Compile STG – Musha Aleste and Spriggan Interviews
This interview with the MUSHA and Spriggan development teams at Compile is a rare look at two classic games. To my knowledge, it’s the only interview available with these teams. This first appeared in the Naxat STG Collection OST liner notes, so the focus is largely on music, but other aspects of the development are also touched on.
Yuichi Toyama - Designer / Planner
I was the main programmer for the three titles recorded on this disc. Yonemitsu Kazunari was working on Puyo Puyo at Compile back then, but it was rare that we were given the head planning role in a STG game.
For Musha and Spriggan, designer Kazuyuki Nakashima and I did the game design and planning, and for Spriggan mk.2 I did all the planning myself. Well, let’s take a look back at these games!
Musha was a 4MB cart… remember, 512kb is half a megabyte! Into that tiny space, which wouldn’t even hold a single photo from a digital camera today, we had to cram all the art, sound, and programming. But what really amazes me is how we managed to finish it in just a matter of months.
The valley stage, which took advantage of the We had made a prototype of “Aleste 2” for the Megadrive but had subsequently mothballed it, and we were feeling the pressure of needing to quickly decide what to do with it. At that time we also felt a big need to change direction with the Aleste series. Nakashima came up with the radical idea of a Japanese aesthetic and style, and that was how Musha got started.
The valley stage, which took advantage of the Megadrive’s unique segmented vertical scrolling capability, was also present in the early prototype. I was involved in programming the enemies that appear out of the depths, and the way they explode and recede. One thing that stands out in my memory is arguing with MATS, who was in charge of sound fx, about the sound fx timing for the action taking place within those deeper background layers. (laughs)
I had read an article about a developer whose PCB hardware could now freely adjust the priority and volume of individual sounds, and feeling somewhat jealous, I started wondering if we couldn’t express the depth of the screen with some kind of sound effect. After thinking about it for awhile, I came up with the idea of expressing distant sounds by slowing down the playback speed of the sounds. When I talked about it with MATS, he told me “A sound like that would have a low priority and low volume, so you’d barely be able to hear it.” But he solved the problem by changing the frequency of the sounds, and we were able to complete that scene in stage 3 where the floor falls away.
I also remember how our composer Toshiaki Sakoda had nearly completed the entire soundtrack when the company overseeing the production told us “Since this game has a Japanese aesthetic, we want you to do the music in a Japanese style too.” To answer this sudden and dramatic request, Sakoda presented them a song with deliberately strange, plucky Japanese instrument sounds. When they heard it they admitted “Yeah, the previous song was better.” I still remember the several days spent wrangling and haggling with them over it… thanks to Sakoda’s efforts, it’s these songs you hear on this CD today!
Seirei Senshi Spriggan
We loved Sega and wanted our next title to be on the Megadrive again, but due to various circumstances we switched to the PC Engine. Spriggan was what we came up with, a game with a strong fantasy-infused theme in order to differentiate it from Musha.
Compared with the Megadrive, the PC Engine has a larger color pallette, but you’re limited to one background layer. So at first I thought “This is going to be sad!”, but once we started developing for it and I saw the faster CPU speed and the CD-ROM that allowed full voice-acting, I realized we could make something great! I soon became an ardent fan of the PC Engine.
Takayuki Hirono also lent me the code for Blazing Lazers, which had already been released for the PC Engine. We used a lot of code from it, and I owe him my thanks for that!
Spriggan mk.2: ReTerraforming Project
This originally started out as a sequel to Musha. The producer asked us to make a game featuring Greg, the pilot who is shot down in the opening intro to Musha, as the protagonist. Our goal was a robot-anime style STG, where characters would talk to you while you played.
The basic engine from the first Spriggan was complete, so I took on the role of both planner and programmer. I gathered a staff around me and we had about 10 months to release a finished product. In between programming I had to write the scenario, so there was some crunch time for me, but we had adequate time to finish everything.
In the middle of the development someone pointed out, “This game has Spriggan in the title but is has nothing to do with the previous game!” We added ancient martian ruins to our image of Spriggan’s world, and played around with some drawings of the character in the final battle of Spriggan, suggesting to us that Spriggan’s setting was ancient Mars. In this way we were able to tie Spriggan mk.2 into the previous games, Spriggan and Musha, as the third entry in the series. I hope players notice some of the connections in Spriggan mk.2!
After Spriggan mk.2, another company developed Spriggan Powered, and they also added several connections in the story. There’s something familiar about the way those option pods move in Recca, too… (laughs)
Who could have imagined that the soundtracks for all these games would be re-released in a single disc in the 21st century… let me express my gratitude to you who bought it!
Kazuyuki Nakashima - Illustrator / Designer
My memories of the sound for Musha Aleste are… a little embarrassing. Musha Aleste was presented at a meeting as an update to the Aleste 2 Megadrive prototype. The planning documents I presented at the meeting (even the President was there) featured a player character in an armored robot, a Noh mask enemy with mounted cannons, and it pretty much ignored everything about the Aleste world.
Perhaps because of the youth of the development team, everyone shared this resistance to the idea of just regurgitating that world. On the planning notes for the music, I had written the phrase “Edo Metal”, and I remember how Kazoda burst out laughing when he saw it. I’m not sure why I didn’t just write “heavy metal with some Japanese aesthetic elements”… after the meeting Kazoda approached me and kindly said “I knew what you meant.” I was grateful for his consideration… it was embarrassing!
