tyrael writing about her was her legacy, and making sure it wasn’t tarnished entirely because who she actually was. Something he appreciates about mortals is legacy and sacrifice. I found that a great fitting.

Neilson: Yea, that was something important. I mean, it’s fascinating for people who know obviously what her fate is, when they are reading this and really being able to see — you know it is kinda heart-breaking from a certain perspective when you are going through the book and you are reading her notes, and everything else and you know what’s coming. You know what’s going to happen to her, and you are just like “oh man!”. It has a lot of stuff that was set up in the Order as well.

Montoya: Another question I had was, there is a big difference as far as the visual style of the writings for the Nephalem and the writings for Tyrael. Nephalem’s are tarnished, and stained; and Tyrael’s are very pristine. What was that like developing an angelic aesthetic for his writings.

Burns: What we knew early on that in order to make the book work we really had to make each section distinct. So we had to make Cain’s pages, Leah’s pages and Tyrael’s pages very distinct so that even if you were just flipping through it you kinda knew when you got to the page: “Oh this is Tyrael’s page. Or this is Cain’s page.” So that’s why we kinda went with the white pages for Tyrael with the very kinda dark black ink for — not only the text, but the artwork as well. And then, the more sketchy kinda artwork for Cain. But that was something that we had talked a lot about in the development phase, and it just seems fitting that for Tyrael his pages and his artwork would be kinda be very orderly and very precise and exact. He would kinda have borders around things. When he did artwork there would be very clean straight lines and stuff like that.

Montoya: It was very beautiful.

Burns: Oh, great!

MD: There is a strong question mark in the book trying to make the reader doubt whether Adria’s actions are for good or evil, to not fully picture it as evil even when her actions seem to point in that direction — her ties with Maghda and the Coven for example. Are we going to find out more about what’s Adria’s fascination of trying to do evil things but at the same time they are good?

Neilson: It is certainly possible. You know — I wouldn’t say that it’s not going to happen and Matt can correct me if I’m wrong on her notes, Leah’s notes, but so much of it was being filtered from Leah. So a lot of that is her perspective in the way she sees things, which would not quite necessarily be the reality.

Burns: Yea, you know, she never met her mother basically until the events of D3, so all this time she’s been wondering who she was, whether she was even alive and so when she finally did meet her I just imagine — you know — this is kind of a big moment … the biggest moment in her life. This moment she’s been waiting for so she definitely is a little bit biased when she’s looking at the events — I mean the actions of Adria. She’s going to want to see the good in her, and that’s just part of Leah’s character. I think she tends to see the good in people, you know, she tends to be hopeful. So whether that actually means Adria’s actions were for good … I don’t know. You gotta keep in mind that it was from Leah’s POV (Point of View) that we are seeing some of this stuff.

MD: Tyrael wrote this book for the new Horadrim and future generations. Is this a new group Tyrael put together or are these the same Horadrim from Nate Kenyon’s Diablo III: The Order? Who are they? We saw them in the Reaper of Souls Cinematics for example.

Neilson: Yes, it’s the same group and also something else — you are going to see more of this Horadrim in other places as well. Nate Kenyon’s follow up to “Diablo III: The Order” is called “Diablo III: Storm of Light”. So you are going to see some more of the members of the new Horadrim in Storm of Light; and their touchstone in this book and if you read Storm of Light that’s going to answer some questions about the Horadrim in general that people are going to have; and I just want to say that the story development for “The Order” was done by James Waugh and the reason I’m saying that is beacuse I did an interview a few minutes ago and I completely neglected to mention James Waugh as the story developer for that book so I am trying to make amends for that now. (laughs)

Montoya: The Timeline (section in Diablo III: Book of Tyrael) it is really nice. I got the World of Warcraft: Ultimate Visual Guide recently and it has a Timeline as well. How is it like putting these together? Diablo it seems it would be a little bit more manageable; but I was just curious how was that like?

Burns: It was definitely a process — like, we had a lot of meetings about the timelines, like with all the previous published lore, all the previously published books they reference events, sometimes they reference years, or what certain characters are doing, and then we look at the games and they are referencing things too, so it’s really like laying out all that information like a puzzle, and trying to see how can this be put together. Obviously we had to make little tweaks here and there for it to fit together well, but it was fun. It was definitely a process that we met on numerous times.

Neilson: … and manuals, too. Something to keep in mind, as well, is we did not have historians in the very early stages of when we were doing books, and things like that. I don’t remember exactly at what point Evelyn Frederiksen for instance came onboard and sort of started serving as the main historian on a lot of this stuff; but there is content that existed before we had the historians really kinda keeping an eagle-eye on everything and making sure that all the dates line up the way they are supposed to and nothing overlaps that isn’t supposed to and all that kind of stuff. So that’s something else to keep in mind like when you are going back and you look at some of these dates and you run into stuff where you are like well, ok we didn’t have a historian at that point so we’re going to have to figure out, you got to choose one over the other, you gotta come up with an explanation as to why something doesn’t make sense or whatever. So I think that’s an interesting bit of information.

Montoya: It’s nice to know that we have — at least a point right now in this book — a timeline that we can use as a lore reference, for the time being.

Neilson: And now we have historians.

Montoya: And Sean (Copeland) too.

Neilson: Yea. Absolutely.

