Ippo Yamada, Ryo Kawakami & Hiroki Isogai Interview: A Retro Revival (May 2010)
Ippo Yamada, Ryo Kawakami, and Hiroki Isogai are the current members of game developer Inti Creates' sound team. The head of the team, Ippo Yamada, has been involved in Mega Man productions since the days of Mega Man 7 and Mega Man 8. He has gone on to lead the music of various spinoff series for the franchise, including Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX, and has also spearheaded successful album productions such as Chiptuned Rockman and ZX Gigamix. More recently, he was joined by his co-composers on the retro-styled productions, Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 and their arranged albums.
In an indepth interview, the sound team provide plenty of insight about the music of the Mega Man series. They discuss the latest retro instalments of the series and how they inspired by the series' classic composers in so many ways while writing it. In addition, Ippo Yamada recollects his early days as a sound designer, his intention for the Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX scores, his experiences as an album producer, and his lesser-known works on various anime-to-game adaptations.
Interview Subject: Ippo Yamada, Ryo Kawakami, Hiroki Isogai
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Translation & Localization: Shota Nakama, Marc Friedman
Coordination: Don Kotowski, Akari Kaida, Ippo Yamada
Support: Inti Creates, Capcom
Chris: Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today, Ippo Yamada. First of all, could you introduce yourself to readers and discuss your musical background and career history? Would any of your co-composers at III also like to introduce themselves?
Ippo Yamada: I am Ippo Yamada. I am in charge of the sound and audio in Inti Creates. I originally started doing sound design when I was in Capcom and, after I co-founded Inti Creates, I started doing pretty much all the sound related tasks like sound effects, composition, recording, casting, booking, etc.
I have always loved music ever since I was a child, but I think the synthesizer and sequencer that I got when I was little had a lot to do with me getting into the industry. In short, III (Triple I) is a name that I use when I produce things, and there are no definite members. Instead, I am going to introduce the current members of the sound team in Inti Creates.
Ryo Kawakami: My name is Ryo Kawakami, and I am in charge of sound and audio. I joined the company in 2007 and have been involved with a variety of titles mainly writing music and making sound effects.
Hiroki Isogai: My name is Hiroki Isogai, and I am also in charge of sound and audio. I also joined in 2007 and have been working on background music and sound effects for a variety of titles. For Mega Man 10, I worked on the sound effects, writing the music, and the implementation.
Chris: Ippo Yamada, before you joined Inti Creates, you worked as a sound designer at Capcom. Could you reminisce about your experiences in this role? What was it like to handle the sound design of landmark scores for the company, for example Resident Evil, Super Street Fighter II, and Demon's Blazon?
Ippo Yamada: My first main role was for Demon's Blazon: Makaimura Monshou-Hen. I was still inexperienced, so I would throw my own ideas and then get yelled at from the project planner and people in charge, but I did have a good deal of fun making the sounds for the game. Before the project was finished, I got involved with the Super Famicom port of Street Fighter II followed by the 3DO port of Super Street Fighter II Turbo. At the time the industry was moving onto the larger ROM capacity like what we have now, and those little tricks to tweak stuff were still needed. Doing those things, I learned the sense that you cannot quite learn from the current time.
Afterwards, I was in charge of Sega Saturn research, but we ended up not making any titles for the console, and our next generation console title was Resident Evil for the PlayStation that I was put in charge of. Back then the title of the game was "Horror" and we were aiming on more psychological scariness than a splatter kind. Compared with the NES and SNES, we had a lot more memory capacity and larger number of simultaneous sounds at a time. Immediately I thought of utilizing that and put more emphasis on environmental sounds, such as footsteps and the reloading of a gun, and those things were not very common back then. Don't you think that the echoing footsteps in an otherwise quiet room give more fear?
I am not too good with horror films actually. I had to watch a huge number of horror movies in the company during the day time because I would be so scared to watch them during the night time.
Chris: Your introduction to the Mega Man series came with Mega Man 7 on the SNES. Could you discuss your aims and influences for this revival of the classic series? Given the game credits are ambiguous, could you also clarify exactly who were composers and sound designers on this project?
