Update January 3rd, 2012: following posts on the Versu FAQ from myself and Ciaran Laval, the FAQ has been removed from the Versu website. The Dio Help page still remains available for that product – at least for the present!
After my brief look at the Versu and Dio websites on New Year’s Eve, I poked a little deeper into the Versu site, taking time to paw over the FAQ, which sheds a little more light on things than I’d initially realised.
As has already been indicated by Rod Humble, Versu is an interactive storytelling medium which relies on strong character interaction, with the plot and character behaviours driven by the actions and reactions of the player through their character.
Versu will initially be browser-based only, although there are expectations at the Lab that a tablet version will be available in the future. Access will apparently be – initially, at least – via Facebook, with the FAQ stating that there is a “limited number” of development accounts available for those wishing to access the game without going via Facebook. The game is largely text-based, again has already been indicated, but will include images of the other non-player characters in the immediate vicinity of the player’s character.
The initial story appears to be a murder mystery, and features a choice of principal characters – “Lucy” or “Miss Bates”. The FAQ indicates that two additional stories are in development, “A ghost story and a romance story in the same time period (Regency England [1811-1820]) are already partially drafted and will be presented at launch.” It goes on to say that, “In the future, we will also include episodes from other settings — anything from spy thrillers to comedy to noir detective stories. Anything that involves strong character interaction is a good fit for the Versu engine.”
Progress through the story is up to the player. For example, a player can select from a list of available scenes, then chose to interact or not. How they interact with the other non-player characters will shape how those characters react to the player in the future (so flinging a bread roll at Mr. Quinn may not endear you to him). If a player chooses not to interact, the story will still progress, making for interesting variations in gameplay – particularly on the “what if” department (“What if I’d left dinner before X, and gone to Y?”; “what if I’d selected A instead of B?” and so on).
Interestingly, some progress through the story is down to what amounts to random chance. To quote the FAQ again, “Whether a character spills something by accident, or selects one conversation gambit or another, might be the result of randomization.”
Progress through gameplay is also marked by the player’s character completing assigned tasks, which doubtless help guide the player through the story to one of several potential conclusions. Progress through tasks can be reviewed via an “Achievements” page.
Games will be entirely self-contained, such that while there are several potential ways to reach the denouement to a story, and the story itself has a number of different endings depending on choices made and actions taken, the cast list will remain the same for each. Thus, any characters previously “killed off” will be brought “back to life” at the start of the next game.
There are also some limitations with the game:
- The initial release will be single-player only; multiplayer capabilities (such as playing together in different roles or working with other players to resolve a story) are planned for the future
- There will be no option to save gameplay with the initial release.
Also, players will not initially be able to generate their own characters. However, the FAQ indicates that this is again planned for the future and will include the ability for players to, “Define your own character, complete with appearance and expressions, personal preferences and unique dialogue options”.
An interesting note with Versu is that the Terms of Service refers to user-generated content (section 4.4). This may simply be because the ToS has been largely boilerplated from Second Life, and thus may not be indicative of how the ToS will appear one it has been fully edited. However, the linked DMCA page is similarly “Versu’d”, so it does raise a question as to what user-generated content might be applicable, particularly if Versu is to fit under the Lab’s umbrella of “Makers of Shared Creative Spaces”.
Is section 4.4 of the ToS simply a reference to a player’s ability to generate their own character and character image, or is it something more? Again, could the FAQ reference that, “Anything that involves strong character interaction is a good fit for the Versu engine”, mean that the engine might be opened to third-party developers for future stories?
The Facebook access is also interesting, as mirrors what appears to be Dio’s preferred access mechanism (at least initially). As such, it would seem that both Versu and Dio are an attempt by LL to tap-into the large, potentially ready-made Facebook audience. Currently, there is no real indication as to how either will be leveraged from the point of view of generating revenue, although a few thoughts have sprung to mind on that subject.
All told, the website give more information on Versu than I’d initially given it credit, as does the “Help” option on Dio provides a little more information there. Hopefully, and depending on access, I’ll have more information on both in the near future.