“I hope I give players a sense of how pervasive these potential sources of nuclear risk are. They’re in everyday places and everyday objects. This extends beyond national borders and makes us all connected in ways we may not care to accept.” – Epic Orphan creator Yvette Chin
Last month, we launched our Kickstarter campaign for Epic Orphan, the nuclear risk game that won our N Square Game Design Competition. This episodic adventure game hopes to raise awareness to risks related to nuclear weapons today and will put players in the shoes of a government agent on a globe trotting adventure to keep “orphan sources,” or unregulated radioactive materials, from falling into the wrong hands.
We recently chatted with Epic Orphan’s creator, Yvette Chin, about her thought process and background for making her winning pitch for the N Square Game Design Challenge. Hear all about the origins of Epic Orphan and then back the game on Kickstarter to play it first!
How did you learn about the N Square game design competition?
Yvette Chin: I had subscribed to the Games for Change mailing list some time ago, first just out of curiosity. Then, as the G4C challenges came into my mailbox, I hoped and hoped for one that was in my wheelhouse. When I got the email alert for the N Square game design competition, I practically fell over! Seriously! Then, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
What was your main inspiration for the creation of Epic Orphan? What inspired you to design it to be an espionage thriller?
YC: I’ve just always loved spy thrillers, heist movies, and mystery/true crime. I totally knew I couldn’t innovate in terms of mechanics and that I had to put as much as I could into narrative and plot. I thought about how I could make a resource management or a strategy game, even toyed with a dark comedy idea, but it just felt natural to go with a spy thriller and an adventure game of some kind.
What about orphan nuclear sources interested you to make it a starting topic for the game?
YC: I really wanted to do something that put twist on what people think of when they think of nuclear risk. I think what most comes to mind are classic Cold War superpowers with nuclear arsenals. But the world is very different today, and the sources of nuclear risk have multiplied. Even if there are still vestiges of the Cold War everywhere around us, the atmosphere of terror has a very different shape, a different feel.
Some of the planned episodes for Epic Orphan are based on nuclear incidents. Which real-life story or archival item interested or shocked you the most?
YC: Oh, there are a few (Damascus accident, Able Archer 83), but I can’t get this one incident out of my head because it was just last year. It’s this stolen truck in Mexico that I stumbled on. Turned out that the thieves didn’t know the truck contained nuclear material, and so they got sick. I don’t know why, but I just can’t shake the idea of how accidental and yet how totally “everyday” that incident was. Trucks are stolen all the time. This one just happened to be carrying nuclear material, and it’s not the only incident like this.
You have a background in national security? How did that help you with your N Square competition submission?
YC: In a previous life, I studied Cold War history at George Washington University and worked briefly at the National Security Archive, a nonprofit advocating for government transparency. Because of my background, my thoughts often turn to security issues even though I am no longer in those communities. Reading into government docs, always looking for that smoking gun, trying to piece together, not just the events, but the living people behind documents (with all their faults)–I guess these are all now weird parts of my personality that were revitalized with news of the N Square competition.
What key messages do you hope Epic Orphan to convey about nuclear security by the end of its narrative?
YC: I hope I give players a sense of how pervasive these potential sources of nuclear risk are. They’re in everyday places and everyday objects. This extends beyond national borders and makes us all connected in ways we may not care to accept.
How has collaborating with Filament Games changed your view on game development?
YC: Wow, there’s a lot that goes into making a game that I had no clue about. Like, how to make a game challenging but not impossible or how to prototype quickly. One of the lessons I learned early on from Filament was to think about “where” the message or learning objective resides. While in some game mechanics, you learn in the process of playing a particular mechanic, in other cases, it’s the narrative that sends the message. Dimensions like this are something a person like me would just never think about, and the conversations I’ve had with Filament have kinda blown mind!