Vacant Sky Awakening demo to be playable at LICAF!

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

A demo of Vacant Sky Awakening will be playable this weekend at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival! This is the first time the game will be seen in a playable state since the Kickstarter. Stop by and check it out!

Awakening Wednesday: Character Portraits Process Video

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Kate here with this week’s Awakening Wenesday! I decided to do something a little different and post a video of making character portraits for the game. Might be useful or at least informative!

Awakening Wednesday: Tamillan Highlands (sneak peek)

October 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Hi everyone, Bishop here again for this week’s update! This time, we’ve got a screenshot of the Tamillan Highlands, one of the largest areas in the game. Usual disclaimer about it being an early work in progress and doesn’t reflect the final product, yadda yadda.

Tamillan Highlands

The Tamillan Highlands is located southwest of the city of Acacia. Several key trade routes run through it, one of which Dakura’s company will follow on their journey south from Viadahn. As it connects Acacia to Ghallice, the Dysian Empire, and the rest of the Orkan domain, the highlands will be a frequently-visited area that functions as the game’s overworld.

Awakening Wednesday: Maladorr Manor

October 1, 2014 Leave a comment

Bishop here with this week’s update! This time, I’ve got some new screenshots to show off, showing the current state of Maladorr Manor. The Maladorr estate is a returning location which was a (rather notorious) dungeon in Contention. This time, there are far fewer monsters and many more parties. As the home of the Maladorr family, it is a common site for social functions in Viadahn.

As the childhood home of Dakura and Vanora, it is also where the story of Awakening begins.

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Much more of the manor is explorable in Awakening than in Contention. Although you only spend a brief time there in Act I, it will be a returning location throughout the story where several key events will take place.

We’re still working hard on polishing it up so keep in mind that what we’re showing so far is still very much a work in progress and you should expect it to continue evolving as we get closer to release.

Thanks for tuning in to this week’s update!

Awakening Wednesday: Meet the Maladorrs

September 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Hello! Bishop here again this week with a look at some of the recurring NPCs you’ll be interacting with in VSA. Namely, we’ll be looking at some of the members of the Maladorr family.

Where it had been largely absent as a factor in Contention, family plays a big role in the story of Awakening. House Maladorr, as one of the five noble families of the Orkan Federation, is a key fixture in Orkan politics and in shaping the course of history.

Some names might be familiar to players of Contention!

Kortas Maladorr

Kortas Maladorr is the head of House Maladorr and holds the title of Count of Avelis. Although he had a reputation for recklessness in his youth, he later mellowed out and is now known for his ponderous and inward-facing policies, in sharp contrast to his own father’s hawkish expansionism when he ruled.

Kortas is the father of Dakura and Vanora and was a life-long friend of Sarian’s father, Vaius Monarim, until his untimely passing. Since then, he has been fiercely protective of Sarian and welcomes her to Maladorr Manor frequently, where they research heretical magic against the church’s teachings.

It’s this disregard for the church’s authority that will ignite the story of Awakening.

Lorria Maladorr

Lorria Maladorr, Countess of Avelis, is the wife of Kortas and mother of Dakura and Vanora. Raised in a time of bitter infighting among her birth family, she was forced to learn to navigate the teeming (and occasionally brutal) underworld of Orkan politics at a young age, a skill that would serve her well upon moving to the powderkeg city of Viadahn, the nerve center of House Altaya’s influence, upon marrying Kortas.

Though she has a gentle and polite demeanor, she’s one of the most valuable assets at the Noble Council’s negotiation table for her no-nonsense attitude and staunch resilience to opposition.

As the one who manages the finances of House Maladorr, which governs the federation’s largest standing army, she has earned the nickname “the Bursar of Battle” for her at times miraculous ability to balance the budget of the military and pull together the funds to manage its often grueling war efforts.

Vanora Maladorr

Vanora Maladorr is Dakura’s elder sister. She was originally intended to succeed Kortas as the head of House Maladorr until Dakura’s birth, when it was decided that he would become the heir instead. She takes after their mother more than Dakura and has proven herself prodigious at the art of diplomacy, although Lorria sometimes fears that she lacks the ruthless edge needed to stay ahead in the cutthroat political climate of the federation.

Vanora is well-spoken and professional and proves an invaluable asset to Sarian’s company on the voyage south. Though Dakura is tactful and charismatic, he has also inherited their father’s headstrong nature, occasionally requiring Vanora’s quick thinking and diplomacy to defuse dangerous situations.

She and Dakura have a close filial relationship and she has been friends with Korelli for as long as she can remember.

