The Hearts and Minds Behind the Atom Eve Visual Novel RPG
We chat with the creative team who took Atom Eve out of the comics and put her in your hands.
Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the comics industry. In this entry, we're conversing with the creative hearts and minds behind the new Atom Eve Visual Novel RPG from Skybound Games. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.
Coming on the heels of Invincible's second season Amazon Prime premiere, Skybound Games just launched their Visual Novel RPG, Invincible Presents: Atom Eve. The game is available for the PC on Steam and the Epic Games Store for $9.99. Players can enter Eve's perspective for the first time and choose what kind of hero they want her to be. Set between the recent Atom Eve Special and Invincible's first season; the RPG explores a moment in time ignored by the comics and the cartoon. It's a tremendous opportunity for fans to consider Eve as a whole person away from Mark.
We've spent much of this year obsessing over Invincible, especially the relationship dynamic between Mark and Eve. Obviously, when we finished covering the series on the podcast, we had a great time with the couple, but we also regretted the moments where the narrative necessarily robbed us of time with Eve. Playing the game, we felt a relief. Eve is such a compelling character; so much is left undiscovered about her. With Invincible's primetime success, hopefully, we'll have more chances to live in her unique headspace.
The final thing we did at New York Comic-Con last October was sit down with the creative minds (and hearts) behind Invincible Presents: Atom Eve. Below, you'll hear from creative director Jill Murray, franchise creative director Mike Rogers, art director Rossi Gifford, writer Mary Arroz, and animation director Lauren Lehmann. We discuss how the game adheres to and challenges the source material, from the animation style to the characters. These artists share a profound passion for Atom Eve and believe their game offers insights that the other mediums have yet to traverse. Also, their work with Eve has impacted their life outside the RPG, and, of course, we had to dig into that as well.
The Unexplored Atom Eve within the RPG
Lisa: I'm so excited that the Atom Eve game just dives right into her teen years because I feel like there is a lot missing from her story and there's a lot of room to play there. Can you talk about choosing to hyper-focus on that moment?
Jill Murray (Creative Director): Well, the game takes place roughly tracking the events of the first season, but we backed it up a little bit to be able to show you, I guess a little bit of the timeframe between when the Atom Eve special would end and when season one would begin. I guess in the special we see her come into her powers and start to use them and then by the time we're in season one, her parents know about her powers. So then there's a little bit of mystery there about what happened when those people found out, because that couldn't have been pretty.
We wanted to be able to show people something that they hadn't seen yet in the comics or the show. So that was a moment that we zeroed in on early. That's something we would get to show if we just backed it up a little and spent some time with Eve and her parents, and kind of imagine what that moment would be like when she had to reveal it to them.
Brad: That becomes a draw for any fan, from wherever they came from; whether it was from the comics or the show. This offers something that they don't necessarily have access to.
Jill Murray (Creative Director): Yeah, I think so. This is the first time it's been explored, if I'm not mistaken.
Mike Rogers (Creative Director, Franchise): No, I think that's true. And this game is not canon to either the comics or the show. It's kind of its own world, as is the nature of a game where you as the player get to make choices and choose your own path for Atom Eve. We definitely got a lot of room to explore the character while still being true to Eve and to the tone and the themes of the book. But getting it a little deeper in something self-titled for Eve and not Mark.
Lisa: What makes this game attractive to me is, I'm a person who goes to comics for the more soap opera aspects of it. Can you talk a little bit about how you might lean into some of the drama that Atom Eve experiences. I'm hearing like, oh, coming out to her parents, that's going to be hard. Dating Rex, we know that that isn't easy.
Jill Murray (Creative Director): Well, it's like a choice-based game largely, but the kinds of choices you make are largely impacting how Eve interacts with characters and how she feels about her relationships with characters. We're not talking about: the choices you make in episode one will result in wildly different plot endings by episode 10. It's really about the nuances of how Eve experiences her world and her feelings and how you go on that journey with her. So it can be both very subtle and I think emotionally pretty rich.
Adapting Atom Eve for the RPG
Lisa: Yeah, because Atom Eve's power set is so connected to where she is mentally and emotionally and she's literally discovering more about herself and about her powers throughout the entirety of this series. So does she build power on, not just on development skills interpersonally as well as like-
Jill Murray (Creative Director): Yeah, maybe. Actually Mary, do you want to talk about the RPG system a little?
