With the critically acclaimed Moss becoming available on the HTC VIVE earlier this month, we took some time out to chat with Danny Bulla, the Co-founder and Design Director from Polyarc Games, to talk about the game and the process of bringing their hugely successful title to PC based VR.
Firstly, can you tell our audience a little about Moss and what they can expect when they play this title.
Moss is an action adventure game set in a fantastical world in which you meet the hero Quill and go on a journey with her to save a loved one. The game starts with you as a reader in a library and as you turn the pages of the book of Moss, you get transported into the world and become a guiding spirit for Quill. Because Moss is a VR game, you not only help guide Quill, but you are a character in the world yourself and your every action has impact on the world. Throughout the game you work together to overcome obstacles, defeat enemies and solve puzzles.
When players play Moss for the first time, one of the things that they’ll notice is a sense of comfort, and that’s an important thing when playing Moss for the first time, as some people are hesitant to VR because of the way it can make them feel. One of our goals a few years back when we started Polyarc, was to make sure that when players play our game they were as comfortable as possible. That’s a big thing that we encourage everyone to know about Moss – we designed Moss with comfort in mind.
We also spent a lot of time world building and trying to make Moss feel as real as possible. It’s our goal to have the players feel that when they arrive into our world they are on an adventure in this new, fantastical place, with their new friend Quill. Players can expect to do the things you do in adventure games; solve puzzles, fight enemies, and traverse cool spaces. All of this is really brought out by the medium in a way that you can’t experience on any other platform. We here at Polyarc think it’s a really great experience.
Obviously, players will find out pretty quickly about the main character Quill. Can you give us any background on the character & how players can expect to interact with her once they embark on their journey in Moss?
Quill is a really cool character and the hero within the story. In Moss, she’s been pretty confined to the village, which is called The Clearing, where she grew up. She does like to push the boundaries and rules of The Clearing and that of her Uncle Argus. She doesn’t go too far out but she does go out and explore the surrounding forest which is nearby and that’s where you meet Quill for the first time. She wanders across the glass & she finds it, it’s what binds you to her. It’s a very interesting experience when you first meet Quill. It gives people a wide variety of emotions. One of the cool things is how Quill reacts to you, when she first meets you. The game notes that she’s not afraid, in fact she’s intrigued by this character that is following her now. I think that tells a lot about her character. She’s almost assumes that you will become her friend, which demonstrates her perception and outlook on the world. You get to watch that bond grow with her as you play through the game. She begins to think of you not just as an ally but as a friend. We think that is a really cool experience for players to have.
You will do things with Quill that you would normally do with most of your friends when you’re cooperating in games. You will solve puzzles, you will fight enemies, explore cool spaces and in the end it really solidifies this interesting relationship you develop with a character inside of a cool new world. This is something that really shines through with the medium of VR and we wanted to make sure that we doubled down on that experience.
What excites the Polyarc team about developing content for VR platforms & what did you learn from developing a title like Moss for VR?
I think in terms of excitement, most of us have been working in the traditional gaming space for 10 or more years & we have seen a lot in the way that console gaming has grown over the years. So, when we were introduced to VR, and experienced what it was like to have tracked controllers, and to have your hands show up in VR, we took away two things from that. The first thing being that virtual reality allows us to transport players into a new world by just loading the game. That is really powerful and that isn’t really there when you are playing a traditional game. You may get transported to it but you’re not fully surrounded by it. So obviously, that was very exciting.
Secondly, the six degrees of freedom that these controllers afforded us is the ability to interact with games in ways we haven’t been able to do so before. From a design standpoint that was really cool because that gave us a wide-open field for what type of mechanics we can utilize and the type of experiences we can give players. As creatives, that is a great thing to act as a catalyst to launch your ideas. Your mind just starts running away with different possibilities. Once that happened and we started understanding what VR was and what that meant for us, we continued to get more and more excited as we discovered things.
One of the biggest things that we learned throughout this process was that developing for VR wasn’t really that much different than developing games for traditional console and PC platforms. In fact, we were trying to solve some of the same problems, but just trying to solve them in a different way. A lot of our learnings came from not only discovering the problems we needed to solve, but how to approach solving them in VR. That to us here at Polyarc was very fulfilling. Finding new ways to develop games that we didn’t have the opportunity before because the medium didn’t allow space for that. Overall that has been really exciting as a team.
Can you give us some insight into Polyarc’s motivation in bringing Moss to PC-based VR?
I would say the biggest thing to us was that it’s important that as many people can play the game, experience the world and develop the relationship with Quill as possible. I would say it doesn’t even go much deeper than that. It’s our goal to have people play our games, experience them and we want to do everything that we can to help achieve that. PC VR is a big chunk of the VR market and so obviously that was very important to us.
