Could Versu Live On?

Ciaran Laval beat me to the punch on this one, having cogitated on the matter and posted on the matter of Versu being allowed a Second Life.  However, I’m going to blog anyway 🙂 .

Of all of the offerings from the Lab which were axed on February 19th – Creatorverse, dio, and Versu –  it was Versu which I found most intriguing – and also most frustrating, as being restricted to the iPad, it was the only one I couldn’t try.

Versu offered a new approach to interactive fiction
Versu offered a new approach to interactive fiction

The concept and capabilities within it, both as an interactive fiction application and as a potential engine for wider things, such as a means of studying real-world social situations (as the UK’s New Scientist magazine reported in June 2013), were certainly fascinating, and it would be a shame to see them suffer an early death.

As I do feel Versu has a lot of potential, I dropped Emily Short a line on her blog, expressing my hope that a way could be found to allow it to continue. She replied:

I don’t have a concrete answer to that yet, but I’m currently investigating whether it’s possible to regain the IP from Linden.

If so, I’d likely take it forward in a slightly different direction than the Lab would have done, but still with the aim of making some tools available to the general public. I’m actually really pleased with some of the things the authoring tools could do at the end — I was able to put together Blood and Laurels, which is a massively branching, 250K word piece, in a couple of months. I’m obviously biased here, but the output feels way tighter than our earliest Versu stories, has much more plot, but still allows for considerable variety in the outcomes of various character relationships. Basically, it’s a type of IF I have been wanting to write for a long time, and for which most of the existing tools are not a very good fit.

So I’d really like to see both the finished stories and the toolset reach an audience, since outside of Linden and a few conference demos hardly anyone has seen what we did. But a great deal depends on what I’m able to arrange.

Anyway, if I have news on the future of Versu, I’ll mention it on this blog.

Not long after she replied to me, Emily also posted on the subject directly.

Blood and Laurels, a 250,000 word title for Versu had, prior to the Lab's 19th February announcement, been expected soon
Blood and Laurels, a 250,000 word title for Versu had, prior to the Lab’s 19th February announcement, been expected soon

Obviously, and as Emily says, there is nothing concrete here to say Versu will be able go ahead, and negotiations are down to her, the Lab and (I assume) Richard Evans to see how it might be taken forward outside of the Lab’s purview. However, I can’t help but keep fingers crossed on the matter; particularly given there is a chance the tools for people to create their own stories would remain a part of any continuance.

The news that Versu was to be axed must have come as a severe disappointment to Emily. As she notes in her blog reply, Blood and Laurels, which had been reported as “coming soon” to Versu as recently as January 25th, 2014, amounted to a 250,000-word piece, which is roughly twice the length of something akin to a work of historical fiction.

The idea of a company releasing technology IP as a result of a shift in focus coupled with a departure of staff isn’t new. Perhaps the most recent high-profile example of this occurring was when Gabe Newell allowed Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson walk away from Value with the IP for castAR, an augmented reality (and potentially VR-capable) headset they had been developing on the company’s dime. By doing so, Newell enabled them to set-up a company and Kickstarter in order to continue the work. So it’s is not beyond the realm of possibility that an agreement between the Lab and Ms. Short / Richard Evans cannot be reached.

CastAR: Gabe Newell allowed  glasses (image courtesy of Technical Illusions / The Verge)
CastAR: Gabe Newell allowed Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson to depart Valve with the IP when the project was effectively canned. could LL reach a similar agreement with the creators of Versu? (image courtesy of Technical Illusions / The Verge)

Meanwhile, Qie Niangao has been musing whether Versu’s technology might find a re-use in SL helping content creators develop more immersive user experiences alongside of, or a part of, the still-to-be-released Experience Tools.

Again, it’s an interesting idea. Pathfinding has not turned out to be quite the AI winner in Second Life that perhaps had been hoped, but whether the actual engine from Versu could be re-tailored for use within the platform is perhaps questionable (as Qie himself also notes). It is also unclear what expertise in terms of Versu’s development remains at the Lab, both Richard Evans and now Emily Short having departed.

Of the two options, I confess I’d rather a means be found for Versu to continue elsewhere in more-or-less the form in which we’ve come to recognise it (just with a flavour for the Android OS!). As already noted, it’s an intriguing approach to IF, and one with potentially huge opportunities.

Note: While preparing this piece, Ciaran contacted me to say he was working on a further piece related to Emily Short’s blog post. you can read it here.

OBR in SL 2014: a belated look back from the sidelines

One Billion Rising, 2014
One Billion Rising, 2014

Once again RL and other things conspired against me, and the time I could spend at One Billion Rising (OBR) in Second Life 2014 wasn’t what I had hoped would be the case. Since then, other things have also conspired to keep this post on hold, so my apologies for the fact it is a little on the late side.

Last year, as it was the first official OBR year, there was something of a long lead-up to the event. It was new territory, a team had to be put together, musicians, DJs and artists contacted and a generally awareness campaign launched.

One Billion Rising, 2014
One Billion Rising, 2014

This year the timetable was  – in terms of publicity at least – somewhat shorter (although those involved in the organisation had obviously been working away quietly for some time before word started spreading through blogs, forums and word of mouth).


One Billion Rising, 2014
One Billion Rising, 2014


Even so, the turn-out was good, and the four regions sponsored for the event were amazing, with Victor1 Mornignton’s magnificent four-region stage a wonder to behold. Around it, along all four regions, artists from around the world had contributed some fabulous pieces which encouraged visitors to explore and avail themselves of the kiosks providing information on real-world groups and organisations providing support for victims of violence.

