Thatgamecompany has been one of the most beloved developers of the past decade and the recent Apple presentation showed that their legacy will continue in a new way with Sky. Their inventive game concepts have risen above traditional genres and resulted in Sony’s platforms getting some of the most tranquil and also exciting titles on any gaming marketplace. Titles like fl0w were abstract games that blended existing genres together to form something that defied a traditional description, while Flower was a brilliant game that anyone could play and enjoy. Where else could the idea of “you’re playing as a gust of wind and your goal is to give color to the world” work? That concept may not work as a movie, but as a high-concept game that manages to make full use of the technology available, it succeeded wonderfully. As thrilling as it was to go through and see the in-game world change due to your actions, perhaps their greatest creation was Journey.
It was an incredible experience that, as a game, was short – but provided a memorable experience from beginning to end. The phrase “all killer, no filler” applies to a lot of high-quality music albums, and applied here as well. Controlling your robed figure through the deserts, up mountains, and then throw an epic snow-filled area was exciting, scary, and brought people together in real-time. The game used online play in a unique way by having no text and no communication of any kind beyond simply helping one another. If you got stuck in a puzzle, another player could show you the way and either allow you to get up to keep the session going or really do the work for you. It was engrossing and one of the best experiences on both the PlayStation 3 or later PlayStation 4.
While Thatgamecompany’s output has been arguably the highest-quality of any company in the last ten years, their games have been limited to Sony’s platforms. With the PlayStation 4’s dominant role in this console generation, this hasn’t been too bad – but it did hurt them during the PS3’s heyday. Sony’s third version of PlayStation-branded console hardware was a beast of a machine, but one that failed to find a large audience for several years. Journey: Collector’s Edition on the PS3 was one of the greatest compilations of its time. In an era full of “HD” remasters and re-releases, it stood out by providing not only a physical version of digital-only games, but also throwing in soundtracks, wallpapers, and developer commentaries. It provided a level of insight that would usually be reserved for Criterion Collection-level Blu-Ray releases for films and showed that their products had more heart and soul put into them than anyone could have imagined just playing the games.
Since 2012, Thatgamecompany has been dormant – with some of its team going to Giant Squid Studios to work on Abzu, an underwater exploration game. Many wondered exactly what Thatgamecompany itself was working on, and their surprising reveal of Sky at the Apple keynote event showed that they were hard at work on Sky. It seems like it’s a combination of concepts from both Journey and Flower, with a bit of their concept game Cloud thrown in for good measure. Cloud was a test game that had you play as a cloaked figure going through the sky via the clouds – a bit like Sky, but as a solo player instead of as a group.
Sky has you soar above the clouds and will be easy to control, even just using the Siri remote. A single finger can move you around and jump. Much like Journey, exploring the world can result in you finding new areas. Much like Flower and how hitting every petal unveiled new areas, lighting every candle in Sky uncovers new areas as well. The overall goal of the adventure is to be one of the children of light and bring light via the candles to areas that need it. Much like how Flower had you bring color into a monochrome world, this gives you a similar goal – but has you achieve it in a different way. You’re still going into the air, but will now fly above the sky to reach your destination. Sky will use the updated Apple TV 4K hardware to bring a higher level of graphical quality to the platform and should be a killer app for the device.
As a media streaming box, the Apple TV is quite popular – but its gaming potential has largely seemed untapped. Games like Crossy Road and Jetpack Joyride work fine on the device, but with controllers being optional, gaming has felt like a secondary feature instead of a true selling point. Many people want a gaming device that can be used while traveling without taking up a lot of space, and streaming media boxes are an underrated way to deliver high-quality gaming content. The OUYA had the right idea five years ago, but its timing was off even if its goal of showing that mobile hardware could lead to satisfying gaming experiences was proven right by other companies. Amazon has benefited from partially marketing the full-sized Fire TV as a gaming device – and even bought Double Helix to try and bolster the lineup of games created for their devices.
Thatgamecompany will be the first major game developer that Apple has made an exclusivity deal and Sky will be a huge test for the Apple TV as a gaming platform. With remote control functionality built-in, they are ensuring that every single owner of the device will be able to play it. Controller support wasn’t announced, but would be a natural fit and allow more traditional gamers to enjoy the game in a way they feel comfortable with. The SteelSeries Nimbus works very well for those who want a richer gaming experience on their iOS devices. Sky itself supports iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV users and will be able to reach a huge audience as a result. With this being a timed-exclusive for Apple, it shows that they are willing to put some money into making sure their audiences get quality gaming experiences and the freedom that comes from it being available on other devices later should expand its audience even further. Sky doesn’t have a firm release date – but with so much gameplay being shown, a 2018 release does seem probable.