• Add Review
  • Subscribe
  • Nominate
  • Submit Media
  • RSS
“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
3304
author=Luthan
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.

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.

Ah. I'll have to look into it. I'm terribly sorry; it seems you have the misfortune of running into all of the bugs. ><
I checked with a save file editor. It took me a few minutes to find the item position of 'Crimson Queen' (264). It seems it really wasn't in my inventory. Even other items like the factory key that were once in my inventory appeared with an amount of 0 there. But item number 264 was not there. I added it manually now. Maybe really something with the order. Try showing him hood first, then mask, then uniform(equip other items then he he only reacts to items you have not equipped and that are in the inventory). Then show him mask first, then hood, then uniform. Bug should appear at one or both of the two orders since I showed uniform last but don't remember the order of the first two items.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
I'll definitely look into it. Thanks for the report. It can be hard to catch fringe bugs in testing when there are so many possibilities to try.
@Sailerius, thanks for fixing up my save file! :)

author=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.

Ooops... I guess I missed that. All I gave was the Virad Mask. lol. Maybe I'll replay it another time.

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.

Where can I get this save file editor? Maybe this will come in handy if I get stuck with a bug in the future.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=frostentity
@Sailerius,thanks for fixing up my save file! :)

author=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.


Ooops... I guess I missed that. All I gave was the Virad Mask. lol. Maybe I'll replay it another time.

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.


Where can I get this save file editor? Maybe this will come in handy if I get stuck with a bug in the future.

That's the only game-hindering bug in all three acts that I'm aware of.
author=Sailerius
author=Luthan
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.
Where can I get this save file editor? Maybe this will come in handy if I get stuck with a bug in the future.
That's the only game-hindering bug in all three acts that I'm aware of.

Oh, I meant for other games. :) It might come in handy even though there are only a few VX/XP games I actually like and am looking forward too.

PS One of those few VX/XP games is Vacant Sky. :) And, will there be a volume 2? If so, I'll really be looking forward to it. It's rare to find a developer as creative as you, who is using the VX/XP Engine. I wish the rest of the developers would follow your example... They should really try this game out before selling bug-infested games with a lot of typos. :(

*Edit - Oh yeah, nearly forgot... I really liked the difficulty on the boss battles in Act I, it makes you think, not just randomly using the best moves in your arsenal.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=frostentity
author=Sailerius
author=Luthan
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.
Where can I get this save file editor? Maybe this will come in handy if I get stuck with a bug in the future.

That's the only game-hindering bug in all three acts that I'm aware of.
Oh, I meant for other games. :) It might come in handy even though there are only a few VX/XP games I actually like and am looking forward too.

PS One of those few VX/XP games is Vacant Sky. :) And, will there be a volume 2? If so, I'll really be looking forward to it. It's rare to find a developer as creative as you, who is using the VX/XP Engine. I wish the rest of the developers would follow your example... They should really try this game out before selling bug-infested games with a lot of typos. :(

*Edit - Oh yeah, nearly forgot... I really liked the difficulty on the boss battles in Act I, it makes you think, not just randomly using the best moves in your arsenal.

Haha, thanks, but I think you're giving me a bit too much credit. Still, I'm glad you enjoy the games! You're actually one of the only people to say they enjoyed Act I's difficulty. You'll probably enjoy some of the optional bosses in Act III.

As for the save editor, I'm not sure, but a quick google search will probably turn it up.
I googled too because I read someone else used a editor to fix the menu bug. I found this one and used it: http://sites.google.com/site/darklunas/sgedit
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
Just be careful about messing with things. It could have unexpected consequences.
author=Sailerius
Haha, thanks, but I think you're giving me a bit too much credit. Still, I'm glad you enjoy the games! You're actually one of the only people to say they enjoyed Act I's difficulty. You'll probably enjoy some of the optional bosses in Act III.

