The latest World of Warcraft novel, Wolfheart, is now hitting bookstores everywhere. Focusing on a turf war between the Night Elves and the Orcs, the book sees the return of some much loved characters including Jarod Shadowsong and his sister Maiev, as well as a closer look into the mind of Varian Wrynn and his relationship with the Worgen of Gilneas. Last week, we sat down to talk to it's author, fantasy writer Richard A. Knaak about the writing process, what it's like to work with Blizzard's loremasters and how he feels about his losing one of his favourite characters.
Ten Ton Hammer: So how did you start about writing World of Warcraft books for Blizzard?
Richard A Knaak: In the beginning they actually approached me; IÂd written several things in the past, including for a series called Dragonlance and they were very familiar with my work, especially The Legend of Huma. Apparently, several of the people at Blizzard had grown up reading my work and so, basically, IÂd raised my own employers! They asked me if IÂd be willing to do some novels in the worlds that they were working with, Warcraft and Diablo. I went and took a look at those worlds and they were so rich in depth and I was happy to do something in them. Ever since then weÂve had a really good experience with each other.
Ten Ton Hammer: Do you pitch an idea to them or do they come to you?
Richard: What happens is, usually, they will pick a subject that they want to write about thatÂs going to be important to the game and theyÂll ask me if itÂs something IÂd be interested in and it usually is. They give me a notion of what theyÂre looking for and then I come back with a synopsis that expands on all of that. Then they go through it and will pick up on things that IÂve done and say ÂYes, we want to expand on those.Â TheyÂll also suggest other things which come up from what theyÂve seen and thisÂll go back and forth a few times until we hammer out a synopsis that we both feel very, very happy about. There are about three or four people who I normally deal with on that end, who are very good and dedicated to the storylines.
Ten Ton Hammer: Would you say Blizzard give you free reign then?
Richard: I would say for a work for hire situation, which is what this is, IÂd say they give me very good reign. I always like to stay true to what they want and we have an excellent lore staff but things do get missed now and then, you canÂt help that. But they try to be very careful with things and stay on top of it at all times. Sometimes there are changes which have to be made because the game has expanded so much from Orcs and Humans. Sometimes there are routes they want to go but didnÂt realise they wanted to originally so we do what we can to make sure everything fits together and flows nicely.
Ten Ton Hammer: So how long did it take you to write Wolfheart?
Richard: IÂm usually working on a couple of different projects at the same time because, obviously, itÂs going to take them quite a bit of time, especially when I have to pass things through them. If I had to condense it down, probably anywhere from four to eight months, while IÂm working on other things at the same time. Then thereÂs the editing process that they do as well. Blizzard are very particular and theyÂve actually found little things, even towards the end of the editing process. So, all the way to the very end weÂre adjusting things and tweaking for peopleÂs enjoyment.
Ten Ton Hammer: WhatÂs your favourite part of Wolfheart?
Richard: There were several things Blizzard wanted to introduce in it and I was happy to do that because I like all the different directions that they wanted the story to have. I really liked working with Varian, IÂve followed him in the other storylines and heÂs a very fascinating character. It was nice to be able to delve into him. I also liked working with the Horde because I play both sides in the game and these are not just black and white, itÂs not a villains and heroes situation. Both sides have their points that theyÂre shooting for and need to find their place in the world but it makes for a better story that way. If thereÂs one personal favourite thing, it would have to be that I was able to bring back Jarod Shadowsong because I created him for War of the Ancients and he became a favourite of many people. Then he disappeared and I also wanted to know what had happened to him. IÂm sure there are elements to his story over those ten thousand years or so that people are gonna learn eventually but I happy to bring him back.
Ten Ton Hammer: How do you feel about KrasusÂ demise in Christie GoldenÂs Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects?
Richard: I am sorry to see him go, he was one of my favourite creations and BlizzardÂs also. But I understand why they wanted to do it and the decision was in BlizzardÂs hands. I respect that and I respect Christie had to do it. I must admit though, I wouldÂve liked to have done it myself but IÂm not so selfish that I couldnÂt seen how important it was to that storyline.
Ten Ton Hammer: YouÂre quite a keen player then?
Richard: IÂm currently trying a Worgen Mage and seeing how he works out. I like Gilneas, that psuedo-Victorian look to it. IÂve been to England a few times and of the first books I read was the Sherlock Holmes stories so I always like to go back to that time period. Gilneas is one of my favourite starting points now.
