Bungie Weekly Update
This is so lame that I'm embarassed to even tell you, but I just got a look at one of the sample ground textures we're using for a new multiplayer map. To this point, the multiplayer maps have had a mixture of real and fake placeholder textures - many of them simple dirt or grass or rock from Halo 2 - and of course all of those placeholders will be replaced with brand new, high resolution hypertextures (not a technical term). The texture set (I suppose it's technically several different textures applied to a large area) consisted of photo realistic flattened boulders in long, but windswept grass. Residents of Scotland will be familiar with that kind of Igneous Schist, yeah, I said it ad I'll say it again. Igneous Schist.
What is it that first attracted you to the Halo universe?
Short answer: the Halo Story Bible and a bunch of people telling me I couldn't do this.
Longer Version: Many years ago I worked with Eric Trautmann on some Crimson Skies serialized fiction for the game's website. Trautmann was then working with Microsoft's business development team (which would later morph into the Games Licensing Division). He asked me if I'd be interested in working on a Halo novel. I said "no." (or words to that effect....) (Frank: do I have to keep this interview PG-13 rated?)
Before this, I had gone on the record as saying that I'd never do novelizations. Trautmann made me watch him play Halo, and got me a little more interested, and then he sprung the then-budding Halo Story Bible (HSB) on me. (all this was happening about the time the Bungie-team was in death-crunch mode to get the game out the door, so I had little, if any contact with them at the time...that changed later on (see below)). The material in the HSB was some of the coolest stuff I have ever seen for any intellectual property (game/ novel/or movie).
Another thing that really got me intrigued was that I would get to fill in most of the blanks leading up to the Halo game. (I had feared that I would have to novelize a game that people would have already played....) But, instead, the only restriction was that I had to get the Master Chief on the Pillar of Autumn and at Halo for the start of the game.
I was intrigued to say the least.
The Master Chief was a complete mystery. In fact, many people (names omitted here, so I'm not assassinated) wanted the Master Chief to remain a blank, faceless solider. Terminator-ish as it were. They weren't convinced any writer could portray him as tough as he is in the game and make him, for lack of a better word, "human," too.
Well, if there's one thing I can't let pass it's a writing challenge.
Over the course of the next week in my free time, I banged out an outline for the novel...and got the green light from MS/Bungie to go ahead.
Of course, the novel's publisher had to approve the content first...so Trautmann and I pitched the novel outline to certain individuals--and were promptly shot down. To this day we can't figure out why. Trautmann did some quick sleight of hand, and convinced them to at least look at some of the chapters.
I wrote 'em (like I said: I love a good challenge), they were approved...and I was off and running.
Who are your own personal favorite sci fi authors, and why?
Roger Zelazny - a master word smith in the field if ever there was one. I struggle every day to be half the writer he was.
Harlan Ellison - for being Harlan...and author of my most favorite short story "Grail." (btw Frank, Harlan would most certainly attempt to strangle you for using the term "sci fi." )
Robert A. Heinlein -for his most excellent early "juvenile" works.
Also I can't help it (I have a deep noir streak in me) I must also include H.P. Lovecraft and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
What has been the most well received aspect of your Halo novels thus far?
A few notable things.
First there are the early Spartan training sequences. This, for some strange reason, appeals to the vast majority of the younger portion of our audience. I guess kids need to be empowered super soldiers, too! Second, the ship-to-ship space battle sequences—especially the Keyes Loop. Did I mention when I was in graduate school at UCSD I took my classical mechanics class from Sally Ride, the astronaut? Knowing the difference between an orbital burn and a Lorenz attractor comes in handy sometimes.
Third: the other Spartans. People got the impression that the Master Chief was the only Spartan (in the Halo:CE game manual it said he was the "the last known Spartan" or words to that effect), but people wanted more of a good thing.
What aspect brings you the most complaints?
One complaint I hear a lot is that the novels aren't canon and do not mesh with the game. From the very beginning the novels were designed to be optional, but official, material. Bungie didn't want people to have to read the novels to follow the game. That would be silly. The novels are designed to be an official companion pieces, and if you read them you experience a richer back story and understanding of the Halo universe. This strategy, however, necessitated that references to the extra material be minimized in game so as to not confuse people who hadn't read the books.