Vanora will join the party as a noncombatant.

Awakening Wednesday: Evolution of Character Portraits

September 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Hi it’s Kate again this week! I’m currently busy working on character portraits for the dialogue segments of the game, so I thought it’d be interesting to show the evolution of the portrait style.

Our initial decision to use portraits visual novel style was one made by looking at the skillset and technology our team had at the time we started making the game. We’ve come along a way since then, but at the time, it was really the only feasible way to tell this complex story with lots of characters expressing lots of emotions with a limited team with a lead artist mostly grounded in 2D (my professional background before Project BC being largely comics and 2D illustration).

One of the earliest attempts I can find around interestingly shows an experiment with a character front-on, like Phoenix Wright or some dating sims:

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Now, one of the main issues with this format is that it works great when characters are talking to your protagonist and feels very immediate and personal, but it doesn’t work so well as soon as you have to depict different characters talking to each other, which is quite common in VSA. In fact, characters have relationship values and character building events with each other which may not even involve Dakura at all, so it was necessary to reconsider the style to better accommodate the style of the storytelling.

After deciding on 3/4 view characters, I experimented with some different styles:

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I call the first one “shoujo Dakura” because of the shoujo manga feel of the fine lines and soft colours. I was trying to evoke the feeling of the portraits from the original Vacant Sky Contention, which are very soft and pretty. When it comes down to it though, while our audience is mostly female, it’s still pretty mixed, but more than that… it’s just not really my style at all, My work is strongest when I’m working with a more solid feeling. In fact at this stage I was really still holding back on the kind of chunky lines I like to work with.

The portraits that were the “final” versions for a long time looked like this:

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Because the game was set to be told entirely in Visual Novel format, I felt it was important to show a good view of the characters, so they go right from head to mid-thigh. This was…not my best idea ever due to the enormous workload it created. Every expression for every character required a new almost full body drawing. Another issue with these was that for promotions and pitches, the main characters had to be rushed through first, so we ended up with a situation where the main characters weren’t as well drawn as some of the NPCs done further down the line. You can definitely see how the drawing on Sarian doesn’t compare well to her original concept illustration, and that Naora looks stylistically slightly different, having been drawn months later.

Between making these characters and now, we discovered techniques and technology that made 3D models possible. Suddenly showing the entire body on the sprites was really no longer a huge issue. Feeling dissatisfied with the old portraits, I brought up the notion of redrawing them, this time with a Persona esque view limited to just head to chest. The test images came out great. I’d estimate they’re about three times faster to create than the old portraits were too, so massively more efficient! With less rush and pressure, I’m able to put move love into the portraits, so they come out more polished. Well, that and I’m just generally a better artist than I was when we started out here.

 

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There are some little touches of polish here to the shading and colours that would have been a pain to add on the more arduous larger portraits. Well, that and maybe I wouldn’t have even known how to do this stuff efficiently back then! I’m pretty pleased with how they look. 

Another cool thing to note about this image before I sign off here. This is an actual screenshot in the game engine, it’s not a mockup like all those previous images! We hope to show you more images from in-game soon!

Awakening Wednesday: Metis NVL and Cutscenes in Awakening

September 3, 2014 Leave a comment

Hi! I’m Julia, the other programmer and artist on the team. This week I’m here to talk about Metis NVL, the RPG/visual novel cutscene system behind Awakening and some of our other games. Most recently, we used it for Ars Harmonia, which is currently out for Windows Store and Windows Phone.

Since RPGs and visual novels have a ton of story content, our top priority in designing Metis NVL was making this content easy to author. In particular, we wanted to be able to simply write out cutscenes and have the engine handle all of the dialogue switching, et cetera. So before we decided exactly how we wanted anything to work, we settled on the following system for writing cutscene scripts:

Any text on its own without a name attached becomes narration, any text with a name gets entered as dialogue, and any line preceded by a @ is code.

Having decided how we wanted scripts to work, we set about figuring out how to implement them. We settled on using Lua as a scripting language on top of our C# codebase, then running custom processing on our scripts to convert them to proper Lua code. For example, the processor replaces the Name: Text dialogue lines with calls to the dialogue function. Using Lua allows us to retain the full power of a scripting language, and it’s also extremely portable, which we figured would come in handy if we ever decided to switch platforms. As it so happens, we decided to switch from MonoGame to Unity halfway through development, so this decision paid off for us.

Here’s an example of a script and corresponding screenshot from Ars Harmonia:


It’s been a lot of work to get all of this functioning, but we hope it’ll save us a ton of effort in the future and allow us to spend more of our time producing content for you guys.

-Julia

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