Ten Ton Hammer: You and Christie Golden are almost writing these books in tandem, both of you taking different view points on the current lore.
Richard: ThatÂs the way Blizzard wants it. We donÂt actually have contact with each other on these projects but because weÂre coordinating through Blizzard, they sent whatever material is significant to each one of us. That was they can make sure everything is cohesive and mostly I deal with the story lead, Mick Neilson, whose known for having written some of the WoW comic book stuff and his team co-ordinate everything. Then, of course, thereÂs the lore people, follow through. TheyÂre constantly scouring the text for anything theyÂve missed but thatÂs the best way. We both focus in on Blizzard and that way thereÂs one person constantly checking on stuff.
Ten Ton Hammer: Do you ever feel sad, creating these characters like Krasus and Rhonin and then, almost, giving them away?
Richard: IÂm used to that. Like I said, my first publication was Dragonlance and The Legend of Huma is one of my most well known books from that series. Huma was a character only vaguely mentioned and I actually fleshed him out and people really enjoyed the book. IÂm used to working in other peopleÂs worlds and I enjoy them. I understand that these characters are not mine, of course theyÂre corporationalised and I have no problem with that. IÂve written for Conan, for Dragonlance and a couple of other projects and itÂs just as enjoyable as writing my own novels.
Ten Ton Hammer: WolfheartÂs main focus seems to be on a turf war between the Night Elves and the Orcs. Was this an interesting subject to focus on for you?
Richard: That whatÂs important about the Warcraft world, itÂs not just epic fantasy, to really enjoy it you have to come down to those situations and appreciate what these characters are going through on both sides. I enjoyed the fact that I was able to show some of the growing conflict between and give and idea of why theyÂre doing what theyÂre doing. I especially enjoyed being able to lead the characters into the climax, I always enjoy a good battle scene. I thought it was a very appropriate ending for what we were working on with this storyline. Although there are some storylines in there which are leading to different situations, particularly the stuff going on in Darnassus.
Ten Ton Hammer: Yeah it does seem odd to think of these immortal creatures now reduced to mortality and dying of actual old age.
Richard: It is kind of odd. When they first old me they were going to be doing that. IÂm like ÂOkay, thatÂs quite a shift.Â But I think itÂs actually going to make them even more enjoyable because your characterÂs no long the immortal, high and mighty ones. Now theyÂre going to have to cope with something that the Orcs, Humans and Dwarves have been used to. Old age and death. I think weÂre going to be seeing a few more things happening to them while weÂre off dealing with Varian and all the other situations in there. I think itÂs going to humanise them, for lack of a better of word.
Ten Ton Hammer: And how did you feel about bringing Maiev back into the storyline.
Richard: Yeah, thereÂs a lot of interest in her. IÂm actually pleased and I understand why they wanted to go the route theyÂre going and why sheÂs being brought back into the storyline. I think, if you look closely, youÂll see why sheÂs doing what sheÂs doing. I think it makes sense if you really think about who she is. Her contact with her brother will make it interesting for people whoÂve not read Wolfheart and will also give some indication of what she does following this book.
Ten Ton Hammer: How do you feel about seeing your characters move from paper into the game.
Richard: Oh thatÂs fun! I love seeing them bring in Rhonin and Krasus. In the manga, I created a character called Trag Highmountain and heÂs now in Northrend. TragÂs actually a character IÂd really like to come back too, to see how heÂs coping with his existence. ItÂs really fun to see that heÂs in the game.
Ten Ton Hammer: If you could only have one character in all of WoW, which would you say is the one which resonates most with you as a writer and a player.
Richard: Malfurion would be one of them. IÂve watched him grow up since the War of the Ancients but, actually, Varian was lots of fun to work with. IÂd love to go back to Trag Highmountain. The characters IÂve dealt with, I guess IÂm a little more personal with them.
Ten Ton Hammer: The lore is the one thing people love about WoW. Everyone basically wants to be that person who writes the lore, especially with the Global Writing Contest Blizzard does each year. So, what advice do you have for someone who wants to be you and follow in your footsteps?
Richard: I would say the biggest thing is to keep writing and keep practising. Obviously, itÂs important in this case to know the lore and play the game. Just try to think about not just the game aspects of the storyline but what drives the characters.