Just because the other Spartans (Fred, Kelly, Linda et.al.) are not in Halo 2 doesn't mean Bungie has rejected them. They're off doing something else...somewhere.
What's the difference between working on a novel and working on a game script (GOW)?
To begin with you have to be much more flexible writing a game script. Most people not in the video game industry probably wouldn't believe how much a game's art, technology, and design evolve over the 2-3 year period it's in development. Characters you start with may vanish and be replaced by new ones. Entire levels get cut and new ones appear.
Writing for a game you have to interact with artists, designers, coders, to make sure you have a single cohesive and compelling game experience. Words I write into a script might impact 60 other guys and gals on the team. Game writers have to be willing to change everything continuously, and yet still maintain a vision of what the story is, who the characters are, and where it's all headed in terms of long-range intellectual property development 3-10 years down the road.
Novel writing, on the other hand, one has the freedom to do anything. The problem is I don't get to see the characters I'm writing about rendered on screen, or hear them in the recording booth. I don't get the think about how a certain scene might or might not play out for character (players) depending on how a level is designed. In many respects novels are much less dynamic and alive for me.
Both have challenges and limitations, but I love writing for both mediums.
Many Bungie fans know you simply as the author of the Halo novels - but you have a day job too. Can you describe that for us?
My day job is writer for Microsoft Game Studios. I get to work alongside some of the best game developers in the world. On a given project, depending on the need, I might consult on game story and franchise plans, develop character and story bibles, write backstory, prepare materials for Marketing, write game manuals, write game scripts, consult on voice casting, direct voice actors, and coordinate with MS Localization, Legal, and Geopolitcal departments.
(There's also a bunch of secret Ninja stuff I do, too....)
Mainly these days I do a lot of story consultation, making sure the our game devolvement partners are telling the most compelling story they can, and telling it in such a way that it's part of the game experience (not getting in the way of it!).
I'm very lucky to have a job like this. I am a fan of the games and I've really enjoyed working to improve the storytelling aspects inside games. I think the video games industry is just to the point where story is being taken seriously by the majority of developers. (You guys have always been way ahead of the curve here).
Can you tell our readers a little bit about this next novel and what inspired its events and characters?
Well, there will probably, I think, be a Spartan in it. I can virtually guarantee there will be explosions. And quite possibly someone will fire a gun. The legion of Kilt-wearing Covenant Flying Monkeys that Frankie wanted, however, had to be cut.
Seriously, though, I think this novel will have almost everything in it the fans want. It will tie up many stories...and open up a bunch more.
How was the process of working with Bungie and its occasionally stringent story bible requirements?
The story bible wasn't the problem—it was you guys!
Just kidding. It was a real treat to work with Frank, Rob, Joe and Brian.
Unlike previous projects where I was given loose story goals to hit (e.g. get the Master Chief to Halo at the end of Fall of Reach, and connect the end of Halo 1 to start of Halo 2 in First Strike), in Ghosts of Onyx there were several story-telling "targets" to hit. We all got together last November/December to rough out an outline. The continuity issues, however, boggled the mind! There are people and places and events all over the galaxy that had to connect. There's a heck of a lot of stuff going on in the Halo universe! The "Bungie Four" helped every step of the way...and especially at the end when we had to have everything flow with seamless continuity into one bang-up ending. A task truly worthy of Dr. Halsey herself.
What's next for Eric Nylund after Ghosts of Onyx?
Now that the new Halo novel is finished, I've started work on a new novel called MORTAL COILS (a huge 200,000 word contemporary fantasy), there is a pending deal for a four-issue comic book series, and at Microsoft I'm working on a new game...an amazing game. There are also a few long-shot projects that I'm working on. My "Signal" books continue to spark interest in Hollywood circles. It would be cool if they were eventually made into films. I've written a screenplay or two as well (you guys do me a favor and just slip those into the next reading script you send to Mr. Jackson, okay? Thanks.)