While Metal Gear Solid fans are familiar with Norihiko Hibino’s important contributions to both Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3, many may not know how vital his company, GEM Impact, was to the score for Metal Gear Solid 4. You may know some of these guys pictured above from their recent work on the Sekaiju no MeiQ² *shoou no seihai* SUPER ARRANGE VERSION album which we were quite fond of. However, with so many composers involved with the music in MGS4, Hibino and GEM Impact’s involvement nearly went uncredited, relegated to a mere footnote in the record books… until now!
Join us after the jump for an exclusive interview with Norihiko Hibino as we discuss the individuals who comprise GEM Impact and the 90 minutes of quality music they contributed to the outstanding soundtrack for Metal Gear Solid 4.
[Special thanks to illustrator Uetake Macarthur for these custom portraits of the GEM Impact team!]
OSV: Hibino-san, during your years at Konami you worked extensively on the Metal Gear Solid series. How did the existence of GEM Impact factor into your work on the score this time around?
Hibino: While I was at Konami I managed the in-house composers regardless of their specialty, and adjusting the budget to ensure quality was quite difficult. Now that I have my own team and they understand what I want, I can handle all budgets so I can create high quality music quite quickly. We got called to work on MGS4 at the beginning of 2008, and we provided approximately 90 minutes of cut scene music over a period of 3 weeks.
OSV: For some members of the team this is their first opportunity to work on a console-specific iteration of this blockbuster franchise. Before we ask you to describe the team’s approach, perhaps each composer involved would like to introduce themselves to our audience since this is going to be a highly publicized project?
Hibino: Takahiro Izutani has been one of the most in-demand arrangers in the J-pop field, having worked on music for Ayumi Hamasaki. Not only that, he helped us on both Yakuza 2 and Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops with his cutting-edge sound. His track programming is so precise and detailed, and also so emotional and energetic.
Yoshitaka Suzuki was originally an in-house composer at Konami, and he knows both the technical and creative sides of videogame music. He worked on Elvandia Story and Portable Ops, and his massive and gorgeous scoring is impressive.
Takahide Ayuzawa is an expert at programming orchestra, as well as a trumpet player himself. He has composed a lot of music for Japanese traditional dance “Yosakoi”.
OSV: Can the team elaborate on their approach to Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots? Was each team member responsible for a different style or scene, or was it more of a collaborative effort? Did the team follow the style of Hibino jazz-inspired contributions to past Metal Gear Solid titles?
Hibino: I started by assigning different cues to each composer based on his individual specialty. However, there were a number of tracks where two composers worked together. Our task for MGS4 was to make music for the major cut scenes, and Konami already had tracks from Harry, which are fixed in length and do not fit to the picture as they are. As requested by Mr. Kojima, we had to use as many of Harry’s tracks as possible. I started by editing Harry’s tracks to create a basic structure, allowing the other composers finish the rest.
OSV: You mentioned that Suzuki and Izutani also worked on the PSP title Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops in 2006. Did this experience help prepare them for their work on this massive installment?
Hibino: Yes, definitely. They already knew the story behind the Metal Gear Solid series and what Konami wanted as far as musical style.
OSV: Given the number of musicians working on Metal Gear Solid 4, especially from GEM Impact, was it challenging to develop a cohesive voice? It was likely easy to collaborate given you all work in the same office, so please describe any collaborations that occurred.
Hibino: Before we started, we’d meet and discuss a lot (we have bi-weekly meeting to share skills and information). I was responsible for explaining the role that a particular cue had in the game, taking into consideration previous battle scenes or following consecutive demos. I also acted as the final check before the music was forwarded to Konami to ensure the music all fit together.
OSV: How closely did the team work with the composers at Konami and with Harry Gregson-Williams on the score?
Hibino: Harry’s scores are already done long before we started. One of the reason Konami called us is Harry’s music couldn’t cover everything. The staff at Konami were all my colleagues at one point, so they’re easy to work with.
OSV: In the past you have had a larger role in the Metal Gear Solid franchise as far as the number of tracks on the soundtrack is concerned. What was the nature of GEM Impact’s involvement this time around, and where do the pieces provided by the team fall into the game?
Hibino: First of all, as I mentioned before, we weren’t even supposed to work on MGS4 at all because Konami really wanted to take the music in a different direction from the rest of the series. However, at the last moment, we got called in because Konami realized by the time cut scenes came up it was too late to handle everything inside Konami in terms of quality and quantity. At the end they realized they still needed the MGS sound, and so we scored the 90 minutes of cut scenes that I mentioned.
OSV: List some of the gear and instruments that were used by the composers at GEM Impact for this project. We know that Hibino is a talented performer, but do the other team members have their own specialties and preferred modes of musical expression?
Hibino: Takahiro Izutani is a great guitar player, and Takahide Ayuzawa plays the trumpet.
OSV: I noticed that Suzuki is also given an arranger credit on the Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots soundtrack. Tell us about this role on the project.
Hibino: Well, everyone is really supposed to be given an arranger credit because we all utilized Harry’s music as much as possible. In that way, we were all arrangers.
OSV: I noticed that Hibino and the members of his band, The Outer Rim (who we are also huge fans of), each have distinctive hair styles. Do the hair styles at GEM Impact vary as drastically as those found within The Outer Rim?
Hibino: The Outer Rim members coincidentally have distinctive hairstyles, but this isn’t really the case at GEM Impact. Perhaps they have a more conservative outlook because they work inside most of the time.
OSV: You’ve mentioned that you operate a jazz venue/eatery called Vanilla Mood where you and your friends perform. Does the GEM Impact team frequent Vanilla Mood and perform often? Do any of your former colleagues at Konami visit?
Hibino: Yes, Vanilla Mood is about a 5 minute walk from Konami headquarter, and sometimes the Konami team comes over to the bar. GEM composers visit bar and get to know performers. Of course the Konami team and GEM composers are good friends. Vanilla Mood provides an advantage to GEM Impact in that we can broaden our musician pool when we’re looking for artists to record for our music.
OSV: This title is likely to be a huge success. What does Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots mean to each member of the team?
Hibino: This will definitively be a good project to include in their portfolio, but when you work on a this kind of blockbuster title, there are always political issues. For example, even though we designed our tracks so that Harry’s original work would be highlighted, out of necessity we had to cut off Harry’s editing points from our songs in the soundtrack which really ruined his original intention. Whatever happens, however, and whether the title sells well or not, we’ll always do our best work for our clients.
OSV: Moving forward, what do you see for the future of the Metal Gear franchise? Kojima-san has noted that this is the end of the Solid series, but do you see GEM Impact contributing to future Metal Gear titles?
Hibino: I don’t think Konami will stop producing Metal Gear titles because it’s simply too profitable. I don’t know if we can contribute to the next series, if there is one. It’s just too big, and with so many people involved, the decision to participate would not be that simple.
OSV: Would you like to give us an update on what you have planned for 2008?
Hibino: We already finished Microsoft’s next big action title which will be released early next year. This is great one, and we contributed to this title from beginning to the end, including the main title and ending theme. GEM Factory, our in-house record label, will release the soundtrack, providing a landmark project for GEM Impact. We are all quite satisfied with what we’ve done for this game. Now we‘re working on a remake of an old shooting game. This one is also going to be quite fun!
OSV: Thank you for your time, and congratulations to the whole team on their efforts completing the score for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.Tags: GEM Impact, Hibino, Interviews, Metal Gear, Videogame