By Jeriaska . October 4, 2008 . 9:03am
While working for Capcom, Ippo Yamada participated in composing music and designing sounds for Mega Man 7, credited under the codename IPPO. He currently serves as the lead sound designer for the game developer Inti Creates, contributing to the music of Mega Man Zero and ZX. Here he discusses the process behind creating the sounds of Mega Man 9 together with Inti Creates sound team members Ryo Kawakami, Yu Shimoda, and Hiroki Isogai, returning to the spirit of the early days of the Blue Bomber on current generation hardware.
Siliconera: The music of Mega Man 9 is often casually referred to as “NES music,” but in the liner notes to the soundtrack you mention that the sounds are emulated. What techniques did you use to simulate the NES sound card?
Ippo Yamda: Strictly speaking the soundtrack of Mega Man 9 is not NES music, but to its very core it has been created in the spirit of NES music. We made use of a program that closely resembles the console’s sound source, producing very similar waveforms, and thereby were able to make music tracks that sound just like the original. In the days of Mega Man 1-6, you were challenged to manipulate the audio signals produced by the sound card within the range designated by the restrictions of the hardware. Naturally in making this game we had no hardware restrictions, but we stuck to the formula of three pulse wave channels and one noise channel. Within this framework we freely went about composing music.
Siliconera: Were there any aspects of the music of the original games that you consciously decided to depart from in creating your own NES Mega Man title?
Ippo Yamada: The game concept itself was this: What would a brand-new NES game look like? For that reason, we did not want to depart drastically from the foundation of the original series. At the same time, in order to make things interesting we were looking to add to the mix a few melodies that were not classically familiar to the Mega Man formula. For instance, the Endless Stage music is something that the NES would not have been capable of, don’t you think?
Siliconera: The Rush Jet theme incorporates the backbeat of the weapon acquisition tune from Mega Man 2. Are there other subtle instances where elements from previous games are embedded in the composition?
Ippo Yamada: The Rush theme is a special case. It describes Roll’s new weapon (an ally character) by blending the shop and get-a-weapon theme together. Aside from this, you’ll notice a motif of the ending theme incorporates an arranged version of the Mega Man 2 stage select song. Most of the songs in the game were created with the thought of capturing some quality of previous titles in mind, but consciously referencing the series by adding particular phrases was restricted to these two themes. You might say Concrete Man’s intro sounds a lot like Wood Man’s theme. That is about the limit to which we allowed ourselves to cite other games in the series. There might be other similarities, but I would say none were downright intended to imitate previous themes.
Siliconera: There were aspects of even the late NES titles that were not allowed in Mega Man 9. In terms of gameplay, there is no sliding and no charging of the mega buster. What kind of restrictions were enforced on the soundtrack?
Ippo Yamada: Taking away sliding and charging was a way of returning to the framework of Mega Man 2. The game’s sound effects reflect the same approach. The sound of charging the mega buster blocks out other square waves, so by eliminating charging from the game we could introduce a lot of other sound effects that would have been obscured, such as the enemy laser shots. This one choice opened the way for a lot of freedom in composing the music, which would have been curtailed by charge-related restrictions.
Siliconera: The soundtrack includes two tracks of sound effects, those that appear in the new game and those that were ported over from previous incarnations. What tools were used to generate them?
Ippo Yamada: To generate the sound effects we used Macs and PCs running a program called MML (Music Macro Language).
Siliconera: Did you allow yourselves any leeway in including effects that were not possible to generate on the Famicom console?
Ippo Yamada: There are no sounds included apart from those generated by MML. We were looking to work within this concept of a new NES game, so the new aspects are contained within the design elements.
Siliconera: What can you tell us about the history of the Inti Creates? How did it come about that the company formed and when did you form an affiliation with Capcom?
Ippo Yamada: Inti Creates was established as a totally independent small company in 1996. Our first project was Speed Power Gunbike, developed by Club DEP and Sony Music Entertainment. As far as working with Capcom goes, we presented them with the idea for Mega Man Zero and development on the four game titles followed. The company has also developed the Capcom titles Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge, Mega Man NT Warrior, EXE N1 Battle Network for Wonderswan Crystal, along with Mega Man ZX and ZX Advent.
Siliconera: Setting out to create a 21st century Mega Man title, did the group feel that it had enough training as musicians during the 8-bit era that it could authentically revive the styles of music from that era?
Ippo Yamada: Sound director [Yu] Shimoda analyzed the audio of the NES Mega Man titles for several months before embarking upon this project, documenting his research and providing these materials for the other sound designers to refer to. We kept these materials and our familiarity with the series in mind while composing the score.
Siliconera: To what extent did level designs and character art influence the direction of each stage’s musical themes.
