Game Music

Three Days of Resident Evil 5 ~ Day 2: Interview with Composer Wataru Hokoyama

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Here we are on day two of our three days dedicated to Capcom’s latest Resident Evil title, Resident Evil 5. Yesterday we spoke with lead composer Kota Suzuki, and mentioned the contributions of additional music composer, orchestrator, and conductor Wataru Hokoyama.  Now we speak directly with the man himself about his work on the title.

While Hokoyama has a background in film music, RE5 is only his second game project to date, with his first being AFRIKA. I was interested in learning what Hokoyama-san thought of the differences between the East and West in terms of game development and audio, and he provides some unexpected insights while relaying his experience working on Resident Evil 5.

Hit the jump to read what Wataru Hokoyama has to say about Resident Evil 5 on day two of our three day series.

OSV: Hokoyama-san, we appreciate you speaking with us about your work on Resident Evil 5. We were hoping you could start by telling us how you came to be involved with the game’s music. Did you have a previous connection with Capcom, or did they seek out your talents as a Hollywood-based film composer?
Hokoyama: Prior to RE5, I had just finished working on the PS3 game AFRIKA as composer. The music producer of AFRIKA, Tommy Kikuchi and I had worked very closely throughout the project, and after seeing how I work, Tommy forwarded my name to the music team at Capcom and recommended that they should get me involved in the RE5 project.

OSV: Exactly what was your role on Resident Evil 5? You’re credited for providing additional music, orchestration, and conducting, but I was hoping you could tell us a little more about where your music is featured in the game and approximately how many minutes of music you wrote. Will all of this music appear on the official soundtrack album?
Hokoyama: I worked on about 15 minutes of orchestral cues that would be used for some of the climactic action scenes. Mr. Suzuki would compose cues with sequencer software, then I would take the MIDI files and the mp3s of the cues, which would eventually be recorded by a 100+ piece orchestra. I was given some freedom to compose additional elements to what Mr. Suzuki had composed and structured, including secondary lines, segments of motifs, runs, punches and hits with brass and winds. Also I worked a bit on chord structures, and I orchestrated in certain ways so that when we recorded the cues with a 100+ piece orchestra, everyone in the ensemble would have a variety of lines to play, and those lines and motifs interact with each other in a very complex way, and the cues would sound gigantic and powerful. I conducted the orchestra at the session at the 20th Century FOX Newman Stage, which is always such a joyful ride to get to work with such large group.

OSV: How familiar were you with the Resident Evil series before you started working on the project? Did you have to do a lot of research into the sound of the series, or did you simply create music based on assets and what was requested from the team at Capcom?
Hokoyama: My little brother used to play the Resident Evil series, and I remember him locking himself in his dark room to play the game so intensely. He would come out of his room once a while to take a break, and I remember him being a bit shaky and saying “This game is so scary and intense …” I’m too afraid to play scary and intense games, so after seeing him a bit freaked out by the game, I didn’t have enough courage to play it myself… So, years later when I got the offer to work on Resident Evil 5, I knew that I’d have work on some scary and intense action cues. But contrary to the style of the game, the people at Capcom were very generous and very easy to work with. They provided me all the information and ideas that I needed to work on this project.

OSV: The Resident Evil series has made a lot of changes in its history, in its infancy the game took place in a series of enclosed spaces. With RE4, and now RE5, the locales and environments have been expanded and enhanced. How did you approach creating a sense of tension and horror in such an open environment through your compositions?
Hokoyama: By the time I started working on those cues, Mr. Suzuki had already written in a certain style that sounded very intense, with lots of horror elements. What I was assigned to do was to make the pieces sound even more intense and “Hollywood sounding” with the live orchestra. Mr. Suzuki and the team at Capcom gave me freedom to choose detailed instrumentation, such as 2 large taiko drums and various African percussive instruments among a large percussion section, quite powerful brass and wind sections (6 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 tenor trombones, 1 bass trombone and tuba, triple everything in the wind section, etc.), and a huge string section and so forth. And it added up to become a 103 piece orchestra. Having all the tools and the environment lined up, I was able to orchestrate and additionally write freely to achieve my assignment.

OSV: Were you able to collaborate with Suzuki-san at all on composition, or were your two tasks entirely separate? Were you at least able to discuss the music of the game before you started working on it?
Hokoyama: We worked on 15 minutes of music together, which was recorded by the live orchestra. At first, I was a bit afraid that Suzuki-san might not like what I’d do to his cues that he’d written, but he was very supportive, understanding and generous about what I had to come up with, and he seemed to have really loved how it came out at the recording session. After the run through of the 1st cue with the orchestra, I’d finish conducting and turned around towards where Mr. Suzuki was sitting and listening. Then I asked him, “So, what do you think?” His reaction was completely speechless and blown away by the power of the 100+piece orchestra playing his themes and motifs combined with my ideas in orchestration. Then I knew I did a good job for him and for the project. It was a very fulfilling moment as well as a huge relief.

