Akira Yamaoka's name has been synonymous with Konami's Silent Hill horror game series for years. Serving as the games' producer and composer, his creative stamp was all over the franchise -- unusually, even the Hollywood film adaptation made sure to use his compositions to retain the feel of the games which spawned it.
In recent years, development of the Silent Hill games shifted from Tokyo to Western studios, though Yamaoka was still reportedly involved in these projects. However, in the wake of this change Yamaoka recently left Konami and moved to iconoclastic No More Heroes developer Grasshopper Manufacture.
Though Yamaoka will begin as a composer on the Shinji Mikami and Goichi Suda horror action project currently in development for EA Partners, he hopes to expand his role into production at the studio.
Gamasutra recently had a chance to speak to Yamaoka about his thoughts on the shift and his plans for the future.
What made you decide to go to Grasshopper Manufacture?
Akira Yamaoka: Well, Grasshopper is one of those Japanese companies that make very original games, even by global standards -- games with a lot of originality.
Their games always have a very unique world view, and with the sort of toolset I had in the fields of music and audio, I thought I'd be able to contribute to what they're doing in a really constructive way. That was what inspired me.
Recently, a lot of notable Japanese sound designers have gone freelance, like Michiru Yamane and Masashi Hamazu. Yasunori Mitsuda and Norihiko Hibino are doing their own things. What do you think about this situation?
AY: Well, myself, I want to be more than just a musician -- not that freelancers can't be more than musicians, but they're a step removed from the development process. A client tells them to write a song for a space level, they do it, and that's it. I want to be more closely involved with game development, to use my audio skills as a tool to improve the whole project. That's what I'm after.
I guess there really aren't many studios in Japan anymore with that sort of global mindset, or that really can sell games overseas.
AY: Right, and that's something that makes me jibe well with Grasshopper, I think. They have the sort of projects going on that I want to be involved with, and that was a big aspect behind the decision.
How do you think your personal style will fit into the Grasshopper style? There's a lot of innovative sound work there -- will you be managing that as well, or will you only be composing?
AY: I think I could do it either way. Of course, when you're talking about "style," it's not like I'm going to demand this particular type of music or this kind of output in our games' audio. We think in terms of what the game requires; it's not a matter of me needlessly pushing my perspective into projects.
Grasshopper's sound effects team is already quite good; will you be making any changes there? Are you leading that team as well?
AY: Well, there's a lot in the field of audio that I want to accomplish. There's no way to be "perfect" in it, after all, but I do want to nurture my own originality, my own approach to solving problems.
I'm curious to know what you think of [No More Heroes composer] Masafumi Takada's work, and are you at all concerned that people will compare you to him?
AY: I haven't heard much of his stuff, really -- to be honest, I haven't had a chance to meet him yet, so I can't say a lot about him. As for whether we'll be compared, it's not that I'd mind it, but I doubt it would happen that much, would it? (laughs)
Well, you should definitely listen to his soundtracks, because they're quite good. Will you also wind up taking on a production or design role at Grasshopper as you had done at Konami in the past?
AY: Well, not immediately, but if the opportunity comes along later, I think it'd be nice if I had a chance to seize upon it.
At some point, if you have a chance to be involved in production, I think that'd be great.
AY: Certainly. Maybe I should! (laughs)
Now that you've left the company, I'm curious: What do you think of the new Silent Hill?
AY: The Wii one? Haven't played it! (laughs) I haven't touched it. How is it?
I didn't play it either, but I have heard it's good.
AY: Oh, really? Well, great to hear.
It seems like game creators these days don't play games all that much.
AY: Yeah. It's certainly the same case in Japan as well.
I think that's a shame. If you don't play games, then you wouldn't be able to understand them, perhaps.
AY: You wouldn't, yeah. You lose your creative edge that way.