Animation director Rick Lico details the ideas that led to one of virtual reality's most endearing characters.
Hello PlayStation gamers! My name is Rick Lico, Animation Director for Polyarc. I’m here to talk with you all about Quill, the protagonist of Moss. Let me kick this off by asking you a question, dear reader. If you had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring your own character to life in your own game, who would that character be? Would your character be a bold hero? A physical representation of societal tropes? A disco assassin wearing fish tank platform shoes tearing up Studio 54?
Our answer to this question is Quill, a confident, secure, self-reliant, impetuous young mouse. We’re eternally grateful to our fans for their overwhelming support of her. In fact, I’ve never seen people have such a stark, emotional reaction to a character that I’ve worked on before. Numerous reviews for Moss often mention how real Quill feels. People are genuinely building an emotional bond with her. But what is it about Quill that inspires this reaction?
Part of her appeal comes from the fact that she’s inside of virtual reality. For those of you who have used a VR headset, you know what a powerful experience it can be. A well-crafted world in VR with realistic character performances can really immerse players. And to make Quill feel real, we focused on what makes VR unique and natural. Things like giving her the ability to make eye contact. This mutual acknowledgement really helps players build a relationship with the character. Not only does this show that she’s aware of your presence, but it also implies she has a soul.
Providing the player with more natural gestures, such as waving, can also be very powerful. When you see your friend from across the room, and you want their attention, what do you do? You certainly don’t press the X button. So, we wanted our players to be able to wave to Quill and have her respond in kind. This helps to elevate her beyond a simple gameplay avatar.
But the most meaningful form of communication between people is touch. It’s an act of intimacy on many levels which can evoke powerful emotions. Therefore, we’ve provided our players the opportunity to reach into the world to pet Quill and give her a high five. Actions such as these demonstrate how deeply Quill trusts the player. She’s allowing herself to be vulnerable and inviting the player to feel how she feels. It’s not just a gameplay mechanic, it’s an emotional bond.
But beyond VR, defining Quill as a believable character was just as important. I wanted to avoid a performance full of overt, outlandish, cartoony exaggerations. Instead, I wanted Quill to deliver a performance ripe with honesty and nuance. The best way to do this was to have Quill directly communicate with the player through realistic gestures and sign language. By doing this, we could not only imply a history and an elevated level of intelligence, but also support an often-overlooked group of gamers.
Quill’s identity also needed to carry over to gameplay actions. Not only should she obey player intent, instantly respond to button inputs, and feel fluid when performing actions, but she needed to do so in a way that was uniquely “Quill,” carrying her personality through all her actions.
So, that’s our character. I ask you again, dear reader: who would yours be? We here at Polyarc would love to read your responses in the comments below.