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.

12 thoughts on “Could Versu Live On?

  1. On the topic of a company releasing IP after a shift in focus, change in business planning, buyout or even liquidation, I can think of quite a few examples, at least two of which ended up being open-sourced. One of them is StarOffice, from which we now have OpenOffice (now known as Apache OpenOffice), LibreOffice and NeoOffice.


  2. Pathfinding suffers from the tier being too damn high for people to have the time, space, resources and money to develop solutions.

    Versu has a lot of potential and as you point out from the New Scientist link, potential that others seem to see.

    Hopefully Emily and/or Richard can get the IP from LL.


    1. While not disputing tier is high (but as we agree, presently stuck at what is necessary for the Lab to employ people and survive), I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the idea that tier is responsible for preventing pathfinding entering more widespread use, particularly within existing RP environments and the like. I’d say it’s far more to do with perceptions, understandings and the apparent complexity and limitations of the system.


      1. People need land to demonstrate how useful it can be, they also need time and a lot of patience. Tier pricing cuts down the opportunities for people to develop.
        Pathfinding does have limitations, it’s more of a sim solution than a grid solution, what works in one area may not work in another, for example, it’s a more personalised solution in many cases, certainly in terms of making a compelling experience via it.


        1. Yet the core reasons pathfinding was broadly disabled by estate owners was not tier-based, but because of the misunderstandings surrounding the roll-out, such as the potential for performance impacts, with estate owners being encouraged to turn-off pathfinding even before deployment, and which Lorca Linden had to campaign about in order to try to reverse people’s perceptions.

          subsequent to the deployment, pathfinding was seen as more trouble than it is worth because of subsequent performance issues which did emerge as a result of its implementation, issues which returned even after the Lab had tried to improve the level of control of pathfinding characters.

          Ironically, due to other bugs emerging, pathfinding – at least in terms of navmesh – did come to have the potential for severe region impacts.

          Complaints were made as to the complexity of requirements: setting objects to static, the lack of parcel control for characters (since fixed, allowing for improved control of characters. However, it was also offset by enabling the navmesh rebake / simulator performance issue to return.

          Issues like this served to damage – potentially cripple – pathfinding’s reputation far more than tier being too high. People’s percetions were set early-on, and have remained pretty much unchanged throughout. As such, it is unlikely a lowering of tier would encourage people to reverse these perceptions any more than Lorca’s campaign on region performance did after pathfinding was deployed.


          1. Those requirements of having to setting objects to static, walkable, etc. is precisely why I make the tier link. Pathfinding is a big project, for someone to want to take the time to develop a pathfinding solution that will make people sit up and take note, they need breathing room and unfortunately current tier prices don’t allow that.

            I’m not denying there are other issues, but a lot of the problems with pathfinding come from people not having enough control or space to employ it. A lot of sim owners rent out parcels to meet tier, they share resources with other residents, pathfinding isn’t the ideal solution in those circumstances, it’s a solution better suited to something such as Madpea games would develop.

            Tier pricing stifles ventures like this, this isn’t new obviously and it can definitely be argued that this makes pathfinding a bad fit for Second Life.


            1. Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I tend to feel that the reason that PF isn’t used is because it is seen as too labour-intensive to be worth the time, particularly given its various limitations. As long as this remains the case, then it is more than likely PF will see minimal use across the grid, regardless as to tier.

              This doesn’t mean I think tier isn’t a problem. I just think that where pathfinding is concerned, pointing to tier as the reason for it’s lack of use is putting the cart before the horse.


      2. It all goes back to expensive tier. If tier weren’t so expensive, Second Life would be a lot more neighboring regions than neighboring parcels, and more people would individually be exposed to region tools and features like pathfinding to be able to take care of navmeshes.

        Right now, Second Life is far too based on parcel subdivisions and people stuffed in single regions building thousands of meters in the sky trying to get away from one another. Pathfinding never stood a chance.

        There is also the complexity you mention, and limitations. There’s a reason Linden Realms was a bunch of spherical limbless flying monsters. It wasn’t about being cute and creative so much as that’s about the only type of NPC one can make in Second Life without resorting to using LSL to swap sculptmaps or hide/unhide mesh pieces.


        1. Yet those who have extensive ground-level land holding disabled pathfinding pretty much from day one. Was that because of tier? Nope, as I’ve replied to Ciaran, it was pretty much down to other issues and perceptions – and the perceptions haven’t really gone away. Sure, a lowering of tier (assuming an attractive lowering can be made) will lead to a uptake in land again by people already engaged in Second life – but would it encourage them to make morre use of pathfinding? That is a far less than clear cause-and-effect line.


        2. Remaining on the issue of tier, I want to point out that, even if tier was low enough for me to be able to afford renting a number of full-prim regions (instead of the single homestead I’ve been renting for a long time now), I’m not sure I’d want my region(s) to be adjacent to someone else’s. As to the correlation between pathfinding and tier, there’s none. I haven’t enabled pathfinding on my region because I’ve no use for it at the moment (and I’m not sure if and when I will) and because it was disabled by default. And previously, there was – as pointed out by Inara – much talk (of varying accuracy, credibility and reliability) about its impact on sim performance.


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