No biggie. :) There are optional bosses in Act III? Cool. I'll definitely try it out. Btw, is there also a hard mode for Act III?

author=Luthan
I googled too because I read someone else used a editor to fix the menu bug. I found this one and used it: http://sites.google.com/site/darklunas/sgedit

Thanks for the link man. ;) This might really come in handy. I hope I won't have the need to use it though since I don't want to mess with the game so much.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=frostentity
author=Sailerius
Haha, thanks, but I think you're giving me a bit too much credit. Still, I'm glad you enjoy the games! You're actually one of the only people to say they enjoyed Act I's difficulty. You'll probably enjoy some of the optional bosses in Act III.
No biggie. :) There are optional bosses in Act III? Cool. I'll definitely try it out. Btw, is there also a hard mode for Act III?

There are many optional bosses in Act III, and yes.
WOW! I'm not even 5 minutes into your game, but am extremly impressed already. I'll update once I'm a bit farther, looking forward to playing this. Amazing job! Ohhh is there a way to fullscreen?
A question regarding the chest in East Naven: Was it possible to open this chest in Act II? I think I didn't find a way to open it and it seems you can't go back there in Act III.

Then about the sigils:
I read one sigil is in Bellemont but I can't find it. Is this in a house or is it outside? The other sigils were in chests and in the houses are no chests. Outside were only 2 chests with random stuff. I already opened of them in the north in Act II.


Then on another site I read this:
author=Sailerius
There's a very easy but very mean way of acquiring enough money for the Diamond Diadem.
Can you tell me more about this? I already did the Ressurection, Relinquish and Resignation ending. And the Relinquish ending wasn't a problem without the Diadem but I want to know how to get that money easily.

Edit: Found it. Lol. I read somewhere that you get the Relinquish ending if you refuse to help Vel or if you sabotage the efforts to save her. After the first choice when Ray asks you to help Vel I didn't find any other dialogue options that make you sabotate the efforts to save her(you can only choose to fight Darxinger and get the Resignation ending). So I thougt maybe it is a bit hidden and you can do some other things with Noe instead of giving her to Darxinger. Then I tried to sell her... lol. 49999 gold. But then you need to go to Svanholm to the boat and choose to go to Halo Locks and abandon Ray. Maybe you could make other dialogue options with Darxinger after Raphael Island if Noe is not in your inventory. You can't 'use' or equip her so if she isn't in your inventory it can only be because you sold her. So no other possibilities to take care of. Let Auria tell Darxinger that she sold Noe. Then an option where he is angry and wants to fight you. You can fight him for Resignation ending or run away. Then the other party members leave you and you can go to Halo Locks.
I have no interest in this type of game, but if I did like these sorts of games, i would certainly give it 5 out of 5, the graphics are astounding and the gameplay itself is brilliant.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=Rekitsu
WOW! I'm not even 5 minutes into your game, but am extremly impressed already. I'll update once I'm a bit farther, looking forward to playing this. Amazing job! Ohhh is there a way to fullscreen?
author=Rekitsu
WOW! I'm not even 5 minutes into your game, but am extremly impressed already. I'll update once I'm a bit farther, looking forward to playing this. Amazing job! Ohhh is there a way to fullscreen?

Alt+Enter will toggle fullscreen. I hope you enjoy!

author=Luthan
A question regarding the chest in East Naven: Was it possible to open this chest in Act II? I think I didn't find a way to open it and it seems you can't go back there in Act III.

No, there was no way to get it. There will be in the Complete Edition, though.

Then about the sigils:
I read one sigil is in Bellemont but I can't find it. Is this in a house or is it outside? The other sigils were in chests and in the houses are no chests. Outside were only 2 chests with random stuff. I already opened of them in the north in Act II.

It's outside and hard to see between the trees. Look around the gate at the south end of town.

As for your suggestion: Good idea, I'll keep that in mind.

author=Ichimaru_Gin
I have no interest in this type of game, but if I did like these sorts of games, i would certainly give it 5 out of 5, the graphics are astounding and the gameplay itself is brilliant.

