Hands On: Gathering Sky

Gathering Sky (nee Apsis) [official site] is an extremely simple game to play. You guide at first a single bird, then two, then many, through a collection of levels. That’s it. While there are things with which you can interact, there are no particular goals, no puzzles to solve, no targets to reach. And yet I sat compelled as I played almost the whole game in one sitting.

I should note, the version I played was on an iPad, although the game will be on PC at the same time as tablets, and its single finger interface will obviously be a single mouse. Drag your cursor or finger about the screen and your flock of birds will follow. It’s upon accepting that this is the whole of it that Gathering Sky wins you over. Shed the need for goals, and embrace the pleasant.

As you flit about, wind currents drive you onward, sweeping you up, down and around, but subtly push you along the path of each level. You can deviate and explore, and if you’re desperate for any goal, attempt to gather all the available birds into your flying squad by hunting down the fireflies and so on that cause new avian pals to turn up. Travel from the far left to the far right of any level and it loads the next, changing the mood.

A significant change to the game since we saw it last year, under the name Apsis, is a new soundtrack. A spectacular new soundtrack, an originally composed score, performed by the San Francisco Conservatory Of Music. Each level attempts to articulate an emotion through its skyscapes, and its score, moving from playful to melancholy, to darkly foreboding. One section was filled with thick white clouds, through which the birds cut thin streams, letting you dive and flit about to create lovely shapes. A later level features a dramatic thunderstorm, the wind currents now seeming to work against you, lightning arcing behind you, leaving you focused on keeping your flock together rather than seeing what pretty patterns you can form.

So it is very bare. But it’s also meant to be. As I played and chatted with one of the developers, I was completely content. It’s a soothing, calming experience. We happened to be sat at a table with former Edge magazine supremo, Margaret Robinson, so I handed her the iPad so she could have a go. She looked up from the game to ask a couple of questions, but then quickly looked down again, saying, “Hang on, sorry, I feel terribly responsible for these guys.”

And that’s exactly it. You’re mystically in control of this flock, able to grow to an enormous 80 individually flying birds, and it starts to feel a bit important that they keep going.

The game is close to completion and should be out on PC in a couple of months.


  1. Llewyn says:

    Everything I see about this one reminds me of the classic PS3 soother Flower (or fLoWeR or whatever they called it). Did you play that one at all? If so, any thoughts on similarities or differences?

    • Telkir says:

      I did! Really enjoyed it – Flower was and is a great little game to relax with, and however strange it might sound, probably the most memorable thing I played during my brief time of actively using a PS3. It’d probably the thing to make me brush of the dust and set it up again some time.

      Although I like the idea of another Flower-alike, I’m not convinced that 2D will offer the same power to create an interesting world with enough diversions in it. I suppose you could argue that games like the Knytt series have done fine in 2D, but they’re not exactly the same style of gameplay. Time will tell, I guess.

    • Timbrelaine says:

      I thought of Flower too, but without the crazy speed and grass physics. So, what genre is that? Disembodied flying simulator? I could play some more of those.

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      particlese says:

      Ooo, I hadn’t noticed it before, but yeah, it looks just like what I was expecting of Flower. I personally spent way too much time careening into walls in that game, but now I’m thinking that could be because I let myself get sucked into collection mode and exploring every crevice I could find. I’ll have to try a different tack with this one, and maybe go back and retry Flower at some point. Thanks for pointing it out!

  2. TheWheel says:

    love this kind of games, waiting for the release