Friendly: Hi Jason, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed on The Friendly Necromancer! I really appreciate your time, and I hope the fans of Wizard101 are going to take away a lot from this interview. Why don't you start by introducing yourself and giving us a little background information on your job at KingsIsle?
Jason: My name is Jason Durall. I'm the Creative Design Lead on Wizard101, a position that covers creative oversight of all aspects of the game: devising the plots; planning quests; coming up with new characters; writing dialogue; naming everything; and describing environments, creatures, and equipment for the art team, etc. In my day-to-day task load, I deal with every group: programmers, art, design, and even marketing. I do some of that work alone, though much of it is in collaboration with the rest of our awesome team.
Friendly: I understand that writing the storyline to Wizard101 has been a collaborative effort by many people but have you ever had to sacrifice a part of the storyline that you really wish could have stayed in, or was there a part of the storyline that you can't believe made it to the final game? Feel free to talk about the process of storytelling in Wizard101 since I don't believe many really have an insight into how that happens.
Jason: That's a loaded question! I started at KingsIsle a few months before launch, and one of my first tasks was to punch up dialogue, clean up the storyline as best as I could, and to add some bridging content that helped explain things better during the more complex sequences. For scheduling reasons, art sometimes has to be started before story is locked down, so it can occasionally create situations when it made sense to change an idea, but we had to proceed with our past decision.
As far as sacrifices, Grizzleheim ended with some unresolved plot threads, but I suspect that the door hasn't closed on that world yet. Usually though, it's the smaller stuff that gets cut in favor of the core story. There are a few quest lines that we haven't revisited, such as Penny Dreadful's whole story. We have a whole quest line with Sir Reginald Baxby that's always simmering on a back-burner. For various reasons, those stories just haven't made it into the game as of yet.
On the other hand, there's almost no sense of surprise about what's in the game. It takes so much effort to get content created and implemented, nothing sneaks up on you. The only time I've been simply amazed at what went into the game was the Hallowe'en content, where they actually let me do an entire quest chain in rhyming verse!
Friendly: Can you talk a bit about NPC development in Wizard101? How was it crafting dialog for characters such as the school trees and for the professors with strong personalities like Cyrus Drake? I imagine it was a lot of fun!
Jason: I came in after the first four worlds (Wizard City, Krokotopia, Marleybone, and MooShu) were developed, so much of the hard work had been done for me when it came up with developing core personalities of faculty and monsters. However, I've been directly responsible for the characters in Dragonspyre, Grizzleheim, and Celestia, as well as any who have come after release, such as new vendors and trainers or seasonal content. Regardless, the process is the same: figure out what role they will play in the quests and the story, and develop a voice for them that helps convey the spirit of what we're trying to do. In some cases, the concept for the character helps suggest the voice and personality, and at other times the character idea (personality and voice) comes before any artwork is done.
Friendly: A year after the launch of Wizard101, I discovered a particular quest that really filled out all the questions I had about the lore of the Kroknomicon and tied together all the questions I had surrounding the Golden Fang. Unfortunately I had somehow missed the importance of this quest text TWICE Before when playing through the game. When I finally slowed down, I managed to read the text instead of skipping it with the mentality of "What do they want me to do next." How hard is it for you as a writer in this game environment to craft text that people want to read and need to read to understand the story better?
Jason: It's always a challenge writing dialogue and story when there's the very real chance your audience is pressing fast-forward. The most you can do is make your dialogue fun enough to read, keep it direct enough that it's easy to understand, allow for some redundancy in describing what's going on, and present clear and regular goals for the players.
Friendly: I asked Professor Greyrose (Kiersten Samwell) at one time if she could supply me with whatever lore bible you guys had, and the response was that it all mainly just exists in the heads of the writers. How do you keep track of all the lore bouncing around behind the NPCs and areas of the spiral?
Jason: It's easy because I've spent the last couple of years with all of the lore of Wizard101 in my head, but I use a lot of notes, and frequently find myself searching through old quest dialogue documents, or replaying quests I've completed just to remember bits of setting information. Sometimes I have to ask Kiersten to help me remember things.
Friendly: One of KingsIsle's most recent successes is the release of Celestia.
Was there a particular NPC in Celestia that you could comment on as being fun to write quest text for?
Jason: I absolutely loved writing dialogue for the crabs. We had done their look long before any development on their personalities and voices, and I tentatively suggested to our sound developers that I'd like to give them outrageous Italian accents. Once we worked out what they'd sound like, it became a joy to write them. Everything they say is larger-than-life and they are incredibly touchy about how terrible their culture is. The other thing I liked most about Celestia's character development were the three epic "school bosses," imagining how these ancient beings would sound and what they would have to say after centuries of exile.
Friendly: Wizard101 seems to have a really big following with young writers creating fan fiction out of the characters in Wizard101. What kind of advice could you give to the budding writers that are cranking out fan fiction for Wizard101 and beyond?
Jason: Keep it up! Write, write, write! It's incredibly flattering to see that Wizard101 inspires creativity in the players, and there's no better way fuel your imagination than creating new stories and fiction for a setting as rich as the Spiral. Have fun filling your version of the Spiral with your own stories and characters, and feel free to share them with your friends and with KingsIsle. Walls here are covered with creativity from our dedicated fans. It's a wonderful compliment to know that what we do is so inspirational!
Friendly: Thanks so much for your time, do you have any questions for The Friendly Necromancer?
Jason's Question to Friendly: Now that we're starting to move into a big new story arc with the mystery of Morganthe and her designs on the Spiral, where do you think it's going to go?
My Answer to Jason's Q: When I think of Morganthe, I think of her army of Shadow Weavers. For some reason I have the Shadow Weavers in my mind acting as a kind of Borg construct like from the Star Trek Next Generation series: emotionless and calculating with a dangerous hive mentality, which is tragically being guided by Morganthe for her own evil purposes.
Morganthe definitely has her eyes on Merle Ambrose due to a past conflict that we are mostly unaware of. I’m predicting the truth about the conflict between Merle and Morganthe will surface over the next expansion.
I also think we’ll see new worlds opening up that have already been subdued by Morganthe’s Shadow Weaver Hive and, in Hero108 style, have to either undo the lies that Morganthe has told to the reaches of the spiral, converting them to the cause, or liberate them all from the oppression they face from Morganthe and her Shadow Weaver army.
In my mind the final blows will occur one world beyond a Shadow Weaver hive where we finally reveal Morganthe as the evil manipulator she is and FINALLY, the hive will turn on their queen.
How was that? ;p I’m probably not even close. XD
Once again, thank you for doing your part to make Wizard101 a great game. From all the fans, thank you and keep up the good work!