Dragon Spirit – 2012 Developer Interview

Dragon Spirit – 2012 Developer Interview

This interview was conducted live on 9/29/2012 by Sweep Records, publisher of the Shinji Hosoe WORKS series and other game music, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Dragon Spirit. The event was only open to people who had preordered the new WORKS vol. 1 cd, which features soundtracks for Dragon Spirit, Assault, and Quester. Tatsuya, the illustrator and graphics designer for Dragon Spirit, also participated in the first half of the interview.

Shinji Hosoe – Composer
tatsuya – Graphic Designer

—I’d like to start by asking Shinji Hosoe: how did you end up working on the music for Dragon Spirit?

Hosoe: At the time I was working part-time at Namco as a graphics designer. I happened to see Dragon Spirit in the development room, and it didn’t have sound yet. I asked Yudate, the composer and sound designer for Wonder Momo, to show me how to insert music into the game code, and then I just went and started adding music to Dragon Spirit on my own. By the time everyone realized what I had done, I had written and added a whole lot of music. (laughs) Then it was sort of like, well, there’s no going back… you might as well just do the music.

—Was there originally a different composer for Dragon Spirit?

Hosoe: No one had been assigned to it yet. Back then Namco’s sound team was three people: Ozawa, Kawada, and Nakagata. But Nakagata was working on the Genpei project, and he had directing responsibilities in addition to his sound work. So we had a real shortage of people working on sound for Namco’s games. That’s how I was able to write so much music for Dragon Spirit without anyone noticing. (laughs) Graphics were still my main job, though, so I had to work doubletime to get the sound done, and it ended up taking about a year.

—The Stage 1 theme that appears on the cd “Video Game Graffiti Vol. 2” is different from the version on the PCB. Why is that?

Hosoe: After the Old Version Dragon Spirit pcb was released, I actually finished a revised version of that track. The new version I recorded was used for that OST release. We planned to use the revised music for the New Version Dragon Spirit pcb, but for some reason they decided not to swap the roms after all. (laughs) It may have been too expensive for Namco.

At the Sweep Records event, holding copies of WORKS vol 1.

—I see. So the Dragon Spirit soundtrack that appears on this new cd release isn’t the revised version, but the older version we’re all familiar with. I actually tried to see whether we could obtain the original roms with the revised sountrack, but unfortunately Namco couldn’t verify their present location. Changing the subject, what was the first track you composed for Dragon Spirit?

Hosoe: Actually, all the files I had first been working with on an older pcb ended up accidentally getting deleted. I believe I had composed about 3 songs already, working sequentially from stage 1. But they were all erased… Incidentally, they were all completely different compositions from the ones I ended up writing, too. So for the Dragon Spirit songs everyone knows today, the first one I finished was actually the stage 4 bgm.

—What, really?! Such a waste, I would have loved to hear those. Do you remember what those songs were like?

Hosoe: No, unfortunately I don’t remember them. I do remember feeling very crushed though. There were also some other unused songs I had, but if I remember right our plans to use them sort of fizzled out. They’re in the ROM, but we didn’t configure them in the code’s table so they can’t be recalled. But as for how all those songs sounded, I just can’t remember the details… it was over a quarter of a century ago after all!

—tatsuya, I’d like to ask you the same question now: how did you end up doing the graphics and design for Dragon Spirit?

tatsuya: I was in the middle of working on illustrations for Rolling Thunder when I saw some of the monster pixel art for Dragon Spirit at the desk beside me. When I said to someone on the project “hey, that looks really cool”, they replied “well, why don’t you do some art for us then?” And before I knew it I had joined the development team.

—That sounds very similar to Hosoe’s experience. (laughs)

tatsuya: Back then that kind of thing happened all the time. (laughs) You worked with people you liked on projects you liked and made a game. It was a very fun era. During the Dragon Spirit development I’d arrive at work in the morning to find the programmers sleeping on the floor there. The first thing I’d do is wake them up and ask how it was going, and the day started from there.

A signed sketch by tatsuya from this event.

—Hosoe, did you take any inspiration in your songs from tatsuya’s illustrations?

Hosoe: I referred to the event scenes when writing, but the stage BGM was something I made by myself according to my own ideas. Honestly, when I saw that it all fit together at the end I thought “thank goodness.”

—And tatsuya, did you also have illustrations or characters for Dragon Spirit that never got used?

tatsuya: There is pixel art that I look at now and can’t remember what character it was supposed to represent. (laughs) The screen in Dragon Spirit is from a top-down view, so Mammoths and other four-legged creatures were difficult to draw. I remember agonizing over those designs and reworking them again and again because of that.

—Did you do all the illustrations and graphics for Dragon Spirit?

tatsuya: Yes, I did everything but the backgrounds (though I did some objects in the background, too). Depending on the stage, sometimes the music was done before the graphics were all complete, so when my mind was blank I’d sometimes listen to Hosoe’s songs for inspiration.

