Imagine a game that allows many of the impossibilities in your childhood dreams to come true. Diving deep into the unknown caves, skiing on the sandy surface on the desert, flying across flowers of clouds and collecting stars from sacred temples. The game Sky: Children of the Light has not only allowed us to explore the imaginary world of the unknown, but has also demonstrated the state-of-the-art gaming design techniques and culturally infused and dynamic visual design styles from the perspective of the game designer. In this critical article, I am going to comprehensively analyze the game from its production history, design style, level setting, graphic design, storyline, background music, logic and other different elements from the perspectives as a game designer and a game player.
Part 1: A Brief Introduction to the Production History of the Game
Sky: Children of the Light was a game released on the iOS platform on June 21st, 2019. It was produced by ThatGameCompany established by Mr. Xinghan Chen and it was released through careful production seven years after his highly successful game, Journey, was released. Similar to the game Journey, the game Sky: Children of the Light is also a delicately produced, highly engaging and enjoyable video game with Zen elements.
The ideology of the game is to seek light, which symbolizes hope and the future. Players play the role as the descendants of the light, and gather candles while they explore the Kingdom of Sky to dive deep into the past, save the spirits of the antecedents, and meet peers to adventure into the unknown and achieve personal value. The game leaves the players with a high degree of freedom and every player can find their own emphases and favorite parts through playing with their personalized styles.
Part 2: A Personal Experiential Approach to the Game
With the development of technology, mobile phones have increasingly become preferred devices for video game playing. The faster processing, larger memories and the pending introduction of 5G all make it possible for mobile phones to carry more complicated, well-designed and engaging games. Only real game enthusiasts will buy a PS or Switch separately, while the majority of the game players will choose to play on more accessible devices. Mobile phones are not only portable but also essential parts of people’s daily routine. Thus, we can see more people playing mobile phones on the subway, while having afternoon tea and even during recess between work time. Therefore, it is an overwhelming trend to focus on the development environment for video games on mobile phones, and it is also tempting for game companies to include mobile devices as a channel for game users to participate in the game without limitation of the temporal, spatial and technical barrier.
Xinghan Chen identified this trend at a fairly early phase and started to focus on game development on mobile phones to meet the needs of the users and make the game having a wider range of influence through accessible outlets. The new game, Sky: Children of the Light, is completely built on mobile platforms and can be downloaded on the iOS platform. In comparison, the old game called Journey, which was designed years ago, and a much narrower range of audiences since it was once only published on the Sony PlayStation platform. I used to be attracted by Journey when it first came out in 2012. At that time, I was still a middle school student with a limited budget and could only watch the live broadcast on TV, but I had already been deeply intrigued by the marvelous visualization of the dreamy scenes in this game. The Journey portrays the process of an anonymous adventurer who treks through numerous mountains, ran through countless bridges, and then dived deep into the deserts to explore and wake up the inscription he encountered, from which he extracted the energy for flying and conquered one high mountain after another. When I finally saved enough money to purchase a PS4, I felt so excited to finally fully engage in the game by myself. However, when I tried to recommend this game to my friends, I discovered that most of them play video games on their mobile devices, therefore making my recommendation extremely unsuccessful. As a result, when the mobile game, Sky: Children of the Light, was successfully produced by Xinghan Chen and provided to the public, I could not suppress my excitement to enjoy the unparalleled fun and engaging experience presented on the mobile device. I have faith that the game Sky: Children of the Light, when being published on the mobile platform, will reach a larger population of audiences of users, which was later proved to be the right prediction. The game soon attracted a much wider range of audiences and had been promoted to the recommendation page of the App Store, as well as being used as a demo for the Apple product release conference.
Part 3: Game Setting Interpretation and Highlights in the Game
Information list: game levels and contents
- Unravel the mystery: map exploration and collecting the winged light to update the flying poncho.
- Save the spirits: seek the spirits of the ancestors within the map and save them from the spell.
