SkySaga: Infinite Isles, Does the sky have any limits?

Back in the day, teenagers Philip and Andrew Oliver programmed a puzzle-based, platform graphic adventure called Dizzy which starred an anthropomorphic egg bouncing around the fairytale land of Katmandu. It did incredibly well, with the twins cracking the series open to create an entire Yolkfolk family and developing Codemasters’ biggest franchise of its early years.

Today, the pair are attempting to repeat their feat by offering an endlessly evolving online sandbox world. They have high ambitions “It’s what we have been building up to, what we’ve always wanted to create,” says Philip but this time around they need help. Radiant Worlds, a company formed from the ashes of Blitz Games Studios purely to develop SkySaga, has 70 staff and it has bet the entire studio on this one project. It is using South Korean cash to create a spin on that influential block-building game Minecraft, producing an open world of voxels filled with resources and treasure that, it hopes, will be a British money and job creator one that becomes a gaming staple.

To achieve that, SkySaga: Infinite Skies, to give it its full name, is a game of two halves: an adventure and a tool for socialising with friends. It is already proving rather compelling more than a month into its alpha release, serving up desert, forest and freezing cold landscapes, easing gamers in with a structured opening explaining the rules of the game, and allowing would-be adventurers to choose a character according to colour, gender and race.
“ The alpha testing will go on for months. It’s the start of something that will hopefully last for five to ten years ”
Players are then given their own customisable floating Home island high in the clouds with anything built here being free from destruction (unless the player agrees for it to be editable). “The home island provides a safe place where the only thing scary is the sheep,” explains design director Benjamin Fisher. “We want the player to feel they can build something in a creative way while allowing them the freedom to dig and build as part of a problem-solving  skill  set. Players can then go on adventures where there are genuine threats.”

The adventures come in the guise of mini-quests, each of which are produced by the game’s Adventure Director. They take around 40 minutes to complete, setting players off towards a castle to uncover an escape portal. On the way there are goodies chief among them pieces of keystone that create new quests and an assortment of evil baddies that are intent on making life difficult. Cue a good old scrap.

What makes the quests stand out is the fact they are procedurally generated, as is much of SkySaga (where even the names of the islands are always unique). The landscapes are automatically populated with buildings, each of which are made up of the available resources in a particular environment, and there are caves, dungeons, mountains and assorted nooks and crannies to get your teeth into. The idea is that the adventures get players talking. Gamers can take photographs that show off the various items that they come across and share those screenshots among friends.
It feels like Minecraft as players dig for minerals, hunt animals for food and build shelters, but this free-to-play sandbox adventure generates unique mini-quests too
Crafting is the number one objective, though. Gamers mine the land, obtain resources and build cool items. Materials can be combined to make any recipe and the properties of the materials will be imbued into the created object. Introduce gold into the equation, for instance, and the crafted item will be heavy, allowing it to inflict more damage. And yet, as powerful as this resulting weapon will be, the gold will slow it down. “Each piece of equipment has positive and negative traits,” says Fisher. “We wanted an approach like Team Fortress.”

It’s nowhere near perfect at this stage, though. There are plenty of bugs, some of which even surfaced during the developer’s demonstration of the game, but that is the nature of alpha releases and Radiant Worlds is moving towards as bug-free a commercial unleashing as possible. SkySaga is set to be a phenomenon.

At some stage, SkySaga will close down for all but a small number of players, during which time Radiant Worlds will observe play patterns and discover the power of the machines being used to play this server-based offering. One mechanic Radiant Worlds will be looking to maximise, though, is PvP, a social booster that will allow for some tasty battles, although SkySaga also wants players to embark on adventures together as well as compete with each other.

One of the key questions is how this free-to-play game will turn a profit, though. The alpha release has no in-game purchases and the developer says it has made no decisions with regards to monetisation.

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