We sat down with Polyarc to discuss bringing the Moss franchise to PlayStation VR2 at launch and how the games take advantage of the system’s unique features, such as headset rumble and the PSVR 2 Sense controllers.
The release of PSVR 2 is a bit of a full circle moment for Polyarc. In 2018, Moss released for the original PlayStation VR headset. A few months later, the game came to PC VR and then it was available at launch for the original Oculus Quest in 2019. Last year, Moss: Book II followed a similar pipeline – PSVR first, then Quest and PC VR. Now, almost five years on from the original release, Polyarc is bringing both games to PSVR 2 at launch on February 22.
Last week, we talked with Polyarc’s Coolie Calihan, lead artist for these new PSVR 2 ports, about bringing the franchise into the next generation of VR. “As you can imagine, it’s not a trivial amount of work,” he said. “Shipping on every headset is a full project that requires its own dedicated team of people working on it, and that’s their sole thing that they’re working on for months at a time.”
“But PlayStation VR 2 is a special one, for sure, if nothing else because of just the sheer gap between the two headsets in terms of the technology.” For those who are making the jump between the original PSVR and PSVR 2, a bunch of new features await them. Not only is the headset a huge leap in terms of power, visuals and display technology, but it also includes in-headset haptics and eye tracking capabilities as well. Then there’s the new Sense controllers, which feature improved haptics and the adaptive trigger technology used in the PS5’s DualSense controller.
There’s a lot to work with, but early on the Polyarc team decided that the ports should take advantage of the new features as much as possible. “It’s really the [studio] directors that pushed us this time around to not just settle for something that was acceptable. They really wanted to push us, to try to push to excellent and have these [new] features.”
In some cases, implementing new features also meant evaluating their impact on game design. With eye tracking, for example, Polyarc implemented a new system for PSVR 2 where the game will follow the player’s gaze and illuminate interactable objects when you’re looking at them. While nifty, it also has the potential to completely undermine the player’s natural instincts. “That was a balance we had to figure out. When you look at the device, it starts to glow… But we didn’t want to remove the feeling of discovery.” The team made tweaks to ensure that the feature was still present, but not so immediate that it pre-empted the player.
However, it’s the headset rumble and adaptive triggers that Calihan says the team worked on the most. “At least from a design perspective, we did a lot of tuning.” Breakable objects in-game now work in tandem with the adaptive triggers, allowing you to feel the objects break as your hands crunch them. “So much of Moss is reaching in the world and grabbing thing, so giving it some weight and resistance just pulls you into the experience even more.”
Likewise, headset rumble enhances certain moments, making things feel a little more real. “We use it when something powerful or violent is happening – explosions, being hit by an enemy. There’s that sequence in the beginning where the crow flies by, in the first game, and so that’s a perfect time for us to just shake [the rumble] really quick. It gives you that extra feeling of like, whoa, something’s right there.”
Another noticeable change for those upgrading from the original PSVR will be the large jump in resolution. Plus, the additional horsepower of the PS5 means that Moss’ visuals can be pushed further than before. “Textures have been up rezed, certain material features have been turned on. These are things that probably most players wouldn’t necessarily pick out the individual details, but overall, it just makes the scene feel more immersive.”
Both games run at 90 frames per second on PSVR 2, reprojected up to 120Hz in headset. “The frame rate is so much higher in this new headset that Quill’s motion and movement … If you really lean in and look at her, she feels present and it’s immersive in a new way.”
Despite all the features, Calihan does note that these PSVR 2 releases are ultimately still ports, just enhanced for the latest and greatest VR tech. “If you’ve played [Moss] before, you’ve had that experience and I think this will be like looking at it through a new lens.” However for those who are upgrading to PSVR 2 or maybe just haven’t picked up Moss before, these new releases should get you up to speed while also giving you a taste of what the headset has to offer.