Sky: Children of the Light, the secret of a game that aims to improve the world

Sky: Children of the Light, the secret of a game that aims to improve the world


"You know, I'm getting old." When we first met Jenova Chen, the founder of thatgamecompany had recently closed a deal with Sony to release three games on PlayStation Network, and was preparing to launch the second, an atypical and enchanting experience called Flower. A few years later we passed him in the rooms of E3, intent on wondering if the press and the public would have appreciated Journey. Spoiler, they would.

It's been a while since then, but a few days ago we met the game designer for a third time, this time through a computer screen, to talk about the arrival of his latest game on Nintendo Switch, the Sky one: Children of the Light that made us fly with emotions in the summer of 2019, when it was released on smartphones and tablets.

For those unfamiliar with it, Sky can be described very briefly as a sort of Journey in the clouds, a fascinating journey in which to remain open-mouthed while exploring and crossing beautiful settings. Unlike Journey, however, the multiplayer component is much more developed, transforming Sky into a unique social experience, which allows you to share precious moments with other people, and visit these environments literally holding other players by the hand.

From the Sky: Sons of Light interview with Jenova Chen a chat about the game and the most recent news came out, of course, but that naturally led us to talk about the passing of time, about red thread that connects his works, and how people, united together, have the strength to change the world in a positive way.


Jenova Chen Two full years have passed since the debut on the App Store, but Jenova Chen is keen to underline how the Nintendo Switch version of Sky: Children of the Light is the result of a much longer path, which began nine years ago and which in the last couple has sprouted and expanded through seasonal contents and activities. "At the beginning Sky was meant to be a kind of carousel ride", explains the author. "There is a basic story, but when we launched it, the game transformed into a kind of theme park. And just like a real theme park it has continued to evolve over time, seeing the addition of new lands. , characters and challenges.

Last summer we added for example a tropical island because with the spread of Covid our users could not afford even a day of vacation. In the autumn we included a series of ethereal challenges to allow players to test their skills, while in winter - with the Season of Dreams - we introduced a story that revolved around ice skating. Last spring we finally had an event called Season of Assembly, in which a group of boy scouts he wanted to finish his tree house. "

All these innovations have kept alive and passionate a community that has practically exploded since the launch of the game, responding to an urgent need of many people who, in a period of quarantine, were looking for light and vibrant experiences, which would allow them to socialize and visit new places, albeit virtual ones. "When we launched it, we didn't even know if it would be successful, as our longtime fans weren't on mobile," explains Jenova Chen.

"Yet, a year after the release we saw an exponential growth in the number of players, and only in July of last year did Sky become a success and it allowed us to make money back. There were two crazy and stressful years ". The gaming community - which at the end of last year had reached 50 million downloads - is now 70% composed of a female audience, but above all it has attracted a huge slice of people who usually do not play video games, often approached from the desire to play with a friend, partner or family member. "A lot of them play with their kids, and I have to admit that internally this was our main focus when developing the game. Our intention was to create something that was like a Pixar or Studio Ghibli movie, and that could be enjoyed as much. from the big ones as from the children ".

The crossover with the Little Prince

The social component makes Sky more than a simple" Journey in the clouds ". Season after season, we arrive at the most recent and most particular event ever made for Sky. The one dedicated to The Little Prince is not only the first seasonal event since thatgamecompany's game landed on Nintendo Switch, but it is also the first time in fifteen years that the American company has collaborated with an existing IP.

"The Little Prince has always been my favorite book", Jenova Chen tells us. "There is so much affinity between Sky's story and that of the book, and that's why we wanted to invite the Little Prince into our world, allowing the player to befriend him, hold his hand or play hide and seek together. book was one of the main inspirations in the early days of Sky's development. Once a friend of mine said to me 'you know, you remind me of the Little Prince', and I felt flattered because I think he is a character who represents something pure and genuine. During the development of the new update I reread the book many times, also having the opportunity to meet the author's heir and ask what is the secret that the fox tells the little prince, which is the essential thing in life that is invisible. Not being the original authors they can give me just an interpretation, but according to them what is essential is the bond, friendship and family you have, while everything else is not essential: money and fame come and go. Sky is a game focused precisely on connecting people to each other: during its development we hoped that if a family had played Sky they would be able to feel closer ".

