PlayStation VR Spotlight: Moss: Book II

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,
If PS VR had a mascot, it would be Quill — the mouse from 2018’s Moss. Putting on the PS VR headset to play PolyArc's magical game immersed you in a fantasy land where you play as the Reader, a character who can interact with Quill through platforming, combat, and puzzles. Daubed in storybook looks, and blessed with an inventive sense of scale and total synchronicity with the miniature world before you... we couldn’t be more excited for the sequel, Moss: Book II, releasing on March 31st for PS VR. We sat down with Doug Burton, senior designer at PolyArc, to see the game and get a taste of the process of making it.

We spent 15 minutes with the game in a hands-off session narrated by Doug. It opened in a garden outside a castle, with Quill moseying around platforms. First and foremost, the art design is clearly as fantastic as in the first game. Colours pop, inventive details creep in from the seams of every level, and the sense of scale is utterly fantastic — we are itching to get a PS VR headset on to really feel that imposing scope, too.

Seeing Quill in comparison to normal objects — like the plant pots and stones of the garden that Burton is showing us — helps you realise just how diminutive this little creature is. For the second game, the team are looking to keep emphasising this design quirk.

“In Moss Book I, we ended with that big boss fight to give you a feel for how tiny Quill is compared to some of the things she is up against,” explains Burton. “We wanted to push more on that in this game too. So, we are going to have multiple boss fights that are also going to be playing with that sense of scale, you're going to be traversing through different environments and you're going to get to see more parts of Moss. You are going to get more situations where the scale is going to go from very large to very small.”

At the end of the garden section, for example, the player uses VR to peer back across all the platforms we have seen Quill scramble over, and you can see all the things we missed — like secret rooms and collectables. Burton continues: “Even [in the opening levels], you can see how big the outdoor area is and then go into indoor areas where there may be some larger, closer-up objects. Anywhere in the game where we feel like we can remind you and show off that sense of scale, we try to pepper in cool moments to [do so].”


Carrying us through the land of Moss will be a return to the narrative. We pick up right at the end of the last game, so you might want to start playing the first game well in advance! “The story is going to go to some interesting places,” says Burton. “You are going to get to know Quill and the world of Moss more. As you grow to understand what is going on behind the scenes in Moss, you're going to be able to grow closer together.

“In Book I, Quill was more naive — new to the adventure. She went because she had to find out what happened to Argus [Quill’s bearded mentor mouse]. It was more of a fun adventure at that point. In Book II, we save Argus, we are going to talk to him, and learn what's happening and what the stakes are. Quill is going to get involved with what is happening in the world of Moss, she's going to grow up a bit, and learn about what the Reader is and what their connection is to her.”

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The character the first game exuded was defined by the relationship between Quill and the Reader (you, the player). Burton noted that the relationship was something the team felt the need to keep expanding. “We have had a lot more time to give Quill more reactions and the Reader more ways to interact with the world and with Quill. We want ways for the Reader to grab into the world and affect things that Quill can then use and respond to.

“Throughout the game, there are many more moments where Quill is going to comment on things or express what she is feeling. With puzzle-solving, Quill is going to be right there with you looking around the puzzles. As you are figuring it out, she is figuring it out... she offers tips and feedback as you go. So those things really help to continue to sell that feeling of you and Quill working together in a co-op experience.”

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Moss: Book II is shaping up to be a bit longer than the first game thanks to added replayability. “Using what was learned from Moss: Book I, what feels great and what works well, we are going to push on that and expand on those ideas," explains Burton. "Overall, the game is going to give you more tools, more complex rooms; more reasons to come back and experience what you have already been through. That's going to add a good amount of playtime and several hours more content than there was in Book I.”


The gameplay of Moss Book II won’t be changing the formula from the first game: this is a puzzle-platformer first and foremost. What Polyarc has done, though, is add in an array of new tools to create an experience that appears to be full of variety. A vine tool, for instance, connects seemingly unreachable sections of levels together with a blooming pathway constructed of the strongest organic tendrils, described as “fun and joyful” by Burton. The tools are dual-purpose, as you can create blooms of wallflowers to climb sheer surfaces of the garden, too.

