Behind the Scenes with Coatsink—Plus Brand-New Content and a Holiday Sale for ‘A Night Sky’

Oculus Blog
Posted by Oculus VR
November 21, 2017

Since its initial launch, A Night Sky has offered up five content packs available for purchase to add greater depth and breadth to the experience on Gear VR. Today, we’re excited to announce the release of their sixth new content pack just in time for the holidays: “Night of the Emperors.”

Even better, you can get all six content packs for just $3.99 USD for a limited time—now through 6:00 pm PT on November 28!

To celebrate, we sat down with Coatsink Designer Jorden Hildrew, Animator Emma Hollingsworth, PR Manager Jack Sanderson, and Sound Designer Simon James for a look back at the making of A Night Sky and today’s penguin-powered addition.

What was the initial inspiration behind A Night Sky? How does this particular title differ from your other VR efforts?

Jorden Hildrew: A Night Sky was born entirely from personal experience, specifically the area I where lived growing up. My aunt’s place overlooks the ski slope near Doxford Park, and you can see the whole of Silksworth from her garden. I remember the farms, forests, and hillsides seemed to go on forever, but that divide where the sky met the horizon was captivating. A few years ago, I had the chance to introduce my cousins to the world of VR at a family BBQ (having just started in the industry). It was amazing to see their excited reactions as they passed the headset back and forth, desperate to share the experience—and that’s what I wanted to recreate: a simple experience people could share, take their time over, and experiment with. To enjoy the scenery and excitement, to eagerly tell each other what to do, where to look, how to find the magic dragon—in other words, something charming that everyone could play and pass around. From there, A Night Sky wrote itself. While the Esper series was all about the cerebral challenge, and Augmented Empire combined action, tactics, and drama, A Night Sky is all about discovery and recreating that magical experience.

What goals did you set out to achieve with this title? Have they changed over time?

Emma Hollingsworth: With A Night Sky, we wanted to create an accessible and charming introduction to VR that newcomers could pick up and immediately understand and play. This meant intuitive controls with detailed and captivating animations. We also wanted to push the humor in our animations and make sure there’s always a new character or amusing detail to discover around the next corner. We maintained this approach for each of the content packs, always aiming to do something new to captivate the player. As time went on, we experimented with different scales and types of player interactions to make sure each new content pack felt fresh.

How did the game change from initial concept through development and up to the present?

EH: We never anticipated the game becoming so big! At the start, A Night Sky was a short, sweet, and simple experience, where the only interactive elements were the stars themselves. Now it seems like there’s stuff to play with everywhere you look. Mini-games also became more prevalent. Originally, the only “game” aspect was the simple matter of joining the stars. That notion clearly changed as the new packs were concepted and developed.

What can you tell us about the latest content pack? What can fans of the game expect to see?

Jack Sanderson: We wanted to do something loosely themed for the holiday season while maintaining that cute factor our fans love. They can expect some charming new characters, new animations, and—yes—a new mini-game. Plus, from the very beginning, we said it’d be amazing to see the aurora borealis make an appearance, so keep your eyes peeled for the Northern Lights.

What sorts of challenges did you encounter during development? How did you overcome those obstacles?

EH: The world we created is huge, so character size was a tricky challenge. Often it’d be hard to make out the details on smaller characters if they drifted too far from the player, while big creatures, like the Phoenix, became overwhelming, so some clever camera trickery was needed to counteract this. It was also uniquely interesting to figure out how certain ideas would work way up in the mountains. When the Kraken was first suggested, everyone loved the idea, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how a sprawling tentacled sea monster would work on dry land. At first we thought about just glomping him onto the landscape, but the notion seemed deeply tragic somehow. I think the creative solution we found produced some of our best work.

What’s the team dynamic for this project? How would you describe your typical day in the office?

JH: The Night Sky team consists of five animators, two artists, two programmers, a game designer, and a sound designer. At the start of the week, we put our heads together to discuss what everyone’s gonna be up to over the forthcoming days, discuss any feedback, review last week’s work, then usually throw around new ideas for half an hour. Coatsink’s hugely collaborative, and ideas for new content can come from anywhere.

Who did you work with on the game’s music and overall sound design? What was that experience like?

Simon James: Here at Coatsink, we have an in-house audio team consisting of one sound designer (me!) and Composer Vince Webb. Our whole team works in-house—from the same room, in fact—so our workflow from storyboarding to the final touches of mixing are fluid. The whole team is involved right from the very start. At the beginning of a cycle, while artists and animators are pulling ideas together, the audio team can be recording new material and working on musical themes. Closer to the end of the cycle, when ideas have solidified and animations are complete, the audio team can finalize implementation and work on the mix. This approach allows us to bounce ideas around the whole team and let all departments inform the work. It’s a great feeling when a deadline is hit and everyone can experience the final product together.

What drove you to explore the VR space? Why not a more conventional format?

JS: Coatsink develops and publishes title for most major platforms, but we’ve been involved with VR for a long time (Esper was a launch title for the Gear VR Innovator Edition) simply because it’s such an exciting medium, allowing us to explore wholly new gameplay ideas and worlds. Consequently, Coatsink’s developed a great relationship with Oculus over the years, who’ve been hugely supportive every step of the way.

If players take one thing away from A Night Sky, what do you hope it would be?

JH: Above all, a sense of wonder—with their imagination firing and an eagerness to share the experience family and friends.

What would you say to a someone who has yet to dive into VR?

JS: Try it once. Just once. Try out a friend’s headset, check out VR at a convention, or try one in a shop. Because watching other people or simply being told that, “Yeah, it’s amazing,” doesn’t remotely compare to that first experience.

What’s next for you? Any exciting projects in the works?

JS: This has been a busy year for Coatsink. The team’s expanded so much, we had to knock down a wall to fit everyone in the office—and yes, we’re working on a number of exciting new projects too. For details, keep an eye on Coatsink’s Facebook page and Twitter feed over the coming months.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Jorden, Emma, Jack, and Simon. We can’t wait to see what’s next from our friends at Coatsink.

Check out the holiday-inspired “Night of the Emperors,” out now for A Night Sky on Gear VR!

— The Oculus Team