Blast Away the Game Review’s Dustin Murphy chats with Matthew Canei, Lead Developer of Hanako: Honor & Blade via Discord. Matt discusses the creative process behind the Early Access title and much more with Blast Away the Game Review.
About the Game:
Hanako: Honor & Blade, is a Samurai and Ninja themed multiplayer game that is currently in Early Access via Steam. In the game, players will travel through a beautiful rendition of the 16th century of Feudal Japan. Over the course of their multiplayer experience, players will choose between four types of warriors as they learn to master each one of them through the use of intuitive and directionally-driven swordplay mechanics. Along with the games unique mechanics comes the use of unique abilities that are exclusive to each class.
During each match, two teams of 12 will campaign across Japan in their pursuit of preserving peace and honor for the emperor or allow chaos and death to cover the lands as players experience four different modes that each come with their own unique objectives and strategies to explore. Through Hanako, players can explore multiple Japanese territories as the blade-wielding Kenshi and Naginata Samurai, or through the precision based shots of a Samurai archer, or through the deceptive movements of the Ninja, which all offer a vast and new experience across every battle that players will experience.
Dustin: Hello Matt, my name is Dustin Murphy, I’m the president of Blast Away the Game Review, it’s nice to meet you.
Matt: Awesome, pleased to meet you, I’m Matt Canei, Lead Developer and Creator of Hanako & +Mpact Games.
Dustin: What was the inspiration behind making a Feudal Japan focused game like Hanako: Honor & Blade?
Matt: All the seeds for the game kind of all happened when I was 14, back in 2002, that year I was playing Jedi Knight 2 a whole lot, had just played Shenmue 2 (my favorite game of all time and what inspired me to seek game development as a career) and The Last Samurai (my favorite movie). I fell in love with Bushido-era samurai culture, martial arts and so on… and it kind of re-shaped my life path. I knew I wanted to make a feudal Japanese themed game back then.
Dustin: Definitely great, great choices. I’m pretty sure a lot of people will be able to connect with the game because of that. What aspects of the two games and even the movie do you think really stick out as core elements of the Hanako experience?
Matt: The melee system in Jedi Knight, I still think is the best one ever made. It was fluid and fast. We wanted those kinds of qualities and flexibility in our combat while introducing things more familiar in current gen games, abilities, skills that sort of thing.
Shenmue is more of an essence thing, the way the story was told, the feeling you’re left with, we want to create in any game we make as an indie studio. Since Hanako: Honor & Blade is a personal tribute to my mother, who passed in ’07, that’s our way of bringing that sort of inspirational, symbolic meaning to the game.
Dustin: As someone who has also had cancer in my family, there’s a lot of thought that goes into such a horrible ailment. I can tell through the game that it’s impressively well done and depicts that inner battle greatly. It also seems like a big way to help someone cope with such a loss and personal experience. I noticed in my personal experience with the game, you and the team decided to use the Japanese watercolor style art. What led to that decision? Was it something personally chosen due to your moms battle with cancer or was it to show the inspiration from that time period?
Matt: Random side note: She also got sick for the first time in 2002, that year was pivotal in pretty much every way. The art style changed a lot over the years. We had started the project in 2008 and we were going for a very realistic (at the time in UT3 Editor) look. We wanted no exaggeration and stay true to the martial styles.
We started the game over from scratch in June 2013, after a few years on the shelf when my AAA career got very busy, and shortly into production, we realized that to really sell the symbolic nature of the game, we needed to go more stylized and painterly.
There’s a particular screenshot, that an old team member had the idea for, and we had this idea of these grand bridges working like an “introduction” to my mother’s territory, her memory, and a giant Sakura tree. We needed more artistic liberty to hit the spiritual notes.
I interpreted this idea into something where the bridges connect earth to a spiritual realm, a serene place. And the fallen land around it served as a reminder that even though everything around you can fall apart, fall away, there’s still a path to peace, oneness, hope.
This was a look back at the last 10 years, it has some old legacy images that really show the journey
Dustin: Since this title is definitely a labor of love, what has this journey been like as both a developer and a person?
Matt: It’s such an extreme range of thoughts, feelings, emotions. It has brought the best out of me, the worst out of me and everything in between. I’ve had some of the most elated, triumphant type moments, that are far and few between in the ten years, that kind of made the rest of it worth it.
