Grand Old Podcast Episode 88 Transcript

The following interview was recorded on February 14, 2013 with Micky Neilson and James Waugh, writers of the Curse of the Worgen comic. Helping me to conduct this interview was Necroxis of Caverns of Lore, and But Wait! There's lore!

Special thanks to both James and Lyndsi for helping to set up this interview.

Full audio can be found here at RivalCast Media.

Sayomara: Hello, and welcome to Grand Old Podcast! Today I'm joined by Micky Neilson and James Waugh. So, why don't you guys start by talking about what you guys do here at Blizzard.

Micky: I run the publishing team. So my title now, its changed quite a bit over the years, my latest title is lead story developer. That is because the publishing team does a lot with comic books and novels and things like that, but we also do some things that relate to the games as well sometimes. So story is a nice broad general category for what we do.

James: My title is senior story developer and right now I'm functioning as the leader writer the next Starcraft, the final chapter of Starcraft and I'm helping with the IP on another project. I do a lot of publishing as well.

Editors Note: The third and final chapter of Starcraft 2 is called "Legacy of the Void."

Sayomara: So how did you become involved with the Curse of Worgen project?

Micky: I'm trying to remember how it started now, its been awhile.

James: I think DC knew they wanted to do another "Ashbringer"-like comic, because of its success, and because of New York times best seller Micky Nelson. They(DC) wanted to do another Ashbringer like limited series for the next expansion(Cataclysm). They contacted Blizzard to find out what ideas we had, so Metzen was like 'You guys have built a lot of this fiction why don't you write it.'

Micky: And the other thing was we knew we wanted to align it with the game and there was a real opportunity to tell a lot of the back story and we were actually develoing a lot of the back story along with the game developers while they were figuring out how this new race was going to work and how Gilneas was going to fit into the bigger picture and everything else.

Sayomara: So the writing of Curse of the Worgen was happening concurrently with game questing and background information.

Micky: It was complete simpatico. We were over with the game team working the guys that did the Gilneas area every day. And you know the fact we were doing a more traditional fiction medium, we had to ask different questions, we were really focused on character and what makes these people tick. And that really opened up a lot of doors for the game team as well. I think that just collaboration helps, because they were focusing on world building ideas, and we were focusing on character ideas. I think we ended up merging them into something really nice. With a result we were pretty happy with.

James: We had to answer a question fairly early on, which was where exactly the Worgen came from. Because there were a lot of different theories that were kind of out there. And it hadn't been solidified yet at that point. So we were in the meetings where it was eventually decided they had come from this band of Druids back in the day, and that they were fighting the demons. That whole back story we all worked that out together.

Sayomara: So, is that where the framing mechanism for the story came from? Where you were going to tell the flashbacks through the book, and I'm forgetting his name.

James and Mickly: Halford Ramsey.

Sayomara: Yeah.

Micky: That was definitely part of it, and it was just kind of nice since we were co-writing the project it, make for an easy assignment for James to do the past stuff and for me to do the present stuff so we could do it in our own voices.

James: And then rewrite each other over and over. There was a lot of table that needed to be aligned at the start of this process. Gilneas, you know, we really did not have a back story of Gilneas. Genn appears in I forget which book and there is mention of him in War two I believe, and we always knew the wall was there. We knew something was on the other side, and that potentiality was always fun playing vanilla WoW, "What's on the other side?" Well the reality was we didn't really know either, so the process of developing this comic and developing the Cataclysm led to making us answer those questions.

Sayomara: Yeah, because I didn't know going into Cataclysm whether Genn was going to have some tie into the Deathwing story because he had hung out a little bit in Day of the Dragon or something crazy like that.

Micky: There were lots of questions for sure.

James: That might have been discussed...

Micky: We had to pick and choose exactly the best way to represent the backstory, and it worked out well. Because the present day stuff I think was good introduction to Gilneas for people who really didn't know much about it. And then obviously the past storyline really built the foundation and gave the backstory and then we were able the dovetail the two of those.

