Jeff Grubb on Writing the First Guild Wars Novel

Discussion in 'Game Discussion' started by Aspira, Nov 21, 2010.

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    By Jeff Grubb July 15th, 2010

    My name is Jeff Grubb. I’m a game designer here at ArenaNet, a world builder by experience, and an author in my “copious” spare time. Over the years I have helped in the founding of the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms settings, and I’ve written novels set in these worlds. In short, I’ve spent a lot of time in dealing with the care and feeding of fantasy worlds. My major role here at the company involves writing cinematic scripts, creating lore, maintaining continuity, and acting as a creative traffic cop for a whole herd of very talented individuals.

    I am also the co-author, with Matt Forbeck, of the first Guild Wars novel, Ghosts of Ascalon, which should be hitting the shelves on July 27th. Ghosts of Ascalon takes place a year before the start of Guild Wars 2, and deals with, among other things, the tentative truce between man and charr.

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    The humans and the charr have been fighting for centuries, but now, threatened by outside forces, both sides are willing to talk peace. But the charr want a sign of good faith – a lost relic of the past, the Claw of Khan-Ur, symbol of the ruler of all the charr. The last place the Claw was seen was in the ruins of Ascalon City itself, a place haunted by the ghosts of a blasted past. Dougal Keane is one of the few humans to have ventured inside Ascalon City and lived to tell the tale. But Dougal has his own ghosts to deal with, as he leads a new team into the haunted city.

    Writing a book set in a world created by diverse hands is a challenge. Writing a book set in a living, ever-growing world is an even greater challenge. Two hundred and fifty years have passed between the events of Eye of the North and the beginning of Guild Wars 2, and a lot has changed in Tyria. New races such as the asura, the norn, and the sylvari have arrived. The charr have taken over most of the human nation of Ascalon, save for the fortified city of Ebonhawke. Humanity has been driven back on all fronts, and is making its stand in the city of Divinity’s Reach. The Elder Dragons and their champions, delayed by the heroes in Eye of the North, have finally risen and utterly changed the world forever.

    Writing a book is very different than designing a computer game, even if they are set in the same world. Novels have a different level of engagement than games, and different strengths and weaknesses. Novels work off the power of the reader’s imagination, while games can present the visual art that writing can only describe or evoke. Both can be immediate and visceral experiences, but each uses a different set of tools.

    In approaching the book, we found ourselves answering questions that were less relevant from a gaming perspective – What is the legal system like for foreigners in Divinity’s Reach? What are the internal politics of the charr legions? What is the impact of asura gates on other cultures? If you invite sylvari and charr to the same dinner party, what do you serve?

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    In answering these questions, we’ve learned a lot more about Tyria. The book has grown over time much as the game has as we have discovered new things about the world. We passed these new discoveries back into the game, making the gaming experience that much richer.

    We also learned more about the characters themselves. The heroes of this initial novel are living, breathing individuals with their own desires (and agendas) that affect not only how they deal with other races, but with each other. Working within the novel framework allowed us to get into the heads of individual characters and to work out their own internal logic against the broader background of Tyria, the Elder Dragons, and the last gasps of the charr-human conflict.

    Tyria is bigger than one story, and Ghosts of Ascalon serves as an introduction to that world both for long-time fans of Guild Wars and newcomers who are interested in finding out what all the clamor is about. The story of Dougal Keane is just one tale, and those that follow the lore of the world will recognize head nods to the past and clues to future books. Of the “big guns” of Guild Wars 2 – Rytlock, Zojja, Logan and the rest that we saw in the early trailers – a couple of them will show up in Ghosts, but their full story is told in the second novel, Edge of Destiny, by the talented J. Robert King.

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    But that is a tale for another day.

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