Moss Book 2 Preview: A magical, long-overdue end to the PSVR era
Polyarc expanded Quill's world without changing the friendly, magical ambience of the original
The original Moss is the rare VR game that needs little introduction, even outside VR circles. Initially launching for the PSVR in 2018, the game eventually came to PC VR and the Oculus Quest, achieving universal acclaim and kickstarting a love for virtual reality among both kids and parents. And we've been waiting on tenterhooks for a sequel ever since.
With Moss Book 2 due to arrive on March 31, we sat down with developer Polyarc Principal Artist Coolie Calihan for a brief guided tour of the game and an in-depth interview of what to expect with Quill's next journey. Here are the highlights:
- Moss Book 2 will give you a clearer picture of Quill's world and its history to raise the stakes and emotion.
- The game starts with a recap and has tutorials for everything, so new players don't have to play the original.
- It will also offer larger environments, new swappable weapons, and more interactivity to solve puzzles directly as the player.
- The sequel is "about 1.5X as long" as the original.
- It's a timed PSVR exclusive for now but will come to other VR platforms at some point.
- Polyarc has plans to continue Quill's story, likely in Moss Book 3.
With everything we've learned about Moss Book 2, we're optimistic it'll take everything we loved about the original and offer more of the same, compounded with new mechanics, animations, and story beats to keep things fresh.
The question is how many PSVR 1 players still have their old headsets and Dualshock 4 controllers; plenty of VR gamers will have to wait for unannounced ports to team up with Quill for another adventure.
Bigger and more interactive, but also more of the same
Moss proceeds directly from the last game; I'll avoid spoilers for those who didn't play the original, but Quill's heroics have attracted new threats from the mysterious Arcane, and you (The Reader) must help her navigate them.
Like the first game, Moss Book Two is a "co-op" experience where you don't directly control Quill's actions; she needs your help to defeat foes and solve puzzles. But unlike the original game, where you navigated each room from a fixed perspective, Moss Book Two uses "very fast camera transitions" to show you different angles of the same room. That allowed Polyarc to make each environment more complex, with additional puzzles to solve and hidden secrets to discover.
Calihan also described how the player will be able to manipulate the world more directly to help Quill, like drawing climbable surfaces or bridges or moving a brick to carry her to a ledge. If you're worried that this game is one extended escort mission, rest assured that you'll have plenty to do to stay invested.
Quill will also find different weapons throughout the game; the demo showed her grabbing a giant hammer, and Calihan promised a wide range of weapon variety that'll impact both combat and puzzle-solving. During one portion of the demo, you had to charge the hammer to help Quill traverse pillars and reach an enemy.
"We made a conscious effort to increase player expression through the sandbox," he explained. They wanted players to "develop a preferred playstyle" and "feel more powerful...by combining the different powers that the weapons bring."
Despite all the new depth and variety, Polyarc approached this game the same way as the original, meaning they wanted it to remain accessible to VR newbies without taking away the challenge. Through playtesters, they found the right number of enemies that give you and Quill a challenge without making it overwhelming.
As Calihan put it, even if Moss Book 2 isn't going to be a Dark Souls-esque experience of "testing your mettle, you will be challenged and have to act and think quickly, and use your strategy" so completing encounters makes you feel smart and powerful.
Quill: the hand-animated star of the show
While the revamped gameplay makes us excited, it's the return of Quill that gives Moss its heart and soul. The tiny, brave mouse who speaks to the player through American Sign Language has new and improved animations that give her more character.
Specifically, as Quill moved throughout the demo, her tail and ears reacted realistically to her movements. And moments like Quill rolling over after climbing a cliff showcased her personality. Calihan explained that these animations were all hand-animated when we asked about them.
"Our animating director Rick Lico, I think he had a really strong vision for how Quill moves, how she behaves [and] her mannerisms," Calihan boasted of his colleague. Lico's strategy was to act out a scene, record himself, and then animate himself as Quill (or another character) in that scene to make it as realistic as possible.
Calihan hinted that other characters would appear in the game, fleshing out the world. But it's Quill who anchors the experience and gives the player someone to root for.
Overcoming PSVR's "limits"
As a PSVR exclusive, we have to assume Moss Book 2 will come to the PS VR2, but Polyarc kept everything about future ports very hush-hush. For now, Calihan told us, the PSVR 1 is "amazing" for still being relevant over five years after launch but does "have its limits."
Specifically, they had the "constraint of having to really focus all of the gameplay content to be right in front of the player" due to the headset's inside-out tracking losing sight of the Playstation Controller if you turn your head too far. So even if Moss Book 2 comes to other platforms with more freedom of movement, these ports likely will retain the same focused perspective.
Plus, while you can use PSVR with the PS5 — which Calihan suspects will significantly reduce loading times — they had to design Moss Book 2 with the base PS4 in mind, which places some graphical limits on the gameplay. A hypothetical Quest 2 version would likely have similar constraints, but it's possible PC VR ports could offer much better graphics.
Calihan also explained that much of Moss Book 2 was envisioned in 2018, right as the first game came out. So while Polyarc has excitedly watched VR's technological progression adding features like hand tracking, it hasn't come into play yet in Moss Book 2's game development, as they focused "100%" on the PSVR release.
But the team isn't ignoring VR advancements. He discussed how excited he is by PS5 VR features like haptic feedback and foveated rendering, and described how the team all enjoyed playing Pistol Whip together in the office. Calihan sees VR development as the "Wild West," as developers collectively search for the right way to handle fundamental mechanics like movement.
So, in theory, Moss Book 3 could make major gameplay leaps forward in controls and mechanics because Polyarc will start to envision the sequel when VR hardware and industry knowledge have progressed much further than it had four years ago. It'll be made during the PSVR 2 and Quest Pro era of hand and eye tracking, which could help you interact with Quill more organically.
Calihan also mentioned that Polyarc is looking into augmented reality, though "that's even further in the future for us." I mentioned the possibility of guiding Quill through our living rooms, and he loved the idea of "opening the Moss book in front of me and have the world spring up from that." But, of course, the team is entirely focused on VR for now.
Counting down the days
With two weeks left until launch, my colleague Nick and I are very much looking forward to testing out Moss Book 2, which will undoubtedly join the top tier of best PSVR games available. We don't know the price yet; the original game cost $30, so the sequel may cost the same or climb slightly higher.
We also don't have a hard estimate on the number of hours; Moss Book 1 took about 4 hours to complete, not counting the free DLC added a year later. Calihan did say it usually took him about 1.5 times as long, thanks to increased backtracking and exploration. So perhaps 6 hours is a fair bet: not bad for a story-driven VR game.
Based on the gameplay demo and our time speaking with the Polyarc devs, we're incredibly optimistic Moss Book 2 will recapture the original's magic. But we can only hope it'll make its way to more platforms soon, so as many VR gamers as possible can experience it.
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Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.