Interview: Eric Nylund

In the beginning of July I posted that I would be interviewing Eric Nylund (author of the Halo books, among other novels), and I asked you all to come up with some questions you wanted me to include. I got 24 emails, most of which were either “j00 5ee H4L0 3?”, or were so very technical that I didn’t include them. I want to thank everyone who sent questions in though.

Thanks: Greg Mathewson, PT2401, Ericpate, Angus Cook, Drew Casale, Nfannin1, Marcus Freeman, Daven, Graham Kotalik, Thomas Lachowsky, Wade Small, Billh23, Brian, Lance Unrau, Plasmoe, AdatsB05, Bryce Scott-Jones, Matthew Schindler, Opog, Tad Bozdech, Zloty5, and Corey O. for all your questions!

Now, to the interview.
KLind : What do you think of the Halo Graphic Novel? Especially since they changed some of the scenes that you wrote about (such as Johnson). (Question from Nick)

Eric Nylund: Are scenes really changed? When he’s rescued in FIRST STRIKE, Johnson told to The Master Chief that the Flood didn’t like the taste of him…. He didn’t say they didn’t try to mangle, blast, and otherwise end his life. Given all the very close contact Johnson had with the Flood in the HGN, the plot point about him having some immunity to Flood infection is still valid. Of course, Bunige is the final arbiter on Johnson’s unique medical condition – this is only my biased opinion.

KL: How have the events of Halo 2 affected your perspective on the portion of the universe you created? (Question from Marcus Freeman)

EN: I think the small portion I have created is part of a much larger picture; several galactic-wide events are crossing, converging, and all coming to a boil. Just wait and see….

KL: Do you think that the Halo Novels should be considered part of the story arc, even though there are minor differences (such as the fact your Spartans never made it into the game)?
(Question from Tad Bozdech)

EN: They’re not part of the story arc? First I’ve heard of this. Bungie DOES consider the books to be canon and part of their universe. In my opinion, everything fits. Bungie did take elements from FALL OF REACH (orbital gun platforms for example) and integrate it into the game so they are aware and appreciate the content in the novels…but given the narrow slice of story they can tell in a video game, they rightly kept the focus on the Master Chief and the events immediately surrounding him. As for the fate of the other Spartans…you’ll have to wait and see.

KL: When writing novels based in a world that is already so complex with all of the different plots, and characters, how much freedom does Bungie give you to work outside of the games? Do you have to stick rigidly to the “truth” of the Halo Bible, or do simply use aspects of the Halo Bible and carve your own story within the universe? (Question from Corey O.)

EN: Yes, I stick to the established story bible, but I’ve never been told I couldn’t come up with my own ideas (and there are plenty in the latest novel!). Bungie gives me a lot of freedom. The biggest constraint I had was the increasingly complicated, convoluted and accelerating timeline. So much is happening so fast, in so many places, and with so many characters–writing this last novel has been like trying to thread a needle using a sledge hammer. Fortunately Frank O’Connor, Joe Staten, Rob McLees, and Brian Jarrard were always there with help, answers, and suggestions.

KL: What can you tell us about the next Halo Novel? It had been rumored to be called “Ghosts of Coral”, but does this still stand? And will it lead up to Halo 3?(Sorry I have to try!)
EN: The title is “Black-hole Bananas” and Frank O’Connor is providing line art for every chapter. The story is about a humble janitor on a rebel cargo ship hauling bananas to relieve the famine of Janus-12. There’s a cute android kid and his robotic dog, a lovable cantankerous rum-swilling captain…and a deadly rouge black hole. Come on. I’m bound by several NDAs. Title, content, release date – that’s all up to Bungie and TOR to announce.

(This is a joke, btw, for those of you thinking otherwise)

KL: To shift “Gears” a bit (sorry for the pun), from what we know about Gears of War it seems to be a very cinematic game. What are some of the challenges that faced you when writing for a game, compared to writing a novel?

EN: There’s this chicken-and-egg problem in a story-driven game: which comes first, story development or level design? If it’s story first, then level design has to adapt and the moment-to-moment gameplay might suffer. If the level design comes first, then the story has to adapt, and your narrative ends up less than perfectly compelling.

Epic has really made Herculean efforts to do _both_ story and level design well. There has been a lot of back and forth between these two design parameters to make both great.

KL: How were you approached about writing for Gears of War, and how early in the process did that take place?

EN: I work at Microsoft Game Studios as a writer, and started working with Epic’s lead Designer, Cliff Bleszinski, about two years ago shaping his ideas into a compelling game narrative.

KL: You mention a new game coming from Microsoft that will take ‘all the best parts of our favorite games, and smash them together at light speed with our favorite movies and books.’. That’s a big claim, and many gaming blogs have posted it, creating a frenzy of speculation. Can you confirm that it is heading to the Xbox 360, and possibly Vista? And will it support interaction with Xbox Live?

EN: Hmmm. Frenzy of Speculation. One thinks of sharks and their mindless meat-tearing ferocity.

All I said was that I’m working on something really cool. I stand by that statement–but it’s about as revealing as saying (hushed whisper) that Microsoft is developing –shhhh…software.

And I stand by that lack of any potentially job-terminating leak of information, too.

To stop rampant speculation, however, my comment was NOT HALO/Bungie related. I do not work with Bungie on any video games. Anything I say about what I am working on has no relation with them or any possible games they are working on now or in the future.

