Meet the developer of nuclear risk game Epic Orphan: Q&A with Filament Games' Dan Norton

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“In games for awareness, you’re relying on the game first and foremost as an engagement tool. That doesn’t mean it should be vapid or trivial, but that your first goal is to make the gameplay interesting and sticky, so that the issue’s context and importance can be established and reinforced.” – COO of Filament Games, Dan Norton


Continuing our series of interviews with the creators behind nuclear risk game Epic Orphan, we recently caught up with the Chief Creative Officer at Filament Games, Dan Norton, to ask him more about Filament’s role in developing the game.

Filament Games is an education-focused video game developer founded in Madison, Wisconsin back in 2005. The studio has produced over a 100 games that cover educational content in clever ways, exploring topics such as genetic diversity and the U.S. judicial system. With such a rich history of specializing in games that teach players real-world knowledge through engaging gameplay experiences, we here at Games for Change thought that Filament was the perfect development partner for Epic Orphan.  

If you want to learn more about Dan’s thought process during game development, check out his recent blog post, and don’t forget to support Epic Orphan and back the game on Kickstarter


Hi Dan, What excited Filament Games most about helping with the development of Epic Orphan?
Dan Norton: Filament’s made a lot of games that focus very intensely on pretty formal learning outcomes. Filament was/is really excited to dive into an “awareness” game, and to use a comic/narrative approach to push out a lot of the message. Trying new stuff is cool!

So far, what external research did your team do in order to prepare for the development of Epic Orphan?
DN: Diving into a lot of government documentation, and following up on all the great source material Yvette provided was a lot of fun but very satisfying work. Somewhat tangentially it led me to find this British guidebook for field agents from WWII, which was super cool.

What is the most shocking thing you learned about nuclear weapons/orphan sources from your research during development so far?
DN: I think the most shocking thing to me was finding out about the stolen material incident in Goiânia: a medical center was shut down, and thieves stole the nuclear material, leading to many deaths and illnesses. The idea that nuclear material is in widely varying amounts of oversight and regulation around the world is pretty troubling, and to be frank I had no idea.

Has there been any previous Filament games that also explores issues around nuclear weapons or energy, or is this a first? What other types of games does Filament build?
DN: Filament developed a game called Energy City, which explored different power sources and research, which incorporated nuclear power as one of the options. Filament has made tons and dons of games that all are focused on positive impacts for their users- they range the gamut of games about ocean science, empathy, punnett squares, bar exams, civics….

Looking at Filament’s portfolio, there seems to be a large number of puzzle and simulation games. Epic Orphan, on the other hand, is an episodic adventure game that has a stronger focus on visual narrative. What are some of the challenges of creating a game like this?
DN: I like to think of narratives in games as another one of the tools in the designer’s toolbox. Narratives are powerful for providing context and promoting empathy. Empathy and context are obviously deeply tied to the goals of Epic Orphan- we want you to know about these issues in context, and we want you to care! The challenges are of course that storytelling is a superpower in its own right, and takes a separate level of focus and talent aside from game mechanics.

The pitch for Epic Orphan came from Yvette Chin, the winner of last year’s N Square Game Design competition. Yvette’s research background stemming from her work at the National Security Archives gave her expert knowledge around nuclear weapons issues – in what ways did you collaborate with Yvette to interpret her written concept into a fully designed experience
DN: In the prototype, the minigames were developed off her initial proposals for interactions that would integrate into her broader story. We also used her extensive source documentation as reference for the game’s background and context. The prototype came out of a lot of feverishly paced iteration on script and art, and Yvette was a huge help in making sure we could get the story to hang together and work in our prototype scope and timeline. Yvette is awesome.


About Epic Orphan
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.

Hear more from Epic Orphan’s creators in our Q&A series: Creator and writer Yvette Chin.




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