Moss is more than just cute — it’s maybe one of the most artful and thoughtful representations of what virtual reality has to offer.
Developed by Polyarc Games, Moss hovers somewhere in between first and third-person gameplay. The player can control Quill, a tiny but mighty mouse protagonist, and is also able to interact with various objects as an unseen force. Quill is aware of your presence and the two of you work together to explore new areas and solve puzzles to find her family.
Moss — coming to PlayStation VR this holiday — encourages players to break out of stiff (or in my case, slouched) postures on the couch and move around. I was surprised to hear after finishing one puzzle chamber that if I leaned forward a bit and looked to my left, I could see the room I was in before.
“That’s a feature that we’re aiming to incorporate into actual puzzle solving,” said Tam Armstrong, CEO and engineer of Polyarc Games. “You might be working on something in front of you and need to look back to the other room to see how your actions are affecting the puzzle.”
“It could be a tree branch or a vine that obscures your view, but it’s there to encourage you to move it out of the way,” artist Chris Alderson added. “Interacting with the environment increases your immersion, reminding you every so often that you’re really there.
“We don’t want to make everything easy and present all of it at once.”
From just playing the demo, I could tell the attention to detail was indeed a labor of love — painstakingly thought out, lush and warm. The lighting, texturing and sound design all made me feel like I was inside a familiar storybook.
When asked about how else Polyarc approaches the enrichment of the VR experience, Tam said, “Video games more or less focus on all the same things: graphics, animation and sound. But VR switches the order of that priority. The emphasis is on mastering animation and sound.”
And does it ever commit to mastering sound. In the demo, you fight off a few clockwork beetles in a stone chamber. Moss employs a novel approach to its enemies — not only do you fight them, they can also be used as props and tools for solving puzzles. What I didn’t expect were the lengths to which Polyarc went to achieve a sense of authenticity.
“We visited a preservationist and recorded a ton of vintage clocks and watches,” Alderson explained. “All of the sounds those beetles make are from the real antiques.”
Moss goes the extra mile when it comes to being endearing — not only can you interact with almost everything in the environment, you can also directly interact with Quill. If you select and hold her, you can feel her heartbeat pulse through the vibration of a DualShock 4 controller. It’s not just a bonus feature aimed at being cute, it makes up for the lack of HUD during combat. The same choices that aim to increase immersion are also smart, strategic design choices.
“You can feel her heartbeat quicken when she’s low on health and injured in combat. When she’s calm, you can feel her heartbeat slow down,” Alderson added.
The most important question was actually answered before I could even open my mouth: You can pet Quill. And yes, it is very, very cute.