Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Interview with Drew Karpyshyn


I was lucky enough to have been able to get a reply from Drew via his website a few weeks ago, and here is the interview that was born. :-) Great guy, and an excellent writer!

Welcome to the South African SFF scene, Drew, and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions! :-)

No problem – I always like chatting with fans who enjoy my work.

First off, would you please tell us a bit about yourself? What you were
doing before the tales your wrote were published?

I worked a number of jobs before I finally started getting paid for my writing. I was a furniture mover, I drove a truck dropping off newspaper bundles, I worked as a bank teller and loans officer… but none of it was very fulfilling to me. So I went back to school to work on a Masters degree in English. During that time, I signed a contract with Wizards of the Coast to publish my first novel. Shortly after that I was hired by BioWare to work as a writer on their games. Things just sort of took off from there. I never actually did finish my Masters degree. I figured I was getting paid to write, and it just didn’t get any better than that, so I gave up school and I’ve never gone back.

Can you remember the one book you read that created this urge in you to write and share your tales with the world?

As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I don’t think there was any one book that really flipped a switch; I was writing stories as soon as I was old enough to put pen to paper and scratch out letters.

Your published work includes much more than what you’ve contributed to Star Wars; would you please tell us about everything else you’ve accomplished?

In addition to my two Star Wars novels (Darth Bane: Path of Destruction and Darth Bane: Rule of Two), I’ve also written two fantasy novels for Wizards of the Coast (Temple Hill and Throne of Bhaal), as well as two Mass Effect novels (Mass Effect: Revelation, a prequel to the BioWare video game and Mass Effect: Ascension, a bridge between the first Mass Effect game and the second). I’ve also been a writer on the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights series of BioWare games, and I was the lead writer on the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect games.

I’m currently working on a third (still untitled) Darth Bane novel, and with BioWare I’m the lead writer on the Mass Effect 2 video game. I’ve also published a number of sci-fi/fantasy short stories, though I haven’t had time to work on any short stories for the past few years – the games and novels (plus golf) eat up most of my time.

You’ve worked in big-name industries, Forgotten Realms, Star Wars, and the gaming industry with BioWare (much of the time); in terms of support with the projects you’ve tackled, which industry rates as the best?

I’ve been lucky, in that I’ve always been able to tell exactly the kind of story I’ve wanted to in all of my work. BioWare is great because they’re one of the few video game companies that focus on story, so writers are full-time employees who start on a project on day one and stay with it to the end. As far as my Star Wars experience, I’ve been fortunate enough to be the only author working in the Old Republic time frame, and the people at Lucas Books and Del Rey have allowed me to write about what I want, how I want.

Your name is part of two of the biggest games in the gaming industry, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect; what are the things, in your opinion, that yourself and BioWare did right to make these games such a success?

A key element to both games is story integration. There are games that have great gameplay mechanics and fantastic visuals, but they might lack story and characters. Other games have brilliant story, but the game itself is subpar. Both Kotor and Mass Effect managed to combine story, graphics and game play in a way that allows the whole to be greater than the mere sum of the parts. It also helps to have incredibly talented people working on the project. Many of the same senior people who worked on Mass Effect also worked on Kotor. We’re lucky enough to have the the right mix of talents and personalities – we compliment each other well.

Your contributions to the Star Wars saga have focused attention on a great character, Darth Bane; can you tell us how it came about that you were chosen, or allowed, to write Path of Destruction?

I’ll be honest – it’s not easy to break into the Star Wars novels. There are so many talented writers looking to work with the world’s most well known and popular franchise. Fortunately, I had an in – my work on Kotor. Once the game was released and became a big success, I approached Lucas Books and Random House/Del Rey with the idea of having a novel set in the Old Republic time period… something none of the novels had explored before. Based on my work in KOTOR and my first two novels with Wizards of the Coast, the powers-that-be decided to give me a chance.

But I didn’t want to focus on the KOTOR characters or time period. I felt that, between the games and comic series, that story was already being told. So I focused on another fascinating time period – the moment when the Old Republic, with thousands of Sith and Jedi, changed forever. The logical choice was to make a novel focusing on the man responsible for that change; a novel that explored the Sith and the dark side in a way that hadn’t really been done before.

The second Bane novel, Rule of Two, hit shelves in paperback on the 28th of October, and you are working on the third untitled novel; how does it feel to know that you’ve made your own much-loved impression on the GFFA?

Obviously it feels great. I love that fans have embraced the Old Republic time period, and whenever I see an action figure or miniature from the Bane novels or Kotor I get a giddy little thrill, because I know I’m partly responsible. There’s something cool about knowing you’ve contributed to Star Wars, because it’s become such a fixture in our culture. My characters and stories will live on long after I’m gone… it’s almost like a small piece of immortality.

Working for BioWare must be one of the best jobs in the world; can you take us through a general day?

It’s a great job, but we work hard. As the lead writer, most of my mornings are consumed with meetings. I meet with the artists, the cinematic designers, the level designers, the audio and voice over people, the other writers… anyone who is contributing to the game. It’s important that we all stay on the same page, and everyone understands the vision of whatever we happen to be working on. In the afternoon, if I’m lucky, I get a chance to do some actual writing for the game. Unfortunately, this only happens about 2 or 3 days a week – often my writing time has to be put aside for more meetings. Anytime you get 100+ talented, passionate people working on a game, it’s going to be difficult to keep everyone moving in the same direction. So all the leads on the project (Lead Designer, Lead Artist, Lead Animator, the Project Director,etc.) find themselves struggling to balance meetings with actual content creation.

One of my friends told me that he cried like a baby at the climax of the first Mass Effect game, and that the game in general was brilliant; what were the themes you all wanted to explore with Mass Effect (the game, as well as the two novels you’ve written), and why do you think the game would have such a powerful reaction with players?

We had several themes we wanted to explore in Mass Effect, and I think their universal relevance is what made them come across in such a powerful way. Humanity’s struggle to find their place in the greater galactic community reflects the struggle we all go through to find our place in the world. The nature of morality and whether the ends justify the means is another timeless theme explored throughout film and literature. And the potential threat of artificial intelligence or synthetic life is something modern society is already struggling with, so we wanted to reflect that as well.

Finally, we know you cannot yet speak about where you are taking Bane in his third outing, but do you have any other plans, writing-wise, or can you drop hints about any other exciting projects on the way?

I can’t say too much about projects I’m involved with… I don’t want to get fired or sued. I can say that in addition to the third Bane novel I’m also working on the second Mass Effect game, but I can’t comment on any other BioWare (possibly SW related) projects at this time. (I think you all know what I’m talking about…) I am also working on the first book in my own original fantasy setting, and of course I spend a lot of time working on my golf game.

Thanks, Drew, for taking the time to answer these questions, and we wish you only the best of luck, great success, and many more books! :-)

Thanks for the opportunity to speak to all your readers. If they want to know more about me or what I’m working on, they can go to my website at www.drewkarpyshyn.com – it’s all Drew, all the time!

To order Drew's books, click here for US, here for UK, and for those in SA, please use the link at the top of the blog.

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