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Pahdo Labs has raised $15 million in funding for the startup’s plans to create an anime-style role-playing game and user-generated content (UGC) platform.
Pahdo Labs aims to revolutionize the anime RPG genre by empowering players to build their own virtual worlds with the aid of AI tools and procedural generation, said founder Daniel Zou, in an interview with GamesBeat.
Andreessen Horowitz (A16z) led the round, with participation from Pear VC, BoxGroup, Long Journey Ventures, Neo, and Global Founders Capital.
The team’s upcoming is codenamed Halcyon Zero. The team plans to integrate creative and social features into the anime RPG genre, allowing players to shape their own anime-style worlds.
To engage fans and gather feedback, Pahdo Labs has invited enthusiasts of anime and action RPGs to participate in pre-alpha playtests for Halcyon Zero starting in September 2023.
The studio’s initial foray into game development was a prototype for a four-player action RPG inspired by their favorite action games. Drawing from their love of Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs), fighting games, and indie adventure games, Pahdo Labs demonstrated promise, leading to the funding.
“We were impressed by Pahdo’s execution speed and believe the team is well positioned to deliver an incredible next-generation Anime RPG platform powered by user-generated content and AI,” said Jonathan Lai, general partner at A16z GAmes, in a statement.
With the new investment, Pahdo Labs has expanded its team and secured funding for the early access phase of development. The New York company now employs a full-time staff of 21 people from around the world, including New York, Vancouver, South Korea, Berlin, and other locations. The team combines tech workers from Boston/Silicon Valley with industry veterans from renowned game companies such as Riot Games, Capcom, and Electronic Arts.
Halcyon Zero is an isometric anime fantasy role-playing game and online game creation platform built on the Godot Engine. The game immerses players in an ethereal fantasy world, featuring vibrant towns and cities that serve as bustling social hubs. Players can team up to explore chaotic wilderness areas, engage in fast-paced combat, and challenge anime-inspired bosses as they unravel the mystery.
The core gameplay of Halcyon Zero emphasizes teamwork and offers fast-paced, fluid combat mechanics. The initial pre-alpha phase will introduce four playable heroes with character classes such as Spellblade, Enchanter, Witch, and Spitfire.
Upon release, the game will feature a diverse roster of dozens of anime-inspired heroes to choose from. While initially launching on PC, Pahdo Labs plans to introduce cross-play functionality on platforms such as iOS and Switch.
One of the standout features of Halcyon Zero is its robust level-building tools, which empower players to become game designers within the game itself. Pahdo Labs has prioritized player creativity, making user-created maps and game modes an integral part of the story and overall player experience. The developers aim to lower the barriers to creating visually stunning and enjoyable anime-style worlds by providing AI-enhanced tools and procedural generation.
The company is working on core gameplay and it would likely be ready for a larger test in perhaps a couple of years.
Spreading the word on TikTok
Pahdo Labs has also found a community of supporters on TikTok, leveraging the platform to engage with their audience during the game’s development process. Their TikTok content, showcasing glimpses of indie game development and the daily life of the young game developers in New York, has already garnered millions of views.
The studio hopes to attract aspiring game developers who may become future creators on their platform. Pahdo Labs shares content on their official @pahdolabs TikTok account, as well as the TikTok account of their founding head of product, @1indaqin.
Zou thinks the company ticked the right boxes for TikTok, with a focus on anime, sandbox gameplay, and UGC and modding in early stages of development. Zou also believes AI will be useful in helping amateurs with the modding tasks.
“All those things resonated,” he said. “We also struck a chord with people during the pandemic by showing our startup life. We’re showing people you should go out and chase your dreams and do the kinds of projects that you want to do.”
Zou said he grew up playing online RPGs like MapleStory, Runescape, and Mabinogi. Those virtual worlds provided him with a sense of agency, friendship, and purpose. He found himself spending all of his time trying to make his own games, which stoked his early interest in technology and computer science.
He started Pahdo Labs in 2021 from his apartment in Irvine, California, with the goa of creating a world where players are empowered to create things of lasting value.
During the pandemic, he began with a small team of game developers brought together online by their shared passion for anime and action role-playing games. One-by-one, the early team members left their day jobs to move to New York and spend days and nights developing multiplayer video games instead.
Reflecting on his own experience as a player of online RPGs during his youth, Zou said he was inspired to create a world where players can experience enriching social and creative interactions.
“I spent a lot of time playing games on the computer. And I was quite interested in making my own games. I ended up studying computer science” and graduated in 2.5 years, Zou said. He worked at Robinhood and other firms and learned about the startup life. During the pandemic, he was drawn to online games and started thinking about something more ambitious.
His teammates were also excited about the growth of anime games in the West, as they have a global reach now. Games like Genshin Impact have proven that.
“This ended up being a big driving factor for where we ultimately wanted to take our game and our platform,” he said. “Anime felt like a platform shift to us. By being early to making anime games in the West, you get an advantage and a core group of players who are really dedicated and love you. There is a lot of mass appeal for anime.”
Zou also managed to build a character design team in Korea, which enabled the company to tap into a lot of talent on the art side.
As for fundraising, Zou had challenges at first as he was solo founder working on his first major game. But as he began executing, things got better and investors began betting on him as a person. He stayed the course and it has paid off so far.
Back in 2021, the company raised $2.5 million in seed financing from prominent angel investors such as Kevin Hartz, Mark Pincus, and Cyan Banister.
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