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

Categories: Uncategorized

Awakening Wednesday: Relationships and Gameplay

August 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Hello again! Bishop here with this week’s Awakening Wednesday update. I was hoping to have something graphical to show off this week, but it’s not quite done yet, so I’ll be talking a bit about the gameplay.

The topic this week is relationships and how they relate to gameplay.

Although you play as Dakura by default in Vacant Sky Awakening, events marked with the heraldry of another character allow you to change to that character’s perspective and make decisions as that character.

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Sarian event icon

Decisions made while controlling another character affect how that character develops and interacts with others in the future, even when you’re not controlling them. In addition, the decisions you make while controlling other characters determines what skills they will learn. However, the most important use of character events is deciding who that character will spend their time with.

Most character spaces provide an opportunity to spend the event with someone else. This boosts the relationship between the two of them, which is crucial because…

In Vacant Sky Awakening, there are no levels or experience points.

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Each pair of characters has a bidirectional relationship. The strength and nature of that relationship dictates how well those two characters perform together in battle. Each relationship confers certain benefits upon the people in it as long as both people are in battle together. After all, success in battle isn’t all about how talented you are as a fighter, but how well you work together with your allies.

Thus, the most effective team is often the one with the strongest relationships. Although characters who join you later in the game, like Naora, have powerful stats and abilities, you might want to consider visiting character spaces and hanging out with them to help them get to know the rest of your team better before chucking them into battle.

As a result, choosing how to spend your character events is an important decision. Do you want to bolster one relationship in particular? If so, you could spend all of Korelli’s events with Sarian and all of Sarian’s with Korelli, which will make them a powerful team, but you’ll be in trouble if you ever need to swap one of them out of the party. In addition, you might decide to hold off on using your character events until new party members have joined so that you can work better with them instead.

One of the primary goals of Vacant Sky Awakening is to make it a role-playing game in the purest sense of the word. Not only do you make decisions as Dakura, but you also direct the decision-making, growth, and relationships of everyone in the party. We’re putting a lot of work into making these choices an intrinsic and personal aspect of the game and hope that you enjoy seeing how it plays out!

-Bishop

 

Awakening Wednesday: Creating Sarian Monarim

August 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Welcome to Awakening Wednesday, a new feature where we will dedicate the midweek to giving you  behind the scenes info on Vacant Sky Awakening from the various members of Project BC!

This week, I’m up! I’m Kate, I’m primarily the art director, character designer and character artist among other things. I’m here to talk about the interesting and convoluted design process behind Sarian Monarim, a party member in our upcoming release.

From the get-go, I knew I wanted Sarian to look very distinctive because she’s such an interesting person. She’s got a lot of conflicting sides to her character; she’s one of your hardest hitting partymembers, but she’s physically frail and must walk with a cane, she’s highly intelligent but has an underlying emotional naivete, she’s both the most serious partymember and yet also one of the wittiest, she’s wise and educated but she’s still a teenager, she’s a young maiden and a noblewoman but she loves to mess with the system. The nice thing about working in a small team is being able to really get to know the character you’re designing before you put pencil to paper.

For me, a pencil and paper is generally where I go when I’m brainstorming, and I usually do it sat on the floor because hey, that’s how I learned to draw as a baby, why not!?

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Sarian’s first design. Wow this feels a long time ago now. She was the only party member in the first part who didn’t have any old design ideas from Bishop lying around. Believe it or not, originally Korelli had that hairstyle. I was confident that giving this short, hard cut to Sarian would be a good idea. Korelli was instead given a cute, soft ponytail. Many of the design elements were in place for what would be her design for a long time and even up until the present even at this early stage; the snake cane, the mantle and hood, the choker, long gloves and, of course, an ankle length dress; I knew I wanted an ankle-length dress because I have always imagined Sarian’s legs, as well as being weak, may be a little warped or maybe just very bony and she doesn’t like people seeing them.

I also noted down things I didn’t like; those clumpy boots, the belt that ruins the flow, and the stupid idea of a character who isn’t very mobile wielding a knife of all things.

