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Interview: Rockin' in the Bleep World - Musicians on Chiptuning Mega Man

Interview: Rockin' in the Bleep World - Musicians on Chiptuning Mega Man

October 30, 2009 | By Jeriaska

October 30, 2009 | By Jeriaska
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More: Console/PC

[Gamasutra catches up with the producer and some of the composers of the Rockman chiptune soundtrack, taking an in-depth look at this official Capcom project to remix classic Mega Man tunes.]

Last year at the Tokyo Game Show, three musicians joined us for a Rockman 9 Arrange Soundtrack interview. This time the trio return to introduce their latest musical offering from the Mega Man series, new to store shelves in Japan.

Chiptuned Rockman is a compilation of twenty tracks remixing music from the game franchise in the style of 8-bit chip music. Inti Creates sound director Ippo Yamada explains arriving at the idea of Chiptuned Rockman with producer Hally.

He is joined by Ryo Kawakami, whose music for Mega Man 9 includes the Magma Man and Plug Man stage themes. Mega Man & Bass co-composer Akari Kaida also returns, having arranged music from the Super Famicom game for the chip music compilation.

Two additional members of the team of 20 artists also offer their throughts on contributing to the album. Hiroki Isogai is an in-house composer at Inti Creates, responsible for Mega Man 9's Jewel Man theme. Cave shooter composer Manabu Namiki has remixed music from Mega Man: The Wily Wars for "Chiptuned."

The CD features both a cross-section of 16-bit plus game tracks given retro revisions, as well as classic NES themes treated to brand new improvisatory riffs. In this group chat, several of the arrangers offer a sense of how the compilation came about and how it intends to bridge the gap between the oftentimes divided worlds of contemporary console gaming and chip music.

Yamada-san, thank you for joining us here today. You have a brand-new CD out. Could you tell us about what went into the creation of Chiptuned Rockman?

Ippo Yamada, sound director of Inti Creates: We’ve taken classic Mega Man game themes and fully remixed them in a chip music style, collected together in a compilation album. Twenty artists are participating this time, resulting in a really colorful overall presentation.

The sound creators include Manabu Namiki, Nobuyuki Shioda, Mega Man 1’s Manami Matsumae, and also Inti Creates musicians. There are also a host of chiptune artists whose arrangements are on the album. They include Virt, Chibi-Tech, Goto80, also Japanese artists Dong, USK, naruto and K->.

In a previous chip music interview, Kuske of Kplecraft, who is featured on this compilation, stated that videogame and chiptune enthusiasts often don't mix. Was there anyone who helped envision the concept for this album, which seems to cater to both these communities?

IY: Yes, in fact there’s someone who specializes in this category of music, who’s called Hally. He’s serving as producer on this album, and he’s a pretty famous chiptune artist. He was like, “Chiptunes and Mega Man, seems like a natural combination, don’t you think?” It appeared to be the basis for a collaboration. With the Tokyo Game Show coming up, it looked like there was the chance to surprise everyone with this Mega Man chiptune album.

Ippo Yamada introduces Chiptuned Rockman

How do you find the process of creating old school game music personally, such as in the making of Mega Man 9?

IY: Well, I’ve been working on game soundtracks for some time, since late in the days of the NES. You could say I don’t suffer any kind of allergic reactions to chip music. In fact, it was great fun working on Mega Man 9. I felt I wanted to create more music just like this, but unfortunately I only ended up writing one track. That’s just a consequence of being pressed for time.

It’s definitely a fun genre. The common conception in terms of chip music is that it’s limited in its expressive capacities, but I think that if you listen to this album you might be surprised by what’s in store for you. Thought it’s NES music, it’s tremendously expressive.

Here you’re working with a number of musicians from outside Japan. How did these collaborations come about?

IY: Hally was able to introduce me to people from the United States and Sweden, and they turned out to write really great music. Even though they were all really busy, they managed to find time to participate. Virt in particular had a lot going on. We were worried that we wouldn’t make the deadline, so he ended up having to pull a few all-nighters.

Namiki-san, could you tell us a little about your approach to your track on the compilation, "Megawater_S Stage, WILY TOWER 4 (Area-2A03 Navy mix)?"

Manabu Namiki: I observed that several of the other tracks were going for an aggressive, loud sound, so I decided on something a little different. I tried to make mine simple and straightforward. It has a modest sound, but very true to the atmosphere of NES games. Also, I retained the melody from the background music of the Sega Genesis game. The melody is just about entirely unchanged.

Manabu Namiki at the 2009 Tokyo Game Show

IY: I've spoken a little bit about Chiptuned Rockman, so now I would like to introduce a few of the arrangers. Could you tell us which song you chose to arrange?

Hiroki Isogai, Inti Creates composer: I chose “Ground Man” from Mega Man & Bass. I decided to stretch the rules of the NES sound card, adding sound channels to the track beyond the actual capabilities of the hardware. At its most complex, there are about 15 sound channels present.

