BlizzCon 2009: interviews Richard Knaak

Daniel Whitcomb
D. Whitcomb|08.28.09

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BlizzCon 2009: interviews Richard Knaak
On the second day of BlizzCon 2009, I got the chance to sit down with Richard Knaak, best selling author of countless novels, including many in the Warcraft universe, such as the War of the Ancients Trilogy, Day of the Dragon, and Night of Dragon. His upcoming projects include the Stormrage novel, as well as the Dragons of Outland manga trilogy. We talked about all this and more, and you can read our conversation below.

So of course, the big thing on everyone's mind is the new Stormrage book. How's it coming along? Is it near completion?

It's near completion, we're in the editing process, getting the OKs from Blizzard. You can find an excerpt in the latest volume of the Legends Manga, along with a story I wrote, sort of a Prologue that ties in with the book.

Can you give us a sneak preview of what to expect lore-wise?

You know Blizzard likes to keep these secret, so I am going to be very limited in what I can talk about. It is Malfurion. It is about the Nightmare. And it is very current. That's the three biggest things I can say about it right off the bat. You'll see characters you know from the game and obviously from other books, and places you know from the game, and it's very current, very relevant. Of course, that's about all I can say. You know Blizzard, they love their secrets!

So I know you've written for many different worlds, you've written for Diablo, for Warcraft, and for quite a few other various IPs-

I also wrote one manga story for Starcraft. When they did the first Starcraft anthology, they (TokyoPop) asked me if I wanted to do a story. I said, well, I haven't written for the series before, but let me talk to Blizzard. So I talked to Chris and the others, and they said they thought that'd be a great idea. I said I wanted to do something really techy, and they mentioned the Thor Machines. And I said, oh, I love war machines, give me war machines! So it's kind of a Kelly's Heroes sort of thing. Well, there's no heroes in there, really, but it was a fun story.

So you have the Trifecta! But I'm interested to know, do you have a favorite world to work with?

Well, my most favorite world is one of my own, The Dragonrealm. Pocket's publishing the first three novels in an omnibus, coming out in about 10 or 11 days now. It actually got me off to a good start. Firedrake was my writing sample that I showed to the people at TSR, the people who originally published Dragonlance. They were in Lake Geneva and I was in Chicago, so I drove up there and walked in off the street. You can't do that these days, but I did.

And they liked the sample, but they were only doing Dragonlance at that time, so they asked me if I would submit to that based on my original sample and I came up with four ideas for short stories, and they said, "We'll take these three," and I'm like, "Ok!" And then, as I was finishing those up, they asked me if I'd do Legend of Huma. And of course, I make Noble characters, Knights and the like. I have a Paladin, Jorad Mace, who I like to use as an example of that. He's in the Sunwell Trilogy, and he's going to be in Dragons of Outland. I think he's in game too. I haven't run across him yet, but people tell me he's there.

But other than that, I love all the worlds I work with. I've worked in some great worlds. I've worked in Conan's World, I've worked in Dragonlance, I worked in a world called Shattered Lights, which was a game project from years ago. The book did better than the game in that case! And of course, Blizzard.

I've got to say, Azeroth, let's face it. That's the most detailed world I've ever played with, and I cannot say enough good stuff about it. I know we've had to correct and change some lore over the years. I don't like to have to do that sometimes. Yes, sometimes we make mistakes, but altogether we're trying to give you a good game and world experience, but yes, definitely Azeroth is one of my all time favorite worlds. It's got that lush feel to it, the diversity.

I'm really hyped up on Cataclysm because I knew they were going to do something with Deathwing, but I didn't know what particularly because they kept that secret even from me, but when I heard, I told the Blizzard folks, you do anything with Deathwing in the books, I better be the first to have a chance at him! I've done the Day of the Dragon, I've done the War of the Ancients, and I like to think I've chronicled his growing madness over the millenia, and I should be there for the end of it.

And then they got the Werewolves, and I was like, "Yes! Werewolf people!" I want to play one of them! My computer crashed, so I've had to reload World of Warcraft. I have a level 15 Mage stuck in Westfall fighting Harvest Golems, so he's going to be there for a while. If the Worgen are available, I'll jump in and try one of those guys.

Once you start writing a story in Azeroth, how does the process work? How much do you talk with Chris Metzen and the rest of the lore team? How much free reign do they give you? How much do you have to stick to lore and how much can you fabricate yourself?

Well, they give me pretty free reign because they know I can stay in tune with what they're doing. I'll suggest things that I think fit in with what they've got. They'll come to me with a concept, say, we want you to do the War of the Ancients, and they'll give me details about it, but they'll say we want want you to give us more than just what the lore says here.

In the case of War of the Ancients, I immediately thought of Nozdormu. He's the Dragon of Time, of course he's going to have time travel. He couldn't help what he did, so a couple characters got flung back. I needed somebody that people knew back there. But I thought I still made the story very much about Malfurion, about Illidan, and Tyrande. As I wrote things, Blizzard asked me to do different things because they liked how certain things were going, so while I had a lot of use of my own imagination, I always tied it in with what they were looking for and what they wanted of the existing lore.

So it's sort of a give and take between you and the lore team.

Right, and I worked that way with Dragonlance too, for example. If they tell me something has to be that way, I will make it that way.

So did Blizzard first approach you about writing the novels, or did you approach them?

It actually happened right after that project I did where the books did better than the game. [Editor's note: Shattered Lights.] I was working with Simon and Schuster on that, and I got a call from the Editor who was working with Pocket Books at the time, and he told me my name was on a short list for novelists for working with Warcraft and Diablo and they asked me if I was interested. I had heard of the games and had contemplated getting one, but I said I was certainly interested because I knew what kind of worlds they were, and so, they sent me the games and material, I had a conversation with Chris Metzen and the editors at Pocket, and it felt like we all knew what we were talking about, like we had been talking for years, you know? Apparently a lot of people at Blizzard knew my Dragonlance work. I like to say I've been raising some of my employers these days. The people at Blizzard and the Senior Editor at TokyoPop both grew up with books like Legend of Huma. And anyway, I started on one series, and as openings came up, I signed for those also, so I ended up doing the first Diablo and Warcraft novels.

People seemed to like how they turned out. Some people felt [about Day of the Dragon] like, this is an independent story from the loreline, but that is what [Blizzard] wanted. They wanted to flesh out the story and the lore. It's sold very well, it has lots of foreign editions and it's part of the Warcraft Archive, and that was the start of it all!

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