My Role: Creative Lead, Designer, Coder, and Writer
with Samantha Vick (Writer / Art Director), Teddy Diefenbach (Designer / Producer), Kyla Gorman (Writer), Bryce Walters (Programmer), John Carey (Composer), and many more in our original USC Advanced Games Project team.
Short Version: Quicksilver: Infinite Story was my graduate thesis at USC. You can read my thesis paper that accompanied the game – part of it explains the recombinant narrative system I invented, and the rest is about designing a game around it.
Long Version: Quicksilver started in undergrad when I got lost browsing the TV Tropes wiki (link omitted out of respect for your time). If Saturday morning cartoons were really that formulaic, could I write a formula to create episodes? Could I make a program that could invent premises, or even full screenplays, and use it to make a neverending adventure? The idea became my passion project, and my tinkering developed into a recombinant narrative library called the “Phoenix Engine.”
I dreamt of making that engine into a full action game that could make up a new adventure every time you played. Once I reached USC, I was fortunate enough to meet others who thought that would be a worthwhile endeavor. As part of the Advanced Game Project class, I led a team of over 30 students to develop Quicksilver: Infinite Story and make my dream come true! But… to be honest, our original ideas were overambitious, and some team composition issues made progress difficult. We ended the year with a game that felt disjointed, buggy, and lifeless.
By that point, I had invested so much of my life into Quicksilver that I couldn’t stand to see it end that way. So I decided that my thesis project would be reinventing Quicksilver: working with a drastically smaller team to try to salvage it into a whole new game. I reexamined why I thought procedural narrative felt cool – that magic of infinite possibility. I searched for anything we could do to bring that feeling to the players’ attention, and tried to take advantage of all the cool gameplay affordances the story engine gave us.
In the end, even though I wasn’t able to give the visuals or action the polish they deserved, I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish with Quicksilver. Players at the thesis show really did feel that childhood wonder of infinite possibilities, and they had a blast playing it.
I believe my thesis about Quicksilver is the only published academic paper to cite both Thundercats and Guardian Heroes. It starts by outlining the basics of how the Phoenix Engine works, then proceeds to frankly analyze how the original version sucked and how I fixed it. Finally, it discusses the project’s implications on future episodic narrative generation.