Stan Sakai created the rabbit ronin Usagi Yojimbo nearly 30 years ago. Usagi may seem familiar to hardcore fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for his guest appearances there. This weekend, as part of a special event and samurai exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Sensei Sakai and game developer Mike Levine of HappyGiant are slated to talk about the first Usagi video game in over 25 years, Usagi Yogimbo: Way of The Ronin (iOS / Android). We spoke with Mike about what to expect about from the game, the exclusive MFA Samurai Saturdays level, and about working with a master of the comic book form by way of bringing this fun side-scrolling sword and slashing game to market.
DIGBOSTON: Hi Mike – Thanks for coming! Can you tell me please about HappyGiant and what your role is there?
MIKE LEVINE: HappyGiant is my company, most of the company and myself have been in the games industry for 10-20 years. I worked for LucasArts in the ’90s for most of it and worked for some startups out in San Francisco. I came back here and started my own companies includingPileated Pictures, which was well known in Massachusetts for working with Hasbro and other properties. We were lucky to make some money and we’re now focused on mobile and the new company, HappyGiant.
Have you been a developer for a long time, or writing games for that long?
At LucasArts, I worked in the art department, constantly developing new techniques to create art. I would sit between really amazing artists and the programmers and we were in the middle making it all work in the games.
I’ve been a writer, designer and art director. We’re a small company so we all wear many hats.
Is this your first mobile game?
No, we’ve been doing it for a few years. We slowly crawled into it. We’ve done Zhu Zhu Pet Hamsters and last summer we did the app for The Dictator film. We are also known for our high end pet sims Dolphin Paradise: Wild Friends. There’s another one that just came out, Orca Paradise: Wild Friends. We did Orca at the same time as Usagi. We used the Unity game engine to make both the games.
Very cool. Can I ask…are you a comic book fan?
Yes I am.
Have you been a Usagi Yojimbo fan for as long as I have?
Probably not. I grew up reading comics, now my kids are reading my comics. I was a heavy Marvel guy, Walt Simonson’s Thor, Frank Miller’s Ronin and Dark Knight Returns. I read all the Lone Wolf & Cub books. I knew of Usagi, but don’t remember reading it. The story goes that a couple of years ago, my friend brought me 5-6 Usagi books and urged me to read them.
As soon as I started reading them, I couldn’t put them down, I read one after the other. When I got to Book 10 or 12, I decided, “This needs to be a game”!
It came together very smoothly with Dark Horse and Stan and getting in touch with them. I like to think when things are meant to be, things go smoothly, and this was one of those cases.
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