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For a game designer, the result is twofold. It gives them more verticality to play with in a level, as well as more varied platforming spaces for little Quill to run around in. Being able to create life on a level as the Reader, we imagine, will also give you a sense of adding to the richness of the ecological environment, something that I was struck with continually through the demo. New enemies, like the shelled ripper, are also interactable as a tool to help you get through platforming sections.

Each level, it seems, will have a ‘dungeon’ to explore. Burton says that in these areas, PolyArc “will amp up the combat and puzzle intensity, and add new mechanics to play with.” We head underground to one of these dungeon experiences. It is a cave area called The Foundry, dotted with lava and progressively becoming more and more mechanically enmeshed with the steaming lava floes.

About these harder areas, Burton remarks: “The dungeons in Moss are still a part of the primary story. The story is still fairly linear [...] but once you have been through an area, you are free to kind of go back and forth at your leisure. We will have more things to find and discover in the different rooms. There will be different rooms that will be a little optional, but the main dungeons are part of the main path.”

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The first thing you notice is some impenetrable metal boxes that can only be smashed with a tool you find later on. Indeed, in that same room, Quill attracts your attention with a wave and a point to a statue holding a hammer. Interacting with it, Quill earns herself the blacksmiths tool. Now, you and Quill can return to those boxes and smash them up using a Spirit Hammer blast, which will also be useful later in the level to clear blocked sections that would be impossible if you hadn’t found this mighty new tool.

This begins to open up The Foundry and is a great showcase of just how tightly woven these levels can be. There seems to be collectables and boxes smartly hidden just around the corner of your VR window into the world, meaning it looks like you will be constantly thinking about how you are positioning yourself in the fantastical world. There are combat scenarios to face with devious combinations of enemies, some who can be smashed and others who will take a bit more precision.

The team at PolyArc wanted to “keep combat fluid but still approachable, but use new weapons to add a bit more depth and complexity.” New enemy varieties designer around your new hammer in The Foundry, for example, will make you use a spiritual slam to break their shells. Meanwhile, a bomber lobs mines at you like a destructive American footballer. The heavier hammer requires you to strike true — the wind up is longer and it is vital that you are accurate.

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Burton notes that this should add variety to proceedings: “We have the [new] weapons now, that lets us give the player a little bit more choice in how they attack different combat scenarios.” Indeed, this sense of broadening the number of things to do in Moss continues with one other tease: “We had a pretty big boss at the end of Moss I. With Moss II, we want to continue pushing our boss fights and take advantage of that sense of size and danger.”

These new tightly-woven levels with different layers accessed by different tools are, as Burton mentions, the biggest alteration to the formula of Book I. “Our rooms are much more geared towards coming back to them and replaying them multiple times. As you get new abilities and new weapons, you can come back to old rooms and access new areas that were off-limits to you before. That's going to be a big difference in Book II. There is a lot more re-traversing spaces that you’ve already been through and lots more complex spaces that will change as you come back them.”

Even once you've finished a level, there will be plenty to find for you and Quill when backtracking. Scrolls may be hidden out of view, treasure chests are squirrelled away in high ceilings, and gates require keys to unlock. “Players can expect that we are going to keep things fresh,” says Burton. “As you go back through rooms, you’ll have scrolls to find, dust to collect, and new areas to access.”

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But how do you prevent that old-school Metroidvania-style of level design from getting tedious, particularly with progression blockers in place to enforce the use of new tools? “It’s definitely a balance. Playtesting is the one thing that we do a lot of, especially in VR. In general, comfort is a big thing and that comfort [can] extend into frustration... mental frustration. Things just need to feel natural and make sense.

“If you come up to a door and you don’t realise that it's a gate you need to come back to later, then that's going to be confusing and frustrating for players. It took a lot of effort in playtesting to make sure that the barriers you come up against either felt very natural or were almost seamless so you didn’t realise the barrier until you understand what new tools you're going to have and how they work. So now that you have a certain tool, you can back and say ‘Oh, I saw this thing and I didn’t know what it was, but now I know how these tools work [...] I can come back and figure that out.’”

