Polyarc Interview: Looking behind the charming PSVR standout, Moss
PlayStation Universe recently had the opportunity to speak with Polyarc Games, the development team behind the upcoming PSVR action-adventure puzzle game, Moss.
In the chat were Tam Armstrong – Studio Designer (TA), Chris Alderson – Art Director (CA), and Danny Bulla – Design Director (DB).
In the interview we discuss several topics, including the relationship between Quill and the Reader, the inclusion of collectibles, and the possibility of seeing a Moss storybook or other types of media from Polyarc in the future.
PSU: Where did the idea for Moss come from? What was the inspiration behind it?
TA: The idea actually came from trying to determine what we thought good principles for a good VR game would be. What good VR game design principles for Polyarc are; that’s where Moss came from.
To describe what those were, we knew we wanted to focus on physical interaction. We wanted to come up with a game where the gameplay took place in a reachable space. We wanted to focus on character interaction, and if you’re going to have a character in a game where the primary interactions are all happening in a reachable space – meaning you’re putting your hands out and you’re grabbing things; you’re not gesturing or pointing – then we need a small character that has the meaningful capacity to interact with the things that you’re doing there.
Either you need the character to be small, or you, as the player, need to be a giant. The third pillar of what’s important to us is comfort, and we’ve found the most comfortable designs left you, the player, at the side to expect yourself to be, for a variety of reasons about believability and immersion in the environment.
And so, when you kind of tile those together you’ll notice that none of those things imply any kind of theme, and don’t even necessarily specifically imply mechanics, but with those three design principles in mind from the very beginning, then we started to think about what kind of games we could make with that basic ruleset.
PSU: And then the small mouse character formed from there?
CA: Yeah. Touching on a couple of the principles that Tam just mentioned, comfort and connecting with the world and characters, we could have gone down a couple of different routes, to interact with a character that’s in a playable, reachable space. We could have turned you into a giant, and you’d be playing with, you know, like, human-sized soldiers, but we wanted you to feel comfortable, so you’ll notice that the scale of all the objects, the trees, the leaves, the rocks, and the environment, are true to human scale, and that’s supposed to sort of make you feel comfortable and make you feel like this place is inviting you to enter it.
So we felt like making you human-scaled and making a character like Quill, who’s a mouse that you would want to nurture and take care of, was the best route for us. There’s something about Quill; the minute you meet her, you immediately want to go on this adventure with her, and we feel like that’s something that VR really has to offer. You can really sort of utilize what VR is good at, and that’s to heighten your senses. So when you meet Quill you not only want to go on this adventure and beat the storyline and beat the game with her, but you also want to have a friendship.
PSU: You want to protect and take care of her.
CA: Yeah, exactly.
PSU: So it was always designed as a VR game from the get-go?
CA: Yeah. We’re a small studio, breaking off from the console and PC world, and one of the things that we wanted to do was create a world that we could share with players, and VR gave us this opportunity to reach into a market that right now is kind of open for new worlds and new brands and new mechanics to be explored and developed. So that was one of the reasons that we took this opportunity to create Polyarc and start building Moss, when the opportunity to directly reach players that are looking for that, and we think that VR is that place right now where you can get out there and really be connected to the players and the fans, and almost have a direct connection to them, which is harder to do when console and PC gaming, and even mobile gaming right now; there’s a lot more out there for players to choose from.
PSU: One of the things I really like about Moss is that it’s a VR game that’s a side-scrolling, action-adventure puzzler. Like, it’s not your typical VR game, like a first-person shoot-em-up where you’re seeing from the person’s perspective. I really like that this is a side-scroller, just because it’s so different for VR. Even though Quill is the main character, you get to see her. Because you’re technically playing The Reader, right?
DB: Yes. Another thing that comes from it and will happen more as you play through the full game and more of the story is told is you realize you’re not just a spectator. This is something that VR affords us, is you become a character within the story as well. And while we’re focused on Quill’s journey, your role as The Reader does play a part in that. It isn’t all about Quill’s journey, it’s about you as The Reader and Quill’s journey together, and that’s something that we find really exciting. How can we bring the player not only into the world immersively with the art and the sound and the audio, but also narratively; how do we make them feel like they’re a part of the story.
PSU: Awesome. So with the Reader, we know thanks to the demo we played at E3, that when you look down into the water you can see the Reader’s face. So can Quill see the Reader at all times, or is it a kind of ethereal, mystical presence?
TA: Yes, Quill can see the Reader at all times, and it’s important to us to make the Reader present at all times. She can always see your hand when you reach out and your hand moves near her or past her; she knows you’re there when you’re petting her, she walks by your face, she can see you.
