This week marks the launch of Sky: Children of Light, a game from famed designer Jenova Chen and beloved studio thatgamecompany, on iOS devices. Intended as an entry point to gaming that upends conventions and seeks new ranges of emotional expression, Sky was revealed during Apple’s iPhone keynote in 2017 as a mobile-first game and an iOS exclusive at launch.
The game is expected to arrive on Android, Mac, Apple TV, Windows PC, and consoles sometime in the future, though. Its initial wide launch this week follows a long soft-launch period and a launch-date delay as the game went through some big changes in testing to get its social aspects—a key part of the experience—just right.
In Sky, you play as a nondescript, child-like being who walks and flies through varied 3D environments collecting light, helping beings, solving puzzles, and working with friends to bring light back to your world.
The game is laid out like a theme park—thatgamecompany President Jenova Chen told the Los Angeles Times that he explored Disneyland for inspiration—with a central hub connected to numerous other areas, some essential to the story and others not. As in Journey, you will come across other players in your travels, but the social and communication systems in the game are much deeper now. You can make friends by sharing light, using emotes, hugging, and performing other joint activities to establish a bond of friendship. Ultimately, you can even chat with them—something you couldn’t do in Journey.
The goal is to explore emotions that are not often part of games but are common in other media. “In terms of the emotional range of interactivity, games are very biased toward younger men,” Chen told the Los Angeles Times. “So when I started the company, our mission was to create more emotions that a game can communicate.”
It took several phases of testing to reach this point. In an interview with The Verge, Chen said the game had to be designed to combat players’ worst natures:
In childhood psychology, any gamer that goes to a virtual world immediately reverts to baby mode. The morality, the moral value, does not carry into a virtual space. In any virtual space, people are seeking maximum feedback. If I can get you frustrated and you display that emotion, that’s way more exciting than just me helping you out.
The team that made Sky went through a series of iterations to not only make a game where collaborative play is more central than competitive play or trolling, but where it comes from a place of sincerity rather than necessity.
Chen and his team believe that games like this could bring more people into the hobby. “I want gamers to be able to show their skeptical friends that games are more than what they think,” he said to Variety. “If there are 200 million consoles in the world, there are 2 billion smartphones. Well, if you’re trying to reach the most people possible, then it’s an easy decision to make.”
Sky is free to play, but it comes with a few in-app purchase options. In some cases, you can buy currencies—these currencies could also be acquired through normal play without too much friction, based on our experience so far—and in others, the game’s scheme resembles the seasonal model found in popular free-to-play titles like Fortnite and Apex Legends. Buying a season pass gives you access to more content and more options for progression.
In the Los Angeles Times interview, Chen described most mobile games as “predatory” with gambling-like mechanics. “I felt really, really sad,” he said. “All the work we’ve been doing trying to make games appeal to more people and make games look like a respectable industry, suddenly went backwards… Now new people, their impression of games is this completely different picture. We want to use our game to change more people’s opinion of what games can be.”
We played Sky for a couple of hours over the past day and found it to be gorgeous and engaging, if a little overwhelming with its numerous systems. It feels in some ways like Journey meets Destiny, and it is substantially more ambitious than its predecessors, even though it has a similar aesthetic of pastel-colored, minimalist 3D art and sweeping orchestral music.
thatgamecompany hasn’t revealed when Sky will be released on other platforms. It was initially pitched as part of Apple’s Apple TV 4K game lineup, but that version has been delayed for now.
Listing image by Samuel Axon