We know that we've got more than a few regular readers interested in Guild Wars 2, and so we jumped at the opportunity to ask Mr. King a few questions about the storycrafting that went into writing Edge of Destiny. Click on past the break for more details on crafting the story and lore of Tyria's struggles and on how he worked in characters that are both iconic of the playable races while keeping them distinct and memorable.
Massively: This is the second book in a series about a well-established MMO franchise, a series designed to help carry players into the next game, Guild Wars 2. What were the most challenging aspects of taking on this task?
J. Robert King: I loved working on Edge of Desinty -- loved exploring the ever-expanding landscape of GW2 -- but this was a challenging job. For one thing, the world was still evolving as I wrote, so I needed the help of a crack team of world-builders at ArenaNet. And I had just the team -- Jeff Grubb, Ree Soesbee, Will McDermott, and James Phinney. They worked very closely with this novel through numerous drafts, shaping it toward what it became.
Because the game world and the novel were developing simultaneously, sometimes we had unexpected divergences -- but also unexpected opportunities. One of the great things about working in such a protean atmosphere is that my novel could affect the game -- and it did. There's a major piece of chronology in GW2 that came from the creation of Edge of Destiny.
And another challenge was writing the five iconic characters from the five playable races. The team created these characters, outlined them, showed how they would look and how they would act -- but it was up to me to make them live in the novel. I was so giddy to be writing these characters that they were a bit too wry and light in the early drafts. The story almost seemed a comedy rather than just a straight adventure. Once again, the team helped guide the characters' development -- toning down the comedy but leaving a sense of real friendship among the band.
There were several events and factors that contributed to the split of Destiny's Edge. What do you see as the pivotal event or moment that broke the group?
Fundamentally, Destiny's Edge was a group of winners. They were used to taking on all comers and carrying the day. They had done some pretty audacious things in their careers and sailed through to the other side. Everything was yes to them, and then they struck a big, impenetrable no.
This was an unlikely adventuring band from the start, and there were plenty of tensions among the characters all the way along. But as long as the mutual admiration outweighed the mutual animosity -- as long as they were kicking down doors and taking names -- those tensions beneath the surface did not rise to overtake them. One event changed all that, but for sake of avoiding spoilers, I won't go into greater depth.
The truth is that these five characters really, deep down, are friends. In the future, perhaps that fundamental commonality will reunite the band and help them recapture their awesomeness.
"In a way, we're moving out of the age of authors. Authors are those who get the credit for what is often a very collaborative effort."
I'd have to say both/and. These character are simultaneously very representative of their races at the same time as being unique unto themselves. Rytlock, for example, is the quintessential Charr -- powerful, ruthless, indomitable, unapologizing. But he's also unique, with a hatred of bullies and a soft spot for people who need a defender. Eir is quintessentially Norn -- fierce and proud, self-reliant and determined. But she's also an artist and a person who looks past outward appearances to inward truth. She's one of a kind.
Of course, this is the case in reality, too. Most people would say that I'm just a normal human being, but those who really know me would say there's nothing normal about me. In fact, I've never known a single normal person. Everyone -- once you get past the medical stats or income-tax returns -- is completely unique.
Guild Wars players recognized some familiar things in the book beyond just places and characters. How closely did you want the book to mimic familiar gameplay?
That's always the trick. Edge of Destiny, after all, isn't a game. You don't get to play it. You have to read it, and you don't get to affect what happens. Now, it's never as much fun to watch somebody else play a game as to play it yourself -- and that's what the reading experience would be like if the book too closely depicted gameplay. It would feel gamey.
So, when writing a novel based on a great game, you ask yourself what parts of the game experience can be translated into a narrative. In this case, the answer is fascinating characters, cool races, amazing foes, otherworldly locations, thrilling battles, puzzling challenges, and that sense of camaraderie that comes from belonging to an adventuring band. The battles need to depict combat and magic in a way that is true not just to the letter of the law, but to its spirit.
I've often been told that I write cinematically, that when people read one of my novels, they see a movie playing in their heads. In this case, I hope they see a game cinematic.
Were you familiar with the world of Tyria before beginning this project?
I was a complete newbie to Guild Wars when I first heard about the book audition. So I ran out and bought a copy, and my sons and I started playing. We were blown away. On the basis of that experience, I wrote up a novel proposal, complete with a sample short story, showing how I'd handle the characters and situations. Mine was one of dozens of proposals that the team considered, and I was one of the handful that ended up with a novel contract.
That's when the real learning began. I was playing the original Guild Wars and the expansions. This novel kicks off centuries later in a much-changed world. And that new world was still taking shape. I received a preliminary world bible -- about three hundred pages of characters, races, monsters, and locations -- but even then was cautioned that this was a living document that would be changing and expanding continually. I steeped myself in that document and in the many more to follow.
Still, my first draft was only about halfway there. In fact, in a moment of utter masochism, I did
a "Compare Documents" from the first draft to the final draft of Edge of Destiny, and discovered that fewer than half the words from the first survived to the last. And some of the words that ended up in the last draft had been changed three or four times before they were final.
And the fact is that Edge of Destiny is out, but Guild Wars 2 is still evolving. So it might be best to read the novel as the testimony of one ardent scholar, but just one piece in a much larger picture created by hundreds of brilliant folks.
How closely did you work with ArenaNet when writing this story? Was there a specific team, or some developers in particular, who guided the collaboration?
I guess I kind of jumped the gun by laying out the team in the first question, but they were so central to the development and ultimate form of this book that it would have been criminal not to mention them earlier.
Will McDermott was my point-man on all things Guild Wars. He was the one who gathered
information from all the other sources, collated it, and provided it. He also, of course, did a lot of steering in terms of plot and character. I'd worked with Will before on short stories and novels for Magic: The Gathering, so I knew I couldn't be in better hands.
Jeff Grubb, Ree Soesbee, and James Phinney also worked on each of the six drafts that this book went through. I'd worked with Jeff and Ree before on numerous projects and already was in awe of their creative capacities. I met James just on this project, but his guidance was critical.
All of them read the drafts, making comments and occasional changes in "Track Changes," though they really were careful to point out the problems and allow me, the author, the space to devise solutions. Sometimes what I devised worked well, and sometimes it introduced new difficulties. And all of these folks are brilliant writers in their own rights. Any one of them could have written this novel as well or better than I could have, so it showed a tremendous generosity of spirit on their part that they gave me the room I needed in order to create. And because of that room, there are innovations in this novel that don't strictly come from the same think-tank that is building the game. In order to get those innovations, the team gave me the latitude to invent and make some mistakes along the way.
In a way, we're moving out of the age of authors. Authors are those who get the credit for what is often a very collaborative effort. Yes, I'm the author of Edge of Destiny, and almost all of the words in it came from me. But a whole team made this book what it is.
Thanks for your time!