James: And what really ties those two eras together is the theme. Micky and I are both really theme character driven writers. I think the theme that really sung to us in this piece, and was inspired by the quest designers. They were playing with this idea of balance in the game. Micky and I both realized that that is the defining theme of the Worgen. And it kind of resonates in general with everybody. How do we tame are aggression versus being more thoughtful? I think the core of this story is really about that, about the benefit of both.

Sayomara: The Ramsey storyline kind of delves into that as much as anything through the six comics.

Micky: What does it mean to be human?

James: I think if you look at the back story that theme informs that content too.

Sayomara: Did you write Lord of his Clan before or after Curse of the Worgen, James? Because I know that ties into to some the previous existing Genn Greymane materials and did that influenced the writing of his character?

James: Yeah, It clearly did, and we were writing that concurrently as well. What happened was once Micky and I had the outline complete for Worgen, we had to find an endpoint that was satisfying and the game kind of carries on and the story really continues after out book. And we realized that is going to leave a lot of questions open and there wasn't really an opportunity in the game to build up the nuance of Genn Greymane character. One of the things we were doing at the time was the leaders of Azeroth project. The idea was let's use this as an opportunity to really dig out. Because we wanted to know who these people are and really define the Gilnean culture, and so it was all done concurrently.

Sayomara: That also brings up the challenges of straightening out the story of the Scythe of Elune.

All: Laughter.

Micky: That was a fun one.

James: That one was planned from the start.

Micky: That was probably one of the biggest things that I had a lot of fun with on this project was when we had a chance to sit down and straighten out all of the Velinde stuff. We figured out a lot stuff for Curse of the Worgen we answered a lot of question and everything else. But at the end of all that there was still the Velinde story and the question of how exactly she fit into everything, how did the scythe fit into all of that. So it was a challenge to make all that work, but we sat down and we figured it out, and I think at the end of the day when you look at it think it works pretty well actually. So I'm happy about that.

Sayomara: Then there was the epilogue that came with the hardcover version of the book.

Micky: That's it exactly. That's what I'm talking about. The rest of the process was a blast and we got to answer all kinds of questions, but until we did that epilogue there was really still that big question relating to Velinde.

Sayomara: I know a few people, the nitpickers in the community would still complain about the Northrend Scythe of Elune.

Micky and James make Unhappy noises

Micky: We looked at that and we believe it's strongly suggested in the scythe was in Northrend but I don't know that it's not explicitly stated. But I'm not sure. I would have to go back and look again. We thought 'Yeah, maybe we can work around that.'

Sayomara: Well, you know, Worgen, they will figure it out.

Micky: You know the scythe it gets around.

Sayomara: It gets around as much as Skull of Gul'dan.

Micky: Or the Travelocity gnomes.

Sayomara: So, Micky, what lessons did you bring to this book from your writing "Ashbringer," and obviously there had been the original run Warcraft Comics, which met some mixed reviews. But Ashbringer itself was very well reserved. where were you coming at this book from?

Micky: Writing Ashbringer I learned a lot, and the method that I used on Ashbringer was the Marvel method and I've talked about this a little bit before. But, for people that don't know, it's basically blocking out the story in a rough format rather than doing a full script where you would go line by line and panel by panel. You basically describe, 'Ok, these things that happening on this page' and you might have a couple lines of dialog and that is what you give to the artist, and you let the artist do his or her thing with that. So that gives you flexibility later on as things change to go in and finalize your script after the art has been done. So it can be a double edged sword. Sometimes the artist does something that surprises you, and you didn't know it was going to be drawn that way and you have to make adjustments. Sometimes the artist does something above and beyond what you had imagined and so it can be a really amazing thing. So that was helpful and it was something that I did for Curse of the Worgen and James I think you use the same process for roughing out the pages.

