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Gathering Sky
February 28, 2016 | by  | in Games Splash |
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Gathering Sky

★★★★★

Developer/Publisher—A Stranger Gravity

Platform—Steam (Windows/OS X), iOS, Android
If you’re looking for a non-traditional game, Gathering Sky is the ticket to a brief but good time. Developer A Stranger Gravity states that Gathering Sky was their attempt to reject conventional aspects of contemporary video games. Such games often become philosophically or tactically complex through plot, but maintain a typical inherent structure. However, Gathering Sky is designed for a single purpose: to guide a migrating bird through the heavens. As it flies, more birds join your fast-growing pack and you guide them too.

Think of it like being God. You have an aerial view of a flock and the space around it; you control it with your index finger and a simple mouse-click. It seems like you have all the control in the world, but really you don’t. You can’t hold your mouse or finger over the birds, otherwise they rock around and begin to spin about each other. If you don’t do your job, the birds will turn white; they seem to say “Did you lose me?”

Perhaps it’s just the game’s perspective, but when these birds come into danger it’s extremely disconcerting. You care for these defenceless creatures without spending more than 30 minutes playing. That’s actually a big feat, considering how some games never manage to create a player-character bond.

Still, no matter how long you spend in any of the six levels, the result is the same. Stranger Gravity wants players to experience the dangers of bird-life. Unavoidable hawk attacks punctuate the atmosphere; the the worst part is when you lose your flock in a storm and only one bird emerges. The music and visuals contribute to the pervading feeling of loss, desolation, and make you crave shelter from the unhappy constraints of destiny.

Get through the game quickly by jumping into the fast lane and guide your birds through undulating currents; or, go slowly and explore. The background is beautiful, even in the darker levels. Watercolour and acrylic striations curve in harmony, creating a sense of a sculptural landscape. In my favourite level, you begin in blackness until suddenly, you’re soaring through purple and pink hued star-waste. You then direct your flock into odd, four pronged and metal-ringed orbs, which sing as they turn colourful. All of this is accompanied by an original orchestral score composed by Dren McDonald.

It’s these aspects which are indicative of Gathering Sky’s conceptual underpinnings as the exact opposite of simple. We’re dealing with spirituality, transcendence—the philosophical journey to embrace one’s immaterial essence. The birds serve as mediators between the supernatural realm and reality; as ‘vehicles’ for the inspiring, uplifting feeling that comes from the aspects of art in the surreal experience of this game.

The design is dictated by recourse to metaphysics and bird mythology, two thematic aspects that are unified by the abstract painting and orchestral composition. What was it Nietzsche said about art and music? The human capacity to experience music was a transcendental precondition, and that the creation of art and music was the primary reason to exist? Something like that. Accordingly, Gathering Sky’s purpose is to illustrate the individual’s transcendental journey and to show that despite their fellows, they are still alone—their experience of flight, like the player’s experience of the game, is solitary. The game strengthens this by way of its intense beauty, and its complementary frank realism.

 

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