Tony Gonzales, author of
June 12, 2008 - MMORPGs (and certainly tabletop RPGs before them) have had a give-and-take relationship with the realm of literary fiction. Both World of Warcraft and Everquest spawned bestselling paperbacks - the latter attracting the well-known popular fantasy author R.A. Salvatore (who is now even deeper into the industry, writing for 38 Studios). And, of course, Lord of the Rings Online is inextricably connected to the works of the legendary author J.R.R. Tolkien.
But never to our knowledge has a game or expansion launched hand-in-hand with a novel. That is, until now. Tony Gonzales' EVE: The Empyrean Age tells the story of how EVE Online's four playable races transitioned from a tentative peace to all-out war. But factional warfare isn't just a literary denouement; as of Wednesday morning it's a game-changing reality for EVE Online players, who can now sign up and fight for their favored faction, either alone or with their corporation. We spoke with Tony Gonzales, who is also Lead Writer for EVE Online, about the process of penning the inspiration for an expansion and what we can expect from the 528-page set to be released from Amazon a week from the publication date of this article.
Ten Ton Hammer: You’re experience with EVE Online predates the novel EVE: The Empyrean Age by a longshot. How did you get your start with the game and with CCP?
Tony Gonzales: EVE entered my life early in 2003, when it was in beta. What can I say, I fell in love immediately and have been writing about her ever since. I love science fiction, so just seeing the client and its vision of a future we can aspire to just blew me away. So I volunteered for the ISD program and contributed as much as I could. When the game and the company started to bloom, they needed writers aboard full time. By then I knew several devs really well, and the rest is history. Most of life is about being in the right place at the right time, and that’s what happened to me. I’ve been trying to make the most of this chance ever since.
Ten Ton Hammer: Were you commissioned to write this novel by CCP, or was it more of something that just kind of grew out of your role at CCP? Tell us a little bit about the beginnings of the novel and expansion concept.
Tony Gonzales: I was hired explicitly to write the novel, but back in 2006, when the company was less than half the size it is now, I was helping out with all kinds of copywriting assignments ranging from company press releases to expansion feature page text. The reason they asked me to write the novel was because of two novellas I wrote, “Ruthless” and “Theodicy”. I guess they struck the right chord with the community and the right people at CCP, so there it is again….right place, right time.
CCP talked about factional warfare at the first or second Fanfest, so when it was time to figure out a novel plot, I said “Well, this concept is some time away, but it’s on the radar at least…how about a story that tells how this war happens?” It was a risky prospect then, especially without a specific date set for the expansion. I recall those discussions being fairly animated. It was ambitious, and like most ambition, just a little crazy. But somehow everything lined up, and here we are today.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is this your first published work? Was the process of writing a novel made easier by having five plus years of lore to build upon, or did you feel that the lore restricted your creativity was at times?
Tony Gonzales: Yes, it’s my first published work, which I’m still having a hard time believing. The incredibly rich and compelling background for EVE made the creative process easy. A senior game dev at CCP named Hrafnkell Smári Óskarsson is the creator of most of that material, and anything I’ve done—in fact, all of the storyline as it exists today—is built squarely on the foundation that he built. At no point did it restrict creativity. If anything, the lore enhanced it, because I was given the freedom to advance that vision so long as I stayed true to the main constructs of the IP.
A cover art candidate for the novel. Click here to download an excerpt from EVE: The Empyrean Age.
Ten Ton Hammer: The amazon.co.uk teaser hints at several plotlines that intersect in the course of the novel. Is each of EVE’s four playable races represented with a major character?
