Game Music

A Blast From The Past: The Original No More Heroes With Masafumi Takada

July 15, 2010 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook A Blast From The Past: The Original No More Heroes With Masafumi Takadaon Twitter

[Left to right: Masafumi Takada, Jayson Napolitano, Jun Fukuda (wearing Suda51’s badge!)]

Yes, it’s that time of month! “A Blast From The Past” is a series that rediscovers interviews I conducted while at Music4Games. The interviews are no longer available online, so I thought it would be appropriate to give them new life each month here on OSV.

This time we take a step back in time to GDC 2008 right after composer Masafumi Takada delivered his talk about his work up to that point. He spoke mostly about Killer 7 and No More Heroes, but we were able to sit down with him and discuss some of his other projects at Grasshopper Manufacture as well. I thought it was a good time to bring this one back after our awesome interview with Jun Fukuda and Nobuhiko Sagara back in May. I also have to thank Tommy Ciulla for contributing the majority of the questions to this interview, as I wasn’t really familiar with Takada’s past works at that point.

Hit the jump for a blast from the past!

Jayson: We’re here today with Grasshopper Manufacture composers Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda, and also acting as translator, Public Relations at Grasshopper Manufacture, Naoko Mori. We’re going to go ahead and ask Takada-san and Fukuda-san some questions right after their talk here at GDC.

For my first question, is this your first trip to the United States?  Tell us a little bit about your roles at GHM and about your decision to come to GDC today to give the talk today.

Takada: I heard about it from Suda51. Somebody from the GDC organization had asked me to appear as a guest speaker, so that’s why I’m here. I’m not sure exactly who requested me because Suda51 arranged it.

Jayson: So is this the first trip to the United States?

Takada: It is Fukuda-san’s first trip to the United States, but I’ve been here three times before.

Jayson: Well, welcome! As sound director, Takada-san, it sounds like you handle most of the compositions for the projects you work on. When you collaborate with Fukuda-san, you do most of the composition work, so I wonder if Fukuda-san has another role on these projects that doesn’t involve composition but still involves the audio.

Takada: Basically when we compose a song that I don’t want to start, and I need to have guitar sounds for example, I ask Fukuda-san to put down some sounds on the track, but sometimes Fukuda-san will compose it and I will put on a melody. Most of the time I handle the composition. Fukuda-san does most of the sound effects these days because I haven’t really worked on sound effects since Killer7. Now I’m in charge of the soundtracks.

Jayson: Okay. We’re going to talk about your older work. We recently noticed the release of three albums pertaining to The Silver Case. This is an older title, so can we expect to see more soundtracks for your older projects?

Takada: Yes, absolutely.

Jayson: The Silver 02+ Parade and the Silver 02 Destructor albums featured arrangements of your work, some of which was recorded live from the first Hopper event. Are there any plans to release other albums or hold more of these events that featuring arrangements or live renditions of your work in the future?

Takada: Yeah, we are interested in that. When we do the live performances, we don’t have engineers to record the tracks, so the most important thing is to have the equipment to have the right sound in order to get it on an album. If we can do that, we’d love to do it in the future.

Jayson: Please buy the equipment, as we’d love to hear it! [laughs]

All: [laughs]

Jayson: So I know there’s an upcoming remake of Flower, Sun, and Rain on the Nintendo DS. Are there any plans for a full soundtrack re-release? I know the original soundtrack was split into two discs, one of which is online, but the other one is very hard to find. I know many of your fans would like to hear your music from the game.

Takada: Yeah, actually we’ve started working on that release. The DS version will come out soon, so that’s why we’re re-releasing it.

Jayson: Fantastic. Michigan was one of the first projects of yours that had a soundtrack release. It was really brilliant atmospheric music. Can you tell us about your experience working on the game? Were there any similarities between composing music for the game and your recent work on Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles given that they’re stylistically similar?

Takada: The Silver Case was actually my first album, but both games were horror games, so maybe when people hear them for the first time, they may hear a similarity. Actually, when I composed the scores, the directions were very different, so I don’t find them to be that similar.

Jayson: I want to follow up on that. Most of the titles you guys have worked on have been original titles, whereas Umbrella Chronicles is a part of a long-running series. Songs like “The Ecliptic Express” and “Slight Injury” were very different from what composers had done previously with Resident Evil, so what were some of the challenges you faced with the title with such a long history by the title, and did you approach is any differently given the history of the franchise?

