One of the most magical experiences you can have in playing video games today is to experience a made-up world in VR. Being able to turn around and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of an all digital environment, no matter where you look, is a gaming feat that was unimaginable when the Atari 2600 was first released in 1977. Moss, which our reviewer called “a must-play for anyone interested in VR and a great showcase for the medium’s strengths”, is a game that really shows off the potential of this new gaming medium.
I caught up with Lincoln Davis, the Publishing Director at Polyarc Games, and talked with him about everything Moss. In Part Two of a two-part interview, we talk about the additional Twilight Garden content, about why Moss did not come to PlayStation Move, about Polyarc Games itself, and what lies in the future for the franchise.
You can read Part One of our interview here.
You can buy Moss now for PlayStation VR, Oculus Quest/Oculus Rift S, Vive, and on Steam.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Operation Rainfall: When Moss was launched on the PlayStation VR, players were only able to use the PlayStation controller- and in fact, can only still use the PlayStation controller to play the game. Why did you choose to go with the PlayStation controller instead of the Move controllers- especially in light of the Oculus and Vive consoles later releases utilizing the twin hand-held controllers? Will Move support ever come to the PSVR version?
Lincoln Davis: I can’t say [Move] will ever come to [PSVR], but there has to be some adjustments to the hardware. When we were playtesting Moss, we realized that the fidelity that the player needs to guide Quill around in the environment- you couldn’t do that with the wands. The point-and-click for the character, as well as the physical interaction within the environment- it just didn’t work and it wasn’t as fun within the game experience as you would hope. So having that fidelity of a joystick was the preferred method of movement for Quill, and then the tracking light on the DualShock controller allowed you to reach in and interact with the environment with the triggers and the movement of the controller itself.
That said, when we went to Vive and Oculus, each hand could have a controller in it. So they still had either a joystick or a touchpad that enabled us to allow fidelity in movement with Quill. But we prefer the joystick- it has more of that comforting feeling, and we were got it to work with Vive touchpads as well.
OR: How were the various puzzles in Moss developed? Did you start with the puzzle mechanisms or the landscape? Or what was the process? What unexpected challenges are there in developing a puzzle-adventure game in VR?
LD: There’s a lot of iteration that took place in the puzzles. When we were designing them, we wanted there to be character attributes to solve them- like Quill’s ability to step on things, her weight in the game interacting with different physical objects, the player’s presence in the world to grab and move things and to control things as well like beetles and enemies- to take control of them. So there’s a variety of variables that were taking place, and a lot of iterations of the puzzles themselves.
And in our playtests, we watched players: the harder and more complex the puzzles were, the more frustrated they became. And the frustration pulled the player out of the experience and reminded them that they were not really in the world of Moss– that they were playing a game and wearing a headset.
So it became a balancing act for each puzzle: hard enough to challenge the players but not frustratingly enough to pull them out of that VR experience and to realize that they had a headset on their head.
“Everyone’s coming to Polyarc, a small startup, with the notion and excitement of creating something new and their own. Creating the experiences that they cannot do elsewhere within the world of VR.”
OR: A year-and-a-half after Moss was launched, Polyarc published free DLC for Moss titled The Twilight Garden, [which] you mentioned a little bit earlier. When did Polyarc decide to create this DLC piece for Moss, and what was the development process like for it?
LD: We always wanted to add more to the game. As I mentioned earlier, there were some challenges and constraints with money and time to get the game out. So when we scaled it down, some of the rooms and some of the length had to be taken out of the game. And some of the story was [too].
So as a studio, we’re thinking about ways to add more story and content to [Moss]. And when Oculus Quest was launching, we thought it would be great to celebrate the release of Quest with something special. And this [additional content] accomplished both [goals] by adding content to refresh the game- more content, more story, more puzzles, more dynamics, and more character interaction as well. [That and] celebrating something that pretty big in the industry, which was the release of an untethered [VR] device that was easy to pick up, easy to put on, and easy to experience content [while using]. And as fans of that, wouldn’t it kind of help make a mark on history to release new content to all gamers? And we got it on the platform in time to launch that.
But the development process was tricky. We weren’t only creating new content and weaving it into the game itself, but we were also trying to figure out how to play Moss at the level of quality that players expect to a new platform. And these challenges got the teams fired up, and they delivered well across the board with some great content [and] great interactions with Quill at a quality level that stands out amongst Quest games.
OR: Why make a DLC sidestory that slots neatly into Quill’s already established [story]? Furthermore, why give it away for free to everyone instead of charging even a nominal fee for it? You’d think it would make financial sense to do that.
LD: Yeah, Twilight Garden– it allowed us to integrate it into the existing storyline seamlessly. It was a way to increase overall game time and experiences for new players effortlessly and not have them confused about downloadable packages, additional game content. And it extended the gameplay for what we originally wanted to deliver on, but those constraints held us back [from] early on.
But there was a cost for creating Twilight Garden. We had to pull devs, development, and resources to create this content, but at the same time [we were] porting the game to the Quest platform and realizing the various constraints [going] from the high-fidelity headsets that were out there are and bringing it to the more indoor device with the Quest headset. But we always thought about the value added to our customers.
And while the content would have been great to charge [for] and recoup those costs, we thought adding additional value to the player experience and celebrating an amazing milestone with the release of Quest was worth the effort to bring to the users, and to use it as a way to further engage our player base by bringing players who haven’t played Moss in awhile back to the game. We’re also creating a desire for players who haven’t played Moss to jump in and explore not just the original game, but the new content we’re sharing as well.
OR: Why did Polyarc make this a side story instead of a prequel or sequel?
LD: We just wanted to seamlessly integrate it into the game without any confusion. A prequel or a sequel- there’s a significant amount of expectations that come with that. We call it an ‘update’, not a DLC. There’s nuances there, just because we don’t want those expectations of what a DLC brings to the story- it’s just an update to the game that brings more content. We didn’t want people to think it was a new game or have preconceived expectations of what we’re delivering. So we just wanted to update the game with new content and integrate it in a way that works well with the game and not just slap it on at the beginning or end of the game itself.
OR: The company behind Moss, Polyarc, says on their official website that they were founded after they left Bungie in 2015 as a result of being “[c]aptivated by the continuing advancements of virtual reality.” What was it like for the team to leave the company who had just launched Destiny, the biggest new franchise launch of all time, to strike out on their own in a completely different gaming medium?
LD: I can’t speak directly for them, but I will say that for everyone that comes to Polyarc- we’re an indie studio. If you look at the caliber of talent, the median of experience across the board is twelve to thirteen years in the industry. So a lot of industry veterans who have all worked at phenomenal studios that have launched triple-A caliber games that are continually rated for game of the year-type games.
Everyone’s coming to Polyarc, a small startup, with the notion and excitement of creating something new and their own. Creating the experiences that they cannot do elsewhere within the world of VR. And these are things that, from a design perspective and from a developer that’s really creative, brings a lot of excitement for them. And that’s something that drew us all to Polyarc.
The way we work as a company is really to allow everyone within the studio to have a creative say and have a voice within the development of the games that we’re making. That’s kind of what the draw was for the original founders leaving [Bungie]: ‘Hey, let’s create something different, let’s create something new.’ And the reason they went to VR wasn’t by happenstance. They realized that we could leave, bring our experience, and be a big player in a small pond as opposed to a small player in a big pond.
If you’re just putting out console games, you’re competing against hundreds of thousands of games out there. But if you start on and focus on the development in VR, and if you do it right, you can be on the cutting edge and be a big fish in a small pond and really create your mark.
And with the talent that has come to Polyarc, we’ve been able to really explore and leverage that with the release of Moss.