News about Versu and Blood & Laurels

Versu is under new development, and we are publishing fresh stories, starting with Blood & Laurels on June 12.

Until February of this year, the Versu project had its home at Linden Lab, exploring the possibilities of interactive storytelling with advanced character AI by Richard Evans (Sims 3, Black and White) and dialogue modeling by Emily Short (Galatea, Alabaster), as well as work by authors Jake Forbes (Return to Labyrinth) and Deirdra Kiai (Dominique Pamplemousse).

Regency-era comedy of manners and a modern office comedy stories, released for Versu, had received significant attention in various forms, including an appearance at GDC’s Experimental Gameplay Workshop, an award for best AI in an independent game in 2013, and coverage at Edge Online and New Scientist.

When the Lab decided to refocus its offerings and cut support for Versu, the project was only three days from launching a Roman political thriller called Blood & Laurels. Blood & Laurels represented a significant step forward in complexity and depth from previous Versu stories: a large cast of characters, a richly branched two-part storyline, and over 240,000 words of interactive content — of which a player is likely to see only about 7% in a given playthrough. Character behavior and relationships were modeled with at least as much fidelity as in earlier examples, but in a context with much higher narrative stakes. What other characters think of you affect whether your character lives or dies, thrives or fails — and those relationships are driven by both large and small decisions.

The ambitious scope of Blood & Laurels was made possible by a language called Prompter designed by Graham Nelson (Inform). Prompter allows the author to create new scenes and dialogue for Versu’s conversation engine with just a bit more markup than would be required in a screenplay, thus vastly speeding up development time for new stories using Versu. Graham has written about this project for our page of articles.

After Versu’s cancellation, it looked for a long time as though neither the underlying technology nor the finished stories had a future. However, we are delighted to be able to announce that Linden Lab has negotiated a new arrangement that will allow us to release these stories and explore a future for the engine.

The first step is coming next week: Blood & Laurels will launch for iPad in the App store next Thursday, June 12.

We’re also happy to announce that our next release will be Bramble House, an interactive fantasy story by Jake Forbes. And there is more to come.

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