Ippo Yamada: I was working on something else when I was asked to help out the production of Mega Man 7. The production schedule was really tight, so almost everybody helped out. With that said, I don't quite remember exactly how it was (*sweat drop*). If I remember correctly, for the music we had Yuko Takehara, Toshihiko Horiyama, and Makoto Tomozawa, and the sound effects were handled by Tatsuya Nishimura, Hiroshi Shimada, Noriko Ando, Nariyuki Nobuyama, Atsushi Mori, and myself.
Chris: Many years later, you led the Inti Creates' sound team for another revival of the classic franchise, Mega Man 9. Could you discuss the concept of this title and what inspired the decision to return to an old-school style of game music?
Ippo Yamada: Mega Man 9 is a conceptual project. It's not only a new sequel in the series, but it also comes during the era of downloadable titles, remakes, and WiiWare, being a sort of an artistic retro style project. So then, wouldn't you agree that we have no choice but to offer 8-bit style music? The concept was how we can create the "Mega Man style" sound. Also the offer was to develop from an image of a Mega Man 2 continuation, so we worked in that framework.
Chris: Does Mega Man 10 share the same concept or were there modifications?
Ippo Yamada: Everything was different for Mega Man 10. It's also a retro styled downloadable title in terms of the genre, but the concept was to create a new Mega Man. As for any other new game, we considered the charm of the title itself, and we tried making something creative.
Ryo Kawakami: This time around, we focused more on the stage effects than the previous one by preparing distinct themes for the player characters, as well as making some changes to the BGM depending on the situation. While we tried to preserve the tradition of the series, we also put some effort to put in many little surprises to wow the fans.
Hiroki Isogai: There are conceptual differences between Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10, even when you take a look at the noise track of the both soundtracks. I would be shocked if people catch this right away (*laughs*).
Chris: The music on Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 are most comparable to Mega Man's NES scores. From a compositional and technical perspective, how did you and co-composers emulate the consoles on these projects? Did you nevertheless exploit the technological freedom of today's hardware to offer some more experimental compositions?
Ippo Yamada: For Mega Man 9, I worked on it with a sense of nostalgia, but the young, newer members excluding myself had to start from analyzing and imitating the originals, or rather I could say that was it. However, for Mega Man 10, we had the technical knowledge and experience that we gained from Mega Man 9 and Chiptuned Rockman that we worked on in between, so in terms of the data, the density is very different. Also by having some of the original composers, it is as if the real ones resurrected in the present time and created a new Mega Man.
Chris: In Mega Man 10, you took things one step further by inviting past composers of the original Mega Man series to contribute. Was it a challenge to organise their involvement, especially since many are semi-retired from the industry? What were the classic composers and existing members of Inti Creates able to collectively offer to this title?
Ippo Yamada: Rather than saying one step further, I would say it is more like a tenth sequel anniversary for the fans. For the Rockman 9 Arrange Soundtrack, we had Manami Matsumae, Yasuaki Fujita, Makoto Tomozawa, Akari Kaida, and Shusaku Uchiyama participating. To give one more push to this, I contacted my senior and told him we might as well invite all the composers from the entire series. I think everyone enjoyed participating on the project. The production was difficult in many ways, but also an amazing experience. I don't think this could have happened unless we had an opportunity like this. I hope people listen and compare the tracks to feel the Mega Man history. I think that would be fun.
Ryo Kawakami: Thanks to all these composers, it became a very colorful and satisfying project. The pieces are very unique and they all support the personalities of the eight boss characters really well. Also there were so many amazing musical and technical ideas that we would not have even thought of just with the sound team, so it was a great learning experience. When I was implementing the data to the game, there were many times at which I would say "Oh, I see..." to myself as I analyzed what had been done (*laughs*).
Chris: Already the music from Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 has been subject to much fan recognition. Of the new themes for the two games, which are your personal favourites and why? Are there any co-composers you particularly enjoyed working with on these titles?
Ippo Yamada: Being a producer, every piece is my favorite. If not, I would not have put those pieces on the soundtrack (*laughs*). If I had to choose one piece, I would say "Thunder Tornado" was the piece that I tightly put my image of Mega Man into.
Also being able to work with all the seniors and juniors at Capcom was a lot of fun. Everyone has their own unique style and I have a fond memory for each. The biggest surprise was Fujii-san contributing an actual written score of her piece. Recently it is really rare for us to write actual scores.