OSV: Did you find it challenging working with a team that was based in Japan given the distance? Perhaps you could describe how you coordinated your work with what the rest of the team in Japan was doing.
Hokoyama: There was absolutely no problem or delays due to the physical distance of the team between Japan and the States. We communicated through e-mail, FTP servers and simple phone calls. And since I’m also Japanese and speak fluent Japanese, we had no miscommunication of any kind.

OSV: This is sort of a fun question. Given that your first game project, AFRIKA, also took place on the continent of Africa, were there any parallels between the two projects? Did you learn any lessons working on AFRIKA that you were able to apply to Resident Evil 5 either based on the setting or the fact that they’re your first two game projects?
Hokoyama: They are two completely different projects in terms of stories and the styles of music that they require. One of the few things that helped on RE5 after AFRIKA was that I learned so much about African percussive instruments through AFRIKA. Mike Fisher, a great studio percussionist here in L.A. one day invited me to his warehouse where he stores thousands of ethnic percussive instruments. He gave me lectures on varieties of African percussive instruments and other ethnic instruments. So, selecting the ethnic instruments to use for RE5 became much easier for me. I’ve also learned a few tricks about orchestration through AFRIKA, so I took the opportunity of working on RE5 to expand my chops on orchestration skills as well.

OSV: You mentioned that you were too afraid to play through any Resident Evil titles, but now that your music is featured in one, have you given it a chance?  If you’ve tried it yet, what were your impressions of your own score while playing the game?
Hokoyama: I haven’t had a chance to play RE5, but I would love to see how the whole result of the work came out. I’m looking forward to checking out the game when I receive a copy from the people at Capcom.

OSV: This is your second game score to date, so I was wondering if you could share your impressions of the gaming industry after these two projects. Will you be seeking work in the gaming industry in the future?
Hokoyama: I’d love to continue working in the video game industry. I feel very fortunate to have these “old school” musical skills in writing, orchestrating and conducting, along with my rather recently earned synthestration and mock up skills (my good friend, God of War composer Gerard K. Marino was my mentor on my electronic music skills. Music producer Tommy Kikuchi also taught me a few tricks regarding “how to make Wataru’s mock up sound even larger and deeper.” I’m just very lucky to have good friends like them).

I feel that many video games these days, especially in the newer format, where the visual qualities are so superb, photo realistic and Hollywood film-like, require large, lush orchestral sound by itself or on top of some exciting sequencing to match the quality of music equivalent to A+ Hollywood films. And I hope my ability in writing and conducting will continue to be a service to the video game industry and to the people all over the world who love video games.

OSV: As a Japanese-born composer working in the Hollywood film industry, how does it feel to be working on Japanese-developed games? I’m sure you have some unique insights into the games industry given both your background as a film composer and as a composer based in the United States.
Hokoyama: I would say there is not much difference between working with people in the States, and working with people in Japan. Of course there are cultural differences between the two countries, but I feel comfortable working with anyone around the world. I do feel very fortunate that I speak fluently in both languages. It does make the communication much easier.

OSV: A lot of game composers in the United States have expressed interest in working on titles developed in Japan. What would your advice to them be given that both of your game scores have been for Japanese-developed games?
Hokoyama: Actually I’d like to ask game composers in the United States for any advice on how I can get more US game gigs (laughs). I think being able to speak Japanese always helps to work with Japanese game teams, but these days, I believe some of the Japanese game companies are seeking composers’ “style” in writing rather than their cultural or language background.

OSV: I wanted to ask you opinion about game music and in the East and West. Western games tend to focus on the Hollywood-style orchestral score while Japanese games have taken an entirely different approach over the years. Why do you think these differences exist, and given your background as a Hollywood composer, do you think one direction is better than the other for interactive media like games?
Hokoyama: I think the differences of styles may come from the cultural background, and I don’t think one’s better than the other. They’re very different, and they both seem to work quite wonderfully in games.

OSV: Resident Evil 5 has been one of Capcom’s most highly-anticipated titles for some time. How does this project rank among your list of career achievements? Does RE5 hold a special meaning for you?
Hokoyama: I feel very honored to be the part of this game. I hope people will enjoy the quality of the work. I cannot rank any of my works though. I loved every one of the gigs I’ve worked on, so they’re all my favorite experiences.

OSV: Can you tell us what your next project will be? We’re looking forward to hearing your music in more games in the future.
Hokoyama: As soon as everything becomes concrete, I look forward to sharing that information with you.

OSV: Again, thank you for your time, Hokoyama-san, and congratulations on finishing your work on Resident Evil 5!
Hokoyama: Thank you!

[Special thanks to the audio team at Capcom for arranging this interview and to J.P. Arevalo for additional questions]

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