Rekindling a Spark for Adventure in Moss: Book II

Rekindling a Apark for Adventure in Moss: Book II 7
| April 2, 2022

In 2018, a ragtag group of developers at Polyarc took players into their own fantasy. Moss reinvented the pop-up fairy tale by bringing it to life. But the team significantly scaled its vision back in order to grow. To accomplish this, designers used virtual reality to give their debut action-adventure a push. VR gave readers a familiar experience of opening a book. But every page came with its own moving parts. Each page-turn loads a new, miniature section to soak in. In the process, Moss players were literally pulled closer to its content.

Ironically, Moss still wraps players around a medieval adventure. But life-sized players are actually supporting characters for a reluctant, controllable heroine. They watched over Quill, a small mouse living in her own miniature world. Every carefully-designed diorama took Quill closer to saving her uncle and reclaiming a lost kingdom from higher powers. Like any fairy tale, its heroes reach the finish line. Moss instead kept readers in suspense with a cliffhanger.

Rekindling A Apark For Adventure In Moss: Book Ii
Moss: Book II

The abrupt ending gave Polyarc four years to keep expanding Moss’ world. Fans attached to Quill would be left interpreting. For Environmental Artist Coolie Calihan, Moss’ cliffhanger gave him a daunting task of starting new chapters.

“I could bring a totally new perspective,” said Calihan, who was hired as a Moss sequel left pre-production. Despite a background in creating biomes and environments, he pivoted to help shape Moss: Book II’s universe.

“They wanted a level person and environment artist-type person. When I got hired, I was filling that slot and filling that perspective they had been missing before,” he added.

Moss: Book II faces a new challenge of showing fresh pages to readers. Four years later, players are rekindling their budding friendship with Quill. The new journey sees Moss’ heroine standing over the body of giant serpent Sarffog. In true sequel tradition, Moss: Book II starts seconds after the first.

Rekindling A Apark For Adventure In Moss: Book Ii 1
Moss: Book II

“It literally picks up,” Calihan told CGMagazine. “Quill’s feet are in the same spot, pretty much. It’s like you’re standing next to Sarffog’s dead body when you start Moss Two. And you’re introduced to the main characters from the first game. I think it kind of sets itself up for the future.”

“I think players will be surprised at how dark some of the moments Moss: Book Two are.”

The Garden is just one of two areas highlighting Book II’s new biomes. Quill moves through a diorama-type level as players watch over. Book II still breaks the fourth wall by putting players in the narrative. Readers serve as god-like figures who can aid Quill. Book II does just that through interactive puzzle-solving environments. Vine bridges can be stitched to let Quill cross gaps. Blocks can still be pulled out of the way for her to continue. According to Calahan, it’s “reinforcing the physical interaction where you’re going to be reaching into the world, helping Quill solve puzzles and traverse through these environments.”

Polyarc’s design philosophy includes Quill sensing players/readers. Like the original Moss, players can pet her and land hi-fives after touch puzzles. She will still wave if players turn Quill directly to them. The narrator continues bringing up readers, immersing them as part of a role-playing fantasy game. It’s hardly a bedtime story, since Book II still feels like an isometric platformer.

“The character dynamics play off each other in a way to lighten the mood when it’s necessary. I think players will be surprised at how dark some of the moments Moss: Book Two are. It will be surprising, but I think it will feel appropriate. I think it will feel right. You’re going to see a real challenge that Quill’s presented with and you’ll see how she reacts to it. Quill’s fierce determination is going to power her through and her friendship with you is going to power you through.

It’s one thing to have a dark moment and have a sad moment in the game. The bond that you share, and the reaction of Quill to express her gratitude towards you is the thing that’s going to keep players from feeling too down. Or have it feel too dark or too oppressive. There’s gonna be real challenges, but that’s what friends are for. That’s what your bond is there for. Is to help pull each other up and help each other overcome those challenges.”

Coolie Calihan, Environmental Artist at Polyarc

“I could bring a totally new perspective,” said Calihan, who was hired as a Moss sequel left pre-production. Despite a background in creating biomes and environments, he pivoted to help shape Moss: Book II’s universe.

Rekindling A Apark For Adventure In Moss: Book Ii 2

“They wanted a level person and environment artist-type person. When I got hired, I was filling that slot and filling that perspective they had been missing before,” he added.

Moss: Book II faces a new challenge of showing fresh pages to readers. Four years later, players are rekindling their budding friendship with Quill. The new journey sees Moss’ heroine standing over the body of giant serpent Sarffog. In true sequel tradition, Moss: Book II starts seconds after the first.

“It literally picks up,” Calihan told CGMagazine. “Quill’s feet are in the same spot, pretty much. It’s like you’re standing next to Sarffog’s dead body when you start Moss Two. And you’re introduced to the main characters from the first game. I think it kind of sets itself up for the future.”

The Garden is just one of two areas highlighting Book II’s new biomes. Quill moves through a diorama-type level as players watch over. Book II still breaks the fourth wall by putting players in the narrative. Readers serve as god-like figures who can aid Quill. Book II does just that through interactive puzzle-solving environments. Vine bridges can be stitched to let Quill cross gaps. Blocks can still be pulled out of the way for her to continue. According to Calahan, it’s “reinforcing the physical interaction where you’re going to be reaching into the world, helping Quill solve puzzles and traverse through these environments.”

