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Rating: 4.8/5 (337 votes)
Comments (64) | Views (16,051)

skyrates2.jpgPatrickAs odd as it may sound, Skyrates is a game about human-like animals flying biplanes between floating continents. Think Star Fox meets The Kingdom of Zeal from Chrono Trigger. You're a young pilot out to make an impact — or at least get rich — by trading, performing missions, and fighting pirates. Here's the catch: flying between islands takes at least an hour of real-world time. The game was designed by a group of then-CMU grad-students to explore sporadic play, something you check like e-mail a few times a day. The result is not only interesting, its good enough to thread its way into your life.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008The game's interface is a wee-bit more complicated than we usually review here, but once you get your head around the concepts, you'll have no problem. There is an over-world map with several floating lands marked on it. You can see the one you're currently docked at as well as a fuel radius highlighting areas you can fly to. While docked you can trade goods, equip your plane with upgrades and utilities like fuel and ammo, and receive missions at the tavern. Trading is an easy and safe way to move up in the world, just buy whatever is most plentiful (marked with a large, blueish bar) and fly it to a place where it is scarce (marked by a short, reddish bar).

skyrates.gifAlong the way you can choose to engage pirates. Fighting them is a fun dogfight mini-game where you control the tilt and velocity of the plane with [WASD] keys and fire with the [spacebar]. Slowing down allows you to turn faster, so you end up trying to pull some slick maneuvers and get on top of your enemy. Just remember, if you intend on playing this game like you do most games, you're going to spend a lot of time looking at a screen not unlike the one at the top of this page.

skyrates3.jpgAnalysis: The production values are strong, the polish is on, and the game is a clever twist on real-time deferred dynamics. What I mean by that is, for example, the way tech points in Virtual Villagers accumulate over time based on your computer's clock, even when the game or the computer itself is off. You can design a whole game around things that takes a lot of real-time to change, and I think its a great approach. Quintessentially casual.

With this game, I can think of a Travian-esque business model the fine folks behind it should consider: you can subscribe to get a "sky map" of jet streams that accelerate travel, or you can buy with real money some quantities of special jet fuel that makes travel almost instantaneous. In other words, monetizing impatience. There's also a lot of potential with player-created groups such as trade guilds, protectorate factions, religions — lots of interesting macro-dynamics that would make this worth coming back to, beyond the accumulation of wealth and upgrading your ship. Little things like e-mail alerts when you come into port, these could make a big difference in how this game can be integrated into someone's life. It's basically a dressed-down, casual, time-based version of Elite, and that's excellent.

It's a lot more fun than flying in the real world, and you'll probably get there sooner.

Play Skyrates

Cheers to Sean and Johnicholas for suggesting this one! =)


Great graphics.

Great gameplay.

Great review.

Works well in IE and Firefox.

Very nice.

Dan Someone January 19, 2008 12:34 AM

As I understand it, this is a beta, and from some chatter I heard while checking it out, it may have only another month or so to run in beta. Watch for a switch to a pay-to-play game.

Dan Someone January 19, 2008 1:38 AM

Correction. I asked around in chat, and Skyrates seems to be unlimited beta. At some point, they are likely to start charging for it, but it's not clear when.


Whoah, what's up with that trade panel screencap? I've been playing Skyrates for about 6 months now and my trade window is *much* simpler.

Samizdata January 19, 2008 3:15 AM

Very frustrating when you see a game you suggested months before show up with no credit for the submission.

[Edit: Sorry for the oversight. I've updated the entry with the credits. -Jay]


Just thought I'd leave a little feedback. While Skyrates is a great game, all of your screenshots (hot-linked directly from the game site, admittedly) are of the old version of the game. The newer version has a much more refined and user-friendly interface.

[Edit: We never "hotlink" to anything on any site. If we use screenshots already provided from a site, we always host them ourselves. -Jay]

Desincarnage January 19, 2008 9:29 AM

I just started playing this game after reading this article, and while I have not had the chance to do much yet, I have to say that so far, the community there has been very pleasant. If it turns out I don't like the game, I might find myself going back there only to chat!


This is a very neat idea - I currently have over 3 hours of actions queued up, and I've just begun playing. A periodic procrastinator's dream.

I would love to see some iPhone compatible client, to at least check on current positions and perhaps queue flight and trade actions. Perfect on-the-go game. But that's a dream, I'm sure :)


Hey, thanks so much for the notice :) I'm one of the developers of the game and...yeah, you noticed how we haven't updated our screenshots in a while. The game has thankfully gone through a number of iterations to make the game more clear.

We've just updated our screenshots, which can be seen here:

Click here for pretty pictures!

And the trade screen in particular is:
Here for big.
Here for small.

Thanks again, and we hope you enjoy it!


Oh, and you can also read our postmortem over here if you are so inclined.

Game Career Guide, Student Post Mortem: Skyrates


Thanks, Sigesti! I've updated the screenshots. :)


Very nice game.
I'd love to see a dashboard widget for Mac OS that maintains basic info like action queue updates and time remaining on flights, with links back to the game in a browser.
I'm sure this would be pretty easy to implement if there's an existing API for finding out info.
Again, love the game, particularly the sporadic play.



Thanks for the response :) Yes, I understand the flash limitation on the iPhone - well, rather, the complete lack of support. But a simple HTML client using AJAX that serves a purpose similar to what peter has suggested with a Mac OS Dashboard widget would be wonderful. Maybe the devs could release an API for something like this. I'd be interested in implementing it.

The concept of the game is just great, thought, I've got to say. Keep up the good work :)


What a fantastic little game! There's a deceptive amount of depth to be found here. Games like this really help to push the entire flash games medium forward. Hell, games like this just plain push the medium of games forward. I'd add some more superlatives and hyperbole, but then my key board would explode and little elves would burst out of my monitor and start dancing on my desk.

Wait...that made no sense. Story of my life.

PS--thanks for the post mortem link Segisti. It was a great read.


It seems we're crashing their servers.


Yeah, we seem to be crashing the servers. Over at their site, they call it a 3rd. Because the game appears to load to 1/3 before it tells you the server is down, or that you need to log in again.

It kind of stinks. I've been trying to log in for a full day just to get a look at it.

As they say, I keep getting 3rd-ed

Bug forum for game:



well jay i think we broke it,
there sever is constantly jammed and the regular users are amazed at the amount of CR-4Ps flying around there world!
the 1/3'ed error is happening a hell of a lot for them now
hopefully they'll be able to get it all together to get a decent dedicated server, because there on a testing server at the moment
and the load up now has a message of
Welcome jayisgame
While the server might not be happy to see you, the rest of us are! Sorry about the frequent restarts. We're working through some memory issues, in the meantime please bear with us. - Henri Clay

all in all it's a great casual game and has alot of potential for people who "really ought to get some work done". and I really hope there servers get up to speed for all the new users!


Hey everyone,

Thanks for the positive feedback on Skyrates! We are very excited to have so many new players however we haven't had an influx of new sign ups this large in this short of a time for a while. As everyone has pointed out this is crushing our test sever.

We are working on the problem and hope to have it fixed soon. My recommendation is to check back in with us in a day or 2 and hopefully we will have a bit more stability.

Thanks again for checking out skyrates, we hope you all get a chance enjoy the game!
-Chuck (Icarus)


Looks like the site is down this morning while they do some rebooting.

Just wanted to chime in to point out that it's currently on my top 5 games list - the implementation of the concepts, the excellent design, and the nice visuals all drew me in...and the community there made me stay.

Good recommendation, good review, and good game :D


We are back up and running, thanks everyone for their patience while we stabilize the game for a larger number of players.


I have to agree with everyone else -- it's a great game except for the part where the servers keep crashing due to all the load we're putting on it! I've been hitting F5 every 30 seconds for probably a total of 90 minutes today. Can't wait for a better server, because even with the annoyance of constant reloading I'm still enjoying myself tremendously!


I suggest all jayisgames reviews should be preceded by a warning to the developers, to give them time to prepare, or at least prepare preparations.


This game reminds me very much of the LavaMind game, Gazillionaire Deluxe (which I just submitted to the website, after not finding it here myself)

It's a similar concept, but much more fun than this one (aimed at younger people).


If anyone would like to try it.


I'm enjoying the game but I'm not sure I understand how one "unit of ore" and one "unit of food" can cost the same unless the "unit" of ore is about a handful.


Oh, how interesting. It even looks familiar, though I'm sure I've never seen it before. How buggy, and how awful that we are killing the servers, huh?
But oh man, bears and giraffes, how can I resist flying bears and giraffes?
Honestly, though, I don't like most of the character drawings, except for the few crew member screenshots I've seen around the net.

Anonymous January 22, 2008 5:35 PM

Is everyone else still experiencing the "snow cone" screen when trying to play the game?


This is great fun, and it only takes a few minutes a day to do well - a fortunate change from the majority of MMO flash games of this sort.


Yeah, I'm still getting snowconed too...I haven't been able to do anything past the tutorial...


Ever since you posted this game up, I haven't stopped playing it. Well, I mean I haven't stopped thinking about it. I've already created four pilots and I have them all up to about 20K each.


Hey i have some few questions:
- how do you get a faster motor
- how do you get lot's of money
- how can you do missions?

Thank you


I would love to try this game out but Im worried it will take ages to load. I only have a dial-up computer connection and it makes game loading time very long.... usually games like this take over 10 hours to load for me....can anyone tell me how long this one takes to load? I really want to play but I dont think I can stand the wait if it takes to long.:(


@Viridi: It's the other way around - at current prices, a ton of iron ore would buy you about 250 pounds of wheat. :)


SahBeth- Since I don't use dial-up, I can't answer your question with 100% accuracy, but I believe Skyrates is pretty easy on the loading time. if everything is working right on the server-side for the game, it takes at most 20 seconds to load for me.


yay!It loaded! And it didn't take ages eather =)


*sigh* It hasn't worked for me ever since the tutorial...except now, instead of just getting the snowcone message when I get 1/3ed, it keeps telling me I haven't logged in - even when I have. I already tried clearing my cache, using IE, etc.