- Fill the sky with friends: socializing function; friends can be added and then unlock the “holding hands”, “high-five”, “hugging” and the stuff, and chatting is allowed in the final phase.
- Unlock the spirit gates: save the stars on the sky, every one of which corresponds to a constellation. Every time when an ancestor’s spirit is saved, the corresponding star is highlighted. Additional accessories, masks, ponchos, pants and musical instruments can be unlocked after new ancestors are saved.
- Fly higher: the flying power of poncho gets exhausted along the way, but can be rejuvenated through the light of the candle. Holding hands with friends when flying can also guarantee that the energy will not decline.
- Ascend to the Storm: the last and the most difficult level, which requires the high navigation and operation ability of the player.
In comparison to the Journey with only one desert scene, the game Sky: Children of the Light contains seven different maps to diversify the game experiences of the users. Every single scene is so beautiful that it can be a screenshot as an image as one of the innovative functions of the game, which further highlights its artistic value.
|Isle of Dawn||Follow the bell and find your way to the temple|
|Hidden Forest||Protect your light and find the source of Ancient Power|
|Valley of Triumph||Race down the ridge, and the city gates will open to honor you|
|Vault of Knowledge||Climb the Vault, its wisdoms awaits|
|Eye of Eden||A storm is growing, prepare for its opening by collecting more winged light|
Map name and corresponding instructions
As a person who dislikes rain in daily life, this dreamy rainforest presented in the game completely transformed my idea for rainy days. When players wonder in the Hidden Forest, which resembles the rainforest with a more imaginary design, the ground gets wet and once the raindrops fall on the body of the characters while they have no shield, they might lose energy from their poncho, which makes the climate an interfering and dynamic factor that adds in the challenging elements for the game. Despite the challenging rain within the forest, floating jellyfish in the sky makes the scene a real fantasy. Where there is light, there will be hope. This idea is recalled again to cohere with the overall theme and major messages delivered by the game.
As for the Valley of Triumph, the most attractive part is the snowfield which allows players to ski on the pink sand surface and navigates themselves up and down freely on the slope. This unique setting provides the players with unparalleled experience to navigate the character in the scene and interact with the game functions in engaging ways.
As for the background music, the game Sky: Children of the Light has a diverse range of music genres provided as the background music for each map in the game, especially in the Vault of Knowledge. Although the Vault of Knowledge contains an unknown and isolated territory that may make players feel contained and restrained, the coherent and vibrant BGM makes the atmosphere more dynamic, engaging and full of serenity and peacefulness.
Part 4: Critiques and Suggested Modifications
The first and foremost point for a critique of this game is the lack of diversity of the core methods to play the game. The logic is very linear, as players need to explore the map, gather more winged light, update the flying poncho, reserve energy and then collect more light-related elements, including candles and winged light along the way. The more winged lights I have collected, the more levels my poncho will reach, and the further and higher I can fly. However, when it comes to the last level, the Eye of Eden, I have to give away all my collected winged lights to save people, which ultimately destructed my sense of achievement after collecting all those winged lights. One winged light could only save one person, and I had to give away all my winged lights before I can possibly pass the Eye of Eden and finish all levels within the game. The core playing method is extremely struggling and emotional players can feel sad and disappointed. Personally, I believe that such storyline and setting is contradictory with the theme and background story of the game, since the spirits of the ancestors left the light to give blessings to the descendants instead of advocating them for giving away all there gains after going through those long and arduous journeys.
In comparison to the Journey, the game Sky: Children of the Light indeed has a more abundant socializing function. In the Journey, each player takes the role as an anonymous traveler who adventures alone into the desert. Whether we can meet another player or not only depends on chance, which in turn becomes serendipity. Whenever I meet another player on the map, we stop by and chat with each other through body language or walk together to explore the future paths. The only communication tool is body language, adding more uncertainty and uniqueness to the social function of the game, meanwhile making the game more unpredictable and full of expectation. In contrast, Sky: Children of the Light allows players to add friends with each other from the start, making the socializing function very random and unappealing. Each added friend will appear on my sky of stars, but if my previous friends go offline, the stars will go dim. As a result, no matter how many friends I add, when I take a glimpse at the sky to search for my friends, most of them might have already deleted the game, making my sky of friends full of disappeared stars. This makes me feel extremely lonely and harms my user experience instead of fulfilling the socializing function.
