Versu: Regency England with murder, ghosts and romance

Update January 3rd, 2012: following posts on the Versu FAQ from myself and Ciaran Laval, the FAQ has been removed from the Versu website.  The Dio Help page still remains available for that product – at least for the present!
ALL logofter my brief look at the Versu and Dio websites on New Year’s Eve, I poked a little deeper into the Versu site, taking time to paw over the FAQ, which sheds a little more light on things than I’d initially realised.

As has already been indicated by Rod Humble, Versu is an interactive storytelling medium which relies on strong character interaction, with the plot and character behaviours driven by the actions and reactions of the player through their character.

The Versu website placeholder from Linden Research, December 2012

The Versu website placeholder from Linden Research, December 2012

Versu will initially be browser-based only, although there are expectations at the Lab that a tablet version will be available in the future. Access will apparently be – initially, at least – via Facebook, with the FAQ stating that there is a “limited number” of development accounts available for those wishing to access the game without going via Facebook. The game is largely text-based, again has already been indicated, but will include images of the other non-player characters in the immediate vicinity of the player’s character.

Versu's stories will initially be set in Regency England (1811-1820)

Versu’s stories will initially be set in Regency England (1811-1820)

The initial story appears to be a murder mystery, and features a choice of principal characters – “Lucy” or “Miss Bates”. The FAQ indicates that two additional stories are in development, “A ghost story and a romance story in the same time period (Regency England [1811-1820]) are already partially drafted and will be presented at launch.” It goes on to say that, “In the future, we will also include episodes from other settings — anything from spy thrillers to comedy to noir detective stories. Anything that involves strong character interaction is a good fit for the Versu engine.”

Progress through the story is up to the player. For example, a player can select from a list of available scenes, then chose to interact or not. How they interact with the other non-player characters will shape how those characters react to the player in the future (so flinging a bread roll at Mr. Quinn may not endear you to him). If a player chooses not to interact, the story will still progress, making for interesting variations in gameplay – particularly on the “what if” department (“What if I’d left dinner before X, and gone to Y?”; “what if I’d selected A instead of B?” and so on).

Interestingly, some progress through the story is down to what amounts to random chance. To quote the FAQ again, “Whether a character spills something by accident, or selects one conversation gambit or another, might be the result of randomization.”

Progress through gameplay is also marked by the player’s character completing assigned tasks, which doubtless help guide the player through the story to one of several potential conclusions. Progress through tasks can be reviewed via an “Achievements” page.

Games will be entirely self-contained, such that while there are several potential ways to reach the denouement to a story, and the story itself has a number of different endings depending on choices made and actions taken, the cast list will remain the same for each. Thus, any characters previously “killed off” will be brought “back to life” at the start of the next game.

There are also some limitations with the game:

  • The initial release will be single-player only; multiplayer capabilities (such as playing together in different roles or working with other players to resolve a story) are planned for the future
  • There will be no option to save gameplay with the initial release.

Also, players will not initially be able to generate their own characters. However, the FAQ indicates that this is again planned for the future and will include the ability for players to, “Define your own character, complete with appearance and expressions, personal preferences and unique dialogue options”.

An interesting note with Versu is that the Terms of Service refers to user-generated content (section 4.4). This may simply be because the ToS has been largely boilerplated from Second Life, and thus may not be indicative of how the ToS will appear one it has been fully edited. However, the linked DMCA page is similarly “Versu’d”, so it does raise a question as to what user-generated content might be applicable, particularly if Versu is to fit under the Lab’s umbrella of “Makers of Shared Creative Spaces”.

Is section 4.4 of the ToS simply a reference to a player’s ability to generate their own character and character image, or is it something more?  Again, could the FAQ reference that, “Anything that involves strong character interaction is a good fit for the Versu engine”, mean that the engine might be opened to third-party developers for future stories?

The Facebook access is also interesting, as mirrors what appears to be Dio’s preferred access mechanism (at least initially). As such, it would seem that both Versu and Dio are an attempt by LL to tap-into the large, potentially ready-made Facebook audience. Currently, there is no real indication as to how either will be leveraged from the point of view of generating revenue, although a few thoughts have sprung to mind on that subject.

