Post news RSS Dev Blog: What 'Hanako' Means by Matt Canei

Creative/Art Director Matt Canei tells the story of Hanako, what it means and gives some history of the game.

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The Beginning and Meaning of ‘Hanako.'

Hanako began in 2008 as a college project. The summer between my sophomore
and junior year was spent writing the initial design and doing
research to start a team once classes started back up. My mother had
just passed away in the fall of '07 and I knew I wanted to do
something to honor her memory, to show the world her love and passion
for life, nature and creativity by writing the backstory of the game
and integrating these themes in a symbolic way into the art direction
and overarching visual presentation.

‘Hanako' means "flower child" in Japanese, and is also the Japanese
equivalent of "Jane," which was my mother's name. It is fitting
as she always had vibrant flower gardens at my childhood home, and
flowers evolved to be very symbolic of health, vitality, life and
peace in the game's scenery and presentation.

The College Years

After this initial push, I recruited a variety of classmates from SCAD and
Tech to help me, two of which still work on the game as founding
members today and I consider brothers: Lead Level
Designer/Writer/Co-Designer Connor McCarthy and Lead Programmer Ajani
Thomas. They were the first two members of the project, and the only
original members still on the team. We worked about 16 hours a day on
Hanako during college and it gained a lot of support from local
developers, which as a student is always a big deal.

We ended up with a fairly solid prototype, but had our lessons learned
and were humbled in many ways by the final pushes and where we had
hoped to be. Graduation naturally had some of the team go their
separate ways and as life got more hectic post-grad with new jobs and
new life chapters, the game found itself on the shelf.

The Reboot

I never wanted Hanako to get shelved, and always felt a burning
intensity towards finishing what I start, especially something like
this, that's so personal. In the summer of 2013, after two previous
failed reboot attempts over the last few years, I reconnected with
Ajani Thomas over a discussion about game art. After showing him a
scene I had been working on, he asked "Can you make ‘Hanako'
look this good?" I answered "Sure, why not?" and that pretty
much started the talks for a serious reboot. I messaged Connor and we
started making forum posts and looking for new people to fill all of
the roles.

A few month's later we nailed down a solid team and started work
again. This time is much different, as most of us have jobs during
the day, myself included, rather than being a student able to invest
a lot of time in it. A year later we're still progressing with a
team of pros and hopefuls scattered all over the globe working
remotely in the evenings.

The Big Questions I Always Get Asked

The first question I always get asked, since I work in the game industry
during the day as well is "Does your employer know you work on it?
What do they think about it?" The answer is yes, my employer very
graciously made amendments to my non-compete contract (a common
agreement in the game industry) to allow me to work on Hanako in my
free time. I think it's important that what you do on your free
time is up to you, it's yours. As far as what they think about it?
I have no idea, hopefully its supportive and positive, but I sense
there's probably some misunderstanding towards it and my intentions
as well.

The second is "How in the hell do you work on games, then go home and
work on games? What about crunch?" This is a tough question to
answer, but the first part is being very deliberately
compartmentalized. I attribute this greatly to my Wing Chun practice.
Basically, keeping work work and keeping Hanako Hanako. I'm not
perfect by any means, I take a lot of pride in all of my work
regardless of what it's for but that's the general
approach. When extra time is needed, adjustments are made. Staying
adaptable is just part of being a game developer, even though this is
a bit of an extreme case.

The other part is eating as well as I can and although sleep is fairly
minimal, making sure my body is tuned to operate well. One of my
primary goals is to make sure my performance is maintained throughout
the day. There are nights where its very hard to stare at 3ds max
after working in 3ds max all day, but you have to remind yourself, in
the moment, what you're trying to achieve. Passion is a constant
driving force.

What ‘Hanako' Means To Me

Hanako is something that's been a way to take losing the person closest to
me and turn it into something positive and productive. Something that
has allowed me to grow quickly as a leader and artist and the freedom
to express creatively with no one to tell me what or how to do it. To
grieve, honor and inspire all at the same time through this project
brings me great peace and great purpose. Finishing this project and
letting the world see it is one of the things I was put on this Earth
to do. That said, this takes nothing away from my other goals or
career. It makes me better, brings me closer to all of my goals, lets
me learn all sorts of new skills and teach and exchange knowledge
with a wider range of brother's and sisters helping me on the
journey. This is a dream that has become more than just my own, and
it's the most humbling experience I could ask for.

What We Hope To Achieve

My first, and primary directive is that nothing negative comes out of
the project. We stand for learning, growing and hopefully creating a
game that's fun, entertaining but also inspiring and triumphant. We
do not wish to undermine anyone's other endeavors and work hard to
be disciplined in our approach, much like the samurai of our game.
This means, more clearly, that we're not trying to compete or bring
harm or negativity to endeavors related to our careers during the
day; that we are able to give 100% in all instances that require our
effort and time as individuals. It's easy to claim "conflict of
interest" since many of us work in similar fields to the project,
but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Hanako makes us better
at what we do.

The second is that we can get the game done, of course. At that point
anything else is a bonus. What I really want is for our players to be
inspired to seek out their own creative endeavors, to not feel stuck
by the status quo, and never be afraid to break past the boundaries
society tries to force on you. If players have fun and also pick up a
bit of the essence and soul we put into the game, then mission
accomplished.

Lastly,
finishing this game, personally, is sort of making amends and
creating my own closure. I was a very selfish teenager at times,
there were times where my mom needed me more than ever and I wasn't
as good of a son as I could have been. Honoring her memory and
showing the world her beauty as a person through Hanako, is my way of
telling her that I wish I could have done better, I'm sorry, but I
know I can keep growing and all she would want is for me to do my
best, do what I love and make her proud in spirit.

-Matt

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