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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
Guargh. So sorry about that, it's a bug. -_-
Well, from the looks of it, my problems with the acts are being fixed in the complete edition.(There weren't many) I'd say, this is my second-favorite game on this site, Sailerius. Good story, good characters, I found your music very good. I didn't find ALL the music "memorable". But I never do for any other games on this site. But with one exception, your music for the city "Viadahn" was the first memorable music I've heard in a RPG-Maker game.

When I turn on some VG music to listen to, I play my final fantasy 10 favorites, ocarina of time favorites, shadow of the colossus favorites, and many more, including that city's music. My favorite location in the game would be that place, very pretty.

So yeah, I thought I'd mention my thoughts on it, give some positive feedback. I don't have any bad feedback, really... except for act 1, it was sort of annoying. But good enough to get me into act 2, which got me to like the game. Never managed to beat Act 3 though... I'll wait for the complete edition to try again.

So, that's my take on the game, definately 4.5 out of 5.
Edit:(Sorry about my random comment in the middle of the bug report)
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
I'm glad you enjoyed the game! I know Act I has a lot of problems in its current state, largely since it was my first game and I didn't really know what I was doing. But I've definitely applied what I've learned since to the CE version. Was there a problem you ran into in Act III?
author=Sailerius
I'm glad you enjoyed the game! I know Act I has a lot of problems in its current state, largely since it was my first game and I didn't really know what I was doing. But I've definitely applied what I've learned since to the CE version. Was there a problem you ran into in Act III?


I understand, I've gone through many "first" games without actually finishing it, starting over to re-do it with what I learned and then the cycle has continued for the last few years. I'm close with a final idea for my first game though, but about your question.

In act 3... it was a long time ago since I played so I don't remember exactly. But there was this manor I had to go through, and I sort of knew what I had to do, but couldn't find the way or where to do it. The path wasn't very clear and I ended up going around in circles there trying to find what I had to do. I remember leaving the manor to try somewhere else, and ended up finding a unreal house, and I was alone, as just Auria. Here, the battles got me, I couldn't survive in the place so I guess I just got stuck and decided to take a break from the game. I doubt it was because of problems with the game though, it might of just been me and my below-average skill at the game.

Well, okay, I was good at it, but not good enough at that part. I would of started over and tried to set up my characters better, level up better and stuff, but I decided I'd wait until your complete version, that's what stopped me. I bet I could of beat act 3 if I kept trying on my second playthrough, but decided I would of just started over again in the complete version, so I would wait until then.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
Ahhh, fair enough. Yeah, the gameplay in the Complete Edition is being significantly overhauled and it's a lot better now, I believe.
i hate shadow vastale soo much... I only have auria, and he has counter on and regen... Ever time i attack him, he regenerates 4500 hp twice... And attack me twice. I have an ascension that gives 35% speed, and i already have 850 speed, and evade on... I also have regen and rejuv on.. Thus... making this battle impossible to win unless someone suicides... Even with enrage and rend to sorrow, i can only do like 9.4k to him.... I lose my charge, AND my enrage the next turn and he full heals... This is TORTURE!!!!
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
Do you have the Perdition Awakening? That makes the fight much easier. You need to find the four sigils to unlock it.
darn.. i only have 2 sigils. oh well... I suicided and used lavir before he got regen put on him so it's all good.
I've heard great thngs about this game but i'm having a problem getting started. I keep getting an error message right at the start. After the opening credits the two guys start talking in the jail(i assume it's a jail anyway). after 4 or 5 lines of dialogue this error message keeps popping up

script 'FmodEx*' line 303: RuntimeError occurred.

FMOD Ex returned error 58

I've redownloaded the game like 3 times now and it keeps happening.

Does anyone know how to fix this?
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
There's a fix for it on the download page.
Thank God for your intro because if not for that I would have quit this game very quickly.

I basicially only downloaded this because I saw you give vicious review of Forever's End a game that I hated more than I liked and wanted to see
how much better you could at what you said sucked in that game.
First off I'll start simple. The graphic glitches are numerous and bothered me because they kept appearing in every map.
Second off in Forever's End and in your game you seem to have a unhealthy obsession with making fun of what you think is emo which
was also incredibly annoying and not the slightest bit funny. I can't believe you didn't hate you own main character because she seems to
fit your description of Emo perfectly.

Moving on, my biggest peeve is the pace of this game I'm sorry dude it's awful and it seems like you just wanted to get it over with, it
moves so uncomftorably fast that i started losing taste for this game before I even got the passport.
The party and dialogue also seems poorly and quickly thrown together for no reason.
Playing the really entertaining intro then moving to this makes it seem like it was made by two diffrent people that or you just stopped
caring after the intro.

Ok Auria well you got her pretty much down she talks and acts like a annoying teenage girl and that is exactly what she is.
The art is beautiful btw.

I am still early into the game and I have high enough hopes that I will keep playing this and I will say you almost made me want to go back RMXP
just so I can script the battle system I wanted for my game which I can't do in rm2k3.
I'll try to right a review once I finish and that Intro was enjoyable and the art is really quite pretty and I can't judge Act 1 as the entire game which is why I will continue it.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=Nandez
Thank God for your intro because if not for that I would have quit this game very quickly.

