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“I died once.”

Vacant Sky is an RPG released in three episodes following the death and rebirth of Auria Edith, a small-town girl whose violent and unexpected death turns her world upside down. After her equally unexpected resurrection, Auria finds herself drawn into the heart of a mystery involving a cult of masked cultists who will stop at nothing to make her their goddess.

Features:
-Branching story and characterization
-Significantly alter the course of the story with your choices - including six endings
-Original soundtrack composed by Tarranon, featuring vocal tracks by Melody Yoo and Melanie Ehrlich
-8 playable characters (along with up to 6 guests)
-Customize Auria's stats and growth
-Select your own progression of skills to learn
-Interact with your party members to strengthen your relationship with them
-Unlock guest art title screens through sidequests

The game is split up into three releases.

Original version
Act I - Shadow and Ashes: Released March 16, 2009
Act II - Halo Locks: Released January 5, 2010
Act III - Angel of Justice: Released October 18, 2010

Complete Edition
Act I+ - Death & Rebirth: Released August 31, 2012
Act II+ - Night Zero: Released December 18, 2012
Act III - Angel of Justice: Coming soon!
Act III' - Our Eternity: Coming soon!

Latest Blog

Character Design Case Study: Mia

In this article, I’m going to discuss my process for developing and fleshing out characters. The example I’ll be using is Mia from Act II. There will be some mild spoilers for Acts I and II, so if you haven’t had the chance to play the game yet and intend to, be warned.



Mia is a character who first appears after the player completes their first major quest in Act II of Vacant Sky. She’s an interesting example because she wasn’t originally part of the story as I first envisioned it. Instead, she was introduced to fulfill a specific need I had in telling the story of Act II.

No Longer Human

Act II of Vacant Sky introduces the concept of an Archon, which is a person who has had another person’s soul grafted to theirs with magic. The exact mechanics of how they function are rather complicated, and I wanted to avoid inundating the player with exposition which they would probably forget. However, understanding what it means to be an Archon is crucial to following the story, so I needed some way to convey it to the player in a way they would engage with and care about.

I puzzled over this for a while when starting to write Act II, and eventually decided to illustrate rather than explain what an Archon is and what it means to live as one. To do that, I began to flesh out a character who would serve as a living embodiment of the concept of Archons.

I started by writing out the key ideas I needed to convey:


-Archons are (sometimes) immortal
-Archons can (sometimes) tap into supernatural powers
-Archons are unnatural
-Archons are prone to fits of ultra-violent rage
-The more an Archon taps into the power of their alternate persona, the more their state of mind deteriorates
-Archons and humans can’t coexist

The angle I decided to take was to have Mia serve as a snapshot of what Auria might look like in the near future. She’s a little older, more experienced, and most importantly, confident. At a time when Auria feels isolated and is struggling to find her place in the world, she encounters Mia, who has undergone many of the same hardships and seems to have everything figured out.

When the player first meets Mia, she is alone on the city streets at night, unkempt-looking, and astonishingly strong (having just single-handedly dispatched a group of thugs who had been harassing her). One of the first things she says to Auria after making sure that she’s unhurt is that she intends to follow the fleeing thugs to finish them off. When Auria demands to know how she can suggest such a thing, Mia is perplexed; to her, it’s the obvious thing to do: if someone’s causing you trouble, you should kill them to ensure they never bother you again.

Mia’s callous but rational thinking demonstrates her lack of respect for human life, a stark contrast from Auria’s idealism. Auria is appalled and afraid, unaware that later in the story, she’ll be required to make a very similar judgment call.

It’s clear from the first interaction with Mia that she lives outside of human society: she makes a distinction between herself and “them” when speaking and shows flagrant disregard for human laws and morality (she steals to eat and doesn’t bat an eye at killing someone when it’s convenient). She suggests that since they’re immortal, they have nothing to fear from humans, and that laws don’t apply to them; on the contrary, laws exist to protect humans from them.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The introduction of Mia answers a key question on the player’s mind (what exactly is Auria?) but also suggests several more without directly asking them:

-How did Auria become an Archon? When did it happen?
-Why is Mia so convinced that Archons and humans are enemies?
-Does Auria’s mother know that she’s an Archon? Does she know something about what’s going on?