What benefits/features did Polyarc want to leverage when bringing Moss to PC-based VR?
There were a couple of things that stood out to us as benefits of bringing Moss to PC based VR. Primarily it was having two tracked controllers. The ability to have two tracked controllers is more intuitive when it comes to reaching into the world and interacting with things from a mechanics standpoint. Intuitively players will reach in if their hands are free and that alone helps with the immersion. For instance, they aren’t having to think “how do I reach and interact in with this world”. I think that was one of the primary benefits we saw as it relates to PC based VR, as it allows players to have that ability to be immersed quickly. It’s a little hard to explain until you have experienced both of them, but it certainly allows for more comfort.
Another thing that comes with PC based VR games is that it allows us to give players as much agency as possible, including how they want to tune their settings and their graphics. The PC market is used to that kind of thing. It’s the expected user experience as it relates to PC gaming. So giving the users the opportunity to experience the world at whatever fidelity they see fit or computer can handle was also very exciting to us as a developer.
What were the challenges in launching Moss for PC-based VR?
For a small team, just bringing the game to additional platforms was a learning experience. Especially bringing them to multiple platforms simultaneously. We are really excited that we were able to achieve that. Polyarc as group of developers who haven’t necessarily been on that side of development, in terms of publishing and working with the different platforms, it was a great learning experience for everyone involved to get an insight into & to figure out how we would want to do it moving forward. It was very rewarding for us to see the game go up across the PC platforms.
Another challenge for us was the variety of inputs we had to map. As we worked across each platform, each of them have a different controller. We knew what the basics each controller would have when it came to inputs. The biggest differences was the touchpad vs the analog stick. We spent a lot of time trying to make a platforming game and a platforming game on a touchpad isn’t as intuitive as an analog stick is, due to a variety of properties. For us we saw that as a good chance to see how we could make the experience on a touchpad just as good as an analog stick. We got it to a point where we thought it was really good and released it when it came out. Then we started getting feedback from the community & by engaging with that feedback we actually found a few more things that we could do to improve the experience that we didn’t think to do until we heard the feedback out in the wild. That was really rewarding for us and it allowed us to make a few adjustments that we have already released to the public & are already receiving feedback that the controls on the touch pad are feeling much better. We also have further improvements we will be making to the controls further down the line as well.
Moss is beloved by players and acclaimed by critics, what aspects of the game do you attribute to this success?
In my personal opinion I think one of the biggest things that has attributed to the success is the fact that we spent a lot of time building a world that was approachable and comforting. For those that were new to VR for their first time we wanted to ease players into what it felt like to be in VR and I think that having that approachability allowed a lot of the audience to connect with the game.
I think that also includes Quill, which is obviously another big part of the title’s success. When we came to E3 and we introduced her to the press and the players for the first time, we saw how strong the reactions and responses were. It was almost instantly. This was happening before the game play had even started. So, one of the things we did after noticing this bond that was being created was to focus a lot of energy in further enhancing that bond and emotion that is coming from creating a new friendship. I think the amount of time we focused in making Quill feel like a lifelike character, the different types of interactions and reflection of her moods in the environment through her animations brought together this character that not a lot of people have experienced in a video game before. That’s something that lasts once you remove the headset. I’m not sure if that is something you can instinctually know how to do off the bat, but its a happy thing that comes out of it when you put energy towards it. It’s a lasting effect that Is sticking with players who have played Moss.
Overall I think the comfort along with that approachability, allowing people to play the game and share their relationship with Quill and the game itself is helping generate the positive reaction we are seeing.
What’s next for the Polyarc team?
For us right now we are engaging with the community that we have. We are on Twitter and the Steam boards observing what the audience is giving us feedback on. Different things they would like to see in the game. We have some things moving forward based off of that feedback. Right now we are just taking all the feedback in as we continue to support Moss across the different platforms. Trying to make it the smoothest experience possible. All this feedback allows us to solidify the game for new people that come in to create the best experience we can for them.
We are very thankful that the community has been providing feedback and engaging with us. That’s really making us ensure that game is the absolute best it can be.
Starting today, Viveport is offering a special promotion on Moss as part of our epic Summer Sale. From June 29th – July 8th at 11:59pm PDT, customers will receive a free copy of Moss with the purchase of any pre-paid Subscription bundle. Now all who purchase a 3, 6, or 12-month Subscription bundle will get to explore the charming tale of Moss and help Quill on her heroic journey in addition to the all the exciting titles ready to be discovered as part of their new Subscription membership.
Make sure to secure your free copy of Moss before time runs out and check out the Viveport Summer Sale for big discounts on popular VR titles.