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Sarian’s “final” design as it stood for a very long time. I think it’s a nice one! I’d like to reuse elements of this sometime down the line. Sarian’s colour scheme uses green and purple; typically villainous colours. A nice thing with Vacant Sky Awakening is that a major theme is “you play the villain”, so the party have some villainous looking elements to them. Except Korelli of course, who is just dangerously adorable. The Orkan clothing is largely influenced by Regency and Victorian period British fashion with some Fantasy elements thrown in. I’m a huge dork when it comes to clothing from different time periods, cultures and subcultures, and tend to do a lot of research and collecting of references from all over the place.

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Sarian’s image from the Kickstarter campaign. The only major change here is that she’s lost her sleeves. The more I drew Sarian, the more skinny and angular she got. I really wanted to subvert that whole idea of the “ill heroine” in games, they usually don’t look ill and their illness inconveniences them in no way at all physically, they just randomly cough up blood or faint at plot points. Sarian is pale, gaunt, bony, physically weak… and she will incinerate anything that gets in her way. She’s a character whose disability is not a superpower; it makes life hard for her, but she’s not helpless. She lives with her disability and has become strong in her own way.

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Ahh the character render we used for the promo video! This was our first time making a fully finished model. I did the texturing on this.

It was at this stage that we discovered that rigging is a nightmare. Having such a small team, we can’t afford a dedicated rigger and don’t really have time, and Sarian’s big hood and mantle were causing serious problems. After deliberation for months, we realised we really had no choice but to redesign Sarian to be more 3D friendly. So it was back to me to redesign a character I had felt was one of my strongest designs to still have the same sort of feeling and still be striking and distinctive, but to also be rig-friendly with no clutter on the shoulders or armpit region. Another request that was made was to at some kind of extra interest to the long drop of the dress. I spent several hours trawling through as much info as I could find about Regency period fashion looking for interesting ideas and doodling things I immediately deleted because they were awful.  Naturally after struggling for a while, I went back to paper. I sat in my garden and started sketching:

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As soon as I drew the collar to replace the hood, I realised I’d have to slant the hair to make it work. You can even see in the top left where I rubbed it out! I realised that it actually looked better that way; the sharper angle works well with Sarian’s sharp personality as well as her subversive nature. Sarian became more edgy as these gothic and grunge elements worked their way in and yet, at the same time, she became more period-accurate too, with the Spencer Jacket and chemise and the very high waist.  The “Dysiaboo” thing will make sense when you play the game, but Sarian has an intense fascination with the culture of Orka’s rival nation, the Dysian Empire, and kind of nerds out over their more “Enlightened” culture to the point that we started to call her a “Dysiaboo” in conversations. I tried a design with some of the classical and imperial elements of the Dysian Empire in, but it was a little plain and also would have made the Dysian characters you come across feel less distinctive, so I toned them down. Amazingly that batwing shaped chemise was based on an actual Regency period design. Why we don’t have Pride and Prejudice and Batman yet, I don’t even know! I had this weird thought about a wing pattern that kind of encloses her chest and it just worked. It felt so perfect for her subversive nature to have these symbols of chemistry and medicine enshrined with dark wings. Sarian loves science and magic; her life was saved by them as a child. The snakeskin-like chemise also gives a sense of “rebirth” to Sarian.

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Sarian’s new design! The symbol of Mercury; a life source in alchemy but also a poison, sits in pride of place above the star of the Orkan church. Sarian sure likes to play close to the edge! The little brass studs make her look kind of punk, which I love.  I’m actually really happy with this design; it kind of fits her even better than her old one did. And so we get to making game graphics and…

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It’s coming along nicely!

 

Ars Harmonia – Open Beta released

July 4, 2014 Leave a comment
Mere days after the serial killer who terrorized the city of Farpoint was found dead, a girl has gone missing. A nameless “detective” comes to town to put the case to rest – and to vanquish the demon at the heart of the mystery.
 
Six months after “Contention,” the first movement of a timeless waltz begins.
 
Ars Harmonia is our entry in the 2014 Indie Game Maker competition as well as the Unity contest. It is currently in open beta and is our first released game to use voice acting! We’re currently doing well in the People’s Choice awards and could use your help getting to the top! Please consider checking out the game and voting for it to help fund development of additional movements.
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