No mortal man can sway the Fates from their editorial course. Endless debates about whom to talk to for a mythology issue rang through the halls, but the winds of fortune carried us endlessly toward one man: Stieg Hedlund, Design Director of Gods and Heroes at Perpetual Entertainment. His credits include the [/i]Diablo[/i] games, as well as StarCraft and an unreleased Lord of the Rings game, and then there's his current project, which consists of gods and heroes in combination. Preliminary conversations with an unnamed source revealed, "Stieg has probably forgotten more about mythology than most people ever know." And the course was set, as we are acutely aware of the consequences of defying Fate.
With his background in mind, I asked where he saw himself on the team, since Design Director is a rather vague title. "I guess I relate to guys like Stanley Kubrick," he answered, "in that he'd grind lenses instead of being content to sit in the director's chair. I'm from the old one-designer school and went on like that even after it became fairly unworkable." He's a very hands-on guy, he says. "I work directly in our tools and feel that I need to know how to do anything that anyone on my team can do. I'll also intervene on any level I feel I need to, to get the right experience in the game; my team respects how hardcore I am, and I try not to step on too many toes."
Asked about his reputation as a mythology guru, he quipped, "That's hard to say specifically; you should just understand that I'm impossibly wise," before getting more serious. "The books that I still own and have had from a very early age - as far back as I can remember - are D'Aulaire's Norse Gods and Giants and The Monkey King. Sure, I had Dr. Seuss as well, but myth was where my head was at growing up. That never changed, and by high school, I was into some pretty esoteric stuff, especially since a good friend of mine's mother was a Jungian analyst and got me interested in Joseph Campbell, among other aspects of Jungian psychology."
While he didn't have much to do with the story aspects of StarCraft and the first Diablo, he did work his background and love of history into Diablo II. "In the story for Diablo II, I made a lot of references to real-world things in any case, albeit on a symbolic level. I drew a lot of source material, from Sufism to the Albigensian Crusades. It's both relatable as well as more meaningful. If you create something that's entirely novel with no relationship to reality, it probably won't resonate with people. There needs to be some level of the familiar with a twist."
Gods and Heroes, then, is a logical progression, though it's an "Inspired by ... " rather than a "Based on ... ," because "the worlds of history and myth are really very separate, except in the context of myth as justification. ... Right away, our goal was to blend the two in a seamless way in our world, so that what the ancient Romans believed became real and present, instead of at some other place or time." While they enjoyed using the myths and history, they did have one constant goal in mind, he says. "We were always very clear that our main goal was to entertain, and we'd bend the timeline or pantheon if we needed to achieve that."
To rebuild Rome, they turned to the classics. "In the case of Gods and Heroes, I referenced The Aeneid and Metamorphoses pretty heavily. As far as the translations, my concern tends to be more for accuracy than anything else, and I'll consult the original texts if I have any questions about that." Since he'd mentioned Joseph Campbell earlier, I asked him for his thoughts, figuring Campbell was a mandatory stop for anyone dabbling in classical mythology. "I have tremendous respect for Joseph Campbell," Hedlund said. "And his work is timeless. Some people have tried to reduce the hero's journey into a formula; like the hero needs to meet his mentor here, and now he should be reconciled with the father. But I think like any other formula, this can end up being pretty empty. Campbell has discussed mythic themes in the context of great writers like Cummings, Mann and Joyce ... but he isn't offering a roadmap, just pointing out the ways these guys tapped into that material.