If you’ve put on your PSVR headset to experience Moss: Book 2, you’ll know that, much like its predecessor, it’s an enchanting fairytale world of anthropomorphic animals (mostly of the mice kind) while the omniscient player is cast as a mysterious character known as a Reader. That storybook conceit isn’t just conveyed through the sounds of pages turning as you move from one diorama scene to the next, but also through the soothing voice of a narrator.
More than just an authoritative voice, this narrator truly brings Moss and its characters to life by also playing each of their voices, from the high-pitched but courageous heroine Quill to her old wise uncle Argus, and a host of many other new and returning characters in Moss: Book 2. That’s all thanks to the wonderful talents of voice actor Morla Gorrondona who took on this role in both games, and she has kindly shared with NME the process of inhabiting Polyarc’s VR creation.
The collaboration began earlier as fans may recognise Gorrondona from Destiny where she not only created the terrifying vocal identity of the Hive but also plays the role of Hunter and Hive lore expert Eris Morn. That opportunity had come after a chance encounter Gorrondona had with Bungie’s then audio director Stephen Hodde at a GDC meeting years before.
“Sound design and VO rarely crossed paths, but we stayed in touch anyway,” Gorrondona tells us. “By happenstance, we both moved to the Seattle area at the exact same time. And maybe by design, he called me one day and said ‘Hey, I finally found a way that we can work together!’”
As Polyarc is made up of former Bungie staffers, including Hodde, you can see how that established relationship would have led Gorrondona to Moss. However, there was one other key ingredient that made her a perfect fit.
While the job of a voice actor is to inhabit all kinds of characters, as a parent, Gorrondona also reads stories to her son during bedtime. “It’s a ritual I still do with my son to this day, where there’s finding the peace and the calm of nighttime, that energy of rest and repose, that mother-child bond,” she explains, admitting that mustering that energy after a hard long day is its own dedication. “It’s been going on for ten years every night. Deciding that this is important, committing to it, and making it worthwhile is part of the magic of it too.”
Indeed, in becoming the narrator for Moss, this bedtime ritual became part of the development process as Gorrondona was given advanced copies of the script, a rarity in the voice acting business when sometimes voice actors don’t know what they’re going in to record until they’re literally in the booth.
“Polyarc very much encouraged me to make [Moss] my bedtime story for my son,” she adds, essentially taking the script as it change and grew, to workshop on it with her son, who also became part of the feedback process as he grew older, especially by the time it came to make Moss: Book 2. “[There was] lots of time to play with the pace and what the different characters might sound like and understand the story, and make sure he’s following along with the story. It was fun to bring him along in a different kind of way.”
Channelling the energy of the enthusiastic teacher, librarian, or babysitter from your childhood storytimes who didn’t just read a book aloud but made up voices for all the characters, she describes the freedom of playing around with all the voices in Moss and its sequel as “so fun so challenging”, though there’s a very natural flow to it since, in wanting to stay true to the storytelling conceit, she is performing her narration in long takes, jumping between the narrator’s voice to a character voice in real-time.
As with other voice actors, Gorrondona is no stranger to voicing multiple characters in a single game, which she had done with Horizon Forbidden West, but then these additional voices are also usually done in separate sessions. Having to quickly switch voices and ensuring they sound distinct from each other required a different mental and physiological process.
“It’s a challenge finding where the different voices live in my body and then being consistent about keeping them in their place, and making sure that they don’t sound too much alike,” she explains. “I literally envision the voice and a part of my body where I imagine the voice is emanating from – whether it’s going to be nasally, a higher register, or at the bottom of the belly. Once I designate that part of the body, when we’re recording, I can simply activate the voice by just touching the part of my body as a reminder of where the voice comes from.”
Even then, there’s still a certain thoroughness Gorrondona enjoyed in refining the voices with the developers, through table reads, and breaking down each line of dialogue. “I feel like we really felt and tasted the flavour of each word and expressed the texture and meaning behind each word in the final pass,” she continues. “Polyarc has given me so much freedom and ownership over the sound of these characters, which is such a great gift. And then we just refine it together with good meetings and conversations. I feel like doing all this work ahead of time allows for magical moments of lightning striking when we’re in the studio.”
Besides her credits in Horizon Forbidden West, we can also expect to hear more of Gorrondona in another big budget release as she is playing the role of Beyla in God Of War: Ragnarok. Ultimately, it still all comes back to Destiny, where her role as Eris Morn has also grown considerably, especially in the latest expansion The Witch Queen.
“The sense of community that comes with Destiny is really remarkable, and I feel like Bungie has done a really lovely job of giving Eris a journey and growth, I feel like her emotional state and her drive evolves over time, so she doesn’t feel stagnant at all to me,” she says. “It really does feel like magic, that I happened to meet Stephen at GDC, which just set all these wheels in motion. It just as easily could have not happened. But it did, and my life is different and better for it, and I am eternally grateful for that.”
Moss: Book 2 is out now on PSVR, with a Meta Quest 2 release set for this summer.