The tutorial seemed interesting and I really want a chance to at least try the game!


Yeah, I seem to be having the same problem too. I log in, press play, and get told I'm not logged in.
Check the top of the screen, I'm definitely logged in.
Do everything over just in case.
Happens again.
Clear the cache, run an anti-virus program just in case.
Still happening.
I haven't been able to log on for a few days now.
Help anybody?


I get the "need to log in" message occasionally as well. Always when I change internet connections (laptop at home or at office, eg), and seemingly randomly when I haven't changed connections. The first case is fixed by just logging on again. The second case is almost always fixed by simply refreshing the page.
If it's that consistent, try checking out the forums at their site.

love the game and the site February 17, 2008 10:03 AM

I like the game and about the paying thing I know a good site that isn't in beta and makes money with ads they ae even able to have a good size staff


The site is loading at a snail's pace. I played the tutorial, but now I can't play the actual game. What is up with that?

love the game and the site February 17, 2008 2:23 PM

sorry i double post but we brokst it again


The site has moved.Try here

By the way I love the site Jay, keep up the great work.


Thanks, Sam! ^_^

The links have been updated. Cheers!


Love it!


Hi, i registered and logged in, but cannot create my first character.... some error like " Failure! Only created -1 rows on game db skyrate initialization"

I can't even login to the forum (which need a character name to login) to report this bug! Help....


Chak, try creating a new character. I looked through the forum and a couple of people had the same problem, but it works for them now.

link to topic


Heh, just checked the placement of all the planes, and I just happened to notice how widespread all these planes are as compared to when I started (hundreds of junkers flying around Cidade). I guess we do make up a signifigant portion of the players.


For all who say flight takes too long:
You can logout and do something else on the computer while you fly and in 1:29, give or take, your plane will land in the next Skyland.


How do you boost your flight range?


Those screenshots from the links you gave are out-of-date.


Oh nvm, you boost your range by buying better planes and/or upgrades.


Ever-curious, I have another question: How do you delete a character you made?


"-Isn't that looting"
"Not when you do it with style!"

I haven't even finished the tutorial and I love it already.


Well, after setting up three characters, it is no longer a periodic game, but a frantic dash between three characters in a futile attempt to get none torn to bits by pirates.

Also, a little tip, though I'm not sure if it qualifies as a cheat:

if you are in a ridiculous battle for any reason, you can just enter the battle, refresh the page and the combat will be gone. I don't believe it shows up in your log at all. Not as a flee, not as a loss, so it's really great if you're doing a high-risk mission and you're still in your CR-4P. However, you have to remember to remove the missions before you hit your next leg, or else it will be auto-resolved, which could equal loss or flee.

Also, the Skybrary (The Skyrates Wiki) is an intensely useful source.

And despite the wacked-up server, the game is frighteningly addictive. If they got a new server, I believe we have a game to rival many very good games. It combines the slow-paced planning of Travian with the good-old action/strategy as shown in the combat rounds, which is absolutely AWESOME. Also, try using the 'secure login' option provided on the login page, in the event that you cannot either switch characters or play the game.

Bascule June 23, 2008 8:00 PM

Anyone still playing? The new server is very stable, and seems to handle the crowds with no glitches. If you gave up out of frustration, the problems are (95%) solved.

Turns out to be an excellent way to kill 5 minutes twice or three times daily!


Boy, is this game amazing. I've been active for the entire time after it's been reviewed.

Anonymous October 28, 2008 5:20 AM

There's a reset scheduled for November 4, meaning that everyone starts fresh. I'd take this opportunity to get in as soon as possible, so you can be at the same level as everyone else.


Love this game. Addictive. I'm always on the computer for WAY too long periods at a time, so this game is great. Buy some stuff, get serviced, then off you go. If you stare at the screen for too long, you realise that you could be doing something else. I keep the alarm on, so that I can still fight the battles. :D

I love how the scenery changes occasionally whilst you're flying, even though the game was designed so that you wouldn't even bother watching the screen. Nice touch.


I haven't been able to play anything past the tutorial for several days now, keep getting 1/3'd. I'm giving up, perhaps I'll give it another shot in a week or two. Looks a bit like caravaneer, which I loved so I really want to try it. No dice, though.


Still playing, now Skyr 2.5, bigger and better than ever ;)


Yeah, a lot of new features have been introduced such as condition decay, upgrades have been re-introduced, and the Roleplay community is as strong as ever. So give it a try!


This game is FANTASTIC! I love it!


This is one of those solid gradually addicting games. In my opinion, this one absolutely exemplifies "casual gameplay". I've never played a game that balances so well between real-time combat and play-when-you-want style formatting. One of my all time favorite online games, I can't recommend it highly enough to people who have limited free time.


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