Of course, there were familiar voices raised against the event in the SL Feeds, rolling-out the same, hollow excuse in order to engage in a passive/aggressive attempt to disparage the event on the grounds that it “ignores violence against men”; an argument which to me is akin to saying it is better to do nothing with regards to violence against children as it “ignores” violence against adults.

One Billion Rising, 2014
One Billion Rising, 2014

For my part, and while I didn’t get to spend quite the amount of time at the event as I’d hoped, I would like to pass on my thanks to the organisers, sponsors, artists, musicians and DJs who gave time, effort and commitment to making it happen. Kudos, as well, to all of those – of either gender – who attended (and thank you, to all of you who IM’d me with hellos!).

In the meantime. I tried my hand at another video …

Ebbe: the promise of better communications and a more open JIRA

Since his first official blog post introducing himself, Ebbe Altberg has not only been immersing himself in the activities required of a new CEO on joining a company, he’s been making the time to respond to a series of SL forum posts made in a thread started as a result of his blog post.

In doing so, he’s demonstrated the same candid feedback which has marked many of his Twitter exchanges with Second Life users, and also shown during his recent meet-and-greet with a number of us.

LL's new CEO, Ebbe Altberg, seen here on the right in his guise as Ebbe Linden at a recent meet-and-greet: laying the foundations for improved communications from the Lab?
LL’s new CEO, Ebbe Altberg, seen here on the right in his guise as Ebbe Linden at a recent meet-and-greet: laying the foundations for improved communications from the Lab?

On Communications

One of the major topics of early exchanges with him via Twitter and through various blogs has been on the subject of broader outward communications from the Lab.

Commenting on the forum thread, Amethyst Jetaime raises communications, saying in part:

However I hope you at least take our opinions to heart, take our suggestions when you can and honestly communicate frequently through the official SL channels. Not all of us use twitter and facebook or third-party forums …

His reply to her is encouraging:

Everybody I’ve spoken with here at LL want to improve communication with our customers as well…funny that…

He expands on this in a subsequent reply to  a similar comment from Venus Petrov, in which he says:

And they can’t wait to do that…most common question/issue on both sides of the “fence” has been the same thing! I’m getting love from both sides when I’m talking about fixing communication. I don’t know when/how it got strange but we’ll work hard to make us better at it…motivation is not an issue at all. We just need to figure out process for doing it effectively at scale…

How this will be achieved is open to debate; but the Lab has the means at their disposal to make broad-based communications far more effective, and I tried to point to some of them in my own “Dear Ebbe…” blog post on the matter. In that piece, I particularly look at both the official SL blog and the opportunities presented by e-mail, both of which would appear to meet the criteria of scalability, with an e-mail approach additionally having the potential to reach out to those no longer directly engaged in SL on a regular basis or at all and perhaps encourage them to take another look.

On the Public JIRA

Elsewhere in the thread, Pamela Galli takes the issue of communications to point to the closure of the public JIRA in September 2012:

… In the opinions of many, a good place to start is to make the JIRAs public again so we will know whether an issue is a bug that has arisen, or something on our end. Very often, residents working with Lindens have identified, reproduced, and even come up with workarounds if not solutions to problems. Closing the JIRA felt like a door being slammed, esp to those of us who are heavily invested in SL. (Just grateful for Maestro, who posts in the Server Forum.)

Again, there is an encouraging response:

Funny, both engineering and product heads here also didn’t like that jira was closed and want to open it up again. Proposal for how is in the works! I hope we can figure out how to do that in a way that works/scales soon.

Later in the thread, Innula Zenovka who provides one of the most lucid, clearly stated reasons why a complete closure of the public JIRA was perhaps more counter-productive from a technical standpoint than the Lab may have appreciated at the time. Ebbe’s response is again equally reassuring:

Yep, that’s why we will figure out how to open things up again…plan is in the works…

Whether we’ll see a complete re-opening of the public JIRA remains to be seen. I rather suspect the Lab will be looking at something more middle-ground, such as making the JIRA public, but restricting comments to those currently able to access it, together with those actually raising a report also gaining the ability to comment on it as a means of providing additional input / feedback.

While not absolutely perfect, it would mean that the Lab avoids any situation where comments within a JIRA become a free-for-all for complaints, accusations, and arguments (either directed at the Lab or between comment participants), while offering the majority of the advantages which used to be apparent with a more open JIRA mechanism.

Of course, optimism around this feedback – and particularly around the proposal for the JIRA – should be caveated with caution. Not only may it take time for changes to be implemented, it may also be that technical or other issues may impede something like a more open approach to the JIRA from being achieve to the extent that even the Lab would like. However, that there is a willingness to discuss the fact that matters are already under consideration at the Lab would hopefully suggest a reasonable level of confidence that things can be done without risking the disappointment following the decision that there would be no return of last names back in March 2012.

Whatever does happen, there’s enough in these replies to give rise to a cautious and reasonable optimism that things are likely to be changing for the better down the road. Most certainly, it is good to see an outward follow of communication from the Lab’s CEO that is open and candid.

Long may it continue once Ebbe has had to turn his attention more fully on running the company, and others have stepped in to fill the void, and to ensure the follow-through is both achieved and consistent.