Tony Gonzales: There are actually four main plotlines that intersect, one for each playable race. And to make this book accessible to those unfamiliar with EVE, there’s also a big role for non-capsuleers—essentially the ants beneath player’s feet. For them, the universe of EVE is described through the eyes of a crew on a ship called the Retford. As for the empires, one character that’s causing a bit of a stir in the Caldari State is a man named Tibus Heth. His rise to power has surprised a lot of people, but then again, those “ants” I mentioned above have a lot more power than players think. Then there’s his natural adversary, President Foiritan, who is a much nobler man than most people give him credit for. There are others who I’d love to mention, but can’t just yet. Ask me again after June 19th, when some people have read it. There’s a few names I suspect players will want to talk about.
Ten Ton Hammer: At present, EVE has avatar interaction in the works with the Ambulation project, but the feature hasn’t made it into the game quite yet. How do you bring a game that depends so much on epic fleet battles into the realm of one-on-one dialogue?
Tony Gonzales: You start by accepting that yes, there are human beings on those ships, on those stations, and even on those planets. And every single one of them has their own story, all from their own unique perspective of the same universe that players share. That world is there, right now, and it’s been there ever since EVE was created. We’re revealing it as fast as we can within the game itself, but until then it’s up to writers like Abraxas to reveal through his chronicles and the artists who bring those stories to life. There’s much more than meets the eye in EVE, and immersing yourself in the game universe is the only way to reveal the depth that’s there.
Ten Ton Hammer: Will readers new to the EVE Online universe be able to pick up the book and “get” it? Is one of your goals to introduce science-fiction fans who haven’t played EVE Online to the game?
Tony Gonzales: That was prime directive number one. The story had to be accessible to everyone, not just EVE players. We want to entice the broader science fiction audience to our universe. And if we’re lucky enough to have them join EVE Online, we want them to enter a game world that’s familiar to what they read about in the book. My personal goal was to make it appeal to readers outside the science fiction genre as well. We created a space opera, the foundation of which will always be the human story, and that’s a story that never gets old. I just hope I told it the right way. In the end, that’s for others to judge.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is writing a novel easier or more fulfilling than writing mission dialogue, lore, and the other types of things you'd write for a game?
Tony Gonzales: That’s a tough question. I think that in general, the longer the project lasts, the more stressful it is only because there’s no immediate feedback and because you have to wait that much longer for closure. I might be going out on a limb here, but I’d like to think that the real reward for any artist in any medium is finding out that your work has connected with someone in a positive way. Then again, writing about EVE comes easy to the talented folks we have in-house working on missions and lore. I think it’s fulfilling for all of us, although it won’t hit me personally until I have a physical copy of the book in my hand. That’s when it’ll finally hit me, I think.
Ten Ton Hammer: Judging from the trailers, diplomatic disasters on an epic scale will transition the EVE universe into the Empyrean Age. Will players be able to experience the aftermath of these scenes in-game?
Tony Gonzales: Oh yes, there will be [sights to see]. I’ll put it to you this way: some races are going to get a black eye in this expansion.
Ten Ton Hammer: Were any actual players or player-owned corporations used in the novel? If not, were any of the characters’ personalities inspired by corpmates or other actual players of the game?
Tony Gonzales: No, I’m afraid not. The main reason is because I just don’t think it’s fair to commemorate the success of a player corporation in this kind of media—how do you single out just one when there have been so many over the years, and what criteria would you use to judge what is or isn’t more “novel-worthy” than the other? As far as personalities go, I’ve used inspiration mostly from real life people—role models and despicable villains—and then combined the best and worst attributes of both to create characters from scratch. Any resemblance to actual in-game players is, of course, purely coincidental. At least, I think that’s what the legal disclaimer usually says.
Ten Ton Hammer: Will we be seeing more fiction in the future from Tony Gonzales?
Tony Gonzales: I sure hope so. I guess it depends in part on how The Empyrean Age does. If it makes that positive connection with enough people, then yes. An absolutely sublime outcome would be if it succeeds in luring more people to EVE. That would be the most gratifying feeling of all.
Thanks to Tony Gonzales and CCP for taking time to talk with us about the upcoming EVE: The Empyrean Age novel, available on June 19th.