Ryo Kawakami: For me as well, it was most fun to read and understand Fujii-san's written score. In order to bring out her intention of the piece as much as I could, I switched my brain to full throttle to finish sequencing it, while listening to her compositions for Mega Man 4 many times.
My favorite of my own compositions would be "Magma Burning" from Mega Man 9. I struggled quite a lot while composing it, so hearing "Good Job!" from everyone really made me happy. For Mega Man 10, the Wily Stage 3 theme would be my favorite because I felt like I achieved what I think is Wily-like sound.
Hiroki Isogai: Of course, it was fun and interesting listening to the guest composers' demos, but it really taught me so much more than that because I would never be able to come up with those ideas.
For Mega Man 9, I have to choose "Hornet Dance" as my favorite. I struggled so much trying to compose something happy but sounds like Mega Man, and that was the first piece that made me pull an all-nighter at the office (*laughs*). My favorite track from Mega Man 10 isn't a stage theme. It's the piece that plays when Roll is trying her best. I think I did well while depicting the physically weak but strong-willed Roll.
Chris: Ippo Yamada, while you started off as a sound designer at Capcom, your responsibilities at Inti Creates also include composition and sound direction. Could you elaborate on exactly what your responsibilities at the company are? Was it challenging to work on these additional roles on your initial projects, Speed Power Gunbike and Love & Destroy?
Ippo Yamada: When Inti Creates was founded, it was a small company comprised of only about ten people. I was the only sound guy. My tasks included, of course, compositions, sound effects, and sound data conversion. When recording the voices, I did the casting, booked studios, directed, and handled the whole recording process. If anything was missing, we outsourced and then I would be producing and directing. Until Mega Man ZX Advent, I did all these things just by myself. We finally recruited other sound members in autumn of 2007. I would be lying if I say it was not tough, but considering that I had overseen the whole process, I am quite proud of how responsible I was.
Chris: After these initial projects, you were responsible for composing most of the scores in the Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX series. How did you take the Mega Man franchise's music in a new direction for these subseries? How did the series? music evolve with each game and the introduction of new assistant composers?
Ippo Yamada: The Mega Man X series began right around the time that I joined Capcom, so I helped out on Mega Man X and Mega Man X2 just a bit. I was also at the after party (*laughs*). So the Inti Creates members all knew what Mega Man X was about to some degree. Because of that, we kind of understood how it should be developed from that point.
Mega Man Zero's system is different from that of Mega Man X. So we mainly treated it more like a television or film-like presentation than the stage system like before. Mega Man Zero 2 got reverted to the traditional stage select system, so I remember I was relieved and said "So now I can make a regular Mega Man".
For Mega Man ZX, in contrast, I was perhaps a bit worried thinking that I have to create the new Mega Man. There were probably some influences from the anime adaptation Eureka Seven that we made before Mega Man ZX, so it sounds more refreshing and has a stronger techno feel.
Chris: While creating Mega Man scores, you've worked extensively with technologically limiting consoles, such as the WonderSwan Color, Game Boy Advance, and DS. Could you discuss what it is like to work with such consoles and how you overcame limitations to still produce satisfying products?
Ippo Yamada: My main task is to create the audio for games, so I don't really think about that as much. However I think having limitations makes you feel like you are doing fun stuff. I don't think of it as working with limitations — rather, isn't it more interesting trying to figure out how you can express or do something interesting within these boundaries? Imagination is more important than technology and limited technology is fine. Technology merely changes the environment, but creativity comes from imagination, and that exists beyond technology.
Ryo Kawakami: Technological challenges can be sublimed to "a taste" depending on how you deal with them. I started feeling that even more strongly in the development of Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10. Dealing with the hardware and conceptual limitations well leads to creating the sound of game music, I think. Personally, it becomes more difficult when I have no limitations because I don't really see anything set. So even when I make music just for fun, I set a certain "promise" to avoid that.
Chris: At Inti Creates, you've also overseen a range of album productions. What inspired your decision to release the scores for the Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX series through mainly remastered and arranged albums? Do these albums reflect the original intentions of the music or were elaborations made purely for stand-alone listening?
Ippo Yamada: It all started from my intention to put together a collection of pieces, because Capcom had not released any Mega Man Zero soundtracks at the time. But then we decided to do an arranged album, rather than offer the original soundtrack. I wanted to make something for fans that contained the image of the Mega Man world, so I directed the entire thing, including the jacket and booklet design, and really put thought into it. We intended to not just offer a reflection of the game, but also to provide a new enjoyment by having the drama part and sound sketch, and by inviting guest arrangers.
