'Moss': our first take - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

'Moss': our first take

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Since the current wave of consumer-grade virtual reality headsets launched in 2016, developers have used the feeling of presence that comes with the technology to make players feel like they themselves are characters in the games they’re playing. With elements like motion controls, games can treat players like they’re part of the virtual worlds they would otherwise interact with through a controller, staring at a screen.

Moss uses that sensation to marry two different kinds of game into a smart, hybrid experience. One is a traditional third-person adventure game, in which you use a controller to steer a character around a world, fighting enemies and climbing ledges. The other is the kind of game virtual reality developers have already started turning out, in which you’re immersed in the virtual space and can reach out and interact with the world in a lot of the same ways you interact with reality every day.


With one controller, you play both as yourself and Moss‘s main character, a sword-swinging mouse named Quill. who fights off clockwork beetles and solves puzzles as she endeavors to save a family member. You control Quill like you’d play any other game: The left analog stick makes her walk and buttons on the controller cause her to complete actions like fighting and jumping. But Moss also treats the entire controller itself as a motion control. Using the Playstation Camera and sensors in the DualShock 4 to track the controller’s movements in three-dimensional space, you can reach out with the entire controller to “grab” and move virtual objects, using one of the shoulder buttons to replicate grasping and releasing.

It’s the same principle VR players see with Sony’s Playstation Move controllers or the controls used with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and motion control like this is getting plenty of use in virtual reality. Both control formats are standard on their own, but Moss marries them together to make something new. Using both kinds of controls at the same time, to do two separate kinds of actions, freshens up the game’s action-adventure mechanics — one that takes advantage of virtual reality.

Developer Polyarc hopes that additional layer of presence will cause players to form a connection with Quill as they get lost in Moss. The studio is also working to make sure that, even in virtual reality, players are as comfortable as possible at all times. Both those ideas work together to encourage players to lose themselves in Moss‘s world.

“VR allows us to stare into Quill’s eyes and let her look directly at you. That emotional connection is also feeding into the comfort level that we like to play with a little bit,” said Chris Alderson, Moss‘ art director and Polyarc co-founder. “The experience we want is for you to feel like you’re actually there. We don’t want to tear you out of the experience, but we do want to play with those emotions in a way. With her performance in the environment, the noises, the way that VR amplifies all those things, we wanted to sort of connect them all in interesting ways. When we’re outside, we make it open and we make it warm, but when we take you into a dungeon, Quill’s performance — maybe she’s a little bit more scared, which will feed into your emotions. So she’s very much an extension of how you’re feeling.”


The most complex puzzle in the quick demo put Quill in a room with a central section that rotated and two pressure plates. Standing Quill on one of the plates opened doors that let her pass through the rotating middle section connecting to another path with another pressure plate — and a waiting clockwork beetle. As we spun the middle part around trying to figure out the solution to the puzzle, a helpful but slightly impatient Quill looked up at us, trying to mime the actions necessary to clear the path forward.

Finally, things became clear: Using motion controls, it was possible to grab and manipulate the enemy beetle and put it on the pressure plate to hold the doors open for Quill to pass through the spinning middle part. After a little manipulation, we brought the beetle to the right plate and spun the middle to connect Quill with the exit of the room.

Those kinds of puzzles are the big thrust of Moss, it seems. Creating them was also one of the challenges Polyarc discovered in creating a puzzle-based adventure in virtual reality.

“Now, part of our job as game developers is industrial design,” explained Polyarc co-founder and CEO Tam Armstrong. “And that wasn’t a thing before. Before what would happen is, you walk up to a complicated mechanism and you get a prompt to press and hold ‘X.’ So you don’t really have to think about accessibility, or communication of your object for what it’s intended to do, or the way it’s intended to be used, quite as much. I’m not saying you don’t have to think about it at all, but to a much lesser degree. But now, we don’t want a prompt to tell you how to open a door or lift up a platform. We need to communicate what it does and how to use it correctly, and we don’t have the same feedback mechanisms that you have in real life. The object can’t resist you, or be stiff in one direction and smooth in the other, right? So we really have to be creative with the ways.”

Communicating that information comes down to using elements like force feedback in the controller and glowing colors, Armstrong said. Polyarc is paying a lot of attention to how those elements work with players, in an attempt to make Moss accessible to all kinds of players, not just the people with lots of gaming experience.

From what we saw, Moss seems well equipped to accomplish those goals. It’s a cute, comfortable game that’s both intuitive and fresh. Its smart puzzles and the amount of character it brings to its presentation could elevate it above similar third-person VR adventures.

This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

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