Ippo Yamada: Consideration of stage design and character design were fundamental to the process of generating the music. The Jewel Man stage music shares with the design of the robot master a certain aloof quality, the Hornet Man stage tune has a bright and cheerfully quality to reflect the atmosphere of the flower park location. The Magma Man song was created with the idea of an impassioned anime theme in mind, while Galaxy Man has the kind of retro futurstic spaceage quality you might associate with a UFO.
Siliconera: Gradually game composers are receiving more and more recognition for their work, to the point where there is a clear distinction between the recognition you are receiving for your role on the title and the anonymity of the original sound team. Do you feel that it is better that game musicians receive recognition for their work or is there something to the mystique of codenames like Yuukichan’s Papa?
Ippo Yamada: While I was working for Capcom the company was just beginning to transition from crediting staff members by aliases to their full names. There were cases when contributors were not credited at all, not even during the staff credits at the end of the game. In terms of my own inclination, I feel that having one’s full name present brings with it a sense of personal responsibility for one’s work. From the point of view of the listener, they can rest assured that the composers are staking their reputation on the quality of the product. My feeling is that it is preferable when magazines and newspapers make it clear who worked on each of the articles, whether by full name or by pen name, so long as they are credited. For instance, while at Capcom I went by IPPO, and I still do.
Siliconera: Do you think that these days artists like Manami Matsumae should be acknowledged more frequently for their work created during the 8-bit era?
Ippo Yamada: For a videogame composer, you don’t think Manami Matsumae is famous enough already!? Well, if she is not so familiar to people, it is only because she is not a performer. I mean, if asked to name all the famous composers of live action movies, how many can you remember? There’s John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and who else? In reflecting on the experience of a movie, it is easy to remember the director. In general people tend not to know the names of the sound designers.
Popularity is something that advertising and media often get caught up in, and I suppose the internet has contributed to this effect. The composer is a person working behind the scenes, and keeping this in mind you could say that Matsumae is rather famous nonetheless.
Siliconera: It is interesting to note that all of the sound designers are credited in the soundtrack manual with the role of computer programming, which is not the kind role you see designated for musicians. Is this a deliberate reference to the way creating music during the days of the NES was largely inseparable from coding?
Ippo Yamada: All the composers on the project are using personal computers to make the score. For Mega Man 9′s original soundtrack, all the instrumentation is entirely electronic. The credits reflect the fact that the score was made entirely on PCs.
Siliconera: How did the process of creating music for the arranged album of Rockman 9 music differ from generating the original soundtrack?
Ippo Yamada: These days, all around the world there are people who are interested in videogame music and are doing their own arrangements. Under such circumstances it is only natural that you try to experiment with something different. For that reason you will find a straightforward electric guitar rock arrangement for the title theme alone. Original soundtracks are fairly easy to prepare, since all you need to do is carefully record the sound source. For an arranged album there is the arrangement to worry about, taping the musical instruments, vocal recordings, mixing and mastering. Many more resources are required. By all means, compare the two versions for yourself and see what you think.
Siliconera: What can we expect from the arranged album when it arrives in October?
Ippo Yamada: First off, something I hope listeners will do is listen to it along with the original soundtrack. Listen to the original soundtrack carefully until you have it down, then move on to the arranged album. You will then have a deeper understanding of the songs you are listening to, and thereby enjoy them more deeply. That said, you can expect the arranged album to be more varied in its approach. The genres of music from the ’70s and ’80s had an impact on the original game titles, and therefore are included here. There are a number of guest arrangers, including Manami Matsumae (aka CHANCHACORIN MANAMI). Also participating are Mega Man 3′s Yasuaki Fujita (BUNBUN), Mega Man 7′s Makoto Tomozawa, Mega Man 8′s Shusuaki Uchiyama and Akari Kaida (Akari Groves) of Rockman & Forte. They each arrange one track.
Siliconera: Finally, before you go, can you tell us something to look out for while listening to the music in Mega Man 9, the kind of thing that most listeners might miss unless they are told to look out for it?
Ippo Yamada: I would say keep a look out for its Maga Man-esque qualities. The use of triangle waves on both Concrete Man’s stage and Wily Stage 3 are something to listen for. Listen for the low frequency noise found in Quick Man’s stage which shows up in Plug Man. There are many classic Mega Man qualities to listen for in the score, so by all means I hope you will enjoy searching them out.
Music samples from Rockman 9 Original Soundtrack can be heard at the Inti Creates Official Website. The album can be purchased through online retailers including Amazon.co.jp and Play Asia. Images courtesy of Capcom, (c)CAPCOM CO.,LTD. 2008 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.