July 17, 2009 4:00 PM | jeriaska
[Continuing his 'Sound Current' series exclusively for GameSetWatch, Jeriaska sits down with classic Sega composer Takenobu Mitsuyoshi and a number of his colleagues, discussing the soundtrack to the awesome Daytona USA arcade racing game and its home sequels.]
In an interview late last year with Sega composer Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, we learned how the development of Daytona USA came about as part of a competition among game companies to design the optimal arcade racer.
With the 15th anniversary of the series currently being commemorated in Japan with Wave Master's four disc "Let's Go Away" album box set, Mitsuyoshi joins us for a further look at the music of the racing series. Joining the composer of the original Daytona USA for this discussion are seven artists who have each participated in composing, arranging or performing music belonging the racing game series.
Jun Senoue, composer of the Sonic Adventure series, comments on his compositions and arrangements on Daytona USA Championship Circuit Edition. Sonic and the Black Knight co-composer Richard Jacques, who has contributed to such Sega titles as Sonic R, Jet Set Radio and Sega Rally 2006, discusses his participation in the making of the Sega Saturn soundtrack.
In addition, the videogame rock band H., comprised of members of the Sega sound team, share their experiences performing rock arrangements of songs from Daytona USA as part of Tokyo's EXTRA Hyper Game Music Event in October of last year. The discussion provides an overview of some of the most significant events in the audio history of Daytona USA since the series' inception 15 years ago.
Mitsuyoshi-san, thank you for joining us for this discussion. You mentioned in our previous interview that one of the ways the original Daytona USA set itself apart from other racing games was the incorporation of vocals on the soundtrack. How did you go about making this feat feasible, taking into consideration the sound capabilities of the Sega Model 2 arcade system?
Takenobu Mitsuyoshi: That's true. Sound boards back then could not produce CD-quality audio---there was no streaming. For Daytona USA I wanted to include vocal tracks, and put a lot of thought into how this could be accomplished. Eventually I settled on using a brief vocal sample and looping it to vary the duration of the note. Even if the tempo changed, the note would sustain itself in accordance with the tempo. You can probably tell that the sound sample is looped, judging by the vibrato. (laughs)
To tell you the truth, technically this was the only way the inclusion of lyrics was possible. I was lucky that it turned out a lot of listeners loved this particular sound. At the time it really did not strike me as particularly inventive to include vocals, though people who played the game back when it was released often mention how rare it was to hear. There were of course techno tracks in games that had vocal samples as a sound element, but for this genre of arcade game it was unusual.
Is it fair to call the release of Ridge Racer a central motivation in conducting all the experiments that went into the graphics engine and audio for Daytona USA?
As you said, and I think I mentioned this in the previous interview, when Ridge Racer debuted we were working with the Model 2 to create a new system for polygon surfaces. We received an order from the company to make something better than Ridge Racer. It was a priority order not just to create the highest quality music, but also the best visual designs and smoothest motion. We had to beat the game in sales, too. That was actually the core concept of the project: to outdo Ridge Racer.
How did it come about that the "Let's Go Away" box set was planned for release?
I had received a call from Wave Master. One day they said, "You know, it's coming up on the series' 15th anniversary." I honestly had no idea. The publishers proposed the idea of the box set, and at first the concept was to archive all the previous game tracks. Later I suggested including an additional two new recordings.
The introductory track on the first disc is a piano solo rendition of the song "Let's Go Away." Were you looking to capture the style of previous live performances for this piece?
This arrangement was recorded about two weeks before the final mastering of the box set. As you mentioned, it is in the style of my previous on-stage piano performances. At the beginning I was looking to add percussion. Perhaps you have seen the video on Youtube with musician Rony Barrak? He is actually a good friend of mine and we often send each other messages through Facebook.
I inquired before recording this song through a friend of mine in Germany whether Rony Barrak would join me for the arrangement. Unfortunately, it turned out our budget would not cover the costs involved. I could have gone ahead and found another percussionist, but it would not have been the same without him. In the end I decided to keep it simple, just me and the piano. This is the version of "Let's Go Away" that is unique to this box set.
Daytona USA features three different courses, with particular themes corresponding to each of the difficulty settings. The song "Pounding Pavement" is a secret track, accessible in the arcade version by holding the VR4 button at the start of the beginner course. How did you go about recording this song during the making of the game?
As you know, "Let's Go Away" has been arranged for a number of special occasions. As with the beginners' track "Rolling Start," "Pounding Pavement" was actually recorded in the Philippines, in Manila. The idea was for this tune to sound a bit like "Hotel California" by the Eagles. (laughs)
The arranger here is Chihiro Aoki. We are both in the same sound department at Sega. After she finished work on the song, I flew to Manila. The piano version of "Let's Go Away" was recorded in Japan and mixed in Manila at a place called the Pink Noise Studio.