Takada: Before I started my composing career, I typically arranged songs that had been composed by somebody else, so I know how to arrange other people’s wrok. I learned a lot of stuff about arranging other people’s work during this time, but when I started working at GHM, I was responsible for creating original work. After a time, I started missing arranging other people’s work, so Umbrella Chronicles allowed me to do that again. I like for there to be a balance between the two, as I enjoy doing both.

Jayson: Was it difficult to come back to arranging music for Resident Evil after working on these original titles for so long?

Takada: It wasn’t really difficult. I actually felt more refreshed to be doing something different fro a change.

Jayson: The Samurai Champloo score is very different from a lot of stuff that you’ve worked on. Can you tell us about your experience working on a score that focused mainly on hip-hop music?

Takada: Actually, before the title, I was using tools like Digital Performer. By the time I started Samurai Champloo, we had upgraded to a new system using Logic Pro, which I found out was really well suited for these kinds of sounds. I used a lot of computers on the project and learned how to use the tools for making back track, so it worked really well.

Jayson: Moving on to No More Heroes, your most recent project. Can you tell us a little bit about the project? As a game geared towards American fans, what considerations when into creating the music?

Takada: When I created the songs in No More Heroes, I tried to use them to make the characters more memorable. So while people are playing the game now, I want people to remember that time and what they were doing when they hear this music in say, 5, 10, or 20 years. For example, Travis Touchdown is kind of an upstart, going from the bottom to the top to become the top assassin. I wanted to create a memorable piece for him that kind of emphasized that rise from bottom to the top.

Jayson: There’s a vocal piece in the game titled “The virgin child makes her wish without feeling anything.” Suda-san wrote the lyrics, and you worked on the music. Can you describe the collaboration and explain how that song came to be? It’s a very interesting song. [laughs]

Takada: So the first idea that Suda51 had was that he wanted to put in a popular song from the 80s or 70s that everyone in America knew. I thought, however, it would be more interesting to create an original song, so I made this suggestion to Suda51. I created a song that I thought would work, and Fukuda-san hummed the melody, and we presented the idea to Suda-san. He thought the idea was really interesting. It would be a waste of money to pay for the royalties if we used an existing song, so that’s how the idea came out that way.

Jayson: It’s a very interesting song, and very memorable! I know you touched on this earlier, but No More Heroes features a very distinctive and catchy melody, or motif, that is repeated throughout the album. Can you explain how you came up with the melody, I know you mentioned you created it on a piano, and talk about the challenges you faced working it into so many areas of the game while keeping it fresh?

Takada: As I said earlier, I want to create good memories that are associated with the game. I was thinking of musical elements that are more effective in the game, and I want to keep doing these types of things.

Jayson: One of the longest pieces on the album is “Season of the Samurai,” which is over nine minutes long. It accompanies one of the most memorable battles in the game for me. Can you describe your experience working on the piece, and what went into the decision to make it so long? Is it an important piece to you as a composer?

Takada: We feel that Shinobu is the first really difficult enemy in the game, so it would likely take players a long time to defeat her. That’s one of the reasons I extended the music to nine minutes, but there are also other reasons. I like to listen to the music I’ve created on the way to and from work as background music. I use the highway to go home, and the time it takes me to get on the highway and exit is about nine minutes, so that’s another reason too!

Jayson: That’s very interesting! [laughs]

All: [laughs]

Jayson: There’s a lot of chip music in No More Heroes, Killer7, and God Hand, both in the music and sound effects. Have you had experience writing chip music in the past? I know older composers had to write it on the Famicom, but are you just a fan of the style from playing games in the past? How is it like writing this kind of music using modern technology?

Takada: Well, the history of game music is based in that sort of sound. By the time I started writing music for games, I had a deep respect for that style of music. I was inspired by a lot of that stuff when I was young, so when I become a game music composer, I always thought of ways to put that kind of music in so everyone can remember how game music has evolved over the years. It’s a big issue of respect for me. Even though I have access to modern technology, I like to use those kinds of sounds, and try to work them into my projects.

Jayson: In No More Heroes, there’s a pop track that appears in [some of the game’s areas], but it doesn’t appear on the soundtrack. What happened to that song, and what is it called?

Takada: Ask Suda-san!

Jayson: He picked it? Do you know what it’s called?

Takada: Actually, that song is owned by [Tetsuya Mizuguchi] from Q Entertainment. That song has already been released by Q Entertainment. The reason why the idea came up was because the relationship between Suda-san and Mizuguchi-san, and they thought it would be interesting to put the song into the game and make up a story like, “This song is really hot in the game world.” We don’t own the rights to that music, so that’s why it’s not on the soundtrack. It’s called “Heavenly Star.”

