By Spencer . November 29, 2013 . 6:00pm
Siliconera spoke with Manami Matsumae who composed music for a little game called Mega Man. She also worked on U.N. Squadron, Magic Sword, and is the composer on Mighty No. 9. In this interview, we talked about the art of making Mega Man style music how she got involved with Shovel Knight.
How has making video game music different from the NES days when you had to deal with hardware limitations, compared to now?
Manami Matsumae, Composer: Nowadays, since we can use any kind of sound source, and that there are no limitations to the number of tones we can use, a variety of musical expressions have become possible. Therefore, people who create music nowadays are in a situation in which they can easily create music of their own. I personally have no problems with that, but during the NES era, there was a limitation to the tones that could be used, which meant that we could think up anything and everything using a piano, yet it would be impossible to implement the music as is. So, we had to do plenty of trial and error in order to make sounds, and I find that there was a lot of virtue to making music using sounds produced under such limitations.
As of now, I’m a member of Brave Wave, a music label which just began to be active recently. Mohammed Taher is the main lead behind the whole idea, and is the one making albums. I am involved with several songs myself as well as helping Mohammed with artistic decisions. Creating music specifically that will NOT go into games is actually quite fun! There are many musicians in the world, and I hear melodies, chords and rhythms that I would never have thought of on my own. Those are quite stimulating to me, and my own music is better as a result. I ask readers to please look forward to what Brave Wave is making. We will make good music together.
Do you find it interesting that chiptunes is a style of music now?
Chiptunes have become something quite cool these days. For the last year, I have been working on a number of chiptune tracks, so I have listened to some composed by other famous people, all of whom are really amazing! They really understand the nuances of musical tones when creating songs. There are many people today who enjoyed music produced using the NES sound library who will find chiptunes nostalgic. I see this trend growing further.
Can you tell us the process of making music for a Mega Man game or Mighty No. 9? How is it different from other games that you’ve worked on?
Whether my music goes into Mega Man or Mighty No. 9, the process is basically the same. I look at the character, as well as the game in motion, and then compose the song. For Mighty No. 9, which I recently made, all I had was a picture of the character (when I composed the song, the video it was featured in did not exist yet). However, some keywords that helped me imagine the game were “near future,” “nostalgia,” “sense of justice,” “power” and “love.” I made the song with those keywords in mind. Making music after getting a sense of what something’s image is allows you to portray the intent behind the song easily to another person.
Going back to the original Mega Man, did you ever make music for a robot master that didn’t make it in the game? Which song is your favorite and which one was the hardest to create?
I remember the development of Mega Man taking around two months. It was half a year after I had entered the company, so my work speed was slow, yet I had to make both the sound effects and music at the same time. So, there were certainly no other songs for a robot master that did not make it into the final game. There were only six bosses.
I like the song that comes after selecting a stage most. Even now, there have been several arrangements, and the song is still loved by many. Guts Man was the hardest one to make, and I was hilariously bad at his stage. (laughs) I had imagined a stage with lots of stones and rocks and such, but it turned out to be quite different. The song’s tones have this sense of deception in it as a well!
U.N. Squadron (called Area 88 in Japan) is one of my favorite games and part of it is because the soundtrack is so energetic. Can you tell us any development stories from when that game was in development?
Thank you so much! I am very happy to hear you say that. I love the music in that game as well. I’ve since forgotten some details since this occurred 25 years ago, but when I made the song for Area 88, there were pictures of the game available, but the game itself wasn’t up and running yet. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to waste, so I had to make the music anyway. Three days later, I took the music I had made, and by then, Area 88 was up and running. I tried matching the song with that stage, matched the scene where the scenery rises from the city onto the sky to the song’s chords, and everyone was quite surprised.
How did you get involved with the Shovel Knight team? And why do you think so many developers are trying to create Mega Man-like games?
I actually cannot speak any English at all. Therefore, I never thought about working together with a game company from outside of Japan. That said, Mohammed from Brave Wave Productions contacted me about the game. We had worked together prior to Shovel Knight, and he told me that I was well known as the composer for Mega Man, so he had contacted Yacht Club Games to see if they would be interested in merging our waters together. Mohammed ended up emailing me and asking me to make two songs for Shovel Knight, and I ended up working together with them. (laughs)
Recently, there have been quite a few games that harken back to the style of 8-bit titles! I wonder why. This is just my opinion, but personally speaking, games these days seem to allow for anything and everything to be put in them, and I feel that there is too much of it. While there are people who think, “technology is always evolving day by day, so it’s great to play games with beautiful graphics while listening to flashy music,” there are also those who just want to enjoy simple games, which is why development studios are going the other way as well.
If you were going to give advice to a young composer creating a score for an action game what would you tell him or her? How about a flight game like U.N. Squadron?
I myself am still studying, so I don’t think I’m in a position to be giving advice to anyone. That said, if I had to give some pointers to others, I think it’s best to think of how to make music by looking at a game screen and trying to understand the message it is trying to tell, and how the music can make that game more exciting. If it’s an action game, then go with a theme that shows harshness or fighting spirit. For a game like U.N. Squadron, go with a song with speed and solidarity, and so forth. Every game has a main theme, so you should make music that goes along with it.
As a treat for the Siliconera readers, Ms. Matsumae shared the "One Shot, One Kill song" from the World 1-2 Encore album and a remixed version done in the style of Mighty No. 9.