Blizzplanet interviews today both New York Times bestselling co-authors of World of Warcraft: Curse of the Worgen … Micky Neilson (Blizzard Publishing Lead) and James Waugh (Blizzard Senior Story Developer).
World of Warcraft: Curse of the Worgen has gone to printing again as a trade paperback to reach the hands of fans who enjoy the lore of Warcraft. I personally read the Comixology version of the original 5-part issues back on 2010-2011. Now that this story has been reprinted as a trade paperback, I wanted to reach both co-authors to give fans (who haven’t yet read this story) a better scope of what to find within the trade paperback, and why you shouldn’t miss reading it.
Curse of the Worgen captures some of the key moments that players experienced in the Cataclysm expansion’s Worgen starting location. How was the process of matching together your story in this comic book with the in-game quests — considering the expansion’s iteration process? — For example, The Jade Forest had a complete overhaul mid-beta. Things might change overnight.
James: The beauty of developing this sort of content with in-house writers (Micky and I) is that we can be agile and are closer to the source when those changes happen. For Curse of the Worgen, the World of Warcraft team was building out the Worgen starting zone while Micky and I were writing and developing the story. This synergy was invaluable to both parties. The team was building out the zones and creating much of Gilneas—remember, no zones were ever built, the history was limited to manuals and a few books and cameos from Greymane—so in many ways they were building Gilneas for the first time.
Writing a non-game story you end up asking very different questions in order to further develop it. The questions that would help Micky and I create Curse of the Worgen came to answers that ended up informing choices the design team made and vice versa, design decisions they’d make would lead to ideas we’d never think of normally. Funny enough, at the same time, I was writing the Genn Greymane short story for the Leaders of Azeroth fiction project we did. I was going to explore Genn’s history, which of course, as the leader of his people, was Gilneas’s history. This ended up being a perfect storm, as an idea would come into fruition in the short story, get approved by Metzen, and then inform the game, and comic series. It was a pretty unique holistic experience that I don’t think could have been done if the writers of the comic were not part of the team building the fiction for the IP and a building away from the design team.
Looking back a year later, given the iteration process you mention above, we really pulled off something unique, giving you three distinct chapters of Genn Greymane’s story that paint a larger portrait.
Micky: It was an amazing experience, and a great example of cross-media storytelling. When it works, it’s beautiful. There are so many things that can go wrong. Communication is paramount. You have to be talking to the right people on the game side, and the game devs have to be willing to work with the authors and take the time to read and provide feedback. It’s a relationship. Without that close collaboration, the reader can tell, even if they’re not lore experts, that something is wrong. There will be inconsistencies and people will respond to that, and readers will lose trust in the product.
We strive to ensure that the experience of reading the comics, books, short stories, etc. is congruent with the story, tone, and environment of the game. As James mentions, the dev team was great to work with—very motivated, and dedicated to making it all sync up.
Who is Halford Ramsey?
James: Halford is really the creation of the one and only Micky “Superfly” Neilson. We talked about a way into this story at length. We knew we wanted to convey all the lore about the creation of the worgen and we knew we wanted to tell a story about the events of Gilneas, but we really needed a way to tether these ideas together. The Gilnean aesthetic theme is very Victorian England; and as a kid I watched a lot of Sherlock Holmes (the Jeremy Brett version)—great stuff if you haven’t seen it. I don’t know if it was Micky or I who first suggested the idea of a detective, but because of my Holmesian affinity and the tone of the Gilnean civilization, it became the key to figuring this story out. We decided that we’d move forward with a Holmes-like character; a logician. What was important to me, as to any writer crafting a linear story about a character, was figuring out what his character arc would be and letting that dictate his story. We both thought it had something to do with his rigid, analytical nature needing to change. Micky seemed to have an instinct on this and went off and wrote up a document about Halford, creating his sister, and what cut him off emotionally.
I don’t think we had the whole picture of what we created until it came together in the outline, but if the worgen experience was about finding balance, a man stuck in logic that needs to connect with his human/animal side ended up really resonating with the night elf story, the game, and the larger themes we were chasing with the worgen. But, the name, the details of the character backstory, that’s all Micky’s.
Micky: Halford was a lot of fun to write. I wanted him to be a bit of an anti-hero that would grow on people. He’s candid, he’s condescending, he’s unapproachable in many ways, especially emotionally, but he’s also a deductive genius and the further you dig into his character the more you understand where he’s coming from.
The journey of Halford finding the humanity in not only himself but in others as well was one that felt compelling to James and I, and we believed that if we could make that emotional connection with the character, readers would connect with him as well. Sherlock Holmes was certainly a big influence. I would love to explore Halford’s character more in the future.