James: Yeah, I'm a big scripter. I think artists will tell you they love the Marvel method because it gives them freedom, in a way its great. The down side from a writer's perspective is you can't really structure everything as elegantly and as perfectly as you can with a script where you are really thinking through each panel and what needs to be called out and set up what line falls where. So, I always preferred the scripting method. If Micky and I were writing 50 comics at a time like Stan Lee was in the 60's then the Marvel method makes total sense. But juggling such dense lore and so many ideas, we had to script

Sayomara: I think you guys did a really good job. I did a bit of digging in preparing for this interview looking for different options of people, and I'll be honest there is very little critical option of this book in general and I think its well deserve praise that it gets.

Micky: Very cool.

James: Thank you.

Micky: The other big thing that we learned from the WoW monthly comic relates to Varian and the killing of Onyxia, and this is something that we've talked about. We have talked about this in some place but I'm not sure if its been a public thing or not but I'll just touch on it again.

James: I've talked about it before

Micky: We learned that when Varian killed Onyxia, players had a very visceral reaction to that, because they had a gone through those quest lines and they had killed Onyxia. And so, it was a response from the players saying 'Hey, wait a minute, Varian didn't do that. I did that.' It felt like we had robbed the player of that experience. That was something we took into Curse of the Worgen was figuring out ways not to rob the players experience of going through Gilneas and everything that happens there, but still relaying events and conveying all that information.

Sayomara: Is that why you made Alpha Prime the main villain of the book?

Micky: Exactly, and that gives us a villain to kill satisfactorily, and it doesn't rob the player of boss in the game.

Sayomara: Why don't guys talk about the art. Ludo Lullabi, did you guys choose Ludo? Because I think his art works pretty well here.

Micky: Yep, we worked with Ludo on Ashbringer, and worked with Ludo on some of the WoW monthly's. I personally love his style. I think he has an amazing art style. And he's fast, he works really fast, he hits his deadlines. Especially when you're doing a monthly comic that's critical. So for this that was important too. We wanted to make sure we had a artist that was going to hit all the deadlines. And Tony Washington, I can't say enough good things about him.

James: He did the coloring

Micky: And its just gorgeous

James: By the way, even though we did the scripted style I think Ludo still brought his own special flavor and character to the story and added some unique moments to the art that we probably would have never thought of. Its such a collaborative medium, so he deserves a lot of credit for the success of this book too.

Sayomara: Yeah, I think that very muddy dark style really works well, and it feels like the Gilneas of the game. Which I think is the other reason why it seems like it succeeds so well.

Micky: It was a great stylistic fit, and that is something I've always loved about Gilneas. I love that late 1800's London style, and I've always been a werewolf nut too. So it was just the perfect marriage.

Necroxis: I had a question about Genn, because I was wondering how early you decided to change Genn from more of a, lets be honest, before this comic he was kind of a jerk.

Micky and James: Yeah he was.

James: I think you're dead on. And then when suddenly had to make a character that was going to be a racial leader, do we want that same guy that was a complete jerk? And to be honest, some of that just fell to the themes that are present in Gilneas. It's a culture that walled itself off from the rest of the world. Previously we had a said this was just to protect themselves(The Gilneans). But what kind of culture breeds a decision like that? So, to me it wasn't so much that Genn was a jerk but he was just self-reliant. He believes in the superiority of his people, the strength of his people and not asking others for help. That is a sign of weakness. His father Archibald came out of that and there's a character there. It, in a way, defined the ideals of the Gilneas culture. Because they are very advanced, it's very Victorian. They seem to have industry there, that ethos builds that industry. So he was prideful, but he gets put in a place. And that was really the point of the short story I wrote. He has to relook at his entire values. His culture has to look at its entire values system, and in that way we can make him more relatable.

Sayomara: So how did you deal with in WoW we have this Church of the light and the worship of Elune between the Night Elves and Humans. There not quite the same thing but they are very similar, was that a consideration when trying to write this story?

