Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2 Soundtrack Liner Notes
Question: How much was the game actually designed when you started on Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel?
Masato Nakamura: When I started writing the music, Sonic the Hedgehog was just still images. It wasn't moving. So, Sonic Team explained to me, "It's going to be like this. It's going to be like that." Afterwords, I started writing songs for the game, but it was a really tough job for me, being a totally new experience and all. And Sonic the Hedgehog 2 started off kind of the same. Just graphics.
Question: What challenges did you face when composing the music for Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel?
Masato Nakamura: My first concept was to treat Sonic the Hedgehog not as a game, but as a film. That was because the graphics were great, and the game had a very strong story. So, my concept was a film soundtrack. At the time, MTV and films were very popular. In the late 80's or so, there were a bunch of hit songs, like those from Top Gun, Flashdance, and Dirty Dancing. So, I wanted to write songs like that for Sonic the Hedgehog as a film.
Question: When you're thinking about treating it like a film project, what influenced your style of composition?
Masato Nakamura: Because I wanted to treat Sonic the Hedgehog as a film, my inspiration came from each screenshot, or each stage. When I saw red colors, I wanted my music to be volcano-like. When I saw ice, I wanted to create ice-like music.
Question: When you compose Sonic the Hedgehog 2, had you seen any of Sonic the Hedgehog? For example, had you seen the speed of the game, and did that influence you differently?
Masato Nakamura: The Sonic the Hedgehog 2 project was of course based on the experiences had with Sonic the Hedgehog. Technically, though, things had improved, including the sound itself. So, I wanted to create music that showed progress. But the concept was exactly the same. It was like the Indiana Jones sequels. Same concept, but with more fun and excitement. Because Sonic the Hedgehog was so successful, the audience expected more. I therefore didn't want to make people disappointed with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. In that way, there was a lot of pressure on me.
Question: How did you actually compose and specifically create the sound?
Masato Nakamura: In my band, Dreams Come True, my music is based on computer programming. Originally, since I was a bass player, I couldn't play piano, nor had I touched computers until I started my band. So, I learned how to program music by computer. But, at that time, we didn't have any music computers. Just the MC4 Roland. Very, very stone-age stuff. At the same time, the sound system of the Mega Drive (Genesis in the United States) was very limited. We could use maybe about four to six sounds at the same time. So, it was really, really tricky. But, those limitations inspired me a lot, and forced me to be smarter. It was very exciting for me.
Question: Did you get any form of brief when you sat down originally to work on either Sonic the Hedgehog or Sonic the Hedgehog 2? Did the developers ever give you any suggestions?
Masato Nakamura: Of course, there were some briefs and meetings for showing me the screens and graphics. Also, Sonic Team gave me some keywords, which were stage names. The volcano stage, the green stage, and so forth. Otherwise, they let me do as I pleased, and gave me the freedom to create music. Thinking back on it now, I was so lucky, because I had freedom and I could be a creator, or songwriter, rather than a game music composer. That was very important. That's the reason why I was able to make such melodic tunes and unusual rhythm patterns. At any rate, I was able to be a musician.
Question: What were your first impressions of the game?
Masato Nakamura: When I saw the completed game, I was so impressed because it had been such a big challenge to everybody, everything from the graphics and action to new hardware and software. I was very impressed that a new creation began from such a high level. I thought that I was witnessing a miracle, or new history in the making. The sales numbers show how great the Sonic the Hedgehog games were at that time. So, I was an eyewitness to videogame history. I was very happy.
Question: Why do you think that music and audio for a videogame is so important?
Masato Nakamura: Entertainment has a certain DNA, whether it be music, visuals, films or shows. Even music needs visuals ever since Michael Jackson made his great music videos. That is the most natural shape of entertainment. The marriage between music and visuals is very, very natural. That's the reason why people love games with music, or music with games, whichever. It's very simple. That is entertainment.
Yuji Naka - Creator
Prior to the arrival of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega videogame consoles had not sold all that well. Upon pondering what we could do to drive sales of those consoles, we came to the conclusion from the outset of developing Sonic the Hedgehog that we should proceed while being fully mindful of creating a title that would make waves in the US and Europe sales-wise. The basis behind this was the general impression that Japanese consumers flock to products with a label proudly proclaiming 'Mega-hit in the US!' (an idea that still holds today).
For the game's visuals, we sought to create a look that fused an interpretation of America's West Coast with a touch of the latest in videogame graphics technology. Upon handling Nakamura conceptual illustrations for the game, I recall asking him to create tracks that suited those images and that, if possible, compelled players to hum along. You can imagine, then, how thankful I am towards Nakamura for putting together such a marvelous soundtrack despite me providing him with no real information besides that.
In the end, once Sonic the Hedgehog reached store shelves, it became a tremendous hit worldwide, and had players around the globe humming along — the perfect outcome in my eyes.
When creating Sonic the Hedgehog 2, I moved the site of development to San Francisco in order to put together a game that would enable even more people around the world to enjoy the world of Sonic. Meanwhile, Nakamura created the tracks for the sequel for us in between recording sessions in London. Looking back on it now, it's quite a marvel that we were able to successfully pull off such a worldwide development endeavor as many as 20 years ago. I continue to be highly grateful for Nakamura's musical contributions despite him being so busy.
On top of those contributions, after finishing all of the tracks for the sequel, Nakamura sent me a fax saying, "I've got a present for you. It's a surprise!" The other members of Sonic Team and I tried to figure out what it might be, but we would never have guessed that Nakamura reworked the ending theme that he provided us for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 into a song entitled "SWEET SWEET SWEET" for inclusion on the Dreams Come True album that he worked on in London. I remember how ecstatic and moved all of us on Sonic Team were upon learning of our "present."
That particular song remains a huge favorite of mine, and continues to hold very strong memories for me. For that, I am truly grateful.