All right Sean, give us the scoop -- what exactly is a historian?
"Historian. Noun. A student or writer of...." Oh, wait. You mean a Blizzard historian? Well, this question is a tricky one to answer.
Within the company, historians are "a repository for all Blizzard lore, providing counsel for the game development teams and the Creative Development Story group." It's an accurate definition, but that's just our primary responsibility, and so much more goes into what we do and tackle on a given day.
I see the historians as a jack-of-all-trades type of occupation. We work not only with game teams and within CDev, but with Blizzard authors and artists, to review all sorts of text and provide creative assistance. The litany of tasks we tank goes on and on.
Do each of the historians have an area of expertise, or do you all handle all the franchises?
Each historian in Creative Development retains a mastery of the lore for each of Blizzard's universes. However, this wasn't always the case!
In the very early days of the department, Evelyn Fredericksen -- our current Senior Historian -- was "soloing" the historical duties of cataloguing and reviewing the lore for our various universes. As her role within the company evolved, so did her workload. Some years later, she requested aid in order to keep on top of her ever-increasing list of responsibilities. That's when I was hired on to assist her, and Justin Parker came on board shortly thereafter.
In the early days -- circa 2008 -- Evelyn thought it best to divide the various universes between us. I was assigned to the StarCraft
universes, while Justin was entrusted with the Warcraft
universe. A year or so later, Evelyn had us swap places. I was then learning how to navigate the ocean of Warcraft
lore while Justin was busy figuring out how to fly a dropship en route to the world of Sanctuary.
As time passed, Justin and I were glad she did so. As of right now, we're able to field any request or task that comes our way. We still have a tendency to tackle any type of inquiry from our last assigned universe-for example, I'm still the go-to guy for Warcraft
lore-but I suspect that's only because folks here at Blizzard have become comfortable chatting with a specific historian. I'm just relieved that we're now able to switch gears lore-wise without the siege tank completely stalling out.
How did you get into being a historian?
Oh, boy. We're going to have to go back in time to answer this one.
My parents were genuine "nerds" of their time, filling their spare time with programming -- BASIC, DOS, etc. -- reading mountains of books, and getting their hands on the latest technology our small family could afford. While most kids spent summers playing catch or other athletic games with their fathers, mine was showing me how to assemble 8088-based computers from scratch while mom pointed out the "good" novels for me to read and how to use their personal BBS system.
It was during this time that I fell deeply in love with gaming. It wasn't just about playing them, but it was the challenges and stories that truly captivated me and kept me saving up enough money to embark on my next adventure. My entire family supported me and my interests -- as long as I kept my grades up -- and helped me with any difficulties I encountered. I later began to follow other pursuits -- until 1997, when my entire world was shattered by the death of my father.
It was one of the most traumatic periods of my life. To combat the loss and the grief, I did all that I could to cling to my memories of him. I rekindled my love of technology and gaming and continue to do so today. It's my way of keeping him close despite his absence.
...and now we have to go back, TO THE FUTURE!
After graduating college and having absolutely no clue about what I wanted to do with my life, I found myself unemployed with no real job prospects. Miraculously -- that's a tale for another day -- I landed a job as a temporary game tester for Blizzard back in 2006. That's where my path to becoming a historian truly began.
I had been working my way up within the Quality Assurance department, and during that time I had started to keep a "bible" of lore-related information that I used to for logging issues or bugs found while testing our games. Since these bugs would eventually make their way to the eyes of the developers, I wanted to make sure that the information I provided was 100% accurate. I later moved into the Compatibility Team within QA, focusing on the more tech-related aspects of game testing, but then a job posting would change my life: Creative Development needed an Assistant Historian.
I must have read the job requirements, responsibilities, and "plusses" at least fifty times in disbelief. What was on display before my eyes was something I never knew existed. A person who gets paid to know the story of our games and help others with that knowledge? Something I was doing already for my friends and colleagues? Dream. Come. True. With much trepidation, I applied for the job. Armed with my trusty "lore bible" -- which proved to be a huge deal during the interview -- I was given a shot at my dream.
The rest, as they say, is history.
What does a typical day for you look like?
A typical day for a historian is anything but! That's one of the most amazing things about this job. Every day is a new adventure. Every morning I log in to my machine and quietly wonder: "What lies in store today? Working on a new publication? Helping to provide lore for an author or developer in need?" After Outlook fires up and shows me the answers to this question, I crack my knuckles and dive in.
Just to name a few examples of what we encounter on a regular basis: we handle lore reviews for publications and artwork, research and document game events and characters, maintain our lore bibles, conduct lore seminars for employees, take part in a wide range of meetings from brainstorming sessions to process development, and so much more.
What's the strangest/funniest thing you've been asked to do?
Here's a strange one: A few years back, I received an email with the subject "StarCraft
Deli". Basically, it requested a list of every single food item we've ever mentioned in the StarCraft
universe. Yep, right down to the reference of waffles. We normally track all of the proper names and unique terms such as "skalet" and "framberry" introduced into lore, but having to track down every single generic food item that our characters have mentioned was a bit on the strange side. It was a fun challenge, but definitely one that I filed in the "strange request" mental folder.
Warcraft on its own is a massive universe-how do you keep track of it all?
Great question! While many would think having the ability to recall facts both big and small at a moment's notice is the single most important skill for a historian to have, it's not a mandatory requirement and is only half the battle-but it definitely is a lifesaver. The historian team relies upon numerous resources to aid in our everyday efforts, including artwork, cinematics, digital publications, emails, game transcripts, internal lore bibles, lore rulings, internal articles, caffeine, and probably a handful more than I'm forgetting about.
All in all, the single most important resource a historian draws from is passion. I'm able to keep track of it all because I have a personal stake in doing so. I am invested in these characters, worlds, and their history. When you spend as much time as I do in these worlds, their personal stories truly become your own.
A beloved character of mine once said, "There's power in stories, though. That's all history is: the best tales. The ones that last." I am honored to be able to help keep their stories alive.
What advice would you give to someone that really wants to get into the lore, but doesn't know where to start?
It's always a treat to meet someone who is just starting out on their journey into Warcraft, experiencing the lore behind this epic universe for the first time. It can be a daunting feat to undertake, so I'm honored to be a trusted guide for future lore friends. Later this year, Blizzard and DK will be releasing an amazing book, the World of Warcraft: Ultimate Visual Guide
, which was created to serve as a canonical primer on Warcraft
lore. I highly recommend picking up a copy, as even diehard veterans will learn a lot about the universe.
If someone simply can't wait to start their adventure into Warcraft
lore, then I typically recommend visiting the World of Warcraft
community website. Under the Game Guide tab, there's a cool summary of The Story of Warcraft
in addition to a section dedicated to The Characters of Warcraft
. CDev worked alongside the Web folks to cook up this reference material, and it's a cool way to get your toes wet in this massive universe.
Armed with that initial information, it really boils down to personal preference. Who is your favorite character? Is there a historical event that you'd like to learn more about? For example, if you're interested in the night elves and the War of the Ancients thing that keeps coming up, check out the novel trilogy by the same name. Want to learn more about the leader of your in-game people? Check out the leader short stories
we've written in the Expanded Universe
section of the website. The list goes on.
Come to think of it, there's also a nifty publication timeline
that a certain WoW Insider person has cooked up for public viewing that may also be of help ...
All too true! Thanks so much for chatting with us Sean -- and thank you for giving us a glimpse at the busy life of a Blizzard Historian! Folks interested in reading more from Sean Copeland can follow him as Loreology on Twitter.