Over the last couple of years, Jenova Chen has received numerous requests for collaborations, as many live service games are based on exactly this type of campaign. "I had no intention of doing yet another crossover with Marvel, or anything like that," she tells us. " I thought if we had to do one, it would be our favorite, and so we wanted to pay homage to The Little Prince. Many of our users are young and have no idea of ​​the existence of the literary work; at most they think it's the 2015 movie. We did a survey to ask what form of entertainment our players preferred and in first place there were short videos on TikTok, in second place YouTube and in third place video games: the books are only in seventh place. Many of these young people growing up today will never read the book of The Little Prince, so I would love if our game could introduce this timeless classic and maybe make you curious to read it. "

The origins of a trailer

The Little Prince in Sky Unlike a book, however, Sky is a game that rarely relies on words to tell its stories. Most of the time players communicate with each other through a series of emotes, exchanging candles or playing musical instruments, and even the events of the game are often suggested by symbols, images and clues, leaving the player's curiosity to discover and interpret.

"A bit like Journey, Sky also tells the story of the world through observation. Every player is some sort of archaeologist who goes around trying to figure out what happened, and I've seen so many fan art of people imagining what the world was like before Sky. "However, Chen tells us that the team had already a precise vision of how the imagery of the game must have been before the events told at the beginning of the adventure, and so he decided to show it in the splendid launch trailer of the Switch version. "We have been working on this trailer for about half a year , and in the end we thought that launching the game on Switch would be the best time.

For the trailer we also collaborated with Austin Wintory, and in fact you can hear some similarities with the music of Journey, which has a slightly different approach to that of Sky. This is because the world before the game started was much more colorful, the characters wear bright clothes, while in the world of Sky everyone is a blue ghost. I'm glad many people enjoyed the trailer ".

A positive community

The one between thatgamecompany and its community, however, is an exchange that moves in both directions, with users who have had an important influence not only in suggesting improvements and news within the game , but also in stimulating Jenova Chen and her team to embrace much more important initiatives. Among these is the one called "Days of Healing", a fundraiser through the game thanks to which thatgamecompany and Sky users have donated to Doctors Without Borders a million dollars to help in the most intense period of the recent pandemic.

"When we first organized a fundraiser for Earth Day we thought it would be nice to allow the nos tri users to do something to help the world. But many people have told us' but where do you live? With Covid involved, we should not plant trees but help other people in difficulty '. So it was our users who pushed us in the right direction. This year we tried to do an Earth Day initiative again, and we raised several hundred thousand dollars to clean up the ocean and our players loved it. In a certain sense it all happens very naturally, because Sky's design and history are based on altruism and sharing, and so our users mobilize to help ".

Inspiration and future

In Sky, the ability to hold other players by the hand was a "trick" to allow people to play together with those not used to playing 3D adventures The relationship between Jenova Chen and fans of her games sinks however, its roots are much further in time. Among all the author's games it is possible to trace a red thread that starts from the first experiments with Cloud and flOw, passes through Flower and arrives at Journey and finally Sky, and if among the different works can be found thematic, playful or emotional links is because, after all, user feedback has influenced Chen to take one direction or another.

"Sometimes I think I'm running out of new ideas, so I try to take from our old games what everyone liked and people. I always have the feeling that there is a continuous dialogue between us and the players. While I was in school, the people who tried Cloud told me that I should open a company to make it clear that games are not just fighting and sports, but can be something touching and positive. Probably if the fans had not written to me in the past today I would be doing something else. When we finished Flower they were positively impressed and wanted to see us work on a multiplayer experience, and after that we saw that they wanted to play with their families ".

The ability to freely play musical instruments was one of the most characterizing elements in Sky's non-verbal communication. As time passes, Chen feels he is also maturing as an author. "Cloud was something very personal. It was about my childhood and somehow it reverberated with many people I didn't know who were around the world. Through their encouragement I try to always be authentic in what we make: whether it's Flower, Journey or Sky, there is always a little bit of my voice in every game. You know, then I'm getting old: in Flower's time I was pretty naive and full of ego. I was just out of school and wanted to show that I can do something that no one has ever done before. With Journey I became a bit more mature, I made a lot of mistakes and I had to learn from my mistakes; but at that time I was still single, living alone, while during the development of Sky I had a family and children. Things in life accumulate and as I grow up I hope to become a more mature person and that my future games may also have more nuances ",

And in a chat entirely focused on the past, Jenova Chen gives us a little glimpse to the future. That of Sky but also that of Thatgamecompany: "Sky is growing tremendously, and since we did not expect such a success we are expanding the company very quickly, if only to keep up with the updates. There's something really exciting coming up: you'll have to wait until next year for the announcement, but we're creating something we've never done before. At the same time there is always the question of our next game: we are working on that too but we will announce it when we are ready. This will take a while ".

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