One of the best ways to manipulate the reader is to get them thinking about questions, because they’ll laser-focus in on those questions as they read/play in the hopes of finding answers. This is useful for two reasons: 1) it builds anticipation and 2) it allows you to manipulate expectations.

In this case, building anticipation was one of my key objectives, since the questions were all answered at the turning point of Act II, a major scene which I wanted to be one of the most shocking and memorable moments in the whole Contention saga. By teasing the player with a mixture of anticipation and dread, the mood was set for a grim revelation that would (hopefully) cause the player to feel the same shock and hopelessness as Auria.

The connection between Auria and Mia is key to Act II. Act II serves as a transition for Auria, putting her on track to become like Mia. So, one of the goals of Mia’s introduction was to suggest to the player what Auria would be like at the end of it, and to set the player up with the expectation that they would find out. This serves to indicate to the player what the conceit of the story is and helps to contextualize the events to follow.

Characterization Through Gameplay

One of the unique benefits of the game medium is the ability to convey subtext through a space that the player navigates. Act II of Vacant Sky introduces a day/night system where certain people and places are only available at certain times of day.

For most of the game, the nighttime segments are fairly useless: only one location can be accessed at night, no quests can be done at night, and all of the player’s party members are either at home or just outside. The streets are empty, too. There’s no one to talk to.

This changes in the intermission between major quests. Mia exclusively appears at night, establishing a dichotomy between herself and the rest of the cast. You can only find her when everyone else is gone, when you’re warned that it’s dangerous to go out alone. This serves to enhance Mia’s feeling of otherness, as she alone breaks the pattern that you’ve become accustomed to in playing the game.

As Mia is the only one who provides the player with direct answers about the mysteries of the story, the player is encouraged to be curious about her and anticipate each interaction with her. As it’s never explicitly stated when she’s around, this leads the player to go out into the night (in doing so, disobeying the advice of Auria’s friends - her anchors to human society) and seek her out. The player subconsciously directs Auria into becoming an entity who exists in the lonesome world of the night, just like the mysterious girl they’re pursuing.

The second time Auria meets Mia, she witnesses her Archon powers go out of control, nearly causing the death of one of her friends. This serves as a warning of what will happen if Auria begins relying on her Archon powers too much herself (foreshadowing the ill-fated finale of Act II). However, Auria’s Archon powers are extremely useful in combat and become even stronger as the game progresses. This encourages the player to act out Auria’s part: you’re warned that her powers are evil and dangerous, but they’re just so convenient and satisfying to use that you can’t help relying on them more and more.

In the last stretch of Act II, you finally get Mia in your party. Although it’s normally a rule of the game that everyone in your party is always the same level, an exception is made for Mia, who is always 3 levels higher than Auria. On top of that, her stat build will always be the perfect complement to Auria’s, making it so that the two of them form a brutally efficient team. Her role in battle reaffirms her role in the story as Auria’s closest ally and the one who’s most like her. With Mia at your side, you can take down anyone. You’re not afraid, even when you fight a group of five soldiers equipped with Counter. The easy triumph over enemies that had once been extremely difficult helps put the player in Auria’s head; for the first time, she feels safe and in control, able to do anything with Mia at her side.

One Last Subversion

The final segment with Mia comes with one more departure from the patterns that the game has established. It takes place at twilight, the first time it’s been anything other than day or night. The track that plays in this section is “Last Night of Summer,” which previously played during the nighttime segment of Act I, a reminder that you’re still partially within the domain of the night.

The twilight of East Naven serves to illustrate that Auria (an entity of the day) and Mia (an entity of the night) have come together in the middle. The events of the game have dragged Auria toward Mia’s darkness, but at the same time, interacting with Auria, her first true friend, has pulled Mia out of the lonely emptiness of the night toward the domain of the day.

The twilight is calming, safe, and a little melancholy. There are people around, but the muted colors and somber music suggest that this isn’t quite the upbeat, welcoming world that the day normally is. It’s here, in the twilight, that Auria and Mia reach their resolve about what to do with their lives.

(The events of Act II’s finale, of course, wipe away the twilight and replace it with a fourth rendition of East Naven, barren and hopeless. The twilight period is never seen again in Act III: There can be no middle of the road.)