It’s felt torturous at times, I wondered why the hell I still did it. Leading up to early access launch, I never had anxiety/panic attack type issues, and they became a nearly daily issue. But at the end of the day, our team keeps me going, and our small community, they have made so many sacrifices to work with me, that I owe it to them to see it through and to maximize the years and years of effort, sweat, tears.
I’ve given up my entire twenties to do it, missed out on a lot, refused to experience a lot, to stay focused on this and to be honest, I regret having robbed myself of so many experiences that I’m now trying to make up for lost time. The sacrifice, I can’t say has been justified yet, but it’s seeing a positive review, someone say how much they love the art, how much they connect with the story. Hearing that makes up for years of it in an instant.
At the end of the day, I just want people to be as inspired as I was after completing Shenmue 2, it’s a simple dream but a powerful one. Games can make people better, can inspire people to be better, to chase their ambitions, to come up with ambitions. Seeking that goal calls for some self-sacrifice.
Dustin: I know we’ve talked a lot about your personal journey, what’s it like with the team? Do they seem to have a deeper sense of appreciation knowing this isn’t just a game, but a personal journey for you?
Matt: I think it’s helped a lot of our devs over the years connect with it more from the beginning, to attract interest to it, but the severe lack of samurai games, especially online, I think resonates with them too.
It’s incredible that a number of them have worked with us for 4-5 years and some we’ve all never met each other in person. It’s been remote the whole time. They are the driving force behind it all, I think we feed off of each other way more than we really realize in the depths of battle so to speak.
Dustin: That is truly incredible. Are there any funny stories that have come out of the development of Hanako because of the team being a remotely working team?
Matt: I think just our witty banter, we’re all essentially siblings now, every week in our “Play w/ the devs” test we go at each other like brothers. Some of our devs were roommates for years and are best friends and that kind of carries throughout the whole team.
We know each other well, our habits, our strengths and flaws and we give each other a lot of shit, but there’s such a deep level of understanding at this point, it makes development a lot easier. Or at least it helps us know what questions to ask or not ask.
Dustin: That’s extremely admirable of the team. Do you think this sets you apart from big-name developers such as Blizzard or Ubisoft?
Matt: I think it’s hard to be mentioned even in the same sentence. We’re 9 guys scattered across the US and Canada, being mentioned with studios with millions of dollars and 200-500 employees.
However, because of our experiences during the day, at our day jobs, since we all work on this at night, we’re able to hit a quality level not too far from AAA games, and how long we’ve been working on this project. We’ve made this game with $0. A few things here and there out of pocket, but that’s it. No investors, no publisher, just our own dedication and effort.
Dustin: Definitely a very big feat and something to be proud of. What do you feel will be the next big thing for Hanako and the team at +Mpact Games?
Matt: Well I think we’re in a spot where we can feel comfortable mentioning we can do Xbox and PS4 with our existing team. It’ll probably be after the full PC release (hopefully Oct of this year) but we can do it.
I think it’s getting the rest of the content in. We’ll be releasing our first new map and new character class, the Ite (archer) to the game together in the next 2-3 months.
It’ll be the first time we’ve publicly had ranged combat in the game.
It’ll be the first time we’ve publicly had ranged combat in the game. It’s the first map we’ve ever publicly released of the Yamai territory, as mentioned earlier, it’s a dark, death-ridden forest.
The game has a bunch of scales, based on how well it does, we could be done at full release, we could go to consoles and be done or we could do 2-3 more years of designed character classes and new maps if it does super well. Hopefully, in that case, with the end game of getting into story-driven single player, but ATM that’s a pipe dream still.
Dustin: Since all of the classes do play a unique role, do you feel that there will be more than four or do you feel there’ll be a good balance of gameplay with four total?
Matt: Both. The first four are fine by themselves but they also establish archetypes to spin off of later if we decide to add more. We have 4 others in mind that would fit well.
Dustin: Any hints at what they are or are those currently a company secret?
Matt: Secret… I’ll give one hint, two of them are female.
Dustin: Definitely something I know fans will be looking forward to! Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?
Matt: I don’t think so thanks for your time and interest. We hope to see you in one of our Wednesday events, every Wednesday at 10pm EST.
Dustin: I definitely look forward to it, Matt. Again I want to give you a huge thank you for taking your time out of your schedule for this interview Matt. I look forward to talking more with you in the future.
For those interested you can currently purchase a copy of Hanako: Honor & Blade in Early Access via Steam today. Stay tuned for our impressions of the game and upcoming streams.