Game Music

Pimptacular Interview With MadWorld Composer Naoto Tanaka

May 12, 2009 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook Pimptacular Interview With MadWorld Composer Naoto Tanakaon Twitter

Yeah, that’s right. Naoto Tanaka apparently ordered rapper Sick-YG to write “pimp-themed” rhymes for the game’s final battle, and it sounds awesome. For those who weren’t aware, MadWorld’s soundtrack was a collaboration between PlatinumGames composer Naoto Tanaka and eight different hip-hop and rap artists, and Tanaka has generously taken time away from his next project to talk with us about his unique score for MadWorld.

Topics include his inspiration for the game’s unique sound (Linkin Park & Jay-Z?), the lack of a soundtrack release in Japan and the United States, and Tanaka’s past works that was credited to his secret alias. Tanaka also reveals that he’s an oldschool game music fan who used to recreate chiptunes in his free time, which definitely makes him a cool dude in my books.

Hit the jump for our exclusive interview with PlatinumGames’ Naoto Tanaka.

OSV: Tanaka-san, congratulations on completing MadWorld, and thank you for speaking with us today. We’re greatly looking forward to the game and its soundtrack, and were hoping you could start by telling us how you came to work at PlatinumGames and on MadWorld in particular? Has it been an exciting time for you and the team?
Tanaka: Thank you very much. I am a Platinum Games’s in-house composer, and I came to work on MadWorld because I was inspired by the black and white style and hoped to be involved with the team. The MadWorld team was headed by Mr. Nishikawa, and the atmosphere among the team were very free, so it was great to be able to work without any inhibition.

OSV: As a title geared towards a Western audience, what special considerations did you make when creating the score? We’ve read that you collaborated with a local MC by the name of OX who provides rap lyrics over your musical productions. Can you describe the extent of your collaboration with OX? Did anyone else work on the title?
Tanaka: I tried to write in American style music and tried to avoid a true Japanese style. An example of this is in the Japan stage. I am Japanese, and for this track, I could have gone with a true Japanese approach with my understanding of traditional Japanese music. However, I chose to go with a stereotypical Japanese image that matches what people in the West think of Japan rather than what I believe it really is. To help me do this, some of the American staff at PlatinunGames helped me out. To make music that was appealing to a Western audience, I asked him to listen to my music again and again each time I created a track and give me feedback. Without his help, I don’t think I could have completed this project successfully.

As you mentioned, I also collaborated with OX. The way we went about this is that I created the backtracks first and the collaborators added their own lyrics and performances afterwards. I explained the main theme to them for each piece, but basically gave them the musical freedom to maximize their individual sounds. Also in the performance, I trusted did was I created backtracks first and they added their lyrics and performances after. I explained then main themes first, but basically I let them make music freely to maximize their sound.

Seven different artists were involved with the game soundtrack. Half of the tracks are by OX, and he really performed incredibly. The other half are by Daujah Raze, Sick-YG, Bandy Leggz, and they each created their own cool tracks that accented their individual styles.

OSV: We read on the PlatinumGames Facebook journal that you had an interesting night out with OX and the PlatinumGames team. They mentioned that you were not familiar with the hip-hop circuits in Japan, so I’m curious how working with OX opened your eyes to the genre, and how it helped you collaborate with him as you continued working on MadWorld?
Tanaka: I remember that time when OX visited the PlatinumGames office and I asked him to listen to some of my unfinished game tracks. He gave us advice on how to successfully create mashups between hip-hop and rock music. His words were very encouraging, and we came to believe that our approach would be welcomed by gamers. I also had the pleasure of watching him rap, which was a great experience that taught me a lot about making hip–hop music.

Now, hip-hop music is quite familiar to me. It’s funny because I like to play GTA quite often, and now when I play, I find myself listening to the hip-hop station a whole lot!

OSV: The obvious choices for an “extreme” sound to go along with MadWorld would be rock, rap, or electronic music. Based on OX’s participation, it looks like hip-hop is covered, but what other styles did you use in the game?
Tanaka: The hip-hop concept was actually motivated by the game’s producer, Inaba-san. Because we knew early on that we wanted this style, we were able to head straight in that direction right from the beginning. We felt that it was hip-hop and rap were modern and cool and would work great in the game.

Speaking of musical genre, however, to create moods that suited particular parts in the game, we realized we couldn’t use only hip-hop music, and decided to add in a mixture of rap and rock. For example, the boss battle music was inspired by the “Linkin Park & Jay-Z” album, which we felt was really pioneering a new, hip style of music.