This was a little long-winded, but I thought I’d give an insight into how I develop characters and how I try to convey their characterization through the player’s interactions with the game. Hopefully, you found it interesting.

Posts

Sailerius
did someone say angels
3240
author=ubermax
I downloaded and started playing. I have to say, it looks AMAZING. Very professional. But just as I was getting into the story, I got an error and it shut down on me! =( sad face.

Edit:

The error reads: Script 'FmodEX *' line 303: Runtime Error occurred. FMOD Ex returned error 58.

Yep, that's the runtime error bug. There's a fix for that in the downloads page. Just put it in the main folder of the game and overwrite the file that's already there.

Sorry for the trouble!
Is COMPLETE version out or I have to download all files and instal?
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3240
author=Shadow_X
Is COMPLETE version out or I have to download all files and instal?

The Complete Edition isn't out yet. You'll have to download all three acts separately; no installation is necessary.
For Act I, right after selecting New Game at the title screen the game crashes and I get this:

"NoMethod Error occurred while running script.

undefined method 'increase_theta' for #<Tilemap 0x4737de8"

The Tilemap value changes each time I try to start it, but the rest of the error remains the same. This appears to be a script error that's unrelated to the fmodex.dll problem.

Only thing I could find searching the 'Net was that such an error is linked to Neo Mode 7 script. So, if you have that script in your game then that's probably what's wrong.
http://www.hbgames.org/forums/viewtopic.php?p=543829

Acts II & III both work fine, so it's only Act I that refuses to run for me.

EDIT--
PROBLEM SOLVED!!


Some more research led me to realize that the theta value in the Mode 7 script pertains to control settings/values for your keyboard/gamepad. So, I checked my gamepad's Properties under Control Panel and spotted something peculiar: the properties window indicated that button 7 on my gamepad was being pressed down--guess my gamepad is getting old and that button's lost some of its spring. After jiggling it a bit, I restarted Vacant Sky Act I -- and this time no error! Seems the Mode 7 script or whatever script you're using is sensitive to what/how many buttons or keys are pressed down while the game is started.

(tl;dr = the script error resulted from a stuck button on my gamepad)
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3240
author=SegNin
For Act I, right after selecting New Game at the title screen the game crashes and I get this:

"NoMethod Error occurred while running script.

undefined method 'increase_theta' for #<Tilemap 0x4737de8"

The Tilemap value changes each time I try to start it, but the rest of the error remains the same. This appears to be a script error that's unrelated to the fmodex.dll problem.

Only thing I could find searching the 'Net was that such an error is linked to Neo Mode 7 script. So, if you have that script in your game then that's probably what's wrong.
http://www.hbgames.org/forums/viewtopic.php?p=543829

Acts II & III both work fine, so it's only Act I that refuses to run for me.

EDIT--
PROBLEM SOLVED!!


Some more research led me to realize that the theta value in the Mode 7 script pertains to control settings/values for your keyboard/gamepad. So, I checked my gamepad's Properties under Control Panel and spotted something peculiar: the properties window indicated that button 7 on my gamepad was being pressed down--guess my gamepad is getting old and that button's lost some of its spring. After jiggling it a bit, I restarted Vacant Sky Act I -- and this time no error! Seems the Mode 7 script or whatever script you're using is sensitive to what/how many buttons or keys are pressed down while the game is started.

(tl;dr = the script error resulted from a stuck button on my gamepad)

Oh wow, that's very interesting; I've never had that problem before. I'm sorry for the trouble but thanks for reporting the fix!
Hi,

It seems that I've stumbled upon a problem. I don't know if it's a glitch or just part of the game, but it seems like I can't access the main menu anymore since fighting kasch blackwood in that cave. Is it possible to remedy this without me starting over again? Btw, it's in Act II.

Sincerely,
Frostentity
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3240
author=frostentity
Hi,

It seems that I've stumbled upon a problem. I don't know if it's a glitch or just part of the game, but it seems like I can't access the main menu anymore since fighting kasch blackwood in that cave. Is it possible to remedy this without me starting over again? Btw, it's in Act II.