Jayson: Takada-san, you wrote 6 arrangements for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, while Fukuda-san wrote one. How did you two get involved with the project? Also, I’m told that the composers were given a choice for which songs to remix. How did you choose which songs to arrange?

Takada: So there was a list of songs to choose from. When I was looking at the list, I would pick one song and try to imagine how I might arrange it. If I felt like something was coming to me, I’d choose it. Sometimes an idea would come up, however, and I felt it would be better if someone else arranged it, so I thought it may be interesting to hear somebody else arrange a given song, and didn’t choose those.

Jayson: Both No More Heroes and Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles were released on the Wii and both featured amazing, high-quality soundtracks. It sounds as though other game companies are not fully utilizing the Wii in terms of audio. What tools are being used by Takada-san and Fukuda-san to create this high-quality sound?

Takada: I use Logic Pro for Mac. There’s nothing special we have to do on the Wii since the music is streamed.

Jayson: Regarding the creative process, how familiar are you with the game before you begin work on the music? Are you seeing footage or playing the game before you start writing, or do begin with just a concept in mind?

Takada: It depends on the game, but normally I try to understand the contents of the game first and consider how I can produce it logically in the terms of music. For example, I try to think about a theme song based on the game’s overall theme, then each character’s theme song and each scene. Then, after that I consider the player perspective and how players may feel while playing a scene, and so on. I start writing along those lines finally. Recently, I did produce several songs with only the concept of the game in mind. The reason why I had to do it was because we had to create a movie for promotional purpose, and it didn’t work out well without any music.

Jayson: Composer Norihiko Hibino and his band, The Outer Rim, recently performed a tribute/remix of the No More Heroes theme for the No More Heroes: Dark Side remix album that came out in March. Please describe your relationship with Hibino-san and what it means to the two of you that other artists want to pay tribute to your work on No More Heroes.

Takada: As one of our staff members had known Hibino-san, he performed for our previous Hopper event. He may collaborate with us again. It’s really exciting for me to have my work rearranged by somebody else. Because I am curious about how they translate my song to their style. It’s sort of a give and take, like playing catch with them.

Jayson: Takada-san, you recently composed a song for the newly released Beatmania IIDX 14 GOLD soundtrack. Do you have any plans to collaborate with Konami again for another Beatmania title?

Takada: I have no comment regarding another Beatmania title. The latest information is that I participated on a remix album featuring the works of [Beatmania artist Toshiyuki Kakuta] (L.E.D), who is a friend of mine.

L.E.D. First Album「beatnation Records denjin-K」

Jayson: Can you tell us about the GHM record label? Are you both directly involved with its operation?

Takada: Recently, a dedicated staff is in charge of the GHM record label operation. I’m just doing the direction now. We had been very interested in releasing the soundtrack by our own label. After launching “Silver Case,” I had an opportunity to form our independent label called “ghmRecords” as a sound staff member here at Grasshopper. We run this label for fans, not for business basis. When we formed the label at the very beginning, there were not too many publishers showing interest in releasing soundtracks, but now they do, so we create the remix album and try to release something different from everyone else.

Jayson: Share your thoughts on your past work. In retrospect, is there a soundtrack that you are particularly proud of?

Takada: I have a special feeling for every work I have done, and I do like them. However, if I have to pick one, I really like the soundtrack of Killer7 which was my debut overseas.

Jayson: Can Takada-san or Fukuda-san comment on what they are currently working on? What can we hope to hear from the two of you in 2008? Can you tell us anything more about Steel Battalion or the recently released No More Heroes: Dark Side album?

Takada: I am involved in several projects now, but I cannot say anything about that.

About the No More Heroes remix album, “Dark Side,” we have received good feedback so far. When we contacted artists, we told them “please play with the music of NO MORE HEROES.” As a result, we got sounds of jazz, punk, chip-tunes, and so on and could produce a very chaotic album. They told us that they really enjoyed working on the tracks. GHM is proud of going beyond the borders of game music. This is a really great album for everybody not only for people who played No More Heroes. Please check this out!

I want the ghm sound team and ghmRecords to be a significant force in 2008. We’re working on some new developments as we speak.

Jayson: Finally, can you really solve a Rubix Cube in thirty seconds?

Takada: Yes, I can. I feel that solving a Rubix Cube and composing a music are kind of similar.

Jayson: Thanks to all of you for taking the time to speak with us.

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