How did you go about naming the track titles belonging to the various courses in Daytona USA, and did you receive any assistance from translators or localizers working at Sega?
"The King of Speed" is named that because you can more easily reach top speeds on the beginner's course. For "Sky High," I was imagining the California blue sky. While writing "Let's Go Away," I was working with an American sound designer named David Leytze. One day I showed him this track I was working on, the first in the game, and I asked him if "Let's Go Away" makes sense in English. He said, "No problem."
By the way, David composed the song "David Goes to Victory Lane." It plays when you take first place, so I asked him to make it sound like a scene from Top Gun. (laughs) The crew chief's voice was David's as well. You can hear him saying, "Watch out!"
Was there a particular impression you were looking for the song "Sky High" to leave with those who played the game?
My background as a musician is in jazz fusion, and as a result, "Sky High" came together naturally. I had this image of the sky and ocean, and wanted to set this song in a major key.
Senoue-san, Circuit Edition, an expanded remake of Daytona USA for the Sega Saturn, includes music composed and arranged by you and Richard Jacques, among other musicians. Did you have a clear concept upon entering the project of how you were going to depart from the arcade version of Daytona USA?
Jun Senoue: We were looking to make something that was different from the original but still maintained the best elements of Daytona USA. For instance, several new courses were added to the previously established ones. For the stages from the original game, we wanted to vary the music while keeping the main melody intact. I thought there should be different styles of arrangements depending of the course, so I asked Richard and several others if they would participate.
How did it come about that you first began working at Sega?
I started at Sega in 1993. Back then I was playing in a band, and only began writing electronic music after I joined the company. It was like a dream come true, being able to work and play the guitar at the same time. There were new projects starting frequently, which allowed for all sorts of chances to meet other musicians, and I was constantly learning. When I look back at the music I made in '96, at the time of Circuit Edition, it makes me realize how much my music has developed since then.
Was this your first time working with Richard Jacques, and was the lack of physical proximity an issue in collaborating on the soundtrack?
I had known Richard previously, but this was our first time working together. I think we communicated primarily by phone or fax. In terms of discussing the soundtrack, I made a few suggestions, like "this tune might work better as a dance track," but that was about the extent of it.
What kinds of creative decisions were entailed in arranging previously existing songs for the expanded console version of the game?
"Pounding Pavement" was of course a secret track in the original game. For Circuit Edition I assigned the song to a new course, a desert stage with rocky terrain.
The arrangement is more aggressive than the original, and in the middle part there are passages that did not exist in the original. This song, along with the track "Sons of Angels," can be heard in the opening demo. This is one of two pieces I wrote for Circuit Edition that incorporated vocals.
Vocalist Eric Martin was a friend of Johnny [Gioeli], the singer in my band Crush 40. There is a song called "The American Dream" that Eric and I collaborated on together. This game was for consoles, so a new track was needed for course replays. Since they take place after the race, we wanted the track to be fast-paced and high-spirited.
Initially, I had in mind that I wanted to work with Eric for this project. I had an interest in a particular sound, and it existed outside the country. It was not enough to work with people who had similar tastes or could sound similar, because it would not have been exactly what I was looking for. That was what convinced me to go ahead, call him and request he join the project.
Are songs that include English-language lyrics something that you particularly enjoy working on?
English? It's all right. I was in Panama for awhile back in junior high school. That is a Spanish-speaking region, but around the canal English could be heard everywhere. There was also MTV, so you could listen to English-language songs 24/7. I can also speak a little Spanish.
Have you been back there since?
I haven't, though I do want to. In central America they had these old arcade games, like Xevious by Atari. In Japan, everyone my age knew where all the special items were hidden in that game, so every time I played at the arcades in Panama, all the kids would gather around me, and they were fascinated by all the secrets I knew.
In the discussion "Staying in Tune: Richard Jacques on Game Music's Past, Present and Future," which appeared on Gamasutra, you mentioned that songs composed for the Jet Set Radio series are in a style that had been developed in collaboration with Hideki Naganuma. In the case of Daytona USA, were there thematic elements you were bringing to your original songs that had originated previously in the series?
Richard Jacques: As far as I know I was asked to work on the project to bring some other musical styles to complement the established style of Daytona, and also in the case of the “Kings of Speed” to give a new remix to the song with a more European dance music feel.
Circuit Edition was released in 1996 in Europe and North America before it debuted in Japan. How long had you been creating videogame music prior to joining the project?
I began my career working as an in house composer with Sega Europe from the early 1990’s. When Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition was in development, I was asked by my producer at Sega Europe to contribute a few tracks for the game, to go alongside the tracks that June Senoue and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi were working on.
So I worked on a remix on one of the original Daytona tracks “The King of Speed” and wrote two original tracks. My compositions on the album are “Funk Fair” and “Race To The Bass”, plus my remix of “The Kings of Speed”.
Had you previously worked with Sega composers in Japan?
