PixelJunk Eden art and music: Baiyon Interview

By Jeriaska . September 27, 2008 . 12:37am

Baiyon is a DJ, art director and graphics designer based in Kyoto, Japan. Several years ago he released the album “Like a school on lunch time,” an experimental approach to minimalistic electronic sounds. He has collaborated on a variety of visual design projects and museum exhibitions, which can be sampled on the website wetside.jp. For PixelJunk Eden, the artist worked together with Q-Games as the director of art and music. The original soundtrack for the game has just been released this week on the Aniplex record label.


Translated by Ryojiro Sato. Japanese-language version forthcoming.



Siliconera: As a Kyoto-based artist, you are located in a region of rich artistic heritage. Do you look to traditional forms of visual arts in informing your artistic projects?


Baiyon: When there are Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in your immediate surroundings, I think you cannot help but be influenced by their presence. I cannot say whether traditional culture has had much in the way of a direct influence, or at least I have never felt the need to depart from it. What is much clearer to me is the recognition that Japan’s modern culture, of which videogames are one part, inspires me.


In contrast to other places in Japan, city life in Kyoto is known for its slow pace, so it is an environment that lends itself to working methodically on whatever it is you are intent on creating.



Siliconera: How long have you been creating music and what can you tell us about your experiences as a DJ?


Baiyon: I have been at it for about eight years, appearing not only at venues in Japan, but internationally at locations such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Mexico, France and Ireland. It can be hard to tell for certain, but my impression is that the Kyoto club scene has its own approach that is characterized by a kind of stoic determination.


Siliconera: What tools do you prefer to use in creating music and visual designs?


Baiyon: Computer software is the primary tool I use for graphic designs, though I do draw with ink on paper from time to time. The same is true of my sound design. The computer serves as my base, with equipment like synthesizers and drum machines being primary to the creative process. I also do a lot of field recording and later manipulate these sounds, adding effects, for my music.


Siliconera: What experiences have you had with videogames prior to PixelJunk Eden?


Baiyon: Well, this is my first time making one. I love videogames, of course. The thought of being involved in the creation of one has been in my mind since way back, so this has been an extremely enjoyable process. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration for my music and visual art from the early era of videogames. I have retained my fascination with the games of the ’80s and ’90s until today.



Siliconera: How did you happen to meet the president of Q-Games?


Baiyon: We met at a party in Kyoto. I was familiar with Q-Games and Dylan had known about my work. I mentioned that I was interested in making a game, and as it so happened, the timing was perfect. We arranged for a meeting and later began work on an installment of the PixelJunk series.


Siliconera: When was it decided that a garden environment would be central to the title?


Baiyon: Early on plantlife became a kind of keyword for the project. Discussing with the director how to go about making a game from the visuals and sounds I create, one of the various images of plants that appear in my artwork was singled out as a point of focus. Somehow we came around to the idea of plants sprouting in time with music. We went about conducting a number of tests to see what this image might look like using the graphics processor of the Playstation 3. After repeated experiments, we finally arrived at the look of Eden.


In thinking about this game concept revolving around plantlife, the image that came to mind was of an organic object whose growth was both dyanamic and emotional. We decided on an approach that required the growth of plants be determined dynamically by the actions of the player, while suggesting an emotional quality through the use of the shifting color scheme.



Siliconera: The design of the playable character looks slightly reminiscent of woodblock prints of legendary creatures from Japanese folklore. What characteristics did you want the Grimps to have?


Baiyon: The process of designing the main character was not altogether different from how I go about working on other art projects. Afterwards I shared what I had with the director and programmers to determine the final shape of the character. The idea you mention was not what I had in mind, but I do like the look of deep sea creatures with tentacles and was thinking about that kind of image.


I actually wanted to differentiate the characters controlled by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd players so that they resembled a party. You know, the 1st player character is a heroic boy, the 2nd player controls a girl character, and the 3rd player has kind of a shy otaku… that was the idea, anyway. The presentation found in most games today, relying on easy-to-understand concepts, like eliminating enemies and joining allies, were already in place, so the character design was an opportunity to introduce some adventure game elements.


Siliconera: Eden is an evocative name for the game because in a sense it is an origin story for this small universe created by the player. While the title does not concern itself with an outright storyline, were you interested in giving the sense of a mythological narrative while the player gives rise to these ten gardens?


Baiyon: In one sense the game can be said not to have a story. The central idea of the game is that there is a formidable challenge for the player to surmount. It is reflected by the way the colors of the background and the tone of the music changes as you progress. In this sense, the act of planning the story was not far from, say, determining the order of songs in a DJ performance or music album.



Siliconera: How did you work together with the design team to create the smooth animations seen in the game from the art that you had created in two dimensions?


Baiyon: The first step was coming up with all-new illustrations of plantlife. I went back and forth with the programmers, sharing ideas on how the physics of the game might play out. We experimented on various approaches to adding physical motion to the still images until we found something that worked. I would offer suggestions on precise details, saying “Wouldn’t it work well to give this a more subdued color” or “What if the entire body of this plant were to sway once you jumped on it?” The way the character spins threads of silk was arrived upon through the same process.


Siliconera: How was it working with the sound capabilities of the Playstation 3?


Baiyon: Starting out, it was a challenge adapting to the set specifications, from the screen’s aspect ratio, to the play mechanics, visual quality and sound capabilities. However, overall I think the technical capacity of the Playstation 3 helped make Eden an exceptional experience.


Siliconera: Considering your background as a DJ, how was it embarking on creating a videogame score?


Baiyon: The starting point for the soundtrack was bringing my style of art and music to the world of games. At the outset, my only concern was with creating something that was pleasing to the ears. My outlook on the music expanded later on, reflecting aspects of the visuals and gameplay.


In terms of thinking about how to loop the music tracks for the game, minimalistic techno and house music tend to lend themselves to this cyclical form, so this was not a problem at all. Still, my feeling was that it would be useful to have the songs as long as possible, even knowing it would be lopped within the game. That is why some tracks extend beyond ten minutes in length.



Siliconera: Each garden has its own unique qualities created through the use of the music and art style. What kinds of ideas were significant in the process of giving each stage its own unique identity? For instance, how did you determine to incorporate various sound effects, such as the ribbit noise found in the flat frog stage?


Baiyon: Together with the director, we discussed how to go about unifying our various ideas concerning the different gardens’ graphics, sounds and level design. The graphics sometimes inspired the audio tracks and vice versa. As for the flat frog stage, we used a synthesizer sound effect that sounds kind of like a ribbit. It’s not the sound of an actual frog.


Siliconera: In closing, what can you tell us about the original soundtrack? Will the songs be available through the Playstation Network as well?


Baiyon: We are currently undecided on the subject of a PSN soundtrack release. The original soundtrack was released on September 24 on Aniplex Records. I worked on the artwork for the album and handled all the sound effects and mastering, so please give it a listen if you have the chance. As for images from future art projects, they will be available to view online.



More about the art and music of Baiyon can be found on Baiyon.com and Wet side. PixelJunk Eden Original Soundtrack is available to import from Amazon.co.jp and Play Asia. Images courtesy of Wet side and Q-Games.

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