Ryo Kawakami, Inti Creates composer: It would take 3.8 NES consoles to reproduce that sound!

HI: I guess that’s true. From the start I was working in MML, and I think that took up half my time. That was the most difficult part overall. I would be interested in making this kind of music in the future, but I'd need to search out a more efficient method.

IY: You weren’t aware that it was Kaida-san responsible for the original composition, were you?

HI: Yes, but you know my instincts told me to choose the track. Kaida-san remixed my “Jewel Man” theme last time, on the previous arrange album.

IY: You decided to return the favor.

Akari Kaida: I’m flattered.

IY: Kaida-san, your track is also from Mega Man & Bass?

AK: I arranged [Naoshi] Mizuta’s opening stage music theme. Among those who have played Mega Man & Bass, everyone’s experienced the opening stage. It seemed to me like the most accessible choice. The compositions from the game and the chord progressions have such a colorful style and appropriate use of tension, I wanted to preserve that essence.

Akari Kaida at TGS

IY: Is the track made up of three waveforms and one noise?

AK: I had to deviate from the standard form a bit.

IY: When you follow the NES sound card specifications it can be difficult to get a feel for the chords. That’s where you’re forced to get creative. Of course, the Super Nintendo has more sound channels to work with, so how do you convey the same melody on the NES?

AK: What gave me trouble working in the NES specs and what led me to customize my arrangement a bit is that you have to make do with a bass sound with a velocity of 127. The PSG sound which is usually used for bass is either on or off, so without delay effects you’re kind of stuck. Some people are very sensitive about authenticity when it comes to chip music, and I was thinking about this while working on the song. I’m certainly mindful of these concerns.

IY: I think above all the point is to preserve the atmosphere of the NES. We’ve each arrived at our own distinctive interpretations. For instance, Kawakami-kun has arranged a song from Mega Man 4.

RK: That’s right. Wily Stage 2.

IY: I get the sense that this is a song with a lot of fans.

RK: Yes, I’m a fan of the song myself. I’ve spoken with [character designer Hitoshi] Ariga, who also shares an appreciation for it. Based on this project’s theme of arranging 8-bit songs once again in the style of chip music, I spent awhile mulling over the possibilities. I observed that others were being very creative with their treatment of retro sound effects, so to be different I wanted to focus on the element of composition.

While the original melody can very distinctly be made out on the arranged track, it has the image of being a variation on the original. I imagined how this song could transform in shape and return to its previous form in a style modeled after formal musical structure. You might be able to tell I like irregularity. (It’s in the 7/8 time signature.) Purists, please find it in your hearts to forgive me.

IY: I get the sense that this remix is firmly in the Kawakami style. It starts just the way you seem to like, with a strong melody line and irregular time signature. It ends with something I felt wasn’t necessary, but you insisted on a final recap of the strong melody line. Did you have this song in mind from the start?

RK: Yes, right off the bat. The song has a lot of strong points. Phrases with distinctive characteristics are very useful when making arrangements.

Inti Creates composers Ryo Kawakami and Hiroki Isogai

IY: The phrases have personality, don’t they? That’s a lifesaver when you’re remixing a song. You can go off and explore, knowing there’s a strong foundation to return to. Did you come across any obstacles in writing this arrangement?

RK: I’d say it was a bit tough making progress at the very start. In terms of the constituent components of the music track, it’s got two square waves, a triangle wave and noise, using DPCM. Though these actually conform to the 8-bit specifications, my goal was for it to sound a little as if I were breaking the rules. That was the concept behind the track.

IY: This time Kawakami worked on the post-production, single-handedly doing all the mastering on the album. Was it tough being handed all those responsibilities?

RK: Yes, in addition to arranging a track, it was a lot to take on. I received some great advice from Hally, which was very helpful, because there are so many kinds of techniques employed by the various artists on the disc. The mastering is a tad chiptune-centered, but after all that's in line with the concept for the album.

Would you have any concluding remarks about to close this year’s discussion on the music of Mega Man?

AK: On this chiptune compilation album are several Mega Man games I’ve never played. Perhaps you have no experience with Mega Man & Bass. Here is a chance to experience the music from this game and others, reinterpreted in an 8-bit style. Those who haven’t had much exposure to chiptunes, please give it a try and see how it makes you feel.

RK: I think this is a new kind of album, and an original approach to remixing videogame music.

HI: It’s really good, so please give it a listen.

Yamada-san, any message for listeners overseas?

IY: There’s a huge Mega Man fanbase outside Japan. For those who have kept up with the music of the series, I hope you will seek out this album.

Ippo Yamada interviews Chiptuned Rockman participants

[(c)CAPCOM CO., LTD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This article is available in Japanese in video form (Yamada, Group). Samples of the album are online on the official website. Chiptuned Rockman can be imported from Images courtesy of Capcom. Photos by Jeriaska]

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