Lab says “no” to an independent future for Versu

One of the original Versu titles
One of the original Versu titles

Following the Lab’s move to axe Creatorverse, dio and Versu, I raised the question with Emily Short and the Lab on whether it might be possible for Versu to continue. I wasn’t alone in cogitating the idea, several others raised the same question, such as Ciaran Laval.

At the time I made my enquiries, Emily confirmed that discussions were underway while the Lab were reticent  to comment – understandably, simply because discussions were in progress.

On Saturday March 8th, and true to her promise that she would blog on the matter when she was in a position to do so, Emily issued a brief update, stating:

So for those who were curious, Linden has now given me a definite no about selling me the codebase and IP.

In reply to a comment expressing the hope that this won’t spell the end of Emily’s forays into social IF, she replied in part:

This is definitely not the end of my trying to build more socially-focused IF [interactive fiction], and we did learn a huge amount about how to make that work, not just in terms of a technical engine but in terms of authoring approaches. So there are things that can be built on even without access to the code or IP.

There is understandably a huge amount of disappointment involved here as well.  Blood and Laurels, the latest title Emily had been developing for Versu, represents the culmination of a concept she had been periodically working on for some fifteen years, and she acknowledges that she was really excited to see it finished. Even so, Emily remains pragmatic:

Still, on a total scale of possible bad things to have happen to one, it’s not very far along the bad thing spectrum. So we go on to the next.

Whether the Lab’s decision was based on them seeing a possible means of using the IP and code elsewhere is unknown. However, as Tateru Nino points-out in a further comment, that while regrettable, the decision by Linden Lab is actually a logical business decision, as whether it is used or not, the Versu IP represents a company asset. Even so, if the IP and code is destined to sit on a shelf unused, it is a shame a way could not be found to allow the project to survive. While it may not fit the Lab’s “shared creative spaces” model, the IF market does represent a viable niche market, and Versu itself represented a unique approach to presenting IF – and of even reaching beyond it into other fields of use.

While I never got to use Versu, of all the initial new product offerings from the Lab, it was the one that intrigued me the most; I’ll miss it.

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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.

Lab confirms dio, Creatorverse and Versu axed

LL logoUpdate: Peter Grey has confirmed with me that Versu and Creatorverse will be removed from the App Store (and the other places Creatorverse had been available) and their websites taken down in the immediate future. The dio website will remain until the end of February, with a message announcing its forthcoming closure.

Linden Lab has just confirmed that three of its products, Creatorverse. dio and Versu have been axed.

The announcement in full reads:

After careful consideration, Linden Lab has decided to cease development and support for dio, Versu, and Creatorverse. We’re grateful for those who took the time to experiment with these products in their early days, but ultimately we have determined that due to a number of factors, we and our customers will be best served by focusing our efforts on continuing to provide exceptional service and compelling new experiences for the users of our other products.

Where's dio and Creatorverse?
dio, Versu and Creatorverse gone from most LL web properties

The products have been removed from the footer area of the Lab’s webpages, and from the corporate home page banner and products page.

So Ciaran Laval called it right!

Ancient Rome coming to Versu – but is Versu coming to Android?

LL logoUpdate, February 19th, 2014: Versu was discontinued by Linden Lab on February 19th, 2014. Links to the Versu website, etc., have therefore been removed from this article.

Of the various new products the Lab have launched, Versu has, to me, always looked to be the most interesting of those in the “apps” category (although I admit I’d also like to fiddle around with Blocksworld).

Launched on the iPad in February 2013 with four accompanying titles, there was the promise that people could expect both more titles and tools they could use to create their own stories for Versu which they could then sell. There was also the assumption that the app would move to the Android platform much as Creatorverse has before it.

The additional titles – well, two of them at least – arrived in August 2013, penned by Deirdra Kiai. However, while former Linden CEO Rod Humble talked-up the “democratisation” of the creative process while discussing Versu, nothing has actually appeared in that vein as yet.

Indeed, the two titles from “Squinky” (as Deirdra Kiai likes to be known!) and the fact that the Versu engine would appear to have great potential as a means of studying real-world social situations (as the UK’s New Scientist magazine reported in June 2013) notwithstanding, the app appears to  have been all but forgotten by the Lab.

Blood and Laurels
Emily Short’s new Versu title – available soon

Such has been the situation that I’d actually given-up checking on progress with Versu, despite Emily Short herself breaking the news late last year that she was working on a new title.

Fortunately for me, the Gov’ner, Ciaran Laval, is still watching things, and he brings word Ms. Short actually revealed some news on the new title back in January.

Details are still scant, but the new title is to be Blood and Laurels and is to feature, according to Ms. Short, “Cults. Conspiracies. Poison. Stabbing. Blackmail. Seduction. Prophecies and rumors. Divine wrath — or possibly just bad weather.”

So death and glory is to be Coming Soon (TM) to the iPad. But what of the app’s expansion to Android or elsewhere? It’s the one question Emily Short seems to get asked every time she blogs about Versu (which, if nothing else, would suggest that interactive fiction fans are more than aware of the app). Sadly, however, she’s not in a position to comment.

Maybe I’ll poke the Lab about it …

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