Skylight Gameplay

[This is the 1st post in a 4-part series describing Skylight. This post describes Skylight’s gameplay. Look for posts about the ships, campaign, and multiplayer in the coming weeks!]

Skylight is an odd hybrid: a turn-based game that features real-time action. The intention is to offer the best of both worlds, offering grand cinematic battles while giving the player time to carefully consider the underlying tactics. So how is this accomplished?

At the start of each turn, you’ll see both your fleet and the enemy fleet frozen in space. Each ship has a small circle overlaid, which I call a “medallion” in the code. You can hover over the medallion to get a brief description of the ship.

You select a ship by clicking on the medallion (i.e. looking at it and pressing the touchpad or gamepad button). At that moment, the “waypoints” in the level become visible. This is a grid of points in space evenly distributed throughout the battle volume.

After selecting a ship, you can give it an “order” by selecting any waypoint (to move) or any enemy ship (to move and attack). When this is done, the game draws a line from your ship to its new destination, and the medallion moves to the end of this line. You can then select the medallion again and issue a new order, creating a queue of orders (e.g. move here, then attack this enemy, then move there, and so on).

Some ships have special abilities as well, like a missile attack or a defensive shield. You can order a special ability by selecting a ship, pressing its ability button, and then (if applicable) selecting a target. This adds an order to the queue just like any other, so you can tell a ship to move forward, then fire its missile at an enemy ship, then move further, then attack that ship, etc.

You can take as much time as you like to issue orders to your fleet. Ships with no active orders will just shoot at anything in range, so if you pursue a defensive strategy, it’s not even necessary to give orders to all of your ships.

When you’re finished with the orders, you can end your turn, and the battle proceeds in real time. Here’s what that looks like in action:

(Also see the teaser trailer for an example of this)

Each round lasts for about 20 seconds, and then the battle pauses again. All of your remaining orders will still be present, so if you just want your ships to keep fighting, you can just end your turn immediately. But it’s more likely that the tactical situation has changed, and you’ll want to change your fleet’s orders. You can cancel any ships orders individually, or you can clear all the orders at once if you want to start with a clean slate.

So why do these orders matter? Why would you want to move one ship rather than another? Why not just attack with everything and see how the battle plays out? Where do the tactics factor in? There are a few answers:

  • Each of the different ship types has a different specialty. Some are better at dealing damage, some better at taking it. Some are better at destroying fighter squadrons, while others are better at taking out giant capital ships.

  • All ships (excluding fighters) have front-facing shields. When a ship takes a hit from the front, it does half as much damage as when they take a hit from the side or back. Thus, you can do a lot more damage if you can get behind the enemy and attack them from multiple sides.

  • When a ship is under attack by a fighter squadron, it can’t follow its orders. It has to stop and fight off the fighters that are swarming around it. Thus, fighters can be used to disrupt the enemy plans and temporarily incapacitate larger ships.

  • Many ships have one-time-use special abilities. For example, the Cruiser’s missile attack can damage all enemies within a small area. A squadron of Phantoms can go invisible (and untargetable) for a turn. The Ironclad can project a shield to take damage for all the ships around it. These abilities, deployed with care, can make the difference between glorious victory and ignoble defeat.

It’s not helpful to make plans that are too complicated, but there’s something beautiful about seeing a complex web of intersecting lines in 3D, all representing a devious plan that always stays one step ahead of the enemy. I sometimes talk about how you get to “orchestrate” your fleet, and I think that’s the best metaphor for the player’s role in Skylight.

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A game by E McNeill.