Last but not least, another shortcoming of the game Sky: Children of the Light is its profit-making method. The payment method includes in-purchasing mode which allows the players to buy priority cards or candles. The priority card allows the player to get connected and share with other players, which I believe is because Mr. Xinghan Chen wants family and friends to join the game together. However, in most of the cases, finding strangers online and sharing this priory card is much cheaper than buying it alone, therefore largely reducing the social networking value of the game. The game itself attracts most users from its beautiful scenes and vivid music, but remains only popular among a certain population who can appreciate this non-mainstream mode of this game. It is neither competitive nor sociable. Since the players need to interact with the strangers for a couple of levels before they can finally unlock the chatting function, it is counterintuitive to have its socializing function to become its major channel of making profits. I have no motivation to get to know the personal stories behind the strangers along the way, and found it extremely hard to chat with people when I have to navigate my characters to fly at the same time. Instead, I prefer to keep the distance as strangers with other players, and remain our relationship on the level of passers-by and quietly enjoy the beautiful scenes of the game by myself and with their temporary accompany. Therefore, I doubt the profitability of the game, since users are not motivated to pay, nor are they able to enjoy the socializing function within the game. Furthermore, the game itself is listed as free, making it even harder to actually ensure the adhesiveness of the game. I would suggest that the game should be listed for value at first to attract those who are willing to pay for the game and really appreciate the value of the game, instead of attracting lots of users who try the game and pay no money for the trial, and then delete the game one week later.
For the user interaction and social part of the game design, I believe that regressing back to the social networking format from the Journey will be more effective than the current stage. With no friends addition, no personal chat, players can focus more on the game in a more harmonic and virtual environment that will make them feel safe and engaging. Communication can be limited to the character level, with the chance for characters to make sounds, interact with each other and, preferably, have some emoji exchanges. I also have the idea to turn everyone the player has interacted with into a star hanging up in the sky of the character’s own world. There is no need for the characters within the game to break the virtual barrier and know the real name of each player, which may break the mysterious and delicate veil of the uniqueness of the game. In the end, the more the users interact with each other, the more stars that will appear hanging on their piece of sky, lightening up their world and bringing them with emotional support and accompany.
Conclusion and Personal Outlook
Integrating sound and visual effects in perfect ways, Sky: Children of the Light is a delicately designed game that worth all the appreciation and glamours it has received. As far as I know, Xinghan Chen has spent almost an entire year for solving the detailed issues for user interface interaction issues on the mobile device. The detail-oriented features in this game all make the user experience reaching an unparalleled level. For instance, if you receive a phone call during the game, the character in your game will put on the headphone as well, showing respect and care for the users from a diverse spectrum of aspects.
In comparison with the Journey, which was designed years ago, I found it hard to discover any significant progress or breakthrough in Chen’s design ability on the design level. The genre, style of visual design, character design and composition remained very conventional and fixed, while there has been identifiable improvement in the technical skills of the game and level design in his new game after years of trials and errors. As a game designer, I sincerely respect and admire Xinghan Chen for his mastery of game design ethics, concepts and innovation, and hope to see more premium products designed by Xinghan Chen. The critiques from me have included some points that I believe can be improved in future games produced by Xinghan Chen. If I am lucky enough, I aspire to join his team and contribute with my unique perspectives regarding the innovative aspect of the entertainment technology and game design.
All in all, despite the flaws and shortcomings of this game, the game Sky: Children of the Light is still a picturesque, attractive and engaging game. It is a typical and classical symbol of its genre, and demonstrates the high story-telling and visual graphic design ability of its chief designer, Mr. Xinghan Chen.