Hiroyuki Iwatsuki is a game music composer who has worked at Natsume since 1991. He’s probably best known for his work on the Pocky and Rocky series here, but his soundtracks for Mitsume ga Tooru and Wild Guns deserve special attention too.

This short interview was conducted by the webmaster of Game Kommander, a Japanese fan of Natsume and other classic game developers.

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Great interview with Iwatsuki

2005 Hiroyuki Iwatsuki Interview

Featured at Game Kommander (jp)

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Hiroyuki Iwatsuki.

Selected Discography

’91 Choujin Sentai Jetman (FC)
’91 Ninja Gaiden Shadow (GB)
’91 Shatterhand [sound fx only] (FC)
’92 Mitsume ga Tooru (FC)
’92 Kiki kaikai -Nazo no Kuro Manto- (SFC)
’94 The Ninja Warriors Again (SFC)
’94 Kiki kaikai -tsukiyouzoushi- (SFC)
’94 Wild Guns (SFC)
’95 Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (SFC)
’96 Gundam Wing Endless Duel (SFC)

—When did you first get into music?

Iwatsuki: In high school I loved this fusion band Casiopea, and I started trying to write music in their style. Before then I had only heard popular songs and enka at home, but thanks to a friend in high school I had the chance to encounter many other genres. That was also the time I became aware of music outside of Japan.

—How did you get into making game music, then?

Iwatsuki: I didn’t start writing game music until after I joined Natsume. Before that I had merely been writing songs for myself, building up a little repetoire. At my interview I showed them a demo tape I had made with x68000 FM and midi (Roland MT-32) compositions. At that time I was using both MML and sequencer software.

—You composed music for a lot of games in the tokusatsu hero genre… is there any reason behind that?

Iwatsuki: I think it just so happened that there was a lot of tokusatsu stuff going on when I wrote game music. It’s not anything I requested specifically. (^^;) There was a period when I was working on multiple Power Rangers games and I had to listen to that theme song everyday, over and over… it was a trying time. (laughs)

—Could you share some of your favorite musicians, or music that has influenced you?

Iwatsuki: About the only group I’ve continued to listen to through the years is Casiopea. Several years ago I discovered the Chemical Brothers, Apollo 440, and other similar artists, and I began to have an interest in that genre. But generally, I don’t focus on artists so much as individual songs–I don’t have a particular interest or attachment to specific artists. Occasionally a song will grab me and I’ll spend some time learning more about the artist, but that’s about as far as it goes.

My original interest in music was sparked by game music, so I love listening to all kinds of game music. It all began with Namco’s Gaplus. Taito, Sega, and other Namco games from that time have also influenced me, I think. However, as a kid I focused way too much on the genres I liked to the exclusion of other music, so there were a lot of popular artists I didn’t even know about. I didn’t even hear a Beatles album until after college. (see what I mean!)

Whenever I was writing music for a game that was originally based on something else (like a book, movie, or other game), I would study the music from that original work. But I wouldn’t usually copy their work: instead, I’d try to come up with a similar, but different melody in the same spirit. The other developers would sometimes show me songs that captured the image they wanted for the music. Some of that music ended up having a big influence on me well after the development ended. For Wild Guns they gave me a Western soundtrack best-of CD that I really got into. (laughs)

—What songs have you been into lately, then?

Here are some of the things I’ve been listening to on my iPod lately:

・”Technictix” soundtrack
・”Theme from Star Trek“(from Maynard Ferguson’s album)
・”Wings For My Way“(『F-ZERO GX』 attract screen BGM)
・”Ridge Racers”(soundtrack)

Actually, though, when I’m in the middle of writing I usually listen to the music I’m trying to write, or songs I’ve previously finished. I usually listen to them when I’m commuting too, on my iPod. If I listen to too much other music I’ll end up getting influenced by it. (^^;)

—Of all the music you’ve written, what is your favorite?

Iwatsuki: If I say I like them all, it will sound like I’m just bragging, but the truth is I poured a lot of work and heart into these songs, so I have plenty of love for each of them. If I was pushed, I’d probably say the staff roll music for Kikikaikai -nazo no kuro manto- (Pocky and Rocky) might be my favorite. I remixed that music for the staff roll music in the sequel, too.

—Other than your own work, do you have any favorite game music?

Iwatsuki: The music for Gaplus, of course, which first awoke me to game music. I also like the music on the very first LP record I bought, “The Return of Video Game Music“.

—Could you tell us about the hardware and software you’re using now to write music?

Iwatsuki:

Hardware
・Apple PowerMac G5(2GHz)
・Roland XV-5080
・Korg KARMA

Software
・MOTU Digital Performer
・MOTU MachFive
・EASTWEST Orchestra Samplebank
・Virtual Guitarist
・Drum From Hell Superior
…etc.

—And what did you use during the Famicom/Super Famicom era?

Iwatsuki: The equipment was all much simpler back then. For the Famicom, we used the NEC PC-98 series, and you’d create the memory image of your performance directly as you composed. There was no music notation; everything was entered directly in hexadecimal. Then we’d check the sound out either on a real Famicom or on a Roland D-20 keyboard or something similar. Nowadays, by the way, I use a midi sequencer to compose, but I still don’t do traditional music notation.

With the Super Famicom we used PC-98s, and a MIDI sequencer called UNYA. The sounds were from the Roland Sound Canvas series, and I think we used a Roland W-30 keyboard. This was sample-based music, so at this time we started gathering commercial sample banks. The water sound in Kiki Kaikai was made in part by a sample I recorded of actual water dripping into a bucket. We also sampled SONY NEWS broadcasts.

—From your perspective, how has game music, and the way game music is made, changed over the years?

Iwatsuki: I think the biggest change is that there are no longer any restrictions on the sounds you can use. Now that those restrictions have been lifted, I’ve also sensed an increased focus on the quality of the sounds themselves. In my case, I started out as an earnest-but-rank amateur, and got a job despite my lack of abilities, but I think someone without skills in today’s game industry would have a very hard time of it. (^^;)

As far as game production goes, it goes without saying that the scope of a single game today is way larger than before. Nevertheless, the time you’re given to compose music for a game hasn’t really increased, so the responsibility is huge. In the old days you sometimes worked on two games at once, but that would be totally impossible today.

—Finally, can you share your approach to to writing game music?

Iwatsuki: For me, I decide on the direction of the song by asking what kind of music this particular game is seeking (according to my feelings, obviously). For example, I’ve done a lot of music for action games, and on that occasion I’d think of how the music could pump up the vigor, action, and flow even further. Also, this isn’t something I actually achieved very often, but I tried to always make new songs that were distinct from the ones I’d made before. If you get lazy its very easy to fall into a pattern, so I always endeavoured to try out new things.