After seven weeks and 95,000 words, Microsoft Games Studios' (MGS) first game novel, Halo: The Fall of Reach, was complete.
The task of writing a prequel to the story in Bungie Studios' Xbox game Halo was assigned to Eric Nylund, content writer in MGS and accomplished author. Nylund has written five science-fiction/fantasy novels, one of which, Dry Water, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.
Every morning, Nylund spends two to four hours working on his next novel before heading to Microsoft's Millennium campus from his home in North Bend, Wash., where he lives with his wife, Syne Mitchell, an author and retired Microsoft employee. He said each novel takes about a year to write.
Nylund said the seven-week deadline he faced for writing Halo: The Fall of Reach was a little daunting. But, unlike his other fiction, he had an established story "bible" from which to work that contained names of people and places. Nylund also had the convenience of working down the hall from the Halo lead game designer, John Howard.
Not only did Nylund accomplish the assignment, but he also went 10,000 words over his target word count by adding three chapters.
The book was published in October 2001, one month before the release of the game. It's now in its ninth printing, with 124,000 copies sold. It was picked up by the Science Fiction Book Club for a hardcover edition.
"My novels capture a certain audience," Nylund said. "With this novel, I was able to capture a new game audience with a huge fan base."
Nylund also contributed to Crimson Skies, based on the PC game of the same name, which was published in October.
Brute Force: Betrayals by Dean Wesley Smith also was published in October. A second Halo novel is due in April, a third in fiscal year 2004.
Where did the idea to publish novels based on Microsoft's game properties come from? The MGS Franchise Development Group (FDG).
"Publishing novels offered a way for us to develop the game universe," said Nancy Figatner, business-development manager in FDG. "We created a new kind of publishing agreement with Del Rey Books."
Eric Trautmann, lead content developer in FDG, played a critical role in getting the first Halo novel written, edited, and sent off to the publisher. Chapter by chapter, Trautmann reviewed Nylund's work to ensure that it was true to the vision of the game's designers and the story guide that his team created—now 600 pages thick.
"The novel had to be high quality," Trautmann said. "We want people to see the MGS and Xbox logos and know that the product is good."
The FDG team has to have a deep knowledge of MGS games, including weapons that different creatures use, colors of armor, landscape, and much more. For example, Crimson Skies, a more established game, has five volumes in its story bible.
"I get paid to be like a Star Trek geek," Trautmann said.
Games are not just software, Figatner said. They are an entertainment model that has created a whole new experience with licensing intellectual properties.
FDG also works on licensing for toys, entertainment such as film and television, and cross-platform products.
Doug Zartman, content specialist in FDG, had to pay attention to the same minutiae for the prequel novel Brute Force: Betrayals.
"Late in the book's development, the game team added a fundamental new technology to their universe," Zartman said. "There wasn't time for a rewrite from the author, so I found an appropriate scene and wrote a line foreshadowing this 'experimental technology'—just enough to ensure continuity between the book and the game."
By Holly Longdale, MicroNews Staff Writer