Micky: Not so much. With Elune, it was honestly a small factor in the story. So it was nice to use, especially with Belysra, where she can call on the powers of Elune and tame the beast in Genn. And in certain scenes when she is wielding spells and things like that. Beyond that, as far as competing with the main religion of the Light, we didn't get into that very much. It's not something we really tackled for this story.

Sayomara: Part of the reason I ask this is because one of the questions we consistently got, when we were asking around for questions people were interested in asking you guys, is why are there no Worgen Paladins? People want to know this.

James: I'm willing to bet this isn't fictional decision. I'm willing to bet its a balance design.

Micky: I know that when we did ask the CDevs, I know that question came up and I can't remember off hand if we answered it. I vaguely remember meetings where we talked about it, and we came up with some call on it, but I don't recall.

Editors note: There is no mention of Worgen Paladins in any of the Ask Creative Development talks

James: We came up with lore for it but the decision is a design decision, and far as what classes races can play. So that's a non answer in a way. Its a non fiction answer but its a realist answer.

Sayomara: That's fine. I think every person who enjoys the lore of Warcraft in one capacity or another has to realize that that once in awhile game mechanics trump all else.

Micky: And we try to make it fit with the story and we come up with things and I wants to say we did for that one. I just don't know what it is off hand.

James: The reality is Micky killed it.

Micky: I did.

James: We were going to have Paladin Worgen, but then Micky decided I will not right this book if you have Paladin Worgen in it.

Micky: I said that is ridiculous I can't work under these conditions

James: Send him hate mail.

All: Laughter

Sayomara: You guys talked about the Marvel method and how you guys roughly scratch out the book before you finish the final product. So what changed from original Curse of the Worgen to the product we have in our hands now?

Micky: Actually relatively little. There wasn't a lot of change because the way James and I both work is were both very big on outlining a head of time. And that is very helpful so that you run into fewer surprises down the road as you're getting more into putting the flesh on the bones of the story. For both us we went through and did a really detailed outline

James: We always do. Like Micky said, I think any writers should really invest in the outline, and iterate like crazy in the outline. You always allow yourself to create in the process but the outline is essential. There was one thing that did throw us for a curve ball that was different from the outline, and that had to do with design. We went to visit team two (the World of Warcraft team) one day and they were showing us the new quests and we realized Genn's son is drunk and shirtless.(Laughter). And we were pretty far along. I think we already had a issue out and suddenly we realized that wasn't exactly where we were going to go with that character. But it was cool choice and we made it work I think.

Micky: There was something else. This was a minor thing but it's kind of interesting. Originally we had written it so that they didn't know that there were Worgen in Gilneas. There was the Starlight Slasher and they didn't know it was kind of the Jack the Ripper kind of thing. But then we went into the game, and we hadn't seen this yet, but there were posters basically, little posters on the walls and posts of a Worgen. And it was clearly a Worgen's head being drawn on those so we worked that in where there's a panel in the comic where I forget his name holds ups the poster.

James: That wasn't really a fault of collaboration. We were highly collaborating, but the nature of game design is they were iterating. And suddenly that made a cooler experience for the game.

Micky: It was just an art thing that we didn't know was in there until we started running around the game itself.

Necroxis: Definitely, awesome. So, having read a decent number of the comics, I know usually they're, on general, with the community, hit or miss. This one I felt felt was really well done. Was there anything you felt didn't really work as well in Curse of the Worgen that you could have worked a little bit better? In terms of collaboration with the game or any storyline elements?

Micky: There was what we worried might be deus ex machina with Belysra and Arvell.