MD: We know that the Nephalem are offsprings of Angels and Demons. In this book, Tyrael says he gave up his angelic essence to become a mortal. How did Tyrael become mortal, and does he have a demonic component now like a Nephalem?

Neilson: Ahh … that’s an interesting.

Burns: Interesting question, yea.

Neilson: Hmm. (both laugh) That’s an interesting question. Yea, for him becoming mortal — Matt can correct me if I am wrong, it is really his choice to shed that mortality.

Burns: Definitely, it was his choice. The angels are powerful beings, right? So I think they are kinda capable, if they choose to do that, you know, they are capable of making that transformation.

MD: In a sense, angels and demons come from the same essence of Anu. I think, maybe it can be played around that aspect that shedding away this angelic essence he can have like both essences in a sense.

Neilson: I think it’s an interesting concept.

MD: A few days ago a fan from Latin America told me how difficult it is to obtain Book of Tyrael. Shipping alone is over $20. Are there plans to publish this book on Kindle or Comixology for other people outside the United States?

Lyndsi: Hey guys, this is Lyndsi, I can definitely help find that information out for you, and send it to you as soon as I have it.

Montoya: Thanks. And I have a question about the Crusader section of the book. It was interesting to see the contrast between Crusaders and Paladins. What was that like to develop something that actually seems pretty distinct for using a similar faith or actually the same faith?

Neilson: Yea, the development credit really goes to the Game Team for Crusaders, and you know our liaison on the Game Team for pretty much all of this was Brian Kindreagan. So I can’t speak to how much of the Crusader Lore he created himself, but certainly the credit for the creation of the Crusader background and everything else goes to the Game Team; and then that was kinda handed over to us, and then we conveyed that and wrote about that in the book; and we are continuing to expand on that. We’re going to touch on that more in the fiction and it is certainly something that we are having a lot of fun with. They have a great story hook and all kinds of really cool concept associated with them. So we are lucky to be able to communicate all that.

Montoya: (###)

Burns: and I remember too when Brian (Kindreagan) first met with us and he kinda gave us the speech about the Crusader. I just thought it was really cool. I was really excited. It just seems like a unique story and there’s a lot of cool stuff in there to play around with in terms of telling future stories too.

MD: I found in the book a lot of rich story about Westmarch. What can you tell fans about the process of creating all this story about Westmarch which ties-in with the upcoming expansion.

Burns: That was another one where a big chunk of the Westmarch Lore has been written by the Diablo III writers and that was kinda handed off to us, and then I remember we met with Chris Metzen too and we kinda win over things and dug out some more ideas so you know part of it was like How can we make it a bit different from the other cultures we see in Sanctuary, like in Kehjistan and stuff like that. So that was a lot of fun, and it kinda provided us an opportunity to really dig out who Rakkis was, and why he was going over there and the kinds of challenges he faced — like I kinda would love to see a story some day about him fighting the monks of Ivgorod. I think that would be kinda cool. Like Paladins versus Monks. but yea, you will definitely going to see a lot of Westmarch in Reaper of Souls. The stuff in Book of Tyrael is a good primer for that.

MD: There is another part in the book that compiles all the factions of Sanctuary. I think for people who love to read this kinda of stuff that it’s going to be very informative. How did you decide which factions to mention and which not? For example, I think there were some that were not mentioned.

Burns: Yea, I mean, I may have mentioned this earlier but for Book of Cain we had a huge list of content and unfortunately due to space contraints we just had to pick and choose and cut some stuff out. So it was the same thing for Book of Tyrael. For the Factions section and the Characters section in particular we had a huge huge list of different factions, and different characters we wanted to cover and we ended up meeting a few times about that and due to space constraints we had to cut down a little bit. You know, we had to decide which ones we wanted to focus on and which ones we wanted to save maybe for later content or future stories. So the factions you see in there now are a result of this meetings and you know we kinda focus on the biggest factions or the ones that maybe had the most visibility to the community. A lot of the classes from Diablo II, their factions are kinda representative in there or stuff from Diablo III like the Templar and the Iron Wolves. That’s represented in there as well.

Montoya: Alright, thanks for your time guys.

Burns: Thank You.

Neilson: Absolutely. It’s always a pleasure.

Montoya: I enjoyed your book. I enjoyed your short stories. Really enjoying all the lore and I appreciate all your time.

Burns: That’s great. I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

Neilson: There is a lot more to come.

Special Links

  • Order Diablo III: Book of Tyrael online.
  • Read my Diablo III: Book of Tyrael Review
  • Blizzard discussed Diablo III: Book of Tyrael at the San Diego Comic Con 2013 Blizzard Publishing panel – watch our video
  • Blizzplanet interviews Joseph Lacroix at GamesCom 2013 about Book of Tyrael.

Visit Micky Neilson’s website at http://mickyneilson.com

Tomas Hernandez is owner of Blizzplanet.com since 2003 posting news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Next-Gen MMO, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

Blizzplanet is a leading fansite covering news about upcoming Blizzard Entertainment licensed products. I also post previews and reviews. I have interviewed book writers and Blizzard game developers.

I was previously an employee of the OGaming Network (2003), and IncGamers (2008-2010). I was a guest newsposter for GosuGamers (World of Warcraft) a few years ago and for Diablofans.com (formerly Diablo3.com)

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