All the dust motes in the air brush out in a way that plants move, and we found that there’s no silver bullet for making a player feel like they’re truly in a space, and it actually is the culmination of many, many things we have to do that makes the environment reactive, the characters reactive; the game design is dependant on your interaction, and all of those things have to work in concert. If we do all of them, then you feel like you’re really there in the adventure with her. And so yeah, I guess that’s a long way of saying it’s very important that she always knows you’re there. She is one of the ways in which you are reminded that you’re there with her.
PSU: Another question kind of related to the Reader: We know the game starts where you’re in the Library, and you open up the book, and you’re kind of reading/playing the story of Moss. So is the Library significant? You’re playing “The Reader” because you’re reading the book, right? So is the Library significant beyond being an intro and possibly an outro, or is it basically a means to tell the story?
TA: That’s a very good question, and, uh, we probably shouldn’t…
PSU: Something you probably can’t talk about? (laughs)
TA: (laughs) Yeah, we probably shouldn’t spoil the answer for you, but I like where you’re going with that.
PSU: I kind of had a suspicion.
CA: I guess the short-winded way is yes.
PSU: So it *is* significant. Fair enough! Also along the lines of the book, I have an almost two-year old who just adores reading and loves cute characters right now. So I was wondering if Moss might be turned into an actual, physical storybook that you could buy?
TA: If the fans we earn like Moss as much as we do, we would love to do things like that. Right now we’re entirely focused on making sure Moss is the best thing that it can be, but that would be wonderful if we were able to be in a position to explore the world of Moss in other mediums. That’s actually explicitly one of the goals of the studio. In the long run we want to be a creative studio that does work in a variety of formats. We happen to be professionals in experience at game development, and so this is a great way for us to start.
CA: Yeah, Moss as an IP, we’ve actually developed and created stories for many more characters that maybe Quill will encounter, but also that Quill might not encounter. Characters that might have even been living before her time. We really took time to flesh out and create a world that’s full of character and life.
PSU: With some of those other characters, you said that right now you’re obviously focused on Moss, and that makes total sense, but have you got plans for projects after Moss? Like once it launches in February, is there a post-game plan, or will you start work on a new project?
TA: We will absolutely continue to support Moss, and so we have plans around that, and then we have fantasies about what else we might do if we are fortunate to pursue plans beyond that as well.
PSU: About how long do you think the game is?
TA: We expect it to be a couple hours for someone who plays it with determination to complete, and because of its nature in the exploration and the puzzle elements, it might be longer than that for people. It really just depends on the pace at which they go through it.
DB: To add onto that, we also believe that there will be some replayability in the fact of just wanting to experience the world, which we are really good at, and sort of sharing that with your friends and your family, and even some goals with collectibles and ways to jump back and forth through the game after you’ve completed it. So we plan on letting you visit the different areas that you enjoyed, really just try to allow you spend more time with the game if you want to go back and revisit parts of it that you enjoyed.
PSU: Yeah, we recall the guy we spoke with at E3 mentioned the collectibles had been removed, but I wasn’t sure if he meant in the full game or just for the demo. So there *will* be collectibles in the main game?
DB: Yeah, that was for the demo. We really enjoy the exploration aspect that comes from, you know, most players will go through the experience and maybe they’ll see the ones that are in front of them, but there’s a lot of joy that comes from exploring these diorama-scale rooms and finding little nooks and crannies that you didn’t see that might require you, with the VR, to lean in and look around, and we’re really excited about that sort of parallel path along with the narrative. So yeah, there will definitely be collectibles in the final game.
TA: We only took them out of the demo for the sake of not distracting the players; we needed to get players to understand the core of the game in a reasonable amount of time.
PSU: One last thing. The game title, Moss: what’s the significance there? From everything we know, ‘Quill’ might be a nice title, because Quill is the main character. So what is ‘Moss’?
TA: Moss is the world that Quill lives in, and Moss is the name of the book that you open as the Reader when you sit down. In a library full of many books about that world, Moss is the most important book, because it tells the most important story.
PSU: Oh, okay. See, our own fan theory was that different books in the Library were going to be different games in the Polyarc library eventually, but now you’ve got us thinking that it might be that different books in the Library are different books that Quill will adventure in.
TA: It’s very possible. There are lots of other characters; it’s a big library, and Moss is a big world.
PSU: Maybe there’s one about Argus, or others.
DB: It’s possible; they do have stories!
PSU: Is Moss going to be PSVR-exclusive, or will it be coming things like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift?
TA: We’re currently focused on PSVR. We are a very small team, about 15 of us altogether, and Sony has been very, very supportive. I mean, taking us to E3 and all the trade shows, and traveling, and putting our game on the demo disc.
PSU: Yeah, it’s crazy to see an actual demo disc in 2017, but that’s fantastic.
TA: I know! It is, right? It’s awesome!
Moss is developed by Polyarc Games, and launches exclusively on PSVR in February 2018. If you pre-order from the PlayStation Store you can unlock an exclusive PS4 theme and Quill avatar.