Oh, and a fun bit of trivia: his first name is taken from the last name of the lead singer of Judas Priest, Rob Halford.
What will fans learn in this comic book about the Scythe of Elune?
James: Very important things! You must read it. I can’t tell you. Maybe Micky will. Maybe not. But things so important you must pick this book up! Do it. Do it NOW! It’ll change your life. . . . Or tell you the history of the scythe, one or the other.
Micky: The Scythe of Elune was one of those in-game items that was just begging for more background. The origins of the scythe are fully explored in Curse of the Worgen. Interestingly, we were also developing the story for the Alliance graphic novel World of Warcraft: Dark Riders at the same time. Dark Riders has been in development for a while; the colors are looking absolutely amazing and it’s going to be one fantastic book. For anyone who’s interested in the scythe, Curse of the Worgen is a great place to start.
How was the coordination between the two of you to write this story? Did you have to split topics and ideas, and mesh them together?
James: We did several meetings with Chris Metzen and Alex Afrasiabi to talk about the origin of the worgen. Alex was using a link to druidism as the root cause and had a ton built out game-wise. We liked the idea that maybe worgen were a corrupted version of a banned form. Malfurion had years as a druid to experiment that we hadn’t touched on fictionally, who knows what he tried during them? There may be a duck-billed playtypus form you just haven’t seen yet because it was banned. I digress.
After that, Micky and I did a lot of talking. There may have been beers involved. There may have not been. I don’t remember, so probably the former. We began to really talk about the themes we were seeing in our new lore and in the game and the story went from there. Halford appeared somehow. We did an outline, iterated with the dev team, and then came the task of writing. We decided we’d split up the timelines on our first pass and trade to the other person to rewrite their scenes. So, I’d write my timeline’s scenes, send to Micky, Micky would do the same. I’d edit him, he’d edit me. We’d put it together and do a pass in tandem. Then we’d send to Chris Metzen and get his notes and revise from there. It worked out pretty well. Though I believe there was an issue where this process led to us needing an extra page and for the life of us we couldn’t trim the story down to get it – we were already trying to be as economical as possible with dense material. Wildstorm was kind enough to give us an extra page for the book. Thanks DC! Won’t happen again.
Micky: James has a great story sense and he shares my philosophy regarding the importance of characters. We found a rhythm early on. Once we had the concepts nailed down, the writing process went pretty smoothly. The biggest decision we had to make at the outline stage was where to end the story. The Gilneas events in the game proceed beyond what we explored in the book.
Ultimately, we looked at the themes and the character arcs, as well as the amount of ‘page space’ we had to tell the story, and felt that we could still tell a complete story even if we ended it a little early. At the point where Genn, Halford, and the others are preparing to storm back into Gilneas, the main character arcs had reached their conclusions and the overall themes had been greatly explored. With the outline figured out, the rest fell into place. James had a clear idea of what the back story with Arvell, Belysra, and Ralaar would be and I had a direction for the Starlight Slasher storyline and Halford’s character, so splitting up the A and B storylines worked really well. And yes, alcohol consumption was part of the process!
What were your goals with “Curse of the Worgen”?
James: To try to get a taste of Micky Neilson’s New York Times Bestselling thunder! Actually, my goal with any story is to make you feel something. For linear narrative, I want a character change due to story circumstances beyond what they think they can handle –ultimately become better people (or worgen) from the experience of overcoming. I think we’re all trying to do that in the real world day in and day out and fiction allows us to see that it’s possible and inspires us to try harder. Sure that sounds a bit lofty; this is a comic book with purple, long eared people, after all, but it’s the only reason to tell a story in traditional mediums like this when we already have a game.
We wanted to do what the game couldn’t, and that’s really dig out character. As for the transmedia goals: We wanted to tell the origin of the Worgen, we wanted to set up franchise characters like Genn, and we wanted to tell the story of the Scythe of Elune. All of that stuff really fleshes out the world and is entertaining content. But I’m hoping that it’s accessible and lingers because of the heart.
Micky: As James mentions above, character and theme are always the top goals of our fiction. Beyond that, we really had an opportunity to explore the origins of the worgen and the Scythe of Elune at a level of detail that wouldn’t be possible in the game. There were also many unanswered questions relating to Gilneas. It was this incredible new territory—“new” simply because it had been walled off for so long. It was undiscovered country, and for a writer that’s like catnip.
On top of all that, James and I had been wanting to work on a project together, so with all those factors aligned we were in a great position to accomplish several goals with the project.