Mary Arroz (Writer): Oh yeah, so we have turn-based combat in the game and the player basically gets the ability to choose what type of attacks you can do. So we have three different branches in our skill tree. So you can grow Eve to be more empathetic, more creative, or more fiery. And that affects things both inside of combat but also in dialogue. So if you really want to talk back to character, that's something you can do if you've grown Eve into a more fiery direction. So it's a really great place when thinking about how you handle certain relationships or situations. I'm sure a lot of people have feelings about how Eve interacts with her family and how her family operates, so it's interesting to think about how you want to allocate your skill points so you can deal with them in different ways.
Brad: Choice-based gaming, there's such an opportunity there to really engage with stories the way that we kind of engage with stories; it pulls the player into that narrative and into each head space. And I just think there's so much opportunity to, I don't know, engage with the story in a way that you wouldn't in any other medium.
Jill Murray (Creative Director): I think maybe what's interesting from the perspective that you've come at things is that: in this game, your choices, you can't control how other people are going to react and who they are. You can't change who the other characters are and what they're going to do. You can change how you respond and how you feel and how it makes you see things and how you are going to live your life.
Lisa: I love that so much. Can we get into the look of the game a little bit? The look of Walker and Ottley has always been so inextricably linked to Invincible, but you guys have chosen to go in a very different direction.
Rossi Gifford (Art Director): Incredibly daunting, but again, I love their work and it was again, trying to do justice but also just do something a little bit different and what do I love seeing and the details and subtleties and just drawing Eve as well. I always find sometimes in comics how women are drawn in comics sometimes can be a little bit over exaggerated, so it does help that me being a woman I can actually draw a teenage girl and I find the right kind of, not right proportions, but it's something that I feel like that is genuine to her. But she was already just such a relatable character anyway. And then obviously we've referenced a lot from the show and I obviously really, I lean on Cory Walker's work a lot because of the animation background and everything and his sense of line and just expressions, poses.
There was just so much to work with there. So it was very easy, but also there's, just to be inspired and then elaborate on the style and it just kept developing over time. And with the backgrounds too, I wanted to just have really beautiful, almost like Patrick O'Keefe from Spider-Verse as well as Chuck Jones; like simple backgrounds. I just love that look and I've not really seen that a lot in comics, so I just wanted to try that out and it just seemed to really jigsaw itself together that way.
Atom Eve, Invincible Violence, and the RPG
Brad: And not being tied to canon and not necessarily tied to the style of Walker and Ottley. I'm sure that's daunting like you're saying, but also it gives you a little bit of freedom.
Rossi Gifford (Art Director): They were super supportive and there were hardly any notes at all of revisions and so I'm doing something good.
Mike Rogers (Creative Director, Franchise): We all were fans of Rossi's work before we were even making an Atom Eve game and she posted some awesome Invincible fan art and we were like, yeah, that's it. I think your style Rossi fits really well with the property and sometimes you see an art style and it's right for something and I think it's perfect for Atom Eve and for Invincible too.
Lisa: I love that you guys decided to maintain the violence though.
Rossi Gifford (Art Director): Oh yeah.
Lisa: That is Invincible. Invincible is real world consequences to violent actions in a very ugly way. Can you talk about taking and inserting that violence into this game?
Mike Rogers (Creative Director, Franchise): Yeah, I think Invincible is a mature property and we would never shy away from that because it wouldn't be Invincible. And I think that extends to a game about any characters in the Invincible universe. I think in this game there's a lot more talking and a lot more conversations and moments of quiet where you're just figuring out your emotions and feelings and who you are in the world and who the people around you are in relation to you. And then you don't turn the page, but you get to the next scene and suddenly there's "oh right!"
Rossi Gifford (Art Director): A shock factor, yeah.
Mike Rogers (Creative Director, Franchise): This happens, this blood and this violence is part of being a superhero in this universe. And yeah, it's been really exciting.
Atom Eve Impacting Empathy via the RPG
Lisa: Do you think about the messaging when you're saying, "Okay, we want this person to build empathy."
Jill Murray (Creative Director): It's not about building empathy. I know there's been a lot of discussion in the past years about games building empathy, and I think we maybe overdid it a bit. It is more that Eve is an empathetic character, she is a creative character, she is a fiery character, and we're just giving players the opportunity to say: I'm feeling a little bit more like this and I want to lean into this dimension and see what it brings me. So if they're like, I like Eve more sarcastic and I like the Eve, that's going to just suddenly take the door away so her dad can't walk out and consequences be damned and I'll figure it out later while I'm flying.
