It was October 9th, 2007 (this date is significant, remember it) – I was in school for game development and I was in the middle of class when the call came that my mother had taken her last breath after a 5 year battle with cancer. I had no idea how to even begin to process the news, so for the rest of the quarter I distracted myself with class work.
Over that Winter Break, I decided I would start a game project to honor her memory, and tell her story using Feudal Japanese war with Samurai & Ninjas as a metaphor. The Last Samurai had come out the year she got sick and it was a life changing film for me, and I always wanted to make a samurai game after that.
Shortly after, I asked a guy named Connor, who I didn’t like but knew he loved Japanese culture and reached out to Georgia Tech (we were at SCAD-Atlanta) to find a programmer who ended up being Ajani. The core of our team was born, and we’ve been together for 9 years as best friends and brothers:
Connor, Matt & Ajani
So here were the basics: It would be multiplayer (single-player was too difficult and expensive for cutscenes/voice/etc), it’d have a campaign that would take you across two distinct territories one representing positive traits (my mother) and one representing disease/death (cancer). There would be multiple classes to learn, gestural or directional combat (similar to Jedi Knight games I loved) and abilities.
Over the years, the Hanako Clan (meaning flower child, representing my mom) evolved to look like this:
And to greatly contrast, we wanted the Yamai areas to look dark, gloomy, wreak of death and destruction and try to imagine what a world with cancer would look like:
We spent the next two years (2008-2010) working on this game tirelessly ‘til 6am every morning. We thought we were awesome, but we had a lot to learn:
First level we did, a village level.
Our first playtest, with UT3 skeletons and Katanas.
At the end of college, we had a bunch of maps, a bunch of characters and a shell of a game, now in UDK (Unreal Development Kit) after being a UT3 mod for the first year and a half:
After graduation, I got hired at Hi-Rez Studios as an Environment Artist. At the same time, Ajani and Connor were pushing for us to start a company and finish the game, at all costs. I started focusing on my new job and before I knew it we had stopped working on the game altogether and there was a lot of dissention between the three of us. We went our separate ways for a few years.
The Next Phase – Hanako: Soul of the Samurai
In the Spring of 2013 it really started to wear me down that Hanako wasn’t done and was on the shelf. I had sent some of my artwork to Ajani just for kicks (we had all reconnected) and he said “Can you make Hanako look this good?” I replied Yes and he suggested that we start the game up. The three of us started back up, fresh and started work on Hanako from scratch since we had learned so much in the prior few years.
First screenshot of Hanako Re-dux that became Hanako – Soul of the Samurai
We recruited a new team, got a new programmer that has been with us ever since Greg and an amazing composer/audio engineer Lawrence a few months later. We made our first map and started testing. Then UE4 came out, we decided to switch right away:
After that we made our first two characters and first big battlefield map:
Gifu Crossroads – the middle of Japan, little influence from both clans.
Then we made our first Capture the Informant map when we decided to make all of the Hanako Clan maps:
The Ups & Downs
We decided to do Greenlight on Steam in early 2015 and it went off to great success, we were elated, people actually wanted to play our game! We got Greenlit in 9 days! During this time we had a lot of people come and go. We did get some pretty awesome team members around this time in Derek, our new animator and Jason our Rigger.
We were also planning a Kickstarter at the same time. We figured if we did Greenlight first we’d have more credibility on Kickstarter. It turns out that didn’t quite go as planned. The press largely ignored us and hardly anyone outside of family and friends ever found out about it, so our Kickstarter didn’t go through as planned:
We took this pretty hard as a team, but none as hard as I did. I could barely work on the game for months after this and I feared it was going to land on the shelf again. Then in September at some point, we were invited to participate in the SIEGE( Southeastern Interactive Entertainment and Game Expo) Investor conference.
On October 9th, 2015 (8 year anniversay of my mother’s passing) we pitched to a room full of investors and won unanimously!
This victory never amounted to full funding, but it restored faith in the team and we churned out tons of new stuff over the next few months, finishing two whole characters in about 3 months of time:
Ninja was finally here, we waited 6-7 years to play as our Ninja design.
The Naginatashi was too!
Then we started doing conventions for the first time, doing MomoCon for two years, the first IndieMegaShow and Dreamhack. During this time, we also started doing closed testing every week with people we met at these conventions:
People were loving the game and finally seeing it’s potential! We were ecstatic!
Hanako: Honor & Blade + Early Access Release
During 2016-Present we decided to do Early Access and started preparing for it. Part of that was getting all of our social media channels going and working better. We decided to change the name of the game to Hanako: Honor & Blade. We added two new awesome team members in Adam and Christian who worked on animations and environment props.
We made a bunch of new maps, kept testing and finally on October 9th, 2017 (10 year anniv) we released Hanako: Honor & Blade to Steam Early Access. It had a pretty decent launch, but players weren’t playing a whole lot. We invited people to our Discord, did our best and are slowly growing our playerbase, one person at a time. We spent a year making an Early Access release trailer shooting one shot at a time while working on everything else.
Hanako Village (Siege) Map
Hanako Castle (Assassination) Map
We’re now working on our full release, patching almost every week and inviting players to play with us every Wednesday night at 10PM EST.
We’re doing the Steam Winter Sale at 50% off and we did a bunch of cool Christmas stuff for the game:
You can find us in any of the following places: