November 30, 2008 4:00 PM | jeriaska
[We're pleased to introduce a new set of GameSetWatch-exclusive interviews with game musicians, conducted by Jeriaska. He starts things out with a great chat to the Inti Creates folks behind the Mega Man 9 remix album.]
Following the release of Mega Man 9, the Inti Creates sound team developed an arranged music album composed of remixed songs from the NES-style platformer.
Produced by Ippo Yamada, who participated in a Siliconera interview last month on the subject of the original soundtrack, the new album includes the participation of composers from Capcom’s 8-bit era and other musical guests.
Here Yamada offers an introduction to the arranged album and the process behind its creation, this time joined by Inti Creates composer Ryo Kawakami and guest arranger Akari Kaida, whose songs can be heard on the Breath of Fire III and Luminous Arc soundtracks, among others.
The discussion offers an informal look at how videogame composers consider the context of their music and the process of adapting in-game tunes to other genres, including classical, hard rock, fusion and jazz.
Thunder Tornado, Mega Man 9 Original Soundtrack
GameSetWatch: Thank you for joining us for this discussion of the music of Mega Man 9, original and arranged. Could you tell us a little about your background in writing music for the Mega Man series?
Ryo Kawakami: I’m Ryo Kawakami. I started working for Inti Creates in November of last year. I’ve written songs for a few games previous to joining, including Mega Man ZX and Mega Man ZX Advent. Recently I composed songs for Mega Man 9.
GSW: Which songs that you have been responsible for composing for the Mega Man series stand out in your memory?
Kawakami: Previously I have written quite a few songs, but maybe the best known is the Prometheus and Pandora Battle Theme “Trap Factory” from Mega Man ZX and “Trap Phantasm” from ZX Advent. For Mega Man 9, I wrote the opening, the title song, the themes for Magma Man, Plug Man, Wily Stage 1 and the Special Stage.
GSW: Were any of the songs you just mentioned composed in collaboration with other musicians?
Kawakami: Those songs I wrote independently, though I received a lot of good advice.
GSW: Which of your songs for Mega Man 9 are you particularly proud of?
Kawakami: I’m really pleased with how the atmosphere of Wily Stage 1 turned out. The sun is setting, thunder is echoing… it’s got something of the feel of Mega Man 2’s Wily Stage 1. For Plug Man, I wanted there to be something of an electrical static to the song, kind of like the high frequency sound in Quick Man's stage from Mega Man 2. I thought it turned out pretty well.
GSW: What were the songs that you were involved in reinterpreting for the second soundtrack?
Kawakami: For the arranged album, I remixed three songs total. The opening and ending themes have received piano arrangements. How might you describe the Plug Man remix? It’s kind of an electronic, progressive rock song with keyboards at the forefront and live drums.
Akari Kaida: I’m Akari Kaida. I joined Capcom in 1994 and have written for a variety of projects, but as far as Mega Man is concerned, I wrote songs for Mega Man and Bass, Mega Man ZX Advent, and Mega Man Battle Network 1 & 5. I went freelance in 2005, and joined the arrange soundtrack for Mega Man 9 this year.
GSW: You are often credited as Akari Kaida Groves. Is this your formal name?
Kaida: Yes, my husband is Australian, so I compose music under the Western surname of Groves.
GSW: Mega Man & Bass is one of the few early Mega Man titles not to be localized for English-language territories, only receiving a release years later for the Game Boy Advance. There were various musicians who contributed to the soundtrack. Which songs were yours?
Kaida: Let's see, I think they were Cloud Man, Ground Man... and Tengu Man, I'd say. There may have been others, but it's hard to remember.
GSW: What was your contribution to the arrange soundtrack?
Kaida: For the arranged album, Yamada-san suggested I write something stylish and easygoing... a kind of European, French-style scat vocal. The state I was looking to capture was laid back and untroubled. Because quite a few of the other arrangements involved electronic instruments, I was going for a more acoustic sound by comparison. There’s an acoustic guitar in there if you listen closely. It was fun to write.
Ippo Yamada: I’m Ippo Yamada, sound producer and sound director for Inti Creates. I did not focus so much on composing this time, writing two tracks total—Tornado Man and the Staff Roll theme. I really would have liked to compose more, but my hands were full serving as the producer. In addition to working on the game itself, I produced the original soundtrack album along with the arrange soundtrack.
We wanted to do something different in terms of style of music, while retaining the quality of the original tunes, or perhaps preserve the quintessential images from each of the stages and robots. The Magma Man arrangement is interesting. Magma Man resides inside a volcano, so the track features a passionate Spanish style sound with a furious rhythm. I asked Uchiyama-san, who worked on Mega Man 8, to write a dance tune that retains both Tornado Man’s characteristics and the melody line itself. It was asking a lot of him, but he sure did a great job.
Kaida: That one is very cool.
Yamada: Weren’t you surprised? It sounded really fresh to my ear when I first listened to it. The entire idea behind this arrange album was to enjoy the music in a different light.
Magma Burning, Mega Man 9 Arrange Soundtrack
GSW: What can you tell us about Inti Creates'... well, creation?
Yamada: Inti Creates started off with eleven employees. Everyone chipped in on the work programming, designing characters, planning the scenario… it felt less like a company than a small team. In fact, it was a company founded on teamwork. We were young and skipped meals, working twenty-four hours making games. While I had gathered some experience while working for Capcom, here I was involved in every area of the creation process. It was a learning experience. We ensured the highest quality possible and got a lot of pleasure out of investing as much substance to the game as we could.
GSW: Does the arrange soundtrack for Mega Man 9 differ from previous music albums made by the company?
Yamada: Past Inti Creates albums have been developed along different lines than Mega Man 9 Arrange Soundtrack. Previously the original soundtrack was not published, so to remind listeners of the original, we stuck close to the source material in the instruments that we used. This time, however, an original soundtrack has been released, so the remixes ought to be something new and different. For this reason we hope people will find it interesting to compare these two versions.
Manami Matsumae of Mega Man 1 & 2 (also known as CHANCHACORIN MANAMI) has arranged Shimoda-san’s Wily Stage 2. In addition to this track, BUN BUN of Mega Man 3 [Yasuaki Fujita] remixed Kawakami-san’s Special Stage theme。 You might think of it as a kind of Breath of Fire-style orchestral track. It has a symphonic sound and a fighting spirit to it. Then there is Makoto Tomozawa, who I worked with on Resident Evil and Mega Man 7. He arranged the Wily Machine song.
After that, there is Luna Umegaki, a composer on Mega Man Zero. She provides a soothing arrangement of Splash Woman’s theme. We were also joined by a musician that has no prior experience with the Mega Man series. Guitarist Toshiki Horizawa arranges Wily Stage 1 in the form of a Jeff Beck-style power ballad featuring a suitably dramatic performance. In that sense, a number of artists have contributed a variety of styles to the album.
GSW: When did you first start becoming interested in videogames?
Kaida: It’s hard for me to recall the game titles, but I often played when I was in elementary school around 10 or 11 years of age.
Kaida: That’s right. The 8-bit era. It’s probably the same for everyone, but I started out with Super Mario. To tell you the truth, I never dreamed of making videogame music. I often played games, and especially enjoyed trying them out on my PC. It was only after entering music school that it even occurred to me that this could be a job.
Yamada: That’s a common story, though. For myself, I had the vague notion that I wanted to create music, but it was not as if I had this insistent notion that my destiny was to write game music.
Kaida: It wasn’t sought out.
Yamada: Game music, that’s something you think of as fun. Games are all about the interplay of action and reaction. That dramatic component of the experience needs to be reflected in the music. That might be what attracted me to this field in the first place.
Kaida: That sounds about right. You are given a certain theme to work with, and discover how to endow the scene with that feeling. I like that challenge.
Yamada: You are also working with data. If you lose sight of that, the consequences can be devastating. Back then, it wasn’t like now where you can make music using a Mac or PC—you really needed to know how to program. You had to know about compiling and decoding data and be able to discern what was going on within your program. Making videogame music would be very difficult if you did not have much practical knowledge on those subjects.
Kaida: There were also size limitations, forcing you to think about how much information you could include before running out of space.
Kawakami: The music this time around was designed so that even if some of the sound gets cut off due to the emulated limitations of the 8-bit hardware, it would not interrupt the musical flow. The music still sounds good, even if one or two instruments are interrupted by sound effects every once in a while.
Yamada: You know, I recently was listening to CD recordings of Dragon Quest and Bomberman. It was shocking—Bomberman only uses a single line for the music!
Kawakami: Complicating the melody sometimes distracts from the gameplay.
Yamada: The trick is to write a strong melody line that drives the music forward regardless of sound loss in other portions of the song. NES music is very particular in that sense.
Kaida: This title intended to imitate the NES, so the sound effects do cut off certain part of the music. If there were the chance in the future, I would want to further explore that aspect of composition.
From left to right: Inti Creates designer Yukimasa Tamura with musicians Ryo Kawakami, Akari Kaida & Ippo Yamada.