Exclusive Interview: “Diablo III: Storm Of Light” Writer Nate Kenyon
With the novel Diablo III: Storm Of Light, writer Nate Kenyon isn’t just delivering another epic set in the world of Blizzard’s fantasy role-playing game, he’s helping set the stage for the game’s next chapter, Reaper Of Souls. Though in talking to him, it’s clear he didn’t just write this novel to get gamers from one plot point to another.
What is the story you’re telling in Diablo III: Storm Of Light, and how does it connect to the one told in the game and the one you told in your other Diablo III novel, The Order?
Diablo III: Storm Of Light is about Tyrael’s efforts to gather a new group of Horadrim together for a heroic quest: to steal the Black Soulstone from the High Heavens in order to protect the Heavens, and Sanctuary, from its corruptive powers. The novel takes place in between the events of Diablo III and the upcoming expansion pack, Reaper Of Souls, and sets up the events of the expansion. Storm Of Light brings back a number of characters from prior Diablo novels and graphic novels, including the monk Mikulov from my first novel, The Order, as well as such beloved characters as Jacob and Shanar from the Sword Of Justice comics and the necromancer Zayl from Moon Of The Spider. Fans are going to love what we do with them, it’s like the Avengers of Diablo heroes.
Where did the idea for the plot come from? Was it something you cooked up, something Blizzard figured out, a combination?
Blizzard usually comes to me with an idea for the story they want to tell, and then we brainstorm about how to flesh it out and turn it into a novel. In this case, they wanted to tell a story about Tyrael coming to grips with his mortality and what he must do with the Black Soulstone to save the worlds of angels and men.
But the story can change quite a bit from first concept. The process is a lot of fun, and we play off each other in a very good way. After getting their idea, and talking to the creative team on the phone, I spend a couple of weeks researching and working on my own thoughts and ideas, and then I fly out for a day of meetings where we lob these ideas back and forth, propose new ones, and settle on a final direction. I then go home with pages of notes and write a detailed outline that can be twenty to thirty pages in length. They give me their edits to that, we finalize the story, and I get to work.
As you said, Diablo III: Storm Of Light is set between the events of the game and the new Diablo III expansion, Reaper Of Souls. Did you get to play any of Reaper before you wrote the book?
I didn’t get to play this particular game because of the timeline of when I was working Storm Of Light, but for The Order I was able to play a fairly early beta of Diablo III, which was a thrill. But I did get plenty of information about Reaper — I had to in order to write the novel — and Blizzard is fabulous about giving me anything else I need and giving me feedback as I go along. They have an entire lore team dedicated to making sure the details in each story are correct, and they are very good at what they do. Of course, I was sworn to secrecy about the plot, and I’m very careful to keep these things to myself.
How familiar were you with the Diablo games when you wrote the first book, Diablo III: The Order?
I had played Diablo a fair amount when I was young, and I’d played a bit of Diablo II, but I’m not a huge gamer these days, so I had a lot to learn. I spent the first six months just immersing myself in everything about the Diablo universe: talking to Blizzard, playing the games, reading the prior novels and comics, reading the wiki, and talking to fans. It was extremely important to me that I get this right, the fans deserved nothing less.
Having interviewed a number of other novelists who have written books based on video games, I know that the game companies usually don’t give the novel writers a lot of leeway when it comes to big plot points. But in writing Diablo III: Storm Of Light, did you ever suggest anything you thought they would probably reject for being too bold of a move or something, only to have them say, “That’s a really good idea”?
Oh sure. We have a really great working relationship. I trust them, and I hope they trust me. I certainly know they’re going to give everything I say plenty of consideration. It’s a true collaboration in the best way possible. When they turn down something I suggest, it’s usually because it just won’t fit with their later plans for the characters and overall Diablo storyline, and I get that.
To me, the bigger challenge often comes when the game developers make a fairly major change to the upcoming game that affects my novel. Sometimes I have to scramble to figure out a solution without scrapping half the book. That happened with Diablo III: Storm Of Light, but we found a way to fix it that I think works well. Sometimes the problem leads to an even better solution.
Have you ever talked to Blizzard about the idea of writing the script to a Diablo game? Is that even something you’d want to do?
I haven’t. I think they handle most of that work in house. I wouldn’t be opposed to trying it, but I do enjoy the rich environment I’m able to create in a novel, it allows me to create an immersive experience for readers that is different than any other kind of media, in my opinion. Reading a novel is slower going, and requires more imagination than movies or games because it’s not visual, but the payoff is worth it.
Besides the two Diablo III books you’ve done, you also wrote a StarCraft book called Ghost: Spectres. How does writing a Diablo book compare to doing a StarCraft one? Easier, harder…?
It’s hard for me to answer because StarCraft Ghost: Spectres was my first media tie-in, so I was learning on the job. There were different challenges to that process than in my two Diablo novels, and with Spectres, I was writing a sequel to the novel Nova that had been written by the very talented veteran tie-in writer Keith DeCandido. Big shoes to fill. All three experiences were challenging and rewarding in their own way.
Along with the two Diablo books and the StarCraft one, you’ve written some original novels. If someone who read Diablo III: Storm Of Light or The Order wanted to check out your other stuff, which of them do you think they should start with?
Novels are like children, tough to pick a favorite. I think I would start with Day One, my latest thriller. It’s a true thrill ride and a very accessible story about the day machines become sentient and take over the world, and a young father who has to escape from New York City to save his wife and son. If readers were interested in something a bit more chilling, I might try Sparrow Rock or The Reach. But I love them all.
On the flipside of that, what has been the reaction of your fans to the idea of you writing the Diablo and StarCraft novels?
I think most people are excited about it. Both franchises intersect with the stuff I already write, so they’re a great fit for me. It’s one reason I think Blizzard asked me to work with them in the first place. I’m trying very hard to release an original title in between each tie-in novel, so that fans who want those won’t miss them for too long.
While the Diablo books are fantasy, and the StarCraft one is sci-fi, some of your other books are horror ones. I’m curious who you think are your major influences, not just for each genre, but also ones that influence everything you do.
I would describe Diablo as a horror franchise with fantasy elements, and I know Blizzard was interested in taking it in a darker direction with these new stories in particular. But to your question: my major influences are wide, but they include Stephen King, William Gibson, William Faulkner, Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub, William Peter Blatty, Ira Levin, Raymond Carver, Michael Crichton…I could go on…
You mentioned your novel, The Reach. That was optioned by a movie company. Where do things stand with the film version?
I believe they had completed a script, but the development stalled there. I recently heard from the studio person who negotiated that option, and he was interested in reviving the project, but I don’t know where that might lead. Day One has been optioned by BenderSpink and MacMillan Films, and they have a script writer. I have high hopes that something might come of that.
So if you had your choice, what game not published by Blizzard would you most like to write a novel about and why?
That’s a tough one. I’ve always loved the Silent Hill franchise and thought it was rich with possibilities for a novel. But there are so many incredible game experiences these days, and many of them are horror franchises or contain elements of horror and sci-fi. Lots of sandboxes to play in for someone like me.