Did you enjoy the recent podcast with Phineas T. Rotostar? Well, we are pleased to welcome Cory Herndon, the man who does the voice of Rotostar, to our first Starshine interview!
Periodically, I’ll be interviewing different folks from Carbine, so we get a sense of the people behind this awesome new game. When I met Cory Herndon at Arkship, I knew I had to have an interview with him for this column. I spent time chatting with him and he’s delightful, loads of fun and full of great stories. Besides, my own theatre and writing backgrounds made him a natural for my first interview. Today, Cory has taken time from his busy schedule to join us, so let’s find out more about the man behind the title!
Maer: Cory, thanks so much for joining us today. How long have you worked for Carbine?
Cory: I joined Carbine Studios late in the summer of 2008 after nearly twenty years in Seattle. It was a big move, but even then – long before WildStar was WildStar – the job and the game
was just too tempting to pass up. I honestly can’t believe I’ve been here almost five years, to tell you the truth. It’s been pretty non-stop the entire time, and I’ve gotten to help create a
universe and a game of which I think we’re all really damned proud.
Maer: You have much to be proud of. It’s truly an awesome game. So, where did you work before joining the Wildstar team?
Many places, mostly the restaurants and movie theaters you work right out of college when you have a drama degree. I got into games via editorial and review work. In 1998 I joined
Wizards of the Coast fulltime as an editor on their in-house magazine, the Duelist, and eventually moved into RPG design to work on Star Wars D20. I got into more general video
game journalism after leaving Wizards – I did a lot of game coverage for Xbox.com and other web sites -and started writing Magic: the Gathering novels including the Ravnica trilogy
(still available on Amazon and elsewhere for your ebook reader, he shamelessly plugged). I moved into working directly on games when I got an offer to write for Guild Wars, where
a former Wizards editor ran the writing team. After we shipped GW: Factions, I joined a Flying Lab Software in Seattle, and was the lead writer and eventually “lead world designer”
(a title that means different things depending on where you work, but in this case was a cross between creative and narrative lead) on Pirates of the Burning Sea. I wrote hundreds of
quests for that game, and loved the team and the work. Heck, some of the same folks are now here with me at Carbine.
Maer: Cory, you have such an eclectic and fun background! (Not that I’m biased or anything.) You’re Senior Narrative Designer for Wildstar, but you do so much more. Besides, titles don’t always tell us about the job. Could you please tell us exactly what you do?
Cory: I’ve actually had a couple of titles here at Carbine, and my specific focus has changed over the years, but it all ultimately comes down to writing and storytelling. WildStar is a much
bigger game in most respects than Pirates of the Burning Sea, and as much as I’d like to I just can’t write everything in the game. But I do get to be part of the ongoing creation of the
WildStar universe, help design the big overarching stories for the game, and write extensive lore on all the races, places, creatures, and concepts in the game (especially important with
a new IP like this one). I help polish and edit existing in-game text written by the content designers, and write scads of archives, journals, and other pieces of narrative content that
help flesh out the planet Nexus.
Maer: Storytelling, yes! I love that part of a game. What inspires you when you’re in creative mode?
Cory: I’m usually powered by black coffee, B-vitamins, and fast-paced, generally upbeat music without English lyrics (because that just interrupts my train of writing thought), especially
soundtracks and heavy metal covers because I was raised (in part) by pop culture. Well-written stories, be they part of a game, movie, book, play, or audio drama, inspire me.
Although I write for an MMO, a great single-player story like Telltale’s The Walking Dead or the Mass Effect series also makes me want to be a better game writer and give our players a
Maer: Cory there are so many fabulous aspects to your job. What would you say is your favorite thing?
Cory: It’s honestly hard to pick just one thing, so if you’ll indulge me in a broad answer it’s the people I work with. Everyone here is dedicated to making the best game we can make, and
despite the hard work that goes into all that we’re all still having fun 99% of the time (I’ll allow one percent for exhaustion). I love the fact that everyone can bring ideas to the table,
no matter what their primary focus. The creativity specifically of the content design teams with whom I directly work is inspiring, and our narrative design team kind of kicks ass.
In terms of favorite things about the game itself, some of my favorite work is writing all of the journals and archives the player can collect – it’s just good old-fashioned “makin’ stuff
up.” And I’m incredibly stoked about our epic world story, which is pretty unusual for an MMO – essentially a single-player-style ongoing narrative that only really kicks off as you’re
reaching the level cap. For an RPG fan like me, it’s one of the coolest aspects of WildStar. Also, getting to be the voice of Protostar doesn’t suck.
Maer: Nope, I’d have to say it doesn’t suck at all and you do an awesome job. Just how much game time do you get?
Cory: In terms of playing WildStar, I’m in there all the time – but it’s rarely just playing for pure enjoyment. Still, I try to stay as close to how I’d really play whenever I can. Though we do
have companywide playtests that look at the whole experience, but more often than not I’m looking closely at the narrative in a particular zone, eyeing places I can add more cool lore
touches like journals and archives, or fixing typos, grammar, and dialogue style. (Once an editor, always an editor.) In terms of other games, my lunch break is usually either a game of Magic (assuming one of our sealed-deck leagues is running) or whatever game I’m currently playing that isn’t WildStar. I’m lucky I work at a place I get to do things like that.