I had already met Jun in Tokyo by the time I was working on Daytona CCE, but my communication was mainly with the development team via the producer at Sega Europe. I met Mitsuyoshi-san in Tokyo after the game was completed.
Was the original soundtrack album for Circuit Edition your first released as a videogame musician? Was it of particular significance to you?
I think this is probably true, it would have been the first album released with some of my tracks on it. The first of many! It was a great project to work on because I was already a huge Daytona fan, having played it many times in the arcades, and also the original Sega Saturn version.
Welcome, H. Thank you for joining us. In terms of the song "Let's Go Away" that you performed live at the EXTRA Hyper Game Music Events in 2007 and 2008, what changes were made in the arrangement and performance?
Takahiro Kai: Well, for one, the electric guitars and synthesizers heard in the game give the song a hard rock style. The H. version played at EXTRA is arranged with additional acoustic instruments, such as the steel guitar and piano. There is a passage featuring solos, in which each member performs improvisation in turn, and we have enjoyed this feature in particular very much.
As Sega composers, what have you valued most about playing the music of classic Sega titles at EXTRA?
Mitsuharu Fukuyama: As composers we do not have many opportunities to appear before our listeners. It makes this kind of event especially significant, delivering the music in person through a live performance.
While we all write music for videogames, what we listen to and create is not typical game soundtrack material. We have an interest in rock and jazz, music that departs from the conventions of games. The idea is that if done right this approach could be more appealing, not only to those who play videogames but also those who have a strong appreciation for music on the whole.
Were there any challenges that you encountered during rehearsals for EXTRA?
Hiro: The biggest challenge this time was that we brought in a drummer, because the previous year there were recorded drum tracks. Luckily when we all got together for the first rehearsal things just came naturally.
Aside from Daytona USA, what would you count among your favorite classic titles from that period?
Hiro: Fantasy Zone, for starters. Unlike most other shooting games back then, the world setting is full of pastel colors and the background music is in a samba style. Our arrangement of Space Harrier also brings back fond memories. It makes me think of when I was playing the game.
Fukuyama: When I was in junior high I often played the MSX games on the PC. They were a lot of fun. Granted, games back then had their technical limitations. There were restrictions on the number of sounds that could be played simultaneously and so on. However, working within those constraints, a whole world of music was created.
I always experienced it from the vantage point of a player, but it was still fascinating to listen to what you could do with videogame music on an MSX home computer. Techno music as a trend was really coming to the fore back then. The image was of something fresh and cutting edge.
Shoji-san, your performance at EXTRA came only a day after you and Senoue-san played live music from Yakuza 3 and Sonic and the Black Knight back to back at the Tokyo Game Show. Now that your music is associated with a popular Sega franchise, could you tell us a little about how you first got involved with working at the company?
Shoji: I was in a band for a long time when I was younger. I came to Tokyo from my home town with few belongings. I had a guitar in my hand and dreams of making it big as a rock musician: a typical teenage guitar infatuation, you could say. I only knew power chords back then... maybe not much has changed.
Moving to Tokyo, my brother who worked at Sega helped arrange a part time job for me at the AM2 Lab as a sound engineer. He knew my band wasn't going anywhere, so he suggested I stop wasting my time wandering from place to place and get a steady job. That was when I met Takayuki Nakamura.
I did not think much of electronic music back then, but gradually it dawned on me that working with computers did not mean having to give up rock. I developed a broader vision of music and decided to make a profession out of it.
What interests you as far as future projects as a composer are concerned?
Shoji: If you look at music soundtracks for consumer videogames, you find mostly fusion and orchestral scores. These genres have a full sound and are well received, but adopting that style is simply the norm. I thought that if you are looking for a breakthrough, why not bring to videogame music a deeper appreciation of rock?
What sort of message would you like to leave listeners in other countries, such as those who have heard your music on the EXTRA Official Compilation album?
Eisei Kudoh: This in my first time performing at a videogame music event. I am sure there are a lot of fans that loves videogame music, so I hope they will enjoy listening in addition to Sega games music of many different varieties.
Hiro: Oh yeah. We would like to perform outside of Japan one of these days. If you are reading this, concertmasters, we are prepared!
Mitsuyoshi: I have had quite a few chances to travel abroad for musical performances outside of Japan. Most of these events primarily focus on console games.
In the case of World Club Championship Football, there was an orchestral recording included, and as a result it was performed at concerts. I personally would like to find ways to encourage more people to listen to all sorts of arcade game music. That includes listeners outside of Japan. This was a primary purpose behind forming this band.
[Interview conducted by Jeriaska. Translation by Ryojiro Sato. This article is available in Japanese at Game Design Current. Let's Go Away: The Daytona USA Anniversery Box and EXTRA - Official Compilation can be imported from Play Asia. Images courtesy of Sega, Wave Master and 5pb Records. Photos by Jeriaska]