After that we decided on a speedy heavy metal sound that would match the fast scrolling and would play from the start of the opening demo non-stop without interruption. If we had really done something like “Edo Metal” as I had written… it might have ended up being a very weird game. It’s quite rare to see a game with a soundtrack like this, that’s headbanging from start to finish. If you have the chance be sure to play it (and don’t forget to headbang)!
Toshiaki Sakoda - Composer
Fusion and mechanical-sounding music was very popular in games at the time Musha was developed. In STG especially, as if it were some set rule, these styles were all you heard: softer music was rarely heard. For many games there was also no uniformity or sense of progression in the tracks, with each stage theme being very different from the next. Under these circumstances, I wanted to make the world’s first heavy metal game soundtrack, a game where the music of each track would be related as a whole.
Put simply, I wanted to do a “heavy metal suite” or “heavy metal rhapsody.” My attitude was “One way or another, I’m going to do something that’s never been done before!” I wanted heavy, dangerous songs that left an impact on you, not the same old cliched game music–I was in the mood to play with sound.
For my first experiment, Musha Aleste, there was a lot of opposition from the development staff and the producers, but I believed in myself, and just kept thinking how I was going to change the world of game music!
Of all the games I've made, I think the best use of heavy metal is found in Musha Aleste, Seirei Senshi Spriggan, and Devil’s Crush.
To compose I would play on actual instruments (guitar, keyboard, etc), then notate the music on an MSX computer, then take that and convert it for PC98. Repeating this process over and over, I kept having to check and adjust if the sound wasn’t slightly off or out of tune. I spent an inordinate amount of time on that.
I don’t really like mechanical sounding music very much, so I searched, via trial and error, for ways to make it sound and feel like the instruments were played by humans. I spent a month creating an FM guitar sound. I programmed a modulation envelope to evoke the feel of a human arm strumming, and I added vibrato to simulate the human voice.
I was especially careful to make sure their weren’t too many simultaneous instruments playing in the songs, so that the sound fx wouldn’t cause the music to cut out. MATS and I tried out various tricks and techniques. Since the drums were fixed, that gave us three tracks to use for all the other instruments in a given song. When I look back on it now, I feel a sense of pride: “man, we did a great job.” The music was a product of its time, and I don’t think I could have done it without the generous understanding of great colleagues like Nakashima, Toyama, and MATS.
Everyone has now gone their separate ways in life, but I hope we can come together again someday and release something new to the world. My sincere thanks to my fellow developers, the producers, and all the players out there.
Masanobu Tsukamoto - Sound FX Designer
I worked on the sound effects for Musha Aleste and Seirei Senshi Spriggan. Today I’ll try and write a bit about my memories of Musha Aleste. The very first sound I worked on was the lightning sound. It ended up taking me 3 days just to make this sound! There were two problems.
First, although the Megadrive uses the same OPN style chip I had used before, the way it played back sounds was different, so I couldn’t use the same process I was familiar with. Second, there were scenes that would require two channels for the FX. I had someone from the sound team at Sega help explain to me the way FM sound was played back. Sega also requested that Kazoda and I use only 4 channels for each song. That would mean one channel for drums, bass, melody, and backing… with such limitations, if we didn’t use our skills there was a danger it would turn out really shabby and plain sounding. But Kazoda came through as usual! To be honest I never doubted him, because by that point we had a long history of working together at Compile.
I was often asked later about the sound in the opening intro when the pilot’s eyes sparkle. Toyama spoke with me and he said he wanted it to sound like when the eyes sparkle in Gundam. I didn’t know Gundam very well, so at Toyama’s recommendation I watched the movie Gundam: Char’s Counterattack over and over, and tried to craft something that sounded similar. Personally I thought it sounded bad, like the sound of someone banging on the bottom of a big jar, but when they all heard it they excitedly went “Biiiiiiin!”1 so I guess it worked out. (bitter laugh)
Toyama and I had a lot of back and forth about his ideas, but I worked especially closely with the programmers. I’d meet with them often to see if my ideas for the sounds would be able to coordinate with their work. I also consulted them to get ideas and an objective view on my work. I had a lot of fun with them.
The biggest problem was the 1-UP sound. All the project members wanted me to make something new. I also worried that if I used a sound similar to ones we’d used before, it would disrupt Kazoda’s music and the tempo of the game. So I tried out something where picking up a 1-UP didn’t change the melody of the music, but just caused it to pick up tempo slightly and remixed a couple notes. I thought they’d surely love this effect, but Takayuki Hirono gave it a thumbs down. Hirono taught me about sound fx, and he had helped me out both professionally and personally, but this time I wanted to do it my way. This sound effect later got used, independent of my wishes, in Puyo Puyo… a lamentable fate!
Musha was a product of its time. When I listen to those fx today, I find myself wanting to redo half of them. (bitter laugh)
Including myself, I think Musha Aleste was really the work of a team of four people: Nakashima, who first showed his concept illustrations with us and got everyone motivated for the project; Toyama, who built on those ideas and made us all think “This project will be great!”; and Kazoda–he and I worked together as one mind. There’s this scene in Musha, after you defeat the stage 1 midboss, where the screen starts to accelerate. When I see scenes like that, there’s something about it that really reminds me of the four of us.
If you've enjoyed reading this interview and would like to be able to vote each month on what I translate, please consider supporting me on Patreon! I can't do it without your help!
A high-pitched exclamation of excitement/glee.↩