Post-Linden

As recently announced, Linden Lab is no longer supporting Versu.

What this means for me: I am no longer an employee of the Lab. At the moment I’m taking on some contract work.

What this means for the project: I am currently trying to see whether I can get back the IP for Versu and the apps that we built that Linden did not release, including Blood and Laurels. If that succeeds, I’ll post more information here. Aside from wanting to see our hard work out there, I’m concerned that people who had started working with the Versu toolset in academic environments continue to be able to use that toolset and, ideally, have a way to publish their work for others to play with. I may not be able to make that happen, but it would mean a lot to me to be able to do so.

38 thoughts on “Post-Linden

    • It’s always unfortunate when a project gets canceled, but that’s sometimes the case in the commercial world. My advice is to speak to the General Counsel or the CEO and offer to take it off their hands for $1 so that they avoid having a black eye in public. If you’ve been terminated, make it part of your negotiated severance. And then give them lots of good PR for doing the right thing.

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  2. I’m pretty sure this what I said would happen when you started pushing Versu. Linden does this constantly. It has to be open source or no source.

    • To be clear, Versu benefitted a lot from Linden’s early support, and I’m grateful for that. Without external support, what we would have now is not a well-developed open source project; what we would have is nothing in particular, because I would have needed to get a job doing something else.

  3. I was actually surprised to see Versu amongst the list of projects dropped as i thought out of them all this had really interesting potential. I hope you get to continue the project.

  4. I’m really disappointed that Linden Lab wasn’t able to make Versu a success. :( I hope at the very least that you’ll get some part of the project back so someone can build on the progress made… Good luck with that!

  5. This is one of my favorite things on my iPad. I really hope you can get the rights and release more episodes! Such a fantastic project.

  6. I’m so sad to hear this. Not only was it wonderful to work with you and Richard at Linden Lab, but the Versu underpinnings are genuinely revolutionary; my jaw dropped in the meeting where you explained how the engine works. While I’m no longer at LL, please let me know if I can help in anyway. And I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes next!

  7. I’m so sorry, Emily! I was really intrigued by Versu, and the only reason I didn’t try it out was the lack of an i-device. I am planning to get an iPod touch in the near future to use iOS apps, so I’m hopeful that you can continue working with Versu & I can get a chance to try it out. Thank you for all your hard work on this.

  8. Hi Emily,

    I am really curious regarding why Linden Lab discontinued Versu. Was it because it did not make financial sense for them? Technically too difficult to realise the vision of creating truly interactive systems? I am just worried that if with LL’s resources and your top notch expertise the project could not take off, then what hopes remain for IF related projects!?

    All the best,

    Amer Khan

    • I am really curious regarding why Linden Lab discontinued Versu

      Their press release about the decision is linked above. I’m not going to try to speak for them. However, I am willing to try to answer your other questions where I can speak for myself:

      I am just worried that if with LL’s resources and your top notch expertise the project could not take off, then what hopes remain for IF related projects!?

      I think “there’s no hope for IF related projects” would be totally the wrong conclusion to draw here, for two reasons.

      (1) we’re not the only IF related project! inkle, Failbetter, and Choice of Games all appear to be enjoying a self-sustaining amount of success at the moment. Several Twine and multimedia authors are exploring Patreon as a way of supporting their writing. Simogo presumably made loads of money with Device 6 — which I’m not a big fan of, but it would be churlish to pretend it’s not a text game with a story. A number of independent games with IF-ish elements appeared and did well in the IGF the last few years — from the dialogue-heavy aspects of Banner Saga to Dominique Pamplemousse. Even choose-your-own-adventure style books and ebooks seem to be popping up in more places than they used to. There’s so much more going on in this space than there was a few years ago, with a variety of funding models.

      (2) Versu took a lot of up-front investment to ramp up. It was trying to solve problems for which there were few pre-existing solutions to look at. What does enjoyable gameplay look like when it is focused on interpersonal verbs rather than the types of actions we’re mostly familiar with? how do you write a narratively compelling game on top of a simulation engine? which aspects of the experience should you leave to the simulator and which should you control at the story level? what tools do you need to specify all this effectively and quickly? how do you shape the UI to best communicate what’s going on at the AI level, and how much of that do you even want to expose? how do you effectively test a game with so many possible outcomes?

