Kouichi Sugiyama

vgm and ballet

I think game music resembles the music of ballet more than film music. In a movie, the narrative is the main thing you enjoy; the soundtrack, therefore, becomes nothing but background music for the dialogue and story. However, in ballets like Swan Lake and the Nutcracker, a relatively simple story that everyone knows is expressed through visuals and music. I think its a fair comparison, given the simplicity of the stories of both ballet and games: the good guy defeats the bad guy, and everyone lives happily ever after. (laughs) So I think they have much in common. Both are expressive arts, a journey to be enjoyed.

the writing process

When I write game music, I first ask about the general background and story for the game. Then I decide on an overall direction for the music, something that fits precisely the world of the game. After that, as the developers show me sketches and partially completed artwork, I start writing the music.

Game music will be heard over and over by players, hundreds or even thousands of times. So you must make music that listeners won’t get tired of easily. Melody, harmony, texture… I pay attention to all these things; my musical approach is fairly orthodox. Eccentric music that tries to grab your attention may sound interesting at first, but in the process of listening to it over and over it eventually becomes annoying. I place great importance on melodies. A good melody will last for a long time, you know.

When it comes to town music, I try to get an idea in my head of the town and write a variety of melodies around that idea… it never goes very well though. Eventually a good melody will just pop into my head, and I write it down on my notepad immediately. My notepads fill up very quickly. If I’m having trouble deciding on a given song, I’ll often write two or three alternatives. For Dragon Quest V, I think I wrote 5 different battle themes…

I don’t drink, and the things most adults spend their time on, like karaoke, golf, mahjongg… I spend that time on games. I often get asked by people, “What’s so fun about playing with an artificial, mechanical companion like a video game?” But this machine was made by a human, and it represents that creator’s feelings and ideas. Dragon Quest was made by Yuji Horii, Nakamura Kouichi, other producers, and myself too. Its a piece of our personalities. So when I’m playing a video game, I feel like I’m playing a game with the creators.

necessary qualifications

If I were a producer and was asked to choose someone to write music for a game, first and foremost I would look for someone with talent as a composer. Almost equally important is someone who has experience with video games and understands their appeal. Those two things would be my hiring criteria.

If you want to write game music, you should first study the fundamentals of music. Dragon Quest is an amazing game because its supported by solid programming. Its the same with music; if you don’t acquire basic abilities in music, it won’t matter how much you know or love games. It can be difficult to distinguish between good music and bad music, but if millions of players hear the music, find it pleasant, and memorize the melodies… then I think that is the best confirmation there is.