There seems to be a recurring complaint among readers of Curse of the Worgen who wish this cleared out. There is a conflicting name between the comic book and the in-game NPC: Belrysa Starsong and Belysra Starsong? Are both the same persona, or was this a typo? Any chance the NPC name could be corrected by the developers?
Micky: That was an error that I am happy to say will be fixed. They are indeed the same person.
Are there any plans for Halford Ramsey in future stories: novels, comic book sequels, online novella, or in-game?
James: I’m looking at you, quest designers! I think we’d all love to see Halford Ramsey quests. As for other content, none at the moment, though he’s a character I’m sure Micky and I would love to go back to one day. Maybe we’ll do a detective series with Halford Ramsey! . . . maybe not.
Micky: Halford’s a lot of fun. I think it’s really just a matter of finding the right story, the right fit. I have a few ideas of where Halford could go from here. With a detective character like that, there are almost limitless opportunities.
The Ashbringer hardcover and the Sunwell Trilogy hardcover had bonus material. In the case of the Sunwell Trilogy it retold the founding of Quel’Thalas with Dath’Remar Sunstrider. Is the Curse of the Worgen paperback including bonus material, too?
James: Not that I know of. We did a bonus/coda story for the hardcover that should help hardcore players understand quest lines relating to the Scythe.
Micky: The bonus material was the Velinde story in the back of the hardcover, which will be included in the softcover. It was a loose end that we were able to tie up, which was extremely gratifying!
Do you think the storyline carried over well into the game?
James: The dev team did a kick-ass job. Gilneas was a blast and I was really proud to see Belysra in game along with specific story points we talked out. Even cooler was seeing the moments in game that wrapped around the events in the comic. It seems to all fit together in a way that you really can only cross your fingers and hope for when you do this type of stuff.
Micky: The biggest benefit early in the process was really just answering the question of where the worgen came from. There were a lot of ideas, but the more we talked about it, the more the druid angle made sense. Then we were able to make connections to Goldrinn, who we had explored in the WoW monthly comic, as well as Malfurion and even the Emerald Dream. Where the worgen came from and how they came about were big questions that the designers needed to have answered so they could move forward, so the process of creating the comic certainly did inform the design of the game content. And yes, I believe it worked out really well!
Do you both have plans to publish more novels, and graphic novels in 2013? (Share titles or topics of upcoming untitled stories to keep an eye for)
Micky: Things to keep an eye out for: If you haven’t read World of Warcraft: Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War yet, check it out to get details regarding the fall of Theramore. Also, World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria is out right now and provides backstory and cultural flavor for WoW’s newest playable race, the Pandaren. Also, you’ll soon be hearing more about an anthology of short stories which will include, for the first time ever, Blood of the Highborne (a story I wrote many moons ago detailing the origins of the Blood Knights). Beyond that, we’ll be making a few exciting announcements at a panel at this year’s New York Comic Con, so stay tuned!
Have you thought of the possibility of increasing the amount of stories published per year to expand the universes? Is this feasible?
James: We’ve really upped the ante over the last few years, putting out a lot of content. It’s something Blizzard does for our players and I think it makes our worlds and characters richer and gives people more to experience. I’m not as actively involved in the publishing development these days; I’m working on the games, but I think we’re doing a good amount. These things are not so easy to pull off as we really try to make sure everything fits and that takes a lot of coordination and time.
Micky: The main thing is maintaining quality. We put a lot of time and effort into each story, so there’s also the issue of bandwidth. The plan for 2013 is to focus on telling absolutely the best stories we can tell, and to continue expanding these worlds, within the games and beyond. That being said, we do have a lot of content that we’re working on, and it’s all exciting stuff. 2013 is going to be our best year yet!
Thanks Micky Neilson and James Waugh for discussing details of this story. Hope to read many more. Many thanks to Lyndsi for making this interview possible.
Fans can order the World of Warcraft: Curse of the Worgen (Trade Paperback). It’s already on sale and shipping.
World of Warcraft: Dark Riders — mentioned by Micky Neilson above is a DC Comics graphic novel (Hardcover) by writer Mike Costa and artist Neil Googe. Release date: April 23, 2013. Pre-order now.
Don’t forget to check out the Blizzard Publishing Panel held at the New York Comic Con. Blizzplanet was there and shares video of the panel where Micky Neilson, Dave Kosak and Michael Stackpole revealed the new novel product line up for 2013.
Artists and fans should check out the UDON panel video about the upcoming World of Warcraft Tribute Art Book.
Filmmakers/Machinima fans should learn more about Mega Bloks upcoming plans for an ongoing animated webisode and the contest here.
Thanks to Bluesnews and N4G.