I had wanted to ask Eric Nylund, author of three out of the four existing Halo novels about the Xbox 360 shooter Gears of War. Nylund played a key role in creating the game's story, and I'd thought to ask about the game's content. More to the point, I thought to make a joke at the expense of the Germans...
Gears of War, a game you worked on, is too violent for Germany, I wanted to ask. Is
that perhaps the most ironic thing in the history of recorded irony?
Anyway, we ultimately opted not to pose that question to Nylund. We got others in, to be sure, and some really good answers came back. And, you know, as with Halloween candy, it's waste not want not...
Me: What's a bigger feat? Working within the confines of an established universe to, say, create a Halo novel or the completion of an original piece of fiction?
Eric Nylund: They end up being about just as hard—only in different ways. Working in an established universe is easier as many of the people, places, and things are there for you to crash together. The trouble starts when you want everything to synch seamlessly with the other parts of the intellectual property (games, novels, comics, etc). Then things can get ugly and complicated. On the other hand, you usually don’t have that problem in an original piece of fiction, but you DO have to create everything from square one.
Me: When you wrote Halo: Fall of Reach, you created a history for Master Chief from almost no source material. You had a guy in an armored suit with a masculine voice and an inclination for solitary warfare against aliens—using that information, how did you build a character?
There was an existing HALO story bible for FALL OF REACH, and it was full of information (props to Trautmann, Boran, and Zartman)--but at that time, you’re right, not a heck of a lot was known about the Master Chief. I started at the beginning, figuring out where a super secret intelligence operation would recruit for the SPARTAN-II program. Answer: the playground. There was John in that first scene--playing King of the Hill with a bunch of other kids. I wondered how far I could take the normal kid predisposition toward a “Lord of the Flies” behavior. Could it be channeled into military training? What kind of friendship would that forge? What kind of man would it make? Well, in the process of answering those questions and writing those scenes the Master Chief was born (at least in my head).