—Regarding the “Video Graffiti Vol. 2” cd which was mentioned above, I noticed the stereo L and R channels are reversed on this cd. Was there any reason for that?

Hosoe: I think it was probably something done for the record version. I own the record but I don’t have a player so I unfortunately cant verify it, but… if I remember correctly, at that time the machines that produced cds weren’t very reliable, and when a recording was transferred from record to CD there was a bug where the data would be off by a single word’s length. I think that was the source of it. If it had been recorded first and directly to CD there would have been no problem, but back then it was common to first record it on a record, then transfer it to CD in a 2-step mastering process.

—I see. And there were many game soundtracks back then that had all the music recorded to the CD on a single track, too.

Hosoe: That was done because CD players then could only play up to 16 tracks. CDs were still brand new so it was also something that record companies mandated.

—I’d like to ask some questions about Assault next. This was your first system II board, wasn’t it?

Hosoe: When I was at Namco they often used the newest pcb hardware, and I just remember how hard it was to work with. Assault could use PCM sound, but we didn’t have the tools to insert the PCM data. So someone who knew the hardware would end up making such things for us later. The system II boards became easier and easier to work with for us, so compared with Assault I think the later titles have superior sound. We were always struggling to make these pcbs work better, so it was inevitable there’d be shortcoming sometimes.

Dragon Spirit art by tatsuya.

—But wasn’t it fun to always be working with new hardware?1

Hosoe: There was that, too. To the extent we had extra time on a project, it was fun to mess around with all the new capabilities.

—Tell us about Quester.

Hosoe: Quester’s development period wasn’t that long and I was on the Namco sound team, so I didn’t have much contact with the Quester development team. Consequently I don’t actually have many memories of it.

—I see. “Game Music Discovery Series Hosoe Shinji WORKS Vol. 2” is coming out soon, and I understand it will feature your music from Ordyne, Metal Hawk, and Dirt Fox.

Hosoe: Yes, these three titles represent my most interesting time at Namco. Dirt Fox had been released on CD by Scitron before… but the number of songs included were few and it was a bit of a mess. (laughs) I wrote about it in the liner notes of that CD, but during the recording I was in an accident.

tatsuya: I was in a different department at that time working as a graphics director and doing planning for new games, but I remember Hosoe’s accident.

Hosoe: I had an accident on my bike and ran into a tree in the road. I lost consciousness. I was taken away by an ambulance and it turned out I had broken my collarbone and needed a cast. But the development for Dirt Fox was in it final phase and I thought it would be a shame to quit at this point, when all we needed was to write the ROMS, so I came into the office anyway.

Namco's Assault OST, by Shinji Hosoe.

—When WORKS vol 2 comes out, I imagine there’s lots of questions we’ll have for you from that period. Well, we’re now coming to the second half of this interview, and I’d like to ask the questions submitted to us by Sweep Records on behalf of other game musicians. First: who was the voice actress for Princess Alicia in Dragon Spirit? (from Nakayama Joutouhei of ZUNTATA)

Hosoe: It wasn’t a voice actress, but a woman who worked with us then. Her voice was good so we asked her to do it.

—Hosoe, you said that in those days you would work at Namco during the day, in the evening you’d work on your own music and CDs, and late in the night you’d play at clubs in yor band… how did you manage all that? (from Horii Naoki, M2 President)

Hosoe: Yeah, when I worked part-time at Namco I played in my band after work. I just enjoy creating things is all.

—Assault’s strange rhythms and mysterious atmosphere make it such a cool and unique soundtrack. Can you tell us why you made this kind of music for Assault? (from Manabu Namiki of M2)

Hosoe: It didn’t seem to me that prominent melodies would fit the game. When I listen it now those rhythm changes sound somewhat off to me too.

—What is the story behind your pen name, Megaten Hosoe? (Masuko Tsukasa)

Hosoe: I was in a group photo of about 100 people at… let me see… an AOU show I think? When it was published in a magazine, a staff member saw me in the photo and said, “Look! Its Hosoe! He’s staring wide-eyed at that girl!” Of course I said no, no, I wasn’t looking at her. (laughs) After that they started calling me by various nicknames… megamaru, mega-this, mega-that… finally, megaten is the one that stuck.2

Princess Alicia by tatsuya.

—Have you ever had any good experiences with people with AB blood type? (Hideki Sakimoto, President of Noisy Croak)

Hosoe: I once went drinking with a group of AB sound composers. It was fun. I got to know how bizarre those AB types are.

—With social network games you can play on a cell phone while commuting becoming so popular now, what do you think will become of game music? (Mikio Saito aka METAL YUKI)

Hosoe: It seems that from the game companies’ perspective, those games don’t really need a soundtrack. You almost never see music or sounds as in-game items to buy or DLC.

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  1. This is an interesting conversation given the oft-cited complaints of the Toaplan staff over having hardware that was always too old!

  2. “me ga ten” which literally means “eyes like points” is an expression from manga, and describes a character who’s eyes have been reduced to beady points from a suprise or shock. It must have been a funny photo of Hosoe.

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