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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
3304
I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say, but thank you and I'm glad you enjoyed it!
Oblic
Once a member of RMN, always a member of RMN!
1752
author=chana
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(!)


I hate to feed the troll in this comment, but the shear bally-ness of that statement made my day. Granted, what little I've played of this game, I enjoyed it. I mostly haven't gotten that far in this one because I'm easily distracted, but I do plan on coming back to finish.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=Oblic
author=chana
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(!)
I hate to feed the troll in this comment, but the shear bally-ness of that statement made my day. Granted, what little I've played of this game, I enjoyed it. I mostly haven't gotten that far in this one because I'm easily distracted, but I do plan on coming back to finish.

Understandable. I would really appreciate any thoughts or feedback you might have since I'm working on the final version of the game and want to make sure I address everyone's concerns.
I just finished all three acts, great story but this is one of the most unusual rpgs that i have played due to this game having no world map. One question, how far into the complete edition are you by the way? Also just to inform you i remember there being a few mapping mistakes in the first act on couple of towns such as being able to walk on a table, unfortunately i forgot what towns exactly were they.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=CrazeGirl555
I just finished all three acts, great story but this is one of the most unusual rpgs that i have played due to this game having no world map. One question, how far into the complete edition are you by the way? Also just to inform you i remember there being a few mapping mistakes in the first act on couple of towns such as being able to walk on a table, unfortunately i forgot what towns exactly were they.

Thanks for playing! Yeah, I know it's kind of odd to have no world map, but I thought it was out of place in a world where you can get from place to place using trains and aircraft. As for the Complete Edition, Act I is finished and Act II is nearly done; I'm in the process of adding some new optional content. As for the mapping errors in Act I, I'm well aware of them and they've been fixed for the new version.
@Sailerius: There's a few mapping errors on Act II - the bookshelves in (what's his name?) Manor. I might not finish Act II anytime soon. I'm losing my drive to playing RPGs, now that school is just a few days away. :(( When I do finish it, I'll try writing a review for Vacant Sky, along Iron Gaia and Forever's End. ;)

I just finished all three acts, great story but this is one of the most unusual rpgs that i have played due to this game having no world map.

Not having a world map didn't bother me at all. :)
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=frostentity
@Sailerius: There's a few mapping errors on Act II - the bookshelves in (what's his name?) Manor. I might not finish Act II anytime soon. I'm losing my drive to playing RPGs, now that school is just a few days away. :(( When I do finish it, I'll try writing a review for Vacant Sky, along Iron Gaia and Forever's End. ;)

I just finished all three acts, great story but this is one of the most unusual rpgs that i have played due to this game having no world map.


Not having a world map didn't bother me at all. :)

Yep, I caught the one in Maladorr Manor in Act III. How far into Act II are you?
@Sailerius: Maladorr Manor... The only map I don't like, so far. lol. Waiting for Auria to get a headache is really annoying. lol.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=frostentity
@Sailerius: Maladorr Manor... The only map I don't like, so far. lol. Waiting for Auria to get a headache is really annoying. lol.

Ahh, yeah. >< That's luckily been fixed in Act III and the Complete Edition. Which other areas have you completed?
The one against kasch blackwood and the warehouse filled with virad filt. I can't seem to remember the others, but I think Maladorr Manor is the last on my list - came here after doing everything else.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
Yup, then you're nearly done with Act II.
Hello,

First of all congratulations for this great game trilogy you made its great. Fabulous characters great story epic soundtracks nice battles(except Act I which had too limited battles and no encounters). I m currently in the end of Act II but before i start act III i want to finish Act II 100%. That s why i need your help if you don t mind :). I ve actually finished every optional quest here except the quest from the guy who seeks Variad artifacts. I mean i ve showed him Variad mask Variad Uniform and Virad Hood but he still wants something more. Could you please tell me what this item is and if i can find it randomly from Virad battle like the previous ones? And also there is a chest in that city that blackguards killed everyone(the one above the demon cave) which i can t reach. Its behind Seria's uncle s house and north but i can t go there.
That s all :)

Thank you for your time !
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=Paris155
Hello,

First of all congratulations for this great game trilogy you made its great. Fabulous characters great story epic soundtracks nice battles(except Act I which had too limited battles and no encounters). I m currently in the end of Act II but before i start act III i want to finish Act II 100%. That s why i need your help if you don t mind :). I ve actually finished every optional quest here except the quest from the guy who seeks Variad artifacts. I mean i ve showed him Variad mask Variad Uniform and Virad Hood but he still wants something more. Could you please tell me what this item is and if i can find it randomly from Virad battle like the previous ones? And also there is a chest in that city that blackguards killed everyone(the one above the demon cave) which i can t reach. Its behind Seria's uncle s house and north but i can t go there.
That s all :)

Thank you for your time !

I'm glad you're enjoying it so far and yeah, I know what you mean about Act I. x_x

You showed the man all three artifacts? That should be it; it might just have not marked the quest as complete. Regardless, every Act II sidequest is still available in Act III. Regarding the chest in Ciel, you won't be able to get that until later.
Oh thanks for the fast answer. I just thought i had to show him something else cause i didn t get a reward but i m glad now i will finally stop fighting all those Virads :) Also there is a final chest that i didn t take but maybe i did not search well. Its the one in the manor hidden behind those cell bars. Anyway act II was great except that it was kinda easy I expected it more challenging i played it on ledgendary difficulty after all. I hope Act III will be more difficult and also i hope that it will last longer :) I m curious are you planning on making Vacant Sky Vol 2?

