A Reader and a Mouse – Moss: Book II Interview With Polyarc Design Director Joshua Stiksma

One of the most pleasant surprises at last week’s PlayStation State of Play was the stream opening with an announcement for Moss: Book II. First released in 2018, Moss revolutionized what was possible in VR, allowing for not only player immersion, but connection with another character in ways that flat-screen games just can’t manage. Players—referred to as the “Reader”—became part of the story, and forged a bond with Quill, a small mouse on a dangerous quest. Through brilliant use of animation, interactions, music, writing, and more, Polyarc created an adventure unlike any other, and something that could only be achieved through the use of VR.

With the exciting announcement of a sequel, I had to sit down with Polyarc to talk more about the developer continuing Quill’s—and the Reader’s—adventure. Just hours after the trailer reveal, I was on a call with Polyarc Principal Engineer & Design Director Joshua Stiksma. He seemed pretty thrilled to finally get to talk about Moss: Book II.

“I know, it’s pretty rare that VR developers get this opportunity,” he said when I expressed my surprise at the announcement of a sequel. I had known Polyarc was revealing something, but oddly, the thought of a sequel to Moss never crossed my mind. He told me that even though further adventures were always in mind after the original Moss (with the “Book 1” tease really setting up the possibility of more), it was more hopeful than explicitly planned at the time. VR is still a relatively niche platform, and while it offers unique capabilities, its reach doesn’t expand nearly as far as more traditional game releases.

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Production on Book II didn’t start in earnest until about two years ago. Stiksma told me that they first wanted to focus on strengthening the community through release on additional VR platforms and then providing further support with the release of the free Twilight Garden addition. Building up that community was what allowed them to finally get to work on a full proper sequel, one that Stiksma says is an even longer experience this time around.

I wanted to get a sense of what makes Moss: Book II different from the first, and how it would continue to revolutionize the medium, rather than just give us Moss again. Critically, Polyarc is doubling down on the central pillars of what made the first so great. Primarily this means that Quill remains at the center of the experience, and the player’s bond with her is what everything else is built around. And because this is a sequel, perhaps a better word than revolutionize is “refine.” While Moss set the stage, Book II refines, evolves, and adapts.

This means that in addition to players continuing to build that bond with Quill through the adventure, that other immersive elements are expanded as well. The joy of interacting with the environment. The ability to have more unique interactions with Quill both in an out of combat. A broader range of emotions like triumph, uncertainty, and heartbreak. And as a longer journey, players will get to spend even more time with Quill.

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One of the other things Stiksma told me they are working on is balancing the game being approachable, but retaining a certain amount of depth and interest. While one of the key interactions with Quill is her ability to help guide the player with puzzles, they can’t do the same thing with the game’s combat. Moss: Book II should further evolve the combat to be both more interesting through elements like the player charging Quill’s weapon, and even new weapons for Quill to wield. Stiksma says he’s particularly excited about the animations for her new hammer, which do a great job conveying the weight of this new weapon she’s swinging around.

Moss set the stage not just for its own sequel, but for VR interactions across many games, and I wanted to know if Stiksma had seen any other VR experiences in the three years since its release that he felt we’re uniquely using the technology. He mentioned a few games, but one in particular that caught his attention was Ghost Giant, thanks to its similarity to Moss in connecting the player emotionally with the characters and physically bringing the player into the world and the story. Overall, however, he’s been rather impressed with the various unique ways that developers have taken to the VR platforms.

The literary focus of the Moss series had me curious about Polyarc’s inspirations. The opening of the Moss: Book II trailer has a rather “Lord of the Rings” feel to it—thanks both to Morla Gorrondona’s haunting Galadriel-like narration and visuals that are reminiscent of the Eye of Sauron (I had actually thought for a moment Polyarc was doing a LOTR game). Stiksma noted the comparison but told me I’d have to connect with the writing team for more on that one.

And yes, Morla Gorrondona is back as the narrator, along with Jason Graves confirmed once again doing the soundtrack, and many of the original Moss development team working on the sequel. “The band is back together,” Stiksma said. He went on to explain that everyone putting something into Moss: Book II is someone who believes in what the studio is doing; a group of passionate developers and creators across many disciplines that all come together to make Moss a wholly immersive and engaging experience for the player—you, dear reader. There are some new faces as well, including a new animator Lianne Cruz joining Richard Lico in making Quill feel exceptionally real. That blend of the old team and fresh perspectives should help Moss: Book II achieve a balance of retaining what made it so special while also pushing it forward in new directions.

While Book II will almost assuredly release on other VR platforms just as the first game did, Polyarc has currently only confirmed Moss: Book II in development on the platform that you might call Quill’s home: PSVR. But considering Moss: Book II lacking a release date—or even window—currently, and Sony’s next-gen PlayStation VR for PS5 confirmed in development, I had to ask if there were any connections that could be drawn there. After all, I can only imagine that Sony would want to get its new PS5 PSVR tech into the hands of the most avant-garde VR developers, and Polyarc certainly qualifies.

“Nice try,” Stiksma said, shaking his head while he smiled and laughed. “Moss: Book II is currently only confirmed in development for PlayStation VR on PS4, also playable on PS5 via backwards compatibility and the PSVR adapter.” Though something about the look in his eye told me this may not be the end of that particular conversation. It’s something I imagine we’ll revisit whenever Sony decides to reveal more about its next-gen PSVR headset. For now, I accepted Stiksma’s response with a grin. “I had to ask,” I said with a slight shrug and a knowing nod. I thanked him for his time, congratulated him on the reveal, and we ended the call.

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Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be talking to more developers across the various disciplines at Polyarc to help paint a more full picture of what Moss: Book II is aiming to do. From writing to music to animation and tech, this is just the first in a series of conversations we’ll be having about the next stage of Quill’s adventure.

We’d like to thank Joshua Stiksma for taking the time to talk to us about Moss: Book II, and look forward to hearing more from the team at Polyarc.