I basicially only downloaded this because I saw you give vicious review of Forever's End a game that I hated more than I liked and wanted to see
how much better you could at what you said sucked in that game.
First off I'll start simple. The graphic glitches are numerous and bothered me because they kept appearing in every map.
Second off in Forever's End and in your game you seem to have a unhealthy obsession with making fun of what you think is emo which
was also incredibly annoying and not the slightest bit funny. I can't believe you didn't hate you own main character because she seems to
fit your description of Emo perfectly.

Moving on, my biggest peeve is the pace of this game I'm sorry dude it's awful and it seems like you just wanted to get it over with, it
moves so uncomftorably fast that i started losing taste for this game before I even got the passport.
The party and dialogue also seems poorly and quickly thrown together for no reason.
Playing the really entertaining intro then moving to this makes it seem like it was made by two diffrent people that or you just stopped
caring after the intro.

Ok Auria well you got her pretty much down she talks and acts like a annoying teenage girl and that is exactly what she is.
The art is beautiful btw.

I am still early into the game and I have high enough hopes that I will keep playing this and I will say you almost made me want to go back RMXP
just so I can script the battle system I wanted for my game which I can't do in rm2k3.
I'll try to right a review once I finish and that Intro was enjoyable and the art is really quite pretty and I can't judge Act 1 as the entire game which is why I will continue it.

Yeah, you're 100% right. Act I was my first game ever and it really shows. I made it, what, four years ago now? The difference in quality between the episodes as I get more experience is very noticeable, which is why I'm working on a revised version to bring the first two episodes up to date in terms of quality.
i couldnt find my way out of the prison place at the beginning
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=flamemaster
i couldnt find my way out of the prison place at the beginning

Of Act I? You need to access the elevator shaft on the right-hand side.
Happy
Devil's in the details
5367
author=flamemaster
i couldnt find my way out of the prison place at the beginning

I had the same problem which is the reason I quit the game second time ever before getting out of that place. It could be less confusing or have some sort of pointers where to go.

Things I liked so far: Music, portraits, and the battle system seems smooth, though I'd have to play further to get a proper idea.

Dislikes: Anime-esque song opening - what's the point really? Everything's really dark and I can't really see much anything. I find the attitude of these villain characters pretty weird when examining the corpses. Not a big fan of sprites fighting each other with skill animations, either.

I guess I'll give it another go though, knowing now where to go. It feels there may be some potential in the game, anyway.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
author=Happy
author=flamemaster
i couldnt find my way out of the prison place at the beginning
I had the same problem which is the reason I quit the game second time ever before getting out of that place. It could be less confusing or have some sort of pointers where to go.

Things I liked so far: Music, portraits, and the battle system seems smooth, though I'd have to play further to get a proper idea.

Dislikes: Anime-esque song opening - what's the point really? Everything's really dark and I can't really see much anything. I find the attitude of these villain characters pretty weird when examining the corpses. Not a big fan of sprites fighting each other with skill animations, either.

I guess I'll give it another go though, knowing now where to go. It feels there may be some potential in the game, anyway.

I've been unsure about what to do with the tutorial dungeon for a while. Roughly half the people who play it say it's too hard to figure out and the other half say it's too obvious, so I'm not sure how to please both sides.
Happy
Devil's in the details
5367
Well since it's just the beginning of the game it doesn't hurt if there is linearity to it. I mean, sure there can be some challenging gameplay events that make it more fun than going from A point to B, but getting lost in dark hallways isn't one of those fun things I can tell you.

Sure there can be few choices of which way to turn etc, but I found myself backtracking quite a few times without even being aware of it myself, because all the darkness made it hard to remember where I came from. There was multiple colors etc too, but I was mostly confused.

Was there idea that the darker parts of the dungeon were the further parts of it? I think that could work. Like if the player start from lighter parts and advances to the darkness. Though dunno, just throwing an idea out there. I'd be cool as long as I wouldn't be wandering back and forth.
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
That's a good idea. I appreciate it.
Great job with the update! I played through the entire original and thoroughly enjoyed it. I appreciate the hard work you have put into the game.

Just a few odd things I encountered with the updated beta you posted this morning

1. The far wall inside the Hall of Heroes (with the statues and fountains) can be walked through.

2. The actual damage registered in battle is twice that of the damage number that appears on screen (i.e., I get hit and 75 appears on screen, but 150 is what actually gets subtracted from my total HP).

Edit: I am playing on Veteran if that makes any difference
Sailerius
did someone say angels
3304
Thanks for playing and the feedback!

1. The far wall inside the Hall of Heroes (with the statues and fountains) can be walked through.

Oops. No idea how I missed that.

2. The actual damage registered in battle is twice that of the damage number that appears on screen (i.e., I get hit and 75 appears on screen, but 150 is what actually gets subtracted from my total HP).

Really! That was a big I encountered once, but I thought I fixed it. The weird part is that when I run a test battle, the bug doesn't show up. So it seems that some situation that arises over the course of playing the game causes it to happen. That's really weird. I wonder what could be triggering it...