Overwatch: The Hero of Numbani – Interview with Author Nicky Drayden

Regardless of your personal feeling about Overwatch, there’s no denying its status as a phenomenon. Blizzard’s hero-shooter redefined the genre and created a universe that drew legions of loyal fans. Earlier this year, the first Overwatch novel was released.

The Hero of Numbani, written by Nicky Drayden, “tells the full story behind Efi and Orisa’s heroic origins, offers a glimpse into Talon’s machinations in Numbani, and provides some must-know hints at things to come.”

We were lucky enough to be able to speak with Drayden and get the inside scoop on Overwatch’s first novel.

Overwatch The Hero of Numbani

PowerUp! – How did you get involved with Blizzard and Overwatch and how did you come to write a novel based on Efi and Orisa? 

Nicky Drayden – My agent approached me with the opportunity of writing Efi and Orisa’s story, and it instantly felt like a perfect fit. I love writing Afrofuturism, particularly involving robots and I was excited about the challenge of fleshing out Efi’s world. 

PowerUp! – Before writing the novel, what was your exposure to and experiences with Overwatch

Nicky Drayden – I didn’t have a whole lot of experience with Overwatch beforehand. I knew about Lúcio and Lúcio-Oh’s, but not much else. But I’ve been a Blizzard fan for forever, playing a lot of StarCraft (Zerg all the way!) and Diablo II way back in the day, and StarCraft II and some WoW.   

PowerUp! – How did you go about finding the right tone to tell a story set in the Overwatch universe? 

Nicky Drayden – Fortunately, there are a couple of video shorts on the Overwatch website that present Efi with so much personality, and it was easy to start there and just run with it. She’s friendly and upbeat and really cares for her community. Orisa’s voice lines are also a treasure.

I could tell so much of her personality from them. She tries so hard and wants to be a great protector, but I knew that getting her to be the force she is in the game would be challenging for an almost-twelve-year-old, so there were lots of opportunities to inject humour and perilous mishaps into the novel.

PowerUp! – How much freedom did you have and how much of your story was constrained by existing lore or edicts from Blizzard?

Nicky Drayden – I was pleased with the freedom I had to tell Efi’s story. There were certain plot points I needed to hit, but how I got there was up to me, which left a tremendous amount of room to flex my creative muscles. One of my favourite additions are the snippets from Efi’s vlog at the end of each chapter, where we get to see a little more of her personality quirks.

Of course, there’s always the pressure of working with existing lore and continuity, but I don’t feel like they’re constraints, just scaffolding onto which to build the story. And there’s so much Overwatch lore out there, but it’s spread out all over the place, so I had fun doing a scavenger hunt through comics, gameplay, maps, wikis, and more to help develop the story.

PowerUp! – How did you go about bringing Numbani to life? We’ve seen the map in the game, but what nuance and life did you add to it through your story?

Nicky Drayden – The maps are amazing and full of so many great visuals! They really pull you into the world, and I wanted to capture that in the novel as well. The Hero of Numbani features several locations prominent in the Numbani map, like the airport and the heritage museum, and a few others that I’ll leave for readers to discover.

Bringing Numbani to life involved asking a lot of questions about what the images presented in the map implied, as well as working in bits of Nigerian culture and imagining how it would manifest in a futuristic city. I had to examine things like transportation, fashion, commerce, law, schooling, history, entertainment… all in the context of a city that was established with harmony between humans and omnics at its core.  

PowerUp! – How did your previous novels and writing affect the way you approached this story? 

Nicky Drayden – My first novel, The Prey of Gods, hits a lot of similar beats (pun optional) as The Hero of Numbani. It’s set in a futuristic South Africa brimming with sentient robots and features a little girl who develops a close bond with one of them.

There’s also a lot of music in the book, along with an overpowered villain who wants to better humanity by any means necessary, so hopping into The Hero of Numbani felt a lot like going home to a place I’d never been.

I took the research techniques I’ve learned along the way with me, and I needed them because I didn’t have long to get up to speed on writing in a universe that was almost completely new to me. 

PowerUp! – A novel is a very different medium than a video game, did you put any easter eggs or things into the story that fans of the game will recognise?  

Nicky Drayden – So many easter eggs! I had a ton of fun with that. Some are fairly obvious, while others require a sharper eye. But I definitely wanted to make sure the book was readable by people who haven’t played Overwatch as well. One thing I did enjoy was getting to show Doomfist in some of his various skins, and working in voice lines was fun too.

PowerUp! – What makes Efi and Orisa standout as characters from the Overwatch universe and why do you think the first Overwatch novel focuses on them? 

Nicky Drayden – I love how the characters are connected and have these complex histories with each other. Even though Efi isn’t a playable character, she fits right in there, with connections to Orisa obviously, but also to Doomfist and Lúcio, and she’s also a huge fan of Overwatch, so she’s pretty firmly rooted in the universe. Her youth and innocence and brilliance make for a fantastic lens to view the world through for readers of all ages. 

And getting to write Orisa’s origin story was a true honour. I get all teary thinking of how she develops over the course of the story, and I hope it takes readers on an emotional journey too.

Learning to be the ultimate protector of a city takes lots of trail and error, and Orisa makes so many mistakes on her way. She wants to please Efi more than anything, and the friendship they develop despite the various mishaps is so wonderful.

PowerUp! – How long have you been working on this book? 

Nicky Drayden – It took about 6 months from start to finish. 

PowerUp! – If you could write a novel for any of the other Overwatch characters who would it be and why? 

Nicky Drayden – I’d love to dive deeper into Lúcio’s world. I wrote some of the high-action scenes with his album, Synaesthesia Auditiva, on in the background, and I love how he and Efi are so connected.

I think Junkertown would be a great setting for a novel, as well. Lots of personality there, and I’m curious about what futuristic scavenging would look like and the challenges of making a life in such desolate conditions.

The Hero of Numbani is available now.

Thanks to Nicky Drayden for her time.

Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevensonhttps://powerup-gaming.com/
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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