All told, the website give more information on Versu than I’d initially given it credit, as does the “Help” option on Dio provides a little more information there. Hopefully, and depending on access, I’ll have more information on both in the near future.

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12 thoughts on “Versu: Regency England with murder, ghosts and romance

  1. Heloise Merlin

    Oh, that one actually sounds rather interesting – at the least an interesting take on the “Chose Your Own Adventure” concept, and with the options of creating your own characters, of interacting with other players and adding user-made content this might develop into a really interesting roleplaying platform.
    On the minus side, there’s that annoying Facebook login which puts a rather large dampener on my enthusiasm. Suppose I’ll just have to keep an eye on it and see how things develop.

    Reply
    1. Inara Pey Post author

      Hi, Heloise and Happy New Year!

      Versu does sound interesting and looks like it’ll be offering a lot as it grows. I think the Facebook element is something that puts a hole in the boat for a lot of people – but I’d actually be surprised if LL went solely down that route in terms of access; given they own the versu website, I can’t see any reason why they cannot enable direct log-in. To me, it looks as if initially opting for Facebook with both Versu and Dio is just a means for the Lab to ensure both get exposure to generate take-up and use.

      Reply
  2. Wolf Baginski

    This is all looking rather familiar, however much it might have been tarted up. Might be your description, of course, but I was half-expecting Thorin to start singing about Gold again. It seems to be at the level of the traditional adventure game, with some rather better programming of the NPCs. Without user-generated content or multiple players, it’s an idea that was old when Second Life was new.

    At least they didn’t fall into the trap of including Miss Bates’ younger brother.

    Reply
    1. Inara Pey Post author

      The Thorin connection is one that escaped me – although I now have Richard Armitage’s sonorous, “Far o-ver the Mi-i-isty Mo-ou-a-atains Cold…” running through my head! The Miss Bates connection, however, I did get, but refrained from commenting upon :).

      The idea itself is old – but it’s the field Littletext People move in, and if the gameing press were to be believed last year, one ripe for a resurgence. Whether Versu is designed to trigger the resurgence or ride on the wave (if it happens), I’ve no idea. I do confess, however, that it does interest me, somewhat more than Dio. I’m not entirely sure about “initially browser-only”, as that strikes me as limiting in appeal – although the browser is what the Facebook Generation spend their time in front of, I guess.

      Reply
        1. Inara Pey Post author

          I don’t remember that game at all (and tbh only knew of the HHG game because the BBC did a 20th anniversay update), so I’m saying nothing about age :).

          Certainly an interesting take on the film (which I’ve still yet to see, and I call myself a Tolkienite). The idea of Martin Freeman’ sBilbo giving a piggyback to Hugo Weaving’s Elrond had me grinning not just because of the mental image but also because Weaving’s Elrond was such a miserable old … elf … in in Jackson’s TLOTR, which for so reason leaves me seeing him “Bah, Humbug-ing” his way around Rivendell on Bilbo’s back …

          Reply
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  4. maxwellgraf

    You are standing in a field. West of you is a white house, surrounded on 3 sides by thick forest. Near you is a mailbox. What would you like to do?

    You open the mailbox and find a letter inside.

    You cannot do that.

    The letter has strange symbols on most of it, except for a small paragraph at the bottom which says: “They are coming for me soon. I must hide in the basement and hope they do not find me,” What would you like to do?

    You arrive at the front of the white house. No lights are on and it seems that no one is home. In front of you is a large door.

    You cannot do that.

    You open the door to a dark, long hallway. To the West is the hallway. To the North is a stairwell down into the darkness. South is a room with a dark fireplace and several chairs and other furniture. What would you like to do?

    …..meh.

    Reply
    1. Inara Pey Post author

      :D.

      I’ll be honest, and only because I was introduced to it years later, my first thoughts on Versu when originally hearing about it were on something similar. Namely:

      “You wake up. The room is spinning very gently round your head. Or at least it would be if you could see it which you can’t.

      “It is pitch black.”

      >inventory
      “You have:
      “a splitting headache.
      “no tea.”

      >get up

      “Don’t be silly. The room is pitch black.”

      …I so miss Douglas Adams…

      Reply
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