Versu Gets A Second Life

Oh come on, someone was always going to use that headline! Back in February, not long after Ebbe Altberg arrived, Linden Lab announced :

After careful consideration, Linden Lab has decided to cease development and support for dio, Versu, and Creatorverse. We’re grateful for those who took the time to experiment with these products in their early days, but ultimately we have determined that due to a number of factors, we and our customers will be best served by focusing our efforts on continuing to provide exceptional service and compelling new experiences for the users of our other products.

I was somewhat aghast at this as I liked the look of  interactive fiction app Versu in particular, although the long awaited Android release was still being long awaited. Versu developer and author Emily Short hoped to be able to negotiate a deal with Linden Lab to buy the IP and codebase, but in March came the news that Linden Lab had said a firm no :

So for those who were curious, Linden has now given me a definite no about selling me the codebase and IP. – Emily Short

I was not alone in being disappointed about this news and the story was picked up by Gamasutra who interviewed Emily Short. Now it should definitely be noted that unlike me, Emily was very dignified and professional about the closure of Versu and she remained very grateful to Linden Lab, saying :

I remain hugely grateful to Rod Humble and to Linden for picking us up when they did, and for giving us the run they gave us.

The disappointment of course remained and one of the most disappointing aspects of this affair was that Emily had a new Versu title entitled “Blood and Laurels” on the verge of release, three days from release to be precise. As Emily had penned this title whilst employed by Linden Lab, not only was Versu gone, but so was her Blood And Laurels story as Linden Lab, not Emily, owned the IP to that title. There was also confusion amongst some as to why Linden Lab had decided to leave a title with such huge potential gathering dust on a shelf. This was a title after all about which a former Linden posted on Emily’s blog :

The Versu underpinnings are genuinely revolutionary; my jaw dropped in the meeting where you explained how the engine works.

Part of the reason some would speculate, is that interactive fiction is not known for being a huge money spinner, although it does appear to be a growing market. However that seemed to be that and we all went about our merry business, until now that is. Inara Pey has discovered that Versu is back.

Inara discovered the news via a blog post from Emily : News about Versu and Blood & Laurels. This blog post was based on a news story posted on … the new Versu website! The news story explains the exciting new developments :

After Versu’s cancellation, it looked for a long time as though neither the underlying technology nor the finished stories had a future. However, we are delighted to be able to announce that Linden Lab has negotiated a new arrangement that will allow us to release these stories and explore a future for the engine.

The first step is coming next week: Blood & Laurels will launch for iPad in the App store next Thursday, June 12.

The news story and return of the site also suggest that negotiations have been going on for some time and that the deal was struck before today, as another title entitled “Bramble House” by Jake Forbes is also in the pipeline, with the promise of more to come.

I’m not sure exactly what the deal is or whether anyone will ever inform us of what the nature of the deal is. For example I don’t know if Linden Lab still have a stake in this project. However whatever the deal, it’s great news to hear that Versu is back.

The team are obviously smaller and they won’t be receiving the financial backing they originally received from Linden Lab, which means that the long awaited Android version will remain long awaited for a while yet. However that’s not as important as this title being revived. This is really good news and I’m glad that Linden Lab have found a way to give Versu a second life.

2 Replies to “Versu Gets A Second Life”

  1. I’m really glad Emily Short was able to get a deal from the Lab. It makes so much sense to give Versu another chance and not just leave it on the shelf to be forgotten. So much work had already gone into the product it was a shock to everyone that enjoys text adventures and interactive fiction when the new CEO at Linden Lab decided it wasn’t a compelling new experience as he described the other products they wanted to concentrate on when making his decision.

    In one sense I have to agree with Ebbe in that there was no way to integrate Versu into Second Life which would have been a fantastic tool for adding a story telling form of AI to animated bot’s but, then again, SL doesn’t have the advanced NPC functions that Opensim has so I guess there was no easy way to do it. So, while I’m glad for the new Little Story People team it would have been so much better in my view had the Lab kept Versu and got to grips with developing proper NPC’s and Interactive Fiction tools for the many creative talent’s in Second Life to work with.

    Working in Opensim with NPC’s and the advanced OSSL functions we are beginning to achieve things that suit interactive fiction story telling where the NPC characters can actually engage in conversation, respond with gestures and animations, and show like and dislike for each other, and even you the player. This demonstrates just how Versu might have worked in Second Life. In my view the Lab too often misses its best opportunities to improve their virtual world product in terms of a compelling experience and that is another reason I, personally, don’t limit myself to Second Life alone any more.

    1. Good comments. I agree that the AI of Versu should have been something Linden Lab wanted to introduce to Second Life, challenging as it would have been, NPC’s are an important tool.

      Alas I don’t have your experience of Opensim and I really need to change that, I should explore Opensim more.

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