Travels through Azeroth and Outland interview, part 3

WoW Insider: Did Blizzard ever introduce anything to the game that you found particularly helpful or problematic while writing Travels? Was there ever a storyline you abandoned (or, conversely, pursued more aggressively) as a result?

Zac: The game itself was never too much of a problem, but some of the expanded universe stuff threw me for a loop since I just never got around to reading the novels or comics (I did look at the old pen-and-paper RPG books). As a result, I made a few errors because I was using outdated lore or simply guessing incorrectly. I was usually able to get the gist of the expanded universe through Wowpedia and other sites.

Wrath, with its increased emphasis on plot, gave me some wonderful challenges and opportunities, most notably the Wrathgate. For most of Travels, the narrator explores the world's regions before the player does, but after Wrathgate, I realized it'd be more interesting for him to see Northrend in the aftermath of (or during) the players' activities.

Travels references Azeroth's many "mercenaries" -- a sideways acknowledgment of player characters -- and Destron seems to have trouble deciding whether their effect on the world is ultimately a good or bad thing. Where do you see player characters in the wider WoW narrative?

Tough question. Back in vanilla, it seemed like the players were generally making the world a better place, but that started changing in Wrath. Nowadays in Cataclysm, a number of the quests (particularly on the Horde side) are actively malevolent!

Are we the good guys, the bad guys, or just pawns in a spiraling political mess?

The way Travels presents it, the mercenary partisans are pawns to the powers that be, but they also have an effect on those same powers. After all, if you become a hero to a nation at war, they're apt to celebrate you. Because you're so popular, you might start influencing policy (for good or for ill). Likewise, if a faction finds a group of loyal and very powerful agents, it might make that faction more aggressive (for a better example of this, consider Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen).

At the same time, there are limits to a person's influence. While you can effect change in the world (either good or bad, or probably something in-between), it's unlikely to go exactly the way you want it to, and will almost certainly have some unintended consequences.

Is there anything from Travels you'd like to see put in the game? Personally, I'd love to see a Destron Allicant NPC wandering Horde territory, while a Talus Corestiam NPC wanders Alliance territory.

I would be honored to see that. Actually, I was satisfied with getting an acknowledgement from the CDev team (relayed to me by Bashiok) when I announced that I was finishing the travelogue on the story forum. But I certainly wouldn't complain if they added the narrator as a wandering, friendly NPC.

One of the more thought-provoking aspects of the narrative is the extent to which Destron pities many of the people he encounters. Was this just the natural result of the storyline, or was it a deliberately ironic choice given Destron's own somewhat hopeless situation?

Self-pity is a big motivator for the Forsaken, which leads them to some pretty awful things. Just look at Sylvanas, who sometimes laments her status as undead, even while forcing others to become the same. By learning how others live, like the penniless refugees in Menethil or the long-suffering orcish peons, the narrator learns that the Forsaken aren't the only victims in the world, which helps him reassess the position of his own people.

I would disagree that the narrator's situation is hopeless; he's made a good undeath for himself. His adaptability further undermines the Forsaken refusal to acknowledge a world beyond their own suffering. That said, it should be noted that the narrator is rather lucky. He hasn't decayed very badly, and he's powerful enough to survive on his own. Not all Forsaken could do what he does.

To me, the overarching theme of the series seems to be the pointlessness of reducing the world to factions and causes (overtly acknowledged in the final portion of the Silithus chapter) and the always-fluid nature of good and evil. Was this in fact your intent, or do you see the story differently?

My main goals in writing were to entertain the reader and to sharpen my skill. The secondary goal was simply to inspire interest in the way the world works, to show that there's always more going on than meets the eye. You summed it up perfectly in your question. In real life, things are unclear and subject to change. While I believe that good and evil do exist, I also think it's very rare (or even impossible) to find pure examples of one or the other. Nor is it always easy to tell the difference.

What was your biggest surprise while writing the travelogue? What do you wish people knew about writing an epic-length piece like this that they usually don't?

I'm surprised that I wrote as much as I did. I started this on a lark, and figured I'd be bored by the time I got to the Alterac Mountains. Dozens of zones and two expansion packs later, I'm finally finished! Though the length of the story is formidable, writing it never felt overwhelming. I just wrote a few pages every day (occasionally deleting those that turned out poorly), and it built up over time. Travels was rarely taxing to write, which is one reason I'm switching to original short fiction, which will hopefully help me to develop further.

A big thank you to Zac for all his help and patience with this interview. Be sure to read the wonderful Travels through Azeroth and Outland!