I totally understand that not everyone likes this kind of game. Thanks for the compliments, though!
Oh. Just noticed I was in the wrong town. I was in Barette not in Bellemont. Seems Bellemont is that new location mentioned in the FAQ which you only can access in a new cycle? Then I should go for the next ending and try getting that sigil when I'm going for the last remaining ending.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=Luthan
Oh. Just noticed I was in the wrong town. I was in Barette not in Bellemont. Seems Bellemont is that new location mentioned in the FAQ which you only can access in a new cycle? Then I should go for the next ending and try getting that sigil when I'm going for the last remaining ending.

Ah, yes. After saving Vel, talk to Ray to unlock the new area and the new ending.
Nice. Now I have almost everything. I'm in the new cycle and I already defeated Darxinger and the Archetype Auria and all the enemies in the arena except the last 2 rooms. And I got all the 4 sigils and the new awakening.

I found some bugs. At the beginning of the new cycle you can use the ancient manuscript at the book in the Hall of Legends. If you don't use it it asks you where you want to go and it offers (only) the Mag Mell dungeon as option even if you haven't visited the church yet. You can get the Worldweaver and then go to the church wihout bugs. Just talk after the first dialogue a second time with Laaik. If you use the manuscript it correctly offers the arena and that Yomi thing as option(and probably unlocks the Mag Mell after you have visited the church).

After the visit in Bellemont you need to visit Raphael Island again because of Seri. If you go there and then go straight back to Svaneholm you won't encounter Seri(I think you need to go to the place where Noe was and then go back to the boat to trigger the event). Svaneholm the pier is empty then and the other party members that are usually staying there aren't there. I reload a save earlier and didn't check. Mabye this was intended because of Vel...

Questions: Can you do something with the Excerpts? If you somehow manage to get them all(seems they are random in chests)? Or are they only for reading.

The description of the 'Star Fragment' says 'It might be worth money'. Is there a use for this item or is it really only for selling?

I just saved after meeting Seri on Raphael Island. It now says "Silence (II)". Is there a Silence (I). I don't remember seeing Silence (I). Or can you go searching Vel in Svaneholm first (don't know if this is possible) and not go to Raphael Island and then get Silence (I)?
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=Luthan
Nice. Now I have almost everything. I'm in the new cycle and I already defeated Darxinger and the Archetype Auria and all the enemies in the arena except the last 2 rooms. And I got all the 4 sigils and the new awakening.

I found some bugs. At the beginning of the new cycle you can use the ancient manuscript at the book in the Hall of Legends. If you don't use it it asks you where you want to go and it offers (only) the Mag Mell dungeon as option even if you haven't visited the church yet. You can get the Worldweaver and then go to the church wihout bugs. Just talk after the first dialogue a second time with Laaik. If you use the manuscript it correctly offers the arena and that Yomi thing as option(and probably unlocks the Mag Mell after you have visited the church).

After the visit in Bellemont you need to visit Raphael Island again because of Seri. If you go there and then go straight back to Svaneholm you won't encounter Seri(I think you need to go to the place where Noe was and then go back to the boat to trigger the event). Svaneholm the pier is empty then and the other party members that are usually staying there aren't there. I reload a save earlier and didn't check. Mabye this was intended because of Vel...

Questions: Can you do something with the Excerpts? If you somehow manage to get them all(seems they are random in chests)? Or are they only for reading.

The description of the 'Star Fragment' says 'It might be worth money'. Is there a use for this item or is it really only for selling?

I just saved after meeting Seri on Raphael Island. It now says "Silence (II)". Is there a Silence (I). I don't remember seeing Silence (I). Or can you go searching Vel in Svaneholm first (don't know if this is possible) and not go to Raphael Island and then get Silence (I)?

Good catches and thanks for the report. I'll take care of them in the Complete Edition. Silence (I) is in Act I; it's the segment where you go to Ciel. And you're right, the excerpts are only for reading and the only use for Star Fragments is to sell them.
chana
(Socrates would certainly not contadict me!)
1584
You game is quite professional, with extremely original ideas, sophisticated and rather impersonal dialmogues, i had a great time playing it (though xp lags like mad on my computer!), though not at all on the creative side, i mean the very personal expression that goes into creative imagination (not to confuse with "invention") like to take one a millon : Forever's End(!)