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Interview: Audio Tension In  Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot

Interview: Audio Tension In Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot

February 16, 2010 | By Jeriaska

February 16, 2010 | By Jeriaska
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[We interview the composers behind intriguing Japan-only PSP hostage negotiation title Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot, showing the value of sound in heightening tension and the potency of Sony's Playstation C.A.M.P.! design project in Japan.]

Playstation Portable title Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot was released in 2009 by Sony Computer Entertainment in Japan. A new take on the text-heavy visual novel genre that never seems to make its way across the Pacific, the game requires players to handle hostage negotiations and other dramatic situations in real time.

The music score and sound effects were designed by Noisycroak, a game audio production company based in Tokyo who previously discussed with us their soundtracks for Yakuza Kenzan and Castlevania Judgment. Noisycroak's founder is currently composing music for the Playstation Portable title Patchwork Heroes, due out Spring 2010.

In this interview we hear from Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot sound director Hideki Sakamoto, composer Keisuke Itou, guitarist Yasushi Asada and effects creator Tsuyoshi Yukawa.

The discussion offers some background on the origins of the Playstation C.A.M.P.! design team and the making of the original soundtrack album published by Aniplex Records. The roundtable sheds some light on how music and effects were designed as a significant counterpart to text-based dialog in Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot.

Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot involves police detectives that are in charge of handling hostage negotiations. From the vantage point of sound designers, what was your reaction to learning the premise of the game?

Hideki Sakamoto: Having gameplay based on the concept of a negotiation system was a new challenge because it required the reader/ game player to react to events dynamically in real time. That's what set the title apart conceptually.

We're very familiar with interacting with a game where waist-up character portraits exchange dialog on-screen, but here dialog captions change in size and speed up in response to the player's decisions. The design team pushed for this interactive component to the narrative, and that's what makes it a very contemporary kind of game to experience.

The size of the text gives you an idea of how loudly the character is speaking, a factor that would be difficult to recreate using voice acting. Did you find the choice of written text placed emphasis on the music and sound effects?

HS: Yes, although we were not required to vary the audio to correspond with text size.

Music director Hideki Sakamoto and composer Keisuke Itou

What strategies employed by the development team would you say were most effective in making this unusual approach to gameplay work?

HS: On many games the design staff and sound teams are separated, so the musicians really only have an idea of how well their audio complements the gameplay once their work is done. With Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot, both teams were working together closely from early in the process. There was direct feedback informing both sides.

Itou-san, having composed and arranged music for the game, what was your reaction to its premise?

Keisuke Itou: I agree with the points that Sakamoto-san mentioned. This is a game that makes the player read a lot, though much of the story is conveyed through images rather than words. The captions primarily involve dialog being exchanged between the characters on-screen. What you discover upon picking up the game is that it has a nice tempo that gets you involved without wasting any time.

The style of the main theme streaming on the official site is Argentine tango. Why did you feel tango lent an appropriate atmosphere to the game?

KI: Tango was decided as a thematic motif early on, together with the design team. It was up to us to emphasize moods of tension and excitement using the conventions of the genre.

Tsuyoshi Yukawa and guitarist Yasushi Asada

Are there other precedents you can point to of detective tango?

KI: The accordion can be heard on European television dramas from time to time.

HS: Like in the soundtrack for Amelie?

KI: Even on older television programs I've seen it used to good effect. I did some research into European shows and films that had a comparable style. From there I put some effort into doing something different, incorporating rhythms that suit the instruments while sounding stylish and up-to-date.

Yukawa-san, how would you describe this unique style of game?

Tsuyoshi Yukawa: In my observation the game can be divided into two components: there's the story that you follow and the game that you play. For that matter, my wife told me that even the negotiation system lends itself to casual players. I particularly like the way this title functions separately as both a novel and a game.

To answer your question, a lot of care was put into choosing sound effects for the game. For the side that functions like a book, the effects are realistic, just as you would encounter in real life. However when the interactive components kick in, there the effects are based in the conventions of videogames. The player is alerted by these aural cues that they've entered a new mode once the negotiation begins.

Miyu, interpreter and interviewer

How did you go about creating the effects?

TY: I used both sounds I captured myself and referenced sound libraries. I try to go with the real thing whenever possible. On a different game I was asked to recreate the sound of piles of paper bills being scattered and blown around in the wind. There Sakamoto-san and I recorded the sounds of real bills being tossed around in the air.

There was another time where I needed to find the sound of a sushi restaurant without too many customers. I took my tape recorder to a small sushi restaurant in an out-of-the-way neighborhood during lunch hours. They weren't doing much business that day, so all I could hear on the tape was the sound of the television. (laughs)

Can you tell us a little about the design team Playstation C.A.M.P.!?

HS: Playstation C.A.M.P.! (Creator Audition Mash-up Camp) is the name of the group, which emerged out of a design contest called "Game Yaroze." The first titles that produced as a consequence of this event were Devil Dice and Doko Demo Issho.

Playstation C.A.M.P.! continues to seek out creative and talented people, helping to create titles like Echochrome and Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman. Incidentally, Noisycroak created music for both these titles. Sometimes the most strange and interesting ideas crop up outside of the industry, so Playstation C.A.M.P.! attempts to lend a hand to those individuals.

Asada-san, you performed the guitar in over twenty tracks on the soundtrack to Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot. Did you encounter any challenges confronting the genre of Argentine tango?

Yasushi Asada: It was difficult to find just the right sound for the game, requiring me to choose from among a number of guitars to find the right match. Mainly I went with an Ibanez. To get a Stratocaster sound, there was a Yamaha Pacifica USA 2 that I felt sounded right. There's also some recordings where you can hear an inexpensive Paul Reed Smith. Before starting anything though, I wanted to make sure I had a thorough understanding of its narrative context.

On a project like this, I will typically read the game script over. Between the planning stages and the actual implementation, the script changed quite a bit. Mainly, the story unfolds in a police office, but originally the yakuza and SDF were involved. This led me to believe it was going to be a military drama. What we ended up with required subtler instruments such as the bandoneon and violin. Making music to portray everyday events proved to be just as formidable a challenge. How do you make it interesting without climax or tension? To get the right mood it required a lot of trial and error.

HS: Which of the songs on the soundtrack would you consider fit the description of everyday settings?

KI: The second track "Pleasant Afternoon" and third track "Everyday Scenery" on the soundtrack album. My first few drafts of those songs were rejected because they didn't sound mundane enough to fit the context. It's just my habit to create climactic music, so I had to tone things down on this occasion.

Is there a particular track you could recommend from the music album?

KI: "Last Message," which is track 27. It's a song in the game which can only be unlocked if you get the right results during a particular negotiation. There aren't many sentimental moments in the game, so it's a bit special when you can hear a ballad featuring the bandoneon.

The character of Keisuke Nakamura, modeled after the game's composer

[This article is available in Japanese, via Game Design Current. Interview by Miyu and Jeriaska. Images courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment and Aniplex Records. Photos by Jeriaska. Translation by Kaoru Bertrand.]

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