The Versu platform can do rooms, objects, movement, and the “medium-sized dry goods” interaction of a typical interactive fiction engine, but it’s primarily designed for interactive stories about people: how they act, how they react to you, how they talk to you and talk about you, the relationships you form with them. The social landscape in which you act is constantly changing.
Versu uses an AI engine designed by Richard Evans, the lead AI designer for Sims 3, which allows each character in a story (and in some cases a drama manager AI) to act autonomously or be played by a human player.
One other aspect of Versu that sets it apart is that there is an element of randomness. The player can decide to take an action or do nothing, but if the player continues to passively watch the story at some point a new element will be introduced. A character might wander into the scene, the weather might change, or something else might happen.
As one of the developers explained:
Late in testing, one of my characters was talking to another in confidence when a third party wandered in. Because the speaker didn’t feel comfortable around that third person, he fell silent and didn’t continue the conversation — there was an awkward pause and dialogue moved on to other things. I’d never written the “awkward pause when X walks in on a private conversation” outcome — just an engine that knew when the characters would be willing to discuss those topics, and also that it was awkward for someone to stop talking about a conversation topic when others were expecting them to go on.
I think the idea is inatersting and worth exploring when you have time. But as much as I like checking out new ideas in how to make reading more active, Versu isn't quite ready yet.
I'm not sure if it's the stories or the app itself, but the 2 stories I played tended to repeat themselves and lose continuity. A character might perform an action (putting something away) and then repeat it a few lines later. Or the characters might agree that a certain option is a bad idea shortly before adopting it. And at least once in one of the stories a character departed the group before somehow returning a few lines later in the text, with no explanation for the change.
But even with the issues I encountered, I still like the idea. I'm going to put this app on my todo list.
According to the blog post announcement that Mike Cane found, new stories are going to be released for Versu in the coming months. Other future plans include apps for the Kindle and Android (Google Play). Linden Labs also plans to release character- and episode-authoring tools.
You can find the app in iTunes. It currently has 4 stories you can play.