A month after its re-launch, Versu, the interactive storytelling platform, gained very positive feedback from the New York Times on Monday July 7th.
In Text Games in a New Era of Stories, Chris Suellentrop, the video games critic at the Times, describes the first title to be released under the new Versu label, Blood & Laurels, as seeming “to herald a new creative template that could be applied to nonfiction as well as fiction,” adding later in the article that it “offers is one of those quintessential video game moments, a first glimpse at something on the horizon.”
The article itself is an examination of the Interactive Fiction genre, both looking back at the early days of text-based adventure games see as the origins of the genre, and at the state of play with the genre today as a medium enjoying a popular resurgence.
As with other reviews of the game, The New York Times piece underlines the feeling that with Blood & Laurels, one is less a reader and more a participant in a piece of theatre in which improvisation – both on the part of the reader and by the other characters – plays an important role in the unfolding scenes and in setting the direction the story may take.
In describing his experiences in reading / playing Blood & Laurels, Mr. Suellentrop also further expands on his comment about the “promise of what might come after it”, noting, “when I replayed the game, I didn’t feel that Marcus had become a different character when he decided to, say, betray Artus [one of the principal NPCs in the story] rather than execute his commands. Instead, it seemed that I was just learning how he might behave differently under the vagaries of circumstance.”
This potential to offer different perspectives on behaviour within certain situations is possibly where a yet-to-be-tapped wellspring of opportunity may lie for the Versu engine in the future, something possibly reflected in Mr. Suellentrop’s comments about Blood & Laurels offering a glimpse of something on the horizon. Richard Evans himself spoke to this, as I reported back in May 2013, when he presented Versu: A Simulationist Interactive Drama, at the Games and Media Event at the Imperial College London.
Whether or not the Versu team can / will move to expand opportunities in which the engine can be used beyond the IF genre remains to be seen; which is not to say the engine can’t survive without moving away from the IF genre. Far from it; the combination of Versu and Prompter would appear to be opening the doors on broad new opportunities for IF writers.
Certainly, and considering the bumpy road Versu has so far endured, it’s good to see both it and Blood & Laurels continue to gain the attention of the games media with positive reviews and feedback. Long may it continue.
Footnote: Richard Evans will be speaking at this year’s Develop Conference, (Brighton, England, July 8-10th), where he’ll be examining the relationship between games development and AI research.