Chris: Though you're best-known for working on the Mega Man series, you've also composed a string of anime-to-game adaptations, for the Crayon Shin-Chan, Eureka Seven, Doreamon, and Fantastic Children series. Could you recount your experiences creating these scores with co-composers? How do they compare with scoring the Mega Man series?
Ippo Yamada: I had different concepts for each of those games when I worked on them. The first thing to do is to love the project that I am working on. I start by collecting the versions of the project in manga, anime, movie, and CD format to be just a fan of the project itself. When the project is somewhat developed, that is when the concepts start pouring out. Maybe that is why my works do not have much individuality (*laughs*). That is because I think I have offered good work when I make something that melds together nicely a particular game.
Chris: You were also the senior composer of the simulation title Kabu Trader Shun. What resulted in your assignment alongside Takuma Sato to this relatively unusual project? Could you discuss your instrumental and vocal contributions to this project in more detail?
Ippo Yamada: Kabu Trader Shun was an original product. I worked on the games's main theme, as well as the fundamentals of story and the game system. However, Sato-san contributed much more to the portrayal of the characters in a way that defined Kabu Trader Shun. The themes for each enemy characters and trading center theme especially helped to color the game. I made the vocal theme as a character song when the official sondtrack was made, and it was added a bonus.
Chris: Last year, you also personally arranged for two recent productions, namely Chiptuned Rockman and the Ketsui Arrange Album. Could you elaborate on your arrangements to both of these projects?
Ippo Yamada: I took a very different stance for each of those two projects. Chiptuned Rockman was an album that I produced, yet I did not have a particular reason to contribute arrangements. But I figured it was a good opportunity, so I made an 80s-inspired technopop style arrangement of Rockman Rockman, which was originally composed by my contemporary, Toshihiko Horiyama, in Capcom.
On the other hand, I got an offer to participate in the Ketsui Arrange Album. I took the offer immediately, because a friend of mine who passed away did the character design and another friend of mine, Manabu Namiki, made the music. I did the Name Entry track, so I tried to portray how the battle that had just finished still reverberated and included a message to my departed friend.
Chris: Let's end by talking about the Inti Bonus Disc Vol. 1 packaged with certain purchases of the Rockman 10 Original Soundtrack. What did you offer to this album production? What should we expect from the second volume?
Ippo Yamada: I wanted the players of Mega Man 10 to know about the other titles as well than just game, so we included selections from Mega Man Zero and the image song "Innocence" from Mega Man ZX on Inti Bonus Disc Vol. 1. Of course, there would be complaints if that was all (*laughs*), so we also included an exclusive arranged version of the Mega Man 10 title theme, a Mega Man 9 non-stop remix, a short chiptune remix, and a chiptune remix of Mega Man 10's Nitro Rider theme by Hally. We don't know if there will be Vol. 2, but we named it Vol. 1 just in case. I will think about what to put on the Vol. 2 when we have another opportunity to give away a present (*laughs*).
Chris: Thank you for your time, Yamada-san, Kawakami-san, and Isogai-san. Is there anything else each of you would like to say about Mega Man 10 and any message you would like to leave your fans around the world?
Ippo Yamada: This time, Mega Man 10 is a commemorative tenth release. We could revive the series and make the tenth sequel because of the support from the fans. To meet everyone's expectations, we gathered many Mega Man sound members and put in our all. Please do enjoy. Our primary goal is always to offer something for fans to enjoy and to hear they had fun.
Ryo Kawakami: In terms of the quality and quantity, I put my spirit into this project. Please play it through and listen to the music thoroughly. I am sure you will discover many things.
Hiroki Isogai: This game is enjoyable for both Mega Man beginners and advanced players, so I would be happy if a lot of people enjoy it. Try to clear the hard mode with Proto Man!
Many thanks to Shota Nakama and Marc Friedman for respectively translating the questions and responses for this interview. In addition, thank you to Don Kotowski, Akari Kaida, and Ippo Yamada for coordinating this interview. Finally, thank you for the cooperation of the staff at Inti Creates and Capcom while making this interview happen.