Taking advantage of VR

So much of Moss, with its creeping vines, blocks to climb, plug-socket bugs, and rising platforms, is powered by fun ideas for platforming. But where do the new ideas come from?

“A lot of it is what feels good in VR. We have a lot of ideas that we try and it's a really cool and exciting thing to do, but then you try it in VR and it just doesn’t feel comfortable to do physically or it doesn’t feel intuitive. If there is too much hand-holding or over-explaining for an idea, we will push back on it and say we aren’t going in the right direction, or we are trying too hard to shoehorn something in."

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“You try it out, you get it in VR, you have someone play it who doesn’t yet know what [a tool] does, and see how it reads to them. It's a lot of playtesting and talking to players and getting feel for what people are intuitively understanding.”

The seed of a brilliant idea for a platformer like Moss is clearly hard to come by. “The great ideas that usually bubble up are the ones that look [aesthetically] good, and also once you give it to someone to start testing out, they start playing with it. Even though they don’t know what it does yet or how to use it, they are like ‘this is a fun thing to toy around with.’ We consider our devices toys early on, so you want them to feel like you can just play with them.

"[Take] the pistons...” Burton continues. “Even just pulling them up [to create a platform] feels very fun and tactile and gives you a lot of nice feedback. The same thing with the vine grills — as you grab them, they will attach to your hand so you can bend them around and see what they look like in different positions before you actually connect them.”

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Moss places you at the heart of the world as a character called The Reader. You peer in at Quill in this gorgeous setting and interact with her as a character in your own right. But how do the developers figure out how to place the camera for these levels in VR?

“One of the things you have to consider is people's different arm lengths. You can’t put things too far away, people with shorter arms won’t be able to reach it, too high or too low, as you’ll create neck strain. You can’t go too far left or right… it’s all these little constraints. So, once you put them all together, the rooms start to come together [in terms of] what's going to feel best in what area or direction.

“We have this camera cut system where in the larger rooms Quill moves through, The Reader can move to reposition themselves in the room to see more detail. There might be a situation where you have a nice wide view, then when Quill moves into a narrower part, we can reposition the camera and The Reader to better interact with what whatever Quill is nearby. So, its a lot of trial and error, testing, and getting a feel for it. All of our rooms, ideas and devices, [we ask] ‘was it fun and interesting?’ but the second question is always, ‘but have you tried it in VR? How does it feel in VR?’ All those [camera] positions are constantly being tweaked.”

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Of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask about trophies. When asked if the Moss Book II trophy list was finalised, Burton had a definitive response. “We have, we definitely have."

Burton explained what the list would look like, too: “The way that things are set up, you will need to go back to areas. So you can do that within the same save game playthrough. Once you have completed the game, you will be able to go back and keep exploring and pick up the collectables you didn’t hit or any achievements you didn’t complete. So, you’ll be able to do it in the same save, but will need to do a bit of backtracking.”


With PS VR2 announced, it also felt pertinent to see if we could squeak out any extra details about the unit since Moss is currently only announced for PS VR. Sadly, Burton managed to formulate just the right sentence to keep our noses out of the cheese:

“Right now, we are just trying to nail down the PS VR launch and get that as good as we possibly can. Make sure it's optimised and feels great on PS VR. Then, once that's all out of the door and great, we will kind of reevaluate after that.”

A huge thank you to Doug Burton and Polyarc for having us. Moss: Book II will release on March 31st for PS VR, which is compatible with PS4 directly or PS5 via an adapter. What do you think of the game? Are you a VR loyalist? Let us know in the comments and we will see you there!
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Editor Kes is our resident expert in PlayStation and other gaming news. He writes about PS5 exclusives like The Last of Us and Horizon, PS Plus news, and his favorite games — The Witcher, Assassin’s Creed, and God of War — before an evening swim.
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