OSV: What kinds of tools did you use to create the MadWorld soundtrack? Did you use mostly synthesized instruments or will we be hearing some live performances as well?
Tanaka: I crated the soundtrack using Cubase SX and ACID. Almost all of the individual parts were created using phrase sampling because hip-hop music is traditionally sample-heavy. In addition, because of the game’s black and white visuals, I felt the music needed to have a record-like texture more than a clean, modern sound. This also applied to the use of electronic elements, as I wanted a more organic sound.

OSV: How many minutes of music did you create for MadWorld? Will there be a soundtrack release for the game?
Tanaka: There are approximately 20 minutes worth of vocal tracks and about 20 minutes more for cutscenes and event cues. In total, there are abut 50 minutes of music in the game. Actually, in the UK and Australia, the soundtrack was given away as a pre-order bonus, but other than that, there are unfortunately no plans for a soundtrack release. I’d personally love to see a soundtrack release in the United States, so I hope fans there motivate SEGA of America to release the soundtrack!.

OSV: Given that the title is so over the top, did you play much of the game before writing most of the music? How do you feel about the level of violence in the game, and have you tried to add an element of comedy to your music?
Tanaka: I usually watched people playing the game at their desks, as all of us on the MadWorld team were in the same area with no partitions between our desks. So I saw a lot of the game, and saw it quite frequently.

For an action game, the music pacing is quite important. This time I twisted tracks to be a bit slower to fit the feel from using the Wii remote. This was difficult to do given that hip-hop music is usually fast-paced and crazy. When I was creating the music, I wasn’t really thinking about humor, but the lyrics the artists wrote are pretty fun. For example, the lrics for “I’m the Female Boss” is so straightforward that it makes me laugh every time. I love this part because I think it is so “MadWorld!”

OSV: Do you have a favorite track that you’ve created for MadWorld? Can you tell us a little bit about the piece and how you went about writing it?
Tanaka: I like all the tracks, but I want to mention “Look Pimpin’!” As you know, this track is the theme music for the final boss, Black Baron. But actually, this track was not intended to be his theme! After the final boss was decided to be Black Baron, we chose the best track that matched his character. I then ordered the artist to make lyrics in the theme of the pimp. To this order, Sick-YG answered our request and created some truly great lyrics and a great performance. Thanks to him, we were able to add a lot to the build-up of the final battle.

OSV: With so many titles being currently developed by PlatinumGames, I’m curious as to the structure of the audio department. How big is the team, and is there any cross-over between titles? Is there a title at PlatinumGames aside from MadWorld that you’re particularly excited about?
Tanaka: Basically, we don’t share work among different teams, and one musician dedicates all of his time to a single time. This is to create a cohesive musical experience of that world. I am really excited about Bayonetta, and am looking forward to playing the finalized game.

OSV: Composers in the West often focus on live orchestral music that matches the action on the screen, whereas Japanese composers tend to create background music that entertains. Having worked on a Western-oriented title like MadWorld, what are your thoughts on Western game music vs. game music in Japan?
Tanaka: I think there are two types of the music usage in Western games. One is as you said, live orchestral music, and this is much like movie music in style. The second is a tie-in with a major artist. On the other hand, in Japan, game music is created by the developer’s in-house composers or freelance composers. Either way, musicians are the ones who are working on games, and these background differences don’t matter as much.

What I’m most interested in seeing is Japanaese composers collaborating with Western musicians to find a new balance that combines the best of both worlds. In MadWorld, we had a great time and made great progress towards accomplishing this goal.

OSV: I know you’re just settling down after MadWorld, and are likely looking to your next project right now, but to take a step back, I was hoping you could tell us a little about yourself since there isn’t a whole lot of information about you available in English. Can you tell us about your musical background, and what were some of your representative works?
Tanaka: I have been working as a video game composer since 1996, but before that, I had always loved games and game music. My career in music stemmed from my love for game music, and I even used to create my own versions of early game music, or chiptunes, which later because the foundation for my career.

I have worked on many titles, but to mention a few, I worked on Megaman X5 through X8 as well as Phoenix Wright 2. In the credits, you’ll find my alias, “Akemi Kimura.”

OSV: Are you able to tell us at this time what you’ll be working on next? We hope to see your name associated with more games in the future!
Tanaka: I have already started working on a new PlatinumGames title. We can’t introduce it quite yet, but we would be very happy if you guys kept checking out our titles and looking forward to them!

OSV: We’ll certainly do that! Thanks again for your time.

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