Interview: Polyarc's Chris Alderson on Vive, Rift, and the future of Moss

While many virtual reality games place you in the shoes of the active protagonist of the experience, there are some that explore more unexpected uses of the first-person VR perspective. One such game is Polyarc's Moss, which first debuted at E3 2017, and launched on the PSVR before recently coming the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive as well.

The hero of Moss is Quill, a sword-wielding mouse. As a separate character known as the Reader, you help her advance through the game's storybook levels, pet and comfort her during times of stress, and solve environmental puzzles that get in her way. You control Quill with fairly traditional 3D platformer mechanics, but the unique perspective and immersion created by VR makes you feel as though the mouse is always her own, separate character, and that the two of you are working as a team.

Moss was warmly recieved and critically acclaimed when it originally released for the PSVR, and it's an easy recommendation to any VR fan now that it's playable on the big PC VR headsets too. I recently had a chance to speak to Chris Alderson, co-founder and art director at Polyarc, about how Moss plays differently on the Rft and Vive, the state of VR development and consumer adoption, and what's coming next from the studio.

GameCrate: When you were designing and releasing Moss on PSVR originally, was it always in your mind that the game would eventually come to other platforms as well?

Chris Alderson: A goal of ours is to ensure that the products we create can be played by as many people as possible. While producing the PSVR version, in the back of our minds we were thinking about all three of the main platforms as they currently are. So at least in our heads, we were ready to take that plunge.

GC: So what's different about bringing the game to the Oculus and Vive?

CA: The most obvious thing is that now you have two hands. And the freedom that allows you is a very comfortable way to play the game. I think the more comfortable you are in a VR headset the more you get immersed into the world, and the more you just get sucked into that world and just want to be there.

With the previous controller you had to kind of move your hand in a certain way if you wanted to brush ferns or move a brick or something, now you can move two bricks at the same time. And you choose the hand naturally, the one that you would use in real life. If there's a glass on the table and it's by your right hand, you'd reach out with your right hand. Just that degree of freedom and the way that players can play in a more natural way is kind of the main thing that we've implemented.

GC: What are your thoughts on the reception and perception of Moss in general, now that it's been out for a while?

CA: We've been pretty excited by the response. We're very active on the forums; not only are we looking for responses from people, we're also looking for if people have found a bug, or any issues that they find with the game, we want to know about it. That way if we get a chance to develop another one, we'll address all of those.

I would say overall the reception has been immaculate. We couldn't be more happy with the way people have perceived the game. 

GC: Is there anything that you would have done differently before release, knowing what you know now?

CA: The main talking points that we've is the length of the game. That is a tough one, with the state of the market and how much it costs to produce a good game with a story and a single player adventure you have to go through from beginning to end. I'm actually really pleased with the length of it and how far we got, before we had to be like "Okay, the game can't be any bigger." Because we can't spend any more time on it, because there are only so many adopters of VR right now. Hopefully in the future as more people pick up a VR headset, we'll be able to lengthen our games. We definitely are considering that, if we make a sequel to the first game.

GC: Would you say that from the perspective of VR developers, is the market significantly different now than it was when you were developing Moss? Or is it still in that same kind of very early stages?

CA: I think it still is in those early stages. We started Polyarc about three years ago, and the very first prototype of Moss started about three months into development. So this was before the PSVR was even out, before the Vive was out, I don't know if the Oculus was even announced. Definitely there's been a change from when we were first trying to prototype.

We had DK1s in our office, and Brendan Walker, he's a really talented engineer at Polyarc, he ended up using the PS Move and one of the controllers, they used to have the leash and tether to connect them, he ended up making the controller track. And so we were able to play an early prototype of Moss before there was any of that even out on the market.

And so that was a long time ago. I still think we're in the beginning stages. I'm really excited for some of the new announcements, and all the bigger companies entering the fold of VR. And I think we should be seeing some really cool things within the next year or two.

GC: Is VR development easier now than it was?

CA: I would say so. We primarily use the Unreal Engine to do a lot of our work. And from the early stages they were very pro-active about implementing VR. It is always easier because they're always adding new features, we're learning more and we're adding new features to the engine. So yes, it is getting easier. But I've got to say, it was pretty easy to begin with. Being a game developer for 14 years, it's one of the easiest engines I've used. I really love the Unreal Engine.

GC: I know you can't say anything too specific about what might be coming next for you guys, but just in general: we see a lot of VR studios make very different sorts of games. Survios is an example where every game is completely different. Do you think that's the path for you guys, to try completely different things, or do you think you've found something you like and you want to continue to explore this type of game?

CA: I'll be honest: we're working on a few different products right now. After finishing the Moss PSVR version we kind of split up into different groups. We have been working full-time on getting the PC release out, but we do have a couple prototypes of other games that we're really excited about. But we're also equally excited about the way people have responded to Moss. And we did kind of leave it at a place where, you've accomplished your goal, but there's more, and there's a larger story that we really want to tell.

GC: So we're going to see more of Quill in the future, then?

CA: I really hope so.