Polyarc’s design philosophy includes Quill sensing players/readers. Like the original Moss, players can pet her and land hi-fives after touch puzzles. She will still wave if players turn Quill directly to them. The narrator continues bringing up readers, immersing them as part of a role-playing fantasy game. It’s hardly a bedtime story, since Book II still feels like an isometric platformer.

In Moss lore, Readers (players) are mystical entities who can bend reality and help Quill fight enemies. RPG-style combat feels more complex in Book II. Readers can also possess different types of enemies for backup. The sequel’s latest addition includes a buzzsaw-like ripper that can power gates. Players can freeze enemies for Quill to finish or exploit their abilities. Book II expands the options for combat through Quill’s arsenal. This time around, more weapons are pickup up along the journey. As the game throws players into The Foundry, Quill acquires a brand new hammer. Players can expect heavy damage against forces of The Arkane. Polygon doubles-down on each weapon’s charge ability – both used for combat and puzzles.

Rekindling A Apark For Adventure In Moss: Book Ii 3
Moss: Book II

Levels in Book II were also designed with weapons in mind. Specifically in puzzles where Quill can’t be in two places at once. Thankfully, Readers/players are there to hold mechanisms and use Quill’s abilities simultaneously. A few hidden areas can also be accessed later as Quill acquires key items.

CGM asked Calahan about expanding Quill’s world. As hinted in the first game, Book II’s levels feature a bigger world than the miniature version shown.

“I think that’s an area of the game that’s really important. Selling that feeling of scale. We definitely have some human-sized assets. At human scale, we try to use those as much as possible, where it makes sense. Certain other environments where you are in sort of ‘the animal kingdom world’, they’re going to feel smaller. They’ll feel the scale for Quill. At least in the sense of the architecture, the stonework and the details of the architecture. But then the plants will be huge.

Maybe there’s like an old, rusty bucket off to the side. You might not really see it at first. But as you’re starting to really observe the room, you get a sense of like, ‘oh, whoa, that’s a bucket. That’s huge.’ And seeing Quill next to it helps remind you that you are in this larger than life world. Quill is very small and that’s a fun thing to play with in VR for sure. So, we certainly tried to leverage that aspect of the game as much as possible.”

Coolie Calihan, Environmental Artist at Polyarc

Moss: Book II’s environments added a bigger challenge for Polyarc from its literal moving parts. Quill moves back-and-forth through puzzle-like environments. Each one is interconnected with explorable options and doors which open later. It’s a design which partly came from Moss’ Twilight Garden DLC in 2019. Polyarc launched the update to expand Moss’ game length as a side quest. Moss: Book II incorporates Twilight Garden’s special features, including armour sets and the aforementioned charge ability. More importantly, Book II overlaps the original in length.

“It’s a bigger game. I think the Twilight Garden content is great. But it’s a DLC that has a shorter play time. And I think Moss: Book II is going to be longer than both of those put together,” said Calihan, adding a separate team worked on the original Moss while a different group is building on the sequel.

However, Polyarc is focused on building the foundations for Moss: Book II. While Calihan is staying open to expanding the base game if possible. He adds future DLC would focus less on making new mechanics and add more content instead. But this came without a formal plan or confirmation ahead of the Moss: Book II release. It’s worth noting the game’s future varies based on Book II’s ending.

Rekindling A Apark For Adventure In Moss: Book Ii 6
Moss: Book II

Of course, players would have to unravel the rest of Quill’s journey. Calihan and Polygon stayed quiet about spoilers. But they also shared more about the deepening relationship between readers and Quill as they overcome more hardships. The original Moss followed fairy tale tropes, including Quill as a curious adventurer. Book II’s levels reflect a darker narrative as she learns more about her fallen kingdom.

“Players are seeing sort of the more young, naive field mouse from The Clearing, becoming a little bit more hardened. She’s facing real adversity, not that she didn’t before. But it’s darker and it’s more serious. It’s more disturbing than anything she’s ever experienced before. She’s still going to be cute, she’s still going to be adorable.

You’re still gonna want to hi-five her and give her a little scratch. But I think you’re gonna see a tone shift in Quill. I think that that’s kind of a signifier that things are getting more serious. It’s less of a happy-go-lucky fairytale. And it’s more of a – I want to say – coming of age. Quill is really defining her place in the world. Narratively, that’s one thing.

On the gameplay side, I think we wanted to make more complex rooms. We wanted to make more complex puzzles. But that doesn’t mean that simple puzzles don’t have their place either. They definitely do for pacing, and for just showing off the environment.”

Coolie Calihan, Environmental Artist at Polyarc

Calihan reflects on the decision to end Book One early as Quill finds her next quest. Despite the brief cliffhanger, he hopes to knit Book Two in for a full-length experience players can have. Specifically, bringing both games together with a page flip.

Moss: Book II is now available for the PlayStation VR. Polyarc has also confirmed the sequel for other VR platforms, including the Quest 2, for a later release window.

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