Sincerely,
Frostentity

Unfortunately, that is a bug and I know exactly what causes it. If you email me your save file, I can fix it up for you and send it back. Send it to blue.oblivion@gmail.com .
I have just sent you an e-mail containing my save file. Thanks a heap for helping me out and for developing such a wonderful game.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3240
author=frostentity
I have just sent you an e-mail containing my save file. Thanks a heap for helping me out and for developing such a wonderful game.

So sorry for the trouble. I'll send you the fixed file ASAP. I don't have the Act II project on this computer, so I'll get it to you some time tomorrow.
author=Sailerius
So sorry for the trouble. I'll send you the fixed file ASAP. I don't have the Act II project on this computer, so I'll get it to you some time tomorrow.

No worries, I can wait. :)

*Edit - Any news on the save file?

-Thanks
A few questions concerning Act II:
1) Where can I find the old junk for the quest Historian 2?
2) Where to find the artifacts for the quest Virad Artifacts? I found a hood and a mask in that warehouse where you have to go for the Boris Island quest. Is there more? That stuff seeme to drop randomly.
3) In that orkan manor is a chest in the north west in the 'real' part of the manor. It is behind prison bars. Can you open this chest in Act II?
4) I did the orkan quest last. Rien told about the virad tattoo. Is it possible to confirm if Vel has a tattoo ir do you need the main quests in another order? Or is this related to the photographer quest? I already did this quest earlier.
@Luthan

#2 - do you mean the guy who's looking for any virad artifact? Anyway, a Virad Mask should suffice for that quest.
No you need more. I showed him the mask and got a reward. Then I showed him the hood and got another reward. But the quest is still marked as incomplete. At another forum I read that there is a uniform too. 3 items then the quest is complete(but it will still be marked incomplete because of a bug). But that is only what I read. Don't know if this is correct. I'm more interestet in that 'old junk'...
Luthan,

There is a Uniform that also drops in the Warehouse. They drop from Virad Spies which Salerius stated have a low encounter rate.

Even when you show him the 3rd item, which completes the quest, it still shows as incomplete.

You might try the underground cave where you first meet Vanquish for the old junk. I think that's where it is but I can't remember.
author=lucidrose
Luthan,

There is a Uniform that also drops in the Warehouse. They drop from Virad Spies which Salerius stated have a low encounter rate.

Even when you show him the 3rd item, which completes the quest, it still shows as incomplete.

You might try the underground cave where you first meet Vanquish for the old junk. I think that's where it is but I can't remember.

Okay,

I didn't find it in the temple where you meet Vanquish. So I tried to get the uniform first. After a few more killed spies finally one uniform dropped. I found the old junk in that warehouse too. It is called 'broken gear'. In that temple where you meet Vanquish is the wooden idol you need for 'Historian 3'. It seems that stuff only appers after you got the quest. That's why I didn't notice if when I was there first. And since I did the main quest in Orka last I already had visited the warehouse and the underground temple and thought there wasn't anything to find anymore.

Maybe you (@developer of the game) should make them appear from the start. And make some text like "It is a wodden idol." and describe how it looks. Then the player probably will remember it. The option to steal it should only appear when they characters have a reason which means after they received the quest. Also the virard items should only appear once. Maybe 3 special enemie encounters that appear in a different colour. Each drops one of the items and then changes to a normal enemie which reappears after leaving and reentering the map.


Then I also had the bug with the disabled menu after the Kasch quest. I fixed this with a save file editor. Don't forget to fix this in your Complete Edition.

Also it seemed to me that something with the dialogue with Kasch was strange. I think it was after the battle when Auria wanted to kill him. If you had decided to kill one of your companions earlier then the other one alive(not injured) will say something. If both are killed(injured) this is missing but it still seems like Auria is reacting to something a other person spoke.


Nice game. I didn't like Act I that much. A bit to short and the Skill System really sucked. But Act II the story started to get really interesting and the gameplay was better(no Skill System, more stuff like Awakenings, ...). I'm looking forward to Act III.

Now still my questions 3 and 4.
3) In that orkan manor is a chest in the north west in the 'real' part of the manor. It is behind prison bars. Can you open this chest in Act II?
4) I did the orkan quest last. Rien told about the virad tattoo. Is it possible to confirm if Vel has a tattoo ir do you need the main quests in another order? Or is this related to the photographer quest? I already did this quest earlier.

