In the upcoming VR game Moss, tiny hero Quill uses squeaks and various non-verbal cues to communicate with the player. On August 3, Polyarc animator Rick Lico tweeted a test clip of the mouse issuing a greeting using American Sign Language (ASL). The response was overwhelming.
"It's a pleasure to meet you. My name is Quill."
Lico tweeted out the animation to his couple of hundred followers on Wednesday evening (Thursday morning in Australia). As of this writing the tweet has nearly 29,000 likes and several hundred responses, most enthusiastically praising both the animation and the idea of a character using ASL in a video game. Not bad for an idea that only came to Lico on Monday evening.
In Moss, coming this summer to PlayStation VR, the player is transported to a fantasy realm, where they must befriend and aid the mouse Quill as she embarks on a heroic adventure. The player is a presence in the game, and Quill is aware of that presence. Lacking a voice, the mousey hero uses other means to communicate her intentions and instructions to the player.
In a phone interview with Kotaku, the animator said he was watching a playtest with Polyarc CEO Tam Armstrong, seeing some of the pantomimes already in place to help Quill communicate, when the idea struck him.
One of Quill's existing pantomimes, urging the player to push it. Push it real good.
"I said, 'Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we did some sign language in there,' and he just kind of nodded." Having no knowledge of American Sign Language, Lico started researching Tuesday morning. By Wednesday afternoon he'd created the animation.
"Since no one in the office knows any sign language, I needed to know if I was crazy or not, if this was going to work. I figured I'd post it on Twitter."
A professional animator for 17 years who's previously worked with Bungie and Raven Games, Rick Lico only had around 400 followers on Twitter when he posted the clip. "I was expecting a little bit of feedback, some valuable information, maybe eight or 10 likes."
Since she can only squeak, I figured I'd play around with ways she can communicate with the player. Also a great perk for our deaf players. pic.twitter.com/BAiPc8CUMO
— Richard Lico (@Foofinu) August 3, 2017
The tweet garnered much more than that. Now Lico has more than 2600 followers. More importantly, he has the enthusiastic support of many America Sign Language users. "Pleased to meet you too, Quill," came one of the first responses to the tweet, indicating that the mouse's message had been clearly delivered. Despite Quill only having four fingers, those familiar with ASL were easily able to make out the sentence, though the spelling out of her name was a bit too fast and intricate for more casual users.
While Lico says they will be staying away from some of the more intricate signs, the strong reaction from the gaming and ASL communities has cemented the inclusion of the non-verbal language in the game.
"Sometimes she'll pantomime if there's not a good sign for it, and other times she'll flat-out sign language what she wants you to know. This tweet really confirmed that we should do this."
Another pantomime. This time Quill is asking the player to swap places.
It's wonderful to see such a positive awareness being included in a video game. American Sign Language is the predominant sign language in deaf communities in North America. It's also used as a means for young children affected by conditions that can hinder verbal communication. On a personal note, we used signs with my twin boys in their early years to communicate basic concepts that their autism made it difficult to get across with words.
"I've been blown away by the responses. Especially the ones where you get actual deaf people saying 'Thank you.' I just had no idea, being able to emotionally connect with something like that," Lico said of the incredible response to his tweet. "That's why one would be become an animator in the first place. They want to create characters that draw emotion from people. To be able to do that with one of my silly little animations... it definitely affected me."
Moss will be released on PlayStation VR this summer.