Moss’ Charm Will Win Over Hearts and PSVR Skeptics
Ben Sheene / Jun 19th, 2017 No Comments
Seconds into my E3 2017 demo for Moss, my eyes got a little misty. No, it wasn’t because the condensation from the PlayStation VR headset had trapped a day’s worth of heat into a small band around the top of my face. My sudden change in ocular demeanor was a result of being instantly sucked into a breathtaking world I was not prepared for.
Sony’s E3 press conference this year was densely packed with the likes of Spider-Man, Call of Duty and God of War. Nestled between these big moments was a chunk of time devoted to virtual reality. That’s when Moss and its mouse heroine Quill took center stage.
The game begins with the player sitting at a chair in a vast library. Musty tomes resting on unoccupied tables are flecked with candlelight. At eye level is an unopened book titled “Moss.” With particles of dust floating among the beams of sunlight, your instinct is to open the book.
As the pages turn, the beat of a butterfly’s wings signify ink being scrawled on the page. The scene changes to a dense forest packed with lush foliage, red mushrooms and a tiny brook. It’s straight out of a childhood cartoon.
Virtual reality in Moss puts the scene in front of the player. Instead of being a passive observer, however, you are a magic spirit that has been awakened into this world. Tilt your head and stare upwards to see warm sunlight poking its way through the top of the trees. You can look to the left or right and peek around rocks to see whatever is hiding in the 3D space.
Then it happened. From a dark path, I saw movement and moved my head to look at it. A tiny white mouse with a red scarf and a green gauntlet came into view. I watched as she looked around and then made her way to the edge of the water. A wave of recognition indicated she saw me, and I looked down into the water to see the reflection of a masked figure glowing blue. It was me.
The moment I saw Quill, I was hit with a sudden intense wave of emotion. I was taken back to a time in life where I briefly had pet mice and I would look at them in the cage or pick them up and handle them. But Quill is not a mouse trapped in a cage. She’s her own character in a living world. There’s an instant personality emitting from her as she walks towards the player on her hind legs.
Crafting a Bond
Games like The Last Guardian and Fallout 4 (everyone knows Dogmeat is awesome) show us how powerful an emotional connection between a human and an animal can be. In Moss, that connection is given a new layer with VR.
Identifying Quill as a pet can be quite easy — she’s one of the more adorable characters I’ve encountered in a game so far. But it’s important to remember that the player is not Quill’s owner. If a towering magical being appeared in your life, you’d probably be a bit hesitant to trust it at first.
Moss developer Polyarc made it so the DualShock 4 is used to control Quill and interact with the environment. Like many traditional platformers and action games, Quill moves around with the left stick, jumps with the X button, and attacks with the square button.
After introductions are made, players control Quill by having her jump over some rocks. The whole time, you can look around the world or even lean in and get up close and personal with Quill. The path she needs to take is obvious, but one of the best parts of Moss is how Polyarc handles transitions.
Think of every “screen” of the game like the page of a book (you are technically reading one, after all). Players are practically sticking their heads into a world and seeing it in true VR goodness. The screen briefly fades to the next scene and Quill comes marching in from the same path.
By leaning forward into the world and turning toward Quill, players can actually see where she is heading off to. When she enters the next screen, you can lean in and watch her come from the previous location. If Quill is ever behind an object, her outline will glow blue so you never lose track of her.
The crux of Moss’ story is that some evil force is working its way into the world. Quill has left her small village and becomes linked with the player. From there, they will both take on whatever dangers lie in wait. Part of this story is discovering the world around you. Both Quill and the player are new to this part of the world, and that further solidifies the camaraderie between the two.
Touching the World
As a magic force, players will be able to physically interact with Quill’s world by moving objects to solve puzzles and assist Quill in battle. A blue orb represents where players point the DualShock in relation to the camera.
Polyarc first told me to try interacting with the world by moving over some grass. Foliage reacts by bending and swaying to where your “hands” would be in the world. Players can even rub and pet Quill but if you do it for too long, she will get frustrated because there’s obviously adventuring to do.
The first puzzle I encountered in the game was a simple matter of having to take a statue of a mouse and move it on to a pressure plate. To guide players in what can be manipulated, objects will slightly glow blue when you are near them. By hovering over the statue and holding down the left and right triggers to grip, the statue will rest in place and open up the path for Quill.
Next, I controlled Quill as she pulled out her sword to fight some red beetle-like enemies. Through the demo, this was the only creature I fought. Though they were quite easy, I expect the game will have multiple foes to combat with that need more than just a few sword swipes to fell.
If Quill is hurt in combat, players can reach out to her and heal her by holding down the trigger. It’s another satisfying touch to further cement the bond between players and Quill.
The major puzzle of the demo asked me to get from one side of a dark ruin to the other. Two pressure switches on opposite ends open doors to a central pillar that can be rotated by the player. The puzzle teaches players that they can actually stun the red beetles, control their movement and use them on the pressure plates.
I had my big “a-ha!” moment of getting the solution right instead of just thinking I knew the solution, a great feeling in an puzzler. But one of my favorite touches to that puzzle was that while I was trying to figure it out in my head, Quill had already figured out what I needed to do. While I stared at the pillar, I heard her making noises. Looking down at her she began spinning her paw in a circle, gesturing that the pillar needed to be spun. Not only is this enduringly cute, Polyarc told me that Quill also provides the player with hints in case they get stuck.
The World Beyond
My demo ended on a less lighthearted note. Quill made her way to a dark chamber where something was moving in the background. A giant snake reared its head from the dark and hissed at her, concluding my time with Moss. It’s a sign of the evil that is present in the world, but also shows that characters great and small will find their way into the game.
Quill herself is obviously the star of the show. The adorable animations and ease of controller are instantly gratifying. It also helps that the game is shaping up to be quite gorgeous. I anticipate that players will see more than the greens and browns of this forest over the course of the game.
Ultimately, though, it’s fair to call into question the use of VR in a game like this. Is Moss one of those games that further entices players into the realm of virtual reality? While I can’t completely make that judgement until its full release this holiday, I was left utterly impressed with Moss.
This is a gorgeous game and also one that I think plays around with expectations of the medium. Unlike games where players are on rails or in first person, Moss shows that a world you can be inside makes for a unique VR experience. In this tiny vertical slice, all the pieces came together for me out of what I would want from something different. Moss is fun and exciting and I look forward to what else it has to offer.
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tags: e3 , E3 2017 , Moss , PlayStation VR , Polyarc , preview