Maer: I was very impressed with the sheer amount of fun the Wildstar team is having with this game. Talk about a dream job! Cory, how did you get into MMOs?
Cory: WoW was my first. I vividly remember walking into a conference room at Wizards of the Coast – I no longer worked there, but was helping David Noonan test Third Edition D&D. I was raving about the game Mercenaries, which I’d just started playing for my Xbox.com job and was really enjoying. And Dave said, “In a world without World of Warcraft, I would probably play that game.” His recommendation was enough to get me playing, and I developed a pretty powerful addiction right away. (I managed to finish Mercenaries, though.) My avenue into MMO games was not the social, though, so much as the narratives and the lore. I was really into the individual stories, and my character’s own personal bio. Even when my hunter turned from a dwarf into an orc because all my friends were switching to Horde.
Maer: Ah, yes, many of us are former (or current) WoW addicts. Do you still play other games?
Cory: Absolutely! Of all kinds. I’m still subscribing to SW:TOR, digging all the ongoing KotOR story I can from it. I’ve been trying to get back into Starcraft II, but RTS games have always been a bit twitchy for me – I definitely prefer turn-based strategy and RPGs. Currently I’m playing Tropico 4, Legend of Grimrock, Minecraft (of course), and the Citadel content from Mass Effect 3. And I very recently shook off hardcore addictions to Endless Space and FTL. FTL in particular was narratively brilliant yet so simple. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Maer: What is your most memorable community moment as a player in an MMO?
Cory: I’m embarrassed to say I can’t even remember this person’s name, but it was simply the first time I was trying to solo a higher-level area in WoW, only a few weeks in. It was simple. I had just gotten into the high 30s level-wise (I wasn’t full-time at Xbox.com then), and was getting increasingly frustrated at my unique combination of ambition and incompetence (as I’d only been playing MMOs a few weeks). I think I was trying to take on some gorillas in Stranglethorn that were just a bit too tough, and wanted to beat a named boss for some reason. The boss hadn’t respawned yet, but the person who had just killed him sent me a group invite and hung around to help me take out the big gorilla, then we went our separate ways. That simple act of random camaraderie kept me playing MMOs when I otherwise might have gone back to playing Mercenaries.
Maer: What a cool story! What do you do when you’re not working or gaming?
Cory: My wife and I are really into horror movies, and we both do a lot of “normal” writing. I also golf, read, and play even more games than the ones mentioned above. I probably spend too much time on Reddit (at home, of course!). Since I moved to southern California, I’ve also gotten into day hikes on the many scenic trails of Orange County. I’m hoping to start doing
more voice acting as well.
Maer: My mind is boggled that you find time for so many diverse hobbies. Let’s turn to some really important questions, now. Which is better, DC or Marvel and why?
Cory: I’ve always been a Marvel Zombie, before that term existed, I think. Spider-Man and the Hulk are the first two superheroes I can remember, and I was hooked right away. When I was a kid, though, I mostly read Marvel for their licensed comics, specifically Godzilla (first comic I ever collected, starting at age 7 I think), Star Wars (green rabbits and all), and Indiana Jones.
I still collect comics and keep a box at Comics Dungeon, Seattle’s best comic shop (and recipient of another shameless plug). I’ve cut down on my superhero intake but still prefer
Marvel, especially looking at the way DC has just kind of continued to keep breaking and resetting their whole universe and grasping at ways to improve. Meanwhile Marvel appears, at least, to be more confident in their storytelling and more creative in their current endeavors. I imagine the success of their film universe isn’t hurting with that. But I’m just one fanboy among many. Honestly, I usually follow writers instead of companies. If Jeff Parker, for example, left Marvel and went all-DC tomorrow I would have a difficult time not jumping over to DC again. I also enjoy the work of Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Robert Kirkman, Dwayne McDuffie (RIP), Dan Slott, Gail Simone, and Grant Morrison.
Also, Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener trumps everyone. If there’s one comic, one character, I wish I’d thought of first, it’s this one. But I’m glad I didn’t, because
theirs is SO MUCH BETTER than anything I could do.
Maer: Great answer. If you were a fruit or vegetable what would it be and why?
Cory: I’m terrible with questions like this, so I turned to Facebook. Names redacted to protect the anonymity of anyone who may or may not want to acknowledge my friendship.
“You would be the SapSac, an explosive parasitic grenade fruit harvested from the jungles of Yavin 4. Sadly, I did not make that up.”
“Tomato. It’s a fruit that thinks its a vegetable. And the seeds are indigestible.”
“Pineapple! My favorite. Lots of fiber… Sweet tart flavor…multi faceted exterior.”
“Potato. Earthy, grounded, hard-working, versatile, well liked.”
“Pomegranate. Because nobody f–ks with the pomegranate.”
“Kiwi. They’re fuzzy.”
So yeah, I’m thinking kiwi.
Maer: Cory, it was so much fun having you stop by today. Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Cory: I’m really lucky to work with these folks and everyone at Carbine, but especially our narrative design team. I mentioned the narrative team before, but it might not be readily apparent when you see all the text in the game just how compact that team is. I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish for a team this size, and I love working on the stories of WildStar with our narrative lead Chad “Pappy” Moore and fellow narrative designer (and now content designer, too) Constance Griffith. And none of it would happen without our associate producer Roger Turrietta keeping us all on track. Thanks, folks.
And thank you, Cory for a wonderful look inside your world!