P.S. Sorry i forgot another question. There is a side quest i forgot which and the reward is another charge for Auria and 2 other items which i never realised what they were. If you could tell me i d be really gratefull xD
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=Paris155
Oh thanks for the fast answer. I just thought i had to show him something else cause i didn t get a reward but i m glad now i will finally stop fighting all those Virads :) Also there is a final chest that i didn t take but maybe i did not search well. Its the one in the manor hidden behind those cell bars. Anyway act II was great except that it was kinda easy I expected it more challenging i played it on ledgendary difficulty after all. I hope Act III will be more difficult and also i hope that it will last longer :) I m curious are you planning on making Vacant Sky Vol 2?

P.S. Sorry i forgot another question. There is a side quest i forgot which and the reward is another charge for Auria and 2 other items which i never realised what they were. If you could tell me i d be really gratefull xD

I can assure you that Act III is considerably more difficult and that it's quite a bit longer. The chest in the manor is another one that you'll have to come back to in Act III to get. As for a sequel, well, we'll see how successful this game is first. Maybe if there's enough demand for it.

I'm not sure which sidequest you're referring to. Did you complete the three quests given by the old man in Svaneholm? That's the one where you need to travel and collect items.
Yeah yeah i did those quests. Actually i did every side quest except the one to find the missing George in Act I :) Doesn t matter anyway i ll finish Act II and begin the third game. Thanks a lot for your help i m glad i didn t miss anything important
Ok I just finished Act II and i gotta say that the ending was awesome and the plot becomes more and more interesting. Really great story which could definitely become an awesome movie. Did you think all the concept alone? And also i d like to report two bugs that i found in Act II. The first and most important is about leveling up. We are supposed to train till level 15 if i m not mistaken. However even though it shows no exp to next level by training more i finished the game at 18 level. At first i thought you did it on purpose but when I saw that when Mia joins you is level 15 i realized that its a bug. And the second bug i found is when you depart from Auria s home with Mia in the morning if you try to enter to the local cafe or breakfast shop (I don t really remember what it is xD its the shop that some old man complains that has lost customers to Pizza Empire in the first Act) from the side door an error pops up that it can t find graphics and the game crashes. You obviously forgot to lock that door in the code and since you didn t include graphics for that place that makes the game crack. They doesn t matter really just thought i should report em to you just so you know :) Thanks again for the great game you made.... Ok i need to play Act III now. See you later x_x
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=Paris155
Ok I just finished Act II and i gotta say that the ending was awesome and the plot becomes more and more interesting. Really great story which could definitely become an awesome movie. Did you think all the concept alone? And also i d like to report two bugs that i found in Act II. The first and most important is about leveling up. We are supposed to train till level 15 if i m not mistaken. However even though it shows no exp to next level by training more i finished the game at 18 level. At first i thought you did it on purpose but when I saw that when Mia joins you is level 15 i realized that its a bug. And the second bug i found is when you depart from Auria s home with Mia in the morning if you try to enter to the local cafe or breakfast shop (I don t really remember what it is xD its the shop that some old man complains that has lost customers to Pizza Empire in the first Act) from the side door an error pops up that it can t find graphics and the game crashes. You obviously forgot to lock that door in the code and since you didn t include graphics for that place that makes the game crack. They doesn t matter really just thought i should report em to you just so you know :) Thanks again for the great game you made.... Ok i need to play Act III now. See you later x_x

Thanks for the bug reports, I'll definitely fix them up. I'm glad you enjoyed the ending! The concept is completely original, but I didn't do it "alone." I had input and suggestions from friends while working on it.

Enjoy Act III!
Maybe you didn t do it alone but its still a great work. At least I and my lazy self wouldn t do a game like this even if i tried for a decade :) Don t thank me since i get this great game for free i enjoy helping you with it anyway i can. Oh and while you re fixing those bugs, if you have spare time check the level 2 passive abilities. I m not sure but i think they don t give the stat boosts they were supposed to give(actually i think they give nothing). This only applies for Act II level 2 passive abilities, level 1 work fine. However i m not entirely sure for this maybe i m mistaken, but i m too lazy to make new game in Act II and tell you for sure :) I m currently 20 level in Act III and Auria doesn t have Slash IV yet. I hope its normal cause i started at level 18. I hope i didn t miss the chance to learn it. Anyway i hope i didn t bore you with my long messages. Be well and make more quality games for us RPG game lovers to enjoy
Hey its me again. I got the Return the Remission the Ressurrection and the other bad ending where you get killed from the blackguard leader ( i forgot the ending name ). Is there one more bad ending? Also i can t fight the final opponent in the arena. When i press the button to talk to him he doesn t respond. I beat everybody else even Weapon and Vel and i want to beat him too. Also what about those pieces of paper can they do anything? And i have also beaten the Prototype Auria in the mansion and got a Ribbon that makes the wearer immune to Vital hits. Is this the only reward? And i still can t take the chest behind Seri s uncle house. Thanks for your help in advance :)