Blood and Laurels gains New York Times approbation

versuA 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.”

Blood and Laurels:  afocal point for a New York Times article on the resurgence of IF games
Blood and Laurels: a focal point for a New York Times article on the resurgence of IF games

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.

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5 thoughts on “Blood and Laurels gains New York Times approbation

    1. Essentially, but it’s all deeper than that; it’s also what happens in other relationships, both between the reader and other characters and the charcters themselves which also shape the outcome. So, rather than you make choice A the first time and arriving at outcome 1, and then the second time, making choice B and thus arriving at outcome 2; you still make choice A, but because you behave differently towards another character in the process of making choice A, you later find the narrative changes anyway, because your relationship with that character (or indeed, another character entirely) has changed, and so you go down a different narrative path.

      This is because the NPC characters are written with their own goals and desires, which can be be influenced or reshaped by matters not always under your direct control.

      Richard Evans best illustrates this by telling a story of how, when testing Versu, he suddenly found he was being snubbed by a character in the story he was testing, and he couldn’t work out why, as he’d barely interacted with the character in question. But in reviewing the game logs, he discovered that much earlier in the game, he’d been inadverently rude to another character, and that character had then apparently “told” others about his rudness, with the result that he found himself being snubbed.

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  1. Yes it is good to see that it’s still gaining positive reviews. This product always had a lot of potential, hopefully it will at least come to the android in some form.

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