The term expanded universe is usually tied to film or television properties branching out into other mediums to present new stories. From novels to short stories to comics and even videogames. Author Christie Golden is no stranger to the expanded universe, with the award winning author writing tales for some of the biggest properties out there like Star Wars and Star Trek.
With videogames spanning multiple titles with their own rich lore and detailed universes the reverse is also true, and on that front Christie has written a number of stories diving into some of the biggest digital properties out there -- Blizzard’s StarCraft and Warcraft.
Her latest project though, is set in the world of Overwatch.
Stone by Stone is an original short story focusing on Symmetra, compassion, harmony, and Omnics -- so naturally, Zenyatta makes an appearance. Here’s the synopsis.
When Vishkar Corp. inadvertently destroys a sacred statue of Aurora, the first sentient omnic, the brilliant hard-light architect Satya Vaswani—known also as Symmetra—is sent in to avert a PR disaster. She’s been instructed to give the village whatever it wants—but she doesn’t know what that might be. When she accepts Tekhartha Zenyatta’s invitation to stay at the temple and learn about Aurora and the omnic faith, Symmetra embarks on a journey of understanding, compassion, and acceptance that results in the perfectly imperfect gift to the village, to Zenyatta… and to herself.
Recently we had the chance to talk to Christie about writing a short story set in the Overwatch-verse, finding Symmetra’s voice, and collaborating with Blizzard.
AusGamers: Working with Blizzard and on properties like Warcraft and StarCraft, throwing Overwatch into that mix are there any similarities or through lines you’ve found with these very different universes?
: It may sound a bit ingenuous, but honestly, in both franchises I think you can see the love and care that Blizzard gives all its games. I’ve known this for years, of course, but it’s been great to work here and see that attention to the game’s spirit and details of what makes it beloved in action. Otherwise, the fun of it is that they’re so different in subject matter and approach.
"You can see the love and care that Blizzard gives all its games."
AG: Giving voice and dialogue to Satya (Symmetra) and Zenyatta – what discovery did you need to do for these characters to learn about them and their personalities?
: I spoke with the other members of my department who have worked with the Overwatch team to get a sense of the characters. We also have a few cinematics that deal with the Omnics, and a lovely comic about Symmetra. I played the game as well and listened to all the dialogue uttered by these two characters. Finally, as I always do when trying to get a sense of a character, I tried to “get inside their skin” and think like they do. They were a lot of fun to spend time with.
AG: Finding that humanity and those personal stories – as we find in Stone by Stone – is that the goal and how do you balance that with spectacle and the sort of sci-fi/fantasy people expect?
: My professional career spans three decades. And in that time, a lot of themes have resonated with me that I keep picking at, trying to understand them. The joy is, of course, that I never will, it’s the curiosity that keeps me going. One is, what makes good people go down a dark path? Another is what makes some people get up again and again, while others are defeated? A third is the triumph of the human spirit. Each project has its own themes, of course, and I have always been attentive to how I can bring two very different people or cultures to a point of understanding. I also love the imagination that science fiction and fantasy lets me bring to the project. If you’ve read my work throughout the years, you can see these themes winding through all of them to one degree or another.
AG: Lore has been a big part of Overwatch from the very beginning, even as a multiplayer title, things like the positioning of furniture in a map can have meaning. Getting to expand on that lore, how was that approached and how did you weave that into the tale?
: I studied what I knew about the characters, trying to internalize them. Each IP has a certain “voice”, and within that IP there are several distinct flavors. I tried to find Overwatch’s. The gentle voice of the story itself enables the reader to relax and understand the type of journey the reader is undertaking. And as I worked more with the characters, letting them sort of “live in me” helped me understand them better. I also spent a great deal of time researching Indian culture and faiths, as well as learning more about ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder.) It was important that we get that right in the story, and make it a key part of Symmetra, though, as with real people, there’s so many things that define each individual.
AG: There’s quite a bit of spirituality here, was there any personal inspiration there?
: As you can tell from the themes I enjoy exploring, I have a lot of faith in the goodness of people in general. Also, I’ve always been attracted to mythology, folklore, and the construction of rituals. I have written a few original novels, and the faith of the world(s) and how it manifests has always been a big part of their story. I’m always happy when I can bring these to IP projects.
"I’ve always been attracted to mythology, folklore, and the construction of rituals. I have written a few original novels, and the faith of the world(s) and how it manifests has always been a big part of their story."
AG: Even as a short story, how did the collaboration process work with the team at Blizzard? Was the story broken down first? Freedom to explore and suggest new themes?
: Everything at Blizzard is highly collaborative, much more than people would imagine. The story was designed to tie in with the in-game event, Symmetra’s Restoration Challenge. Jeff Kaplan suggested the main idea: That Vishkar Corporation had damaged a statue that was significant to the Omnics, and been sent in to restore it. She would meet Zenyatta, and the story would be their interaction. I loved it immediately. I really enjoy the chance to do these quiet, intimate, character-driven stories. I worked up some ideas that went back and forth, through my editors to the game team and back, and repeated that at every juncture of the story. A lot changed and grew, until finally we arrived at the story you can now read. It was such a pleasant experience, Zenyatta and Symmatra are characters I’d love to spend time with in real life, and I can’t think of a better introduction to working in the Overwatch universe.
Head Here to Read the Full Short Story ‘Stone by Stone’