Mike Rogers (Creative Director, Franchise): Early on we talked about, well, how do you in a game where you can make all these choices, how do you make her just feel like she's still Atom Eve? And I think exactly what you just said, the fact that she is all three of those branches.
Lisa: Yeah and she contains multitudes.
Jill Murray (Creative Director): That's true. Some of the descriptions and the RPG path is an empath. It's like you could be a good listener, you could be charming. These are dimensions of empathy. And I think it's true that empathy, although we look at it usually in terms of being generous to other people, one of the reasons we do it as humans is that it brings things to us as well. That's kind of its evolutionary purpose, whether that's cute to think about or not.
Brad: So how do you balance the narrative and the gameplay?
Mary Arroz (Writer): The place where combat is at and the focus of that was storytelling for Eve's character, how she grows as a person, how she changes from episode to episode. It's really interesting to see how she might interact with an adversary in an earlier part of the game versus later on when she has grown and changed as a person, and how her skills are validated or that sort of thing. She changes throughout the game.
Brad: So when you're living in this universe, in this mindset, do you find it interacting with you as creators and as just humans in general?
Lisa: Are you living an Invincible world in here?
Brad: An Eve world?
Mike Rogers (Creative Director, Franchise): For me, a hundred percent. I feel like I live in the Invincible universe more than I live in the real world sometimes.
How the Atom Eve RPG Impacted Life Outside the Game
Lisa: Talk a little bit more about that.
Mike Rogers (Creative Director, Franchise): No, I mean I was a fan growing up with the comics and my whole job is really to just know everything and dive deep into the world and into the lore and just keep track of all that. And yeah, I love it and I love being immersed into it. And I enjoy that I've gotten to play this game so many times over and read scenes like V1s and polishes, and I think I've got like 250 hours with how many play throughs I've done and how many times I've read it all. And every time it's exciting and every time it feels like fresh and new.
Lauren Lehmann (Animation Director): Since working on this project and on Invincible itself, the emotional responses to the things that happen in this story are so meaningful and realistic in a way. That working on this project, for me as an artist, as an animator, it's kind of inspired me to think about how I create and the fact that because Eve is a creator too. She creates things and she shapes her world. I kind of do that too as a creator and I have a responsibility here. And I don't know, it just made me think a lot deeper about what I do.
Brad: So can we drill down on that a little bit, the responsibility side of that?
Lisa: You could choose - I'm just going to be the most chaotic, most destructive version of Atom Eve, and therefore myself.
Lauren Lehmann (Animation Director): Yeah. It's always challenging with these types of stories because just from a pure player standpoint, I'm not one of the writers, so I just play it and go, "Wow, you guys really did something amazing here." I have to sometimes choose: am I going to maybe let the bad guy go in favor of saving some civilians or do I get the bad guy, but maybe there's some collateral damage. And I don't know, even as crazy as superhero stuff is, I just see that those types of things happen in real life too, where you have to make those tough decisions where it's like: this is important to me, but I could also make space for something else in my life. I don't know, just there's a deepness to it.
Jill Murray (Creative Director): So the original question was about living in the Invincible world, and I was just going to say that looking at it a different way; I think that a lot of young women do live in a world like Eve's where they are asked or encouraged not to use their powers or to hide their powers. And so for me, that's what this game and this story and this character are really about.
What Next for Atom Eve in the RPG Arena?
Lisa: And she's a character who every time she thinks she has a boundary, she discovers another thing she can do, make, accomplish. And so the teen years are so fun because they're just kind of unexplored for her because we spend so much time with Mark, but every chapter of Atom Eve's life is an important time in womanhood. I imagine a game balancing her superhero life with being a mom or balancing, how do I be my own superhero self and not be associated with my partner all of the time and that kind of stuff. All of that is important and interesting and, I love Invincible but; under explored.
Brad: No question.
Lisa: Do you see other games in Atom Eve's life?
Mike Rogers (Creative Director, Franchise): I mean, you never know. I think we've been really focused and looking at this part of her life and this stage of it all. And there's so much more that I hope will be explored in the show and that maybe we'll be able to play in that space someday.
Invincible Presents: Atom Eve is now available for the PC on Steam and the Epic Games Store for $9.99. To hear the rest of this conversation, join our Patreon.