I don't want to miss anything. I'll wait with going back to East Naven until I know the answers to this questions because it seems you can't go back to the manor later.

Edit: Also regarding the scrolls for Rien. I found 5 scrolls up to now(until you return to East Naven). I think 4 were just lying around somewhere and one was from the Historan 3 quest as reward. Is that all? Or are there more?
Then regarding the quest 'Virard Artifacts': I don't exactly remember the last reward for the uniform. I think it said something like "Crimson Queen". I can't fint this in the inventory?
Sorry about the old junk - couldn't remember for sure :)

Can you open this chest in Act II?

No, I think only in Act III.

I don't want to miss anything. I'll wait with going back to East Naven until I know the answers to this questions because it seems you can't go back to the manor later.

You can go back to the Manor in Act III, that's when I did some of the side stuff

I did the orkan quest last. Rien told about the virad tattoo. Is it possible to confirm if Vel has a tattoo or do you need the main quests in another order? Or is this related to the photographer quest? I already did this quest earlier.

I did the same thing. And I do not think there is any way to confirm if Vel has a tatoo without playing the whole game through again and changing the order.

That was definitely annoying - I love the fact that you can proceed one of three ways, but I didn't think it was fair to give a storyline benefit that is not available in every path. There should be a way to trigger it on every path.

Scrolls - hmm, I seem to remember buying one, but that could be Act III.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3240
author=Luthan
Maybe you (@developer of the game) should make them appear from the start. And make some text like "It is a wodden idol." and describe how it looks. Then the player probably will remember it. The option to steal it should only appear when they characters have a reason which means after they received the quest. Also the virard items should only appear once. Maybe 3 special enemie encounters that appear in a different colour. Each drops one of the items and then changes to a normal enemie which reappears after leaving and reentering the map.

Then I also had the bug with the disabled menu after the Kasch quest. I fixed this with a save file editor. Don't forget to fix this in your Complete Edition.

Thanks for the suggestion; I'll definitely take care of that. The Kasch menu bug is due to a sidequest I had cut out but forgot to remove completely. In the CE, it's being added in again so the bug won't happen.

Nice game. I didn't like Act I that much. A bit to short and the Skill System really sucked.

A lot of things about Act I sucked. XP

Now still my questions 3 and 4.
3) In that orkan manor is a chest in the north west in the 'real' part of the manor. It is behind prison bars. Can you open this chest in Act II?
4) I did the orkan quest last. Rien told about the virad tattoo. Is it possible to confirm if Vel has a tattoo ir do you need the main quests in another order? Or is this related to the photographer quest? I already did this quest earlier.

I don't want to miss anything. I'll wait with going back to East Naven until I know the answers to this questions because it seems you can't go back to the manor later.

There are a number of things, such as the chest in the prison, that you can't do in Act II. You can return to all of these areas in Act III and new things will be available. Furthermore, the deal with Vel and Rien can't be addressed in Act II regardless of the route you take.

Also regarding the scrolls for Rien. I found 5 scrolls up to now(until you return to East Naven). I think 4 were just lying around somewhere and one was from the Historan 3 quest as reward. Is that all? Or are there more?

I believe that's all of them. If not, you can still get them in Act III.

Then regarding the quest 'Virard Artifacts': I don't exactly remember the last reward for the uniform. I think it said something like "Crimson Queen". I can't fint this in the inventory?

Can't you? It's an item with a scroll as an icon. Using it will change your title screen.
Okay, thanks for the answers. That should have answered all my questions. I'll continue playing now.

Regarding that 'Crimson Queen' item: I checked again. I can't find it. I did the quest again with another save file and it still didn't appear.

With scroll icons I only have the 'We are Forever', 'Shadow and Ashes', 'Halo Locks' and the 3 Photo Shoots that will change the title screen. And of course the 3 maps of East Naven.
Edit: And Back Rank Mate I found of course too in that orkan manor. Had that old save file when I tested the quest again when I still had to finish the manor.

Maybe something is wrong with the quest if you show him the uniform as last item. And others didn't notice because if you give him the items in another order it works without bug.