      Those were hard, and we explored some blind alleys. I’ve talked about this a bit at GDC and at PRACTICE. But for instance my very early prototypes played a lot more like conventional text adventures, with sequences where the player had to go off in other rooms and find clues and manipulate objects, with the characters as just one part of the mix. That felt unsatisfying, though, because both the pacing and the amount of humor dropped off as soon as the player was away from others. Scenes that were essentially puzzle-solving scenes often felt very flat compared with the rest of the story. That meant moving away from a lot of the traditional ways of gating content in adventures and developing alternative ways of pacing content.

      The simulator-and-narrative structure issue was also not trivial. For instance: I wanted characters to be able to annoy one another and react negatively to being annoyed, so at the simulation level we programmed in the ability for characters to get angry and storm out of the room. But sometimes the narrative situation demanded that particular characters stay *in* the room. I wanted characters sometimes to be able to kiss as a result of simulation behavior, but in some scenes a kiss was totally inappropriate. Etc. Though it was possible to manage such issues with loads of custom code, doing so was both difficult and fragile; instead we needed to design an architecture in which the narrative structure had primacy and each scene was able to flag which aspects of the simulation it wanted to allow to run during that scene.

      Finally, for some time authoring for Versu required actual coding, and there were few shortcuts; consequently any new piece of content, even a small exchange of dialogue, was subject to all the syntax errors and fiddly mistakes that programming involves. Perhaps we should have built our tools sooner, but we were still discovering what the tools even needed to do. It wasn’t until we’d figured out some of the gameplay and narrative-simulation interplay issues that we could build a tool that would let an author create those things rapidly.

      So yes, this stuff is technically difficult, and yes, the need for extensive R&D affected both the financial and the creative output. However, we did wind up in a place where we had a sizable new toolset and a couple of new games that I think represented a significant advance in quality over our last output. We just haven’t (yet?) had the opportunity to see how those were received or to build on them further.

      Anyway, possibly I’m being stubborn, but the only real moral I’m willing to take from all this is “hard stuff sometimes takes a while to do”. That has implications for how you try to finance something, but it’s not the same as saying that that thing is impossible.

  9. Awww. I’m really sorry to hear. Ever since Versu was released, I was really looking forward to an non-iOS version I could try; I’m sorry I never got a chance to see this. And best of luck getting it back :)

  10. Emily,
    Thanks for your work on this. This project really explored the boundaries of interactive storytelling and you should be very proud of what you’ve accomplished. I really hope you get control of the tools and you are able to make them open source.

  11. Versu was one of the most exciting projects I’ve seen in a long time, and recent interview with Richard Evans on it at AiGameDev was an eye-opener in many ways, tech-wise. Inspite of cancellation, hats off to Linden Labs and all of you for attempting to slay Chris Crawford’s Dragon – every attempt counts. I hope you manage to negotiate IP, it would really be a waste for this work to dissapear into the void.

  12. So sorry to hear this! I was looking forward to assigning it to my students – and was just adding it to the syllabus when I read this! I have been writing about it as well. It is a very impressive system.

  13. I was also looking forward to a non-ipad version. This was really an exciting project, and I thought it had (still has?) a lot of potential for more than just interactive fiction. Best wishes.

  14. Like Janet M., I’ve already started to use Versu with my classes, and continue to see great potential in the concept. Linden’s loss of interest is disappointing, but it can’t be the end of the road. You are too fine a talent.

    • Blender was proprietary, but they open sourced it and it exploded. mTropolis, which was a direct competitor to Director and Flash from mFactory/Quark/Adobe was better than both but never open sourced and totally died. Has Linden Labs ever open sourced anything? You may be Waiting fro Godot on this one.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MTropolis

      • To be clear, I have already made, and not had success with, a pitch for Linden to open source Versu directly. I am now trying to see whether they are willing to sell it back to me, at which point I can do what I think appropriate with it.

      • Sell back your IP or the code for Versu? If they sold it back would you open source it? Remember Alphaworld? They tried to shut that down, and the community bought them out. If they think there is money coming they will be in no hurry to sell you anything, and I know they are reading this list … 8-)

      • Irrelevant now, but yes. Linden Lab open sourced the Second Life client software.

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