KL: Is it easier writing in a pre-existing universe compared to creating your own? And what are some of the benefits from both angles?

EN: Working in the Halo universe is like coming back to visit old friends. Writing about the UNSC’s galaxy-spanning conflict–it’s all set up for me, like slipping into custom-fit battle armor. The challenge comes in creating new content, because it has to mesh with everything else Bungie has done/is doing/and plans to do with the IP. Writing my own original works I obviously don’t have this problem, but I do have to spend months or years dreaming up interesting people, places, and things in that novel’s universe. Both are hard work. Both are fun.

KL:We have heard many Microsoft spokespeople talk about how much the company supports Nintendo’s new console, the Wii. I was just wondering what you, an actual employee, has to say on the matter. Also do you think that the unique controller will be able to provide a more immersive way to tell stories?

EN: My schedule didn’t allow me to get to e3 this year, so I actually haven’t got my hands on the Wii controller yet. Until I experience it for myself, I’d like to refrain from comment.

KL: Finally, do you plan on writing a new novel (not dealing with Video Games) anytime soon?

EN:Yes, a new original Nylund novel, MORTAL COILS, is in the works and under contract.

Thank’s very much to Eric Nylund for the interview! And if your question didn’t get asked, you should swing by , where you can contact him for yourself. Actually you should go there regardless!


15 thoughts on “Interview: Eric Nylund

  1. Eric Nylund is soooo good. i read fall of reach and loved it. then i picked up the flood and almost barfed. the writing style was so much different and it was way harder to get engrossed in the story. add to that the fact that i had already played the game and i knew roughly everything that was going to happen, and i was just not into it.

    now, i really want to read first strike, i wouldnt mind taking a peak at the HGN, and i really want to read ghosts of coral and all eric nylunds other work.

    also, i never knew eric Nylund had a hand in creating the story for gears of war! i’ve been following the games development as best as i can because it looks to be a solid competitive shooter, but the fact that eric nylund has a hand in its development just sweetens the deal for me.

    great interview

  2. I think that’s what he was trying to say. He did not like how the different writer wrote the flood book, sticking to his original state of how nylund is sooo good. Anywho, this was quite the interview obviously excluding the fact that there are many things which can only be speculated upon by us and not spoken by… them. Muy props.

  3. William C Dietz isn’t just some other wank. The Flood was as good as TFOR.

    Thanks for answering my question, Eric (I was Marcus).

  4. Yeah, I think everyone’s being a little too hard on Dietz. I think we may be biased because it’s a novelization of a game we’ve already played, so we already know the story. It’s not bad novel.

  5. I have to say I’m a big fan of Eric Nylund’s work in the Halo universe. I’m definitely looking forward to the next novel (release date October 31st, yeah?), and also reading some of his original works.

    Oh, and I think his opinions about pre-cut universes and using one’s own is on the money: both offer their own challenges, and both are a lot of fun (though making your own takes more time).

  6. Pingback: Buttonbasher interviews Eric Nylund at My Halo

  7. The Dietz bashing was towards a few factors:

    – The writing style was just cumbersome and boring, not to mention that the “game scenes” felt like reading a Gamefaqs Walkthrough.

    – Master Chief was radically changed from a “stiff, rigid, military to the core” character just to fit his game persona. As much chemistry as Chief and Cortana had, the two got too chatty at times. Dietz just went overboard with the playful arguments and it made Master Chief act like a socially repressed child that released his wild side without Halsey and Mendez holding his hand and made him inconsistent with his military training. To add to this, the in-game jokes just broke the fourth wall at times and just got distracting. In-game Chief just often listened to Cortana just to clue the players on what the hell they should do, and actually allowed the guy to do his job no questions asked. To name a few examples of what I didn’t like:

    [Pillar of Autumn]

    Cortana: The life-boats are launching. We should hurry!

    Master Chief: I’m hurrying. I’ll get there as soon as I can!


    Cortana: I’ve placed a nav indicator on your HUD. Just follow the arrow.

    Master Chief: [giving a small laugh] Figures, you were always a backseat driver.

    [Silent Cartographer]

    Master Chief: How come you’re always advising me to go up gravity lifts, run down corridors, and sneak through forests while making no mention of all the enemy troops that seem to inhabit such places?

    – Sleeping for a full ten hours while in hostile territory like Halo at Alpha Base (i.e. Mendez’s line in Fall of Reach being “Sleep can be as deadly as a handgun and a grenade” being said as a bad thing for Master Chief)

    – Master Chief’s mental monologues screaming not his character namely “Tough son of a bitch” at Library chapter when encountering a dead marine.

    – Master Chief having somewhat of a tantrum when talking to the traumatized Marine before encountering The Flood.

    – Captain Keyes actually telling Silva about taking part in kidnapping the SPARTAN IIs when he was supposed to keep it a secret despite trying to defend Master Chief

    – Silva being the contrived S.O.B. audience wants to hate

    – Covenant P.O.V. though interesting made the story somewhat convoluted.

  8. I really like your books first strike is good but the fall of reach is the best. The master chief is better in the book than the video game I can’t wait to read halo evolution it looks good are you going to write any more halo book.
    I’m writing a book myself well two .


  9. I really like first strike is good but the fall of reach is the best. The master chief is better in the book than the video game I can’t wait to read halo evolution it looks good

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