James: That always drove me crazy, I won't lie. It ended up making sense, but part of me would like to relook at that section. The fact that Arvell ghost comes back and is a key factor in saving that day still bothers me just from a construction purist view. I kind of feel like we could have done better than that. I will say that it does work thematically and it does nicely tie up Alpha Prime and Arvell's story and there are ghost wolves. You know, they're the Goldrinn's. So it seemed like a choice that did make sense logically, it just, for me as a crafts purist, I would have like to have had the time to come up with something different.

Micky: We looked for places we could work it in. So we had him say something along the lines of, "Even if I die I will come back for you." And we worked it in with the flowers where those flowers were starting to bloom again.

James: I think we made it work and it made sense but if you're asking for stuff that we would relook at now...

Micky: And this is still a problem for me, being very verbose. I tend to put a lot of words on the page. That's something I'm still working on and I'm still pretty bad at. I tend to just ramble on some things where I could condense dialog and exposition in places.

James: Same here, although Chris Claremont did so it he can get away with it, why can't we?

Sayomara: You guys barely mentioned the Starlight Slasher, I don't know who wrote them, but there were these wonderful letters in the art of Cataclysm books written from a character prospective. One is written from Lorna Crowly, talking about, some time before the book takes place, where the Starlight Slasher is going through town destroying everything. Was there originally meant to be more of that story than there was?

Editors note: The Letter is called Lock the doors

James: No that's awesome, that came totally from Curse of the Worgen

Micky: It was construction for the book basically. For a number of reasons, one to lend more of a Jack the Ripper kind of vibe and to give to give a mystery for Halford to solve that wasn't just there are dog people running around slashing people. It was something we created for the book. And it actually didn't even last that long. They find out pretty early on that the Worgen are actually doing this and not a Jack the Ripper kind of character.

James: That's just one of those great collaborations of the game and the story. That came out of 'We were working on this and talking about the Starlight Slasher there,' and the quest designers said that's cool and went off laid the groundwork for that story.

Sayomara: As we are winding down this interview should we expect any future work from you guys coming up? Or anything else you guys can talk about that you would like to share with us, to get us really for more Warcraft Lore?

James: Pearl of Pandaria is out.

Sayomara: We did a review of it.

James: Which is a work of sheer genius.

Micky: But its missing something though, its missing that Waugh element. For us we have been talking about what we want to do if we were to collaborate again and co-write again and write another story.

James: It will happen, it's just a matter of when.

Micky: Its just a matter of what the best story going to be and when can we work it into our schedules. For WoW Lore I believe today we have a we have short story coming out.

Sayomara: The Richard Knaak short story Dawn of the Aspects?

Micky: That is coming out also next Tuesday (2/19/13). Definitely keep an eye out for that. Undead dragons, which is just awesome. Galakrond, the aspects before they were aspects when they were proto-dragons. Really amazing stuff. But we are also doing our new slate of WoW-themed short stories for free up on the web. So keep an eye out for those.

Editors Note: after this interview was recorded the first in this new series of short stories came out by Cameron Dayton called The Trail of the Red Blossoms.

Sayomara: And I believe the Dark Riders Graphic Novel is due out later this year.

Micky: Dark Riders is coming up. Were finally in the home stretch on that. We are seeing all kinds of colors and we're nearing the finish line on that one and it looks beautiful.

James: And you know what's cool about that one when it comes out it's kind of that missing piece to the Curse of the Worgen puzzle.

Micky: It is!

James: Better late than never, but it is a piece of the puzzle of the overall meta story for Cataclysm so when you check it out you will see how that story, and parts of that story, fit into Curse of the Worgen and the Genn Greymare story.

Micky: Scythe of Elune. How does the Scythe of Elune fall into the hands of the Night Elves?

James: Don't tell them! I'm trying to set up a mystery here.

Micky: That's not too much of a spoiler.

Sayomara: Hey, you know, I'm not going to stop you. All you're willing to share is welcome. Well thank you very much for coming on, it's been awhile happening, but you're always welcome back.

James and Micky: Awesome, thank you, it's been a pleasure.

Sayomara: Thank you again.