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.
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.
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.
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!
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!?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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…
It’s coming along nicely!
Kate posted a brilliant behind-the-scenes look at the design and creation of the new Auria. Check it out on her blog.
Sorry for the long wait, but this year’s preparations took a lot longer than we expected. Today, we celebrate five years since the release of Vacant Sky Act I. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since then. Since Act I, Project BC has:
- Released several more games, including Act II, Act III, Act I+, Act II+, The Vestibule, Finding Eden, and Encarmine
- Funded the development of Vacant Sky Awakening Act I through Kickstarter
- Expanded to nearly every platform under the sun with the Awakening project
- Incorporated as a proper business
- Quadrupled (!) in staff size
Today, we celebrate not only five years of Vacant Sky, but five years of Project BC. Before we dive into today’s Contention announcements, let’s take a look at what to expect from us going forward.
New products in 2014
2014 will be the first year that we offer products other than just games. We’ll also be offering middleware for other game developers, both technical and graphical. The Metis RPG framework that underpins Vacant Sky Awakening is currently the largest middleware product we’re working on, but it will probably not be ready for market until well after VSA Act I is out. In the very near future, you should expect some art assets, both 2D and 3D, to hit the Unity Asset Store.
Status of the Complete Edition
The Day of Contention is a time of endings and beginnings. Five years ago today, we saw the cessation of Auria’s old life and the beginning of a new one. The Vacant Sky Complete Edition is an extension of her journey, in higher quality and better continuity with the rest of the series. Currently, two of the three episodes have been released.
For those looking forward to the end of the Complete Edition, I have good news and other news.
The good news is that Act III CE will be released before this time next year, and the Complete Edition will finally be finished for good.
The other news is that the form it’s going to be released in might not be what you expect. Due to technical issues with the project, we’ll be overhauling the format of Act III CE. In order to give closure to the story and to make good on our word to finish the Complete Edition, the updated story will still be intact as well as all of the choices and endings, but the battles and exploration are being removed from the final episode. It was a difficult decision to make, but due to the enormous amount of technical debt the project has accumulated over the years, it is the only way we’ll be able to finish it this year.
Hopefully, our final announcement of the day will make up for any disappointment this may cause.
Death & Rebirth
For the past few years, I’ve always been personally involved in directing two projects at a time: a main project (VS1, and now VSA) and a secondary project in preproduction. With the conclusion of the Complete Edition, I’ll be bumping up a new project into preproduction. Although I typically don’t like to announce a project so early into development, it would have to be either today or next year’s Day of Contention, and I figured the five year anniversary of Contention would be the perfect opportunity.
Since the inception of Vacant Sky, we’ve come a long way, both technically and artistically. Although originally, the plan was for Awakening to be a stepping stone into the rest of the series, it seems I was (as always) naive in thinking it would be a project that would be over quickly. Awakening is eight (or is it nine?) acts to Contention’s three, each much more in-depth than the entire Contention project combined. Vacant Sky Awakening is a series unto itself, and it would be a shame for it to put the original series on pause for years when it was originally conceived of as a way to bring in more fans to it. And, as many questions as Awakening raises, it also brings answers. Many answers. Answers a lot sooner than I intended to give them.
Having had time to reflect on this, I’ve revised my vision of Awakening’s role in the future of Project BC. Instead of delaying the original series until its completion, I intend to alternate between volumes of Awakening and of the original Vacant Sky. This way, answers in Awakening will properly coincide with the questions posed by the story of the present era.
Following the conclusion of the Complete Edition, we will be relaunching the present era series in full 3D.
I’m excited to show the new design of Auria Edith, which will be debuting in Death & Rebirth, the first installment of Vacant Sky Quickening.
Thanks so much to everyone who has stood with us over the years and helped us become the company we are today. I hope you’re as excited about the future as we are. Look forward to another awesome year with us.
Miss the Kickstarter? You can now preorder Vacant Sky Awakening from itch.io! You can also preorder the Paradox Prince Bundle, which includes all three episodes as well as their corresponding soundtrack.