The SNK Sound Team – 1995 Composer Interview

SNK Sound Team - 1995 Composer Interview

This short interview with the in-house SNK sound team known as Shinsekai Gakkyoku Zatsugidan (New World Music and Performance Group) originally appeared in Neo Geo Freak magazine. The conversation never goes too deep, but offers brief comments on Garou Densetsu, King of Fighters, and Samurai Spirits. I've also attached the more colorful liner notes from the Samurai Spirits 1993 OST at the bottom.

Masahiko "Papaya" Hayata
Toshio "Shimizm" Shimizu

—To start off, I'd like to ask how the Shinsekai Gakkyoku Zatsugidan group came to be.

Papaya: You can just think of it as our team name. Simply put, it's a group of sound creators. Basically it's a gathering of creatives, so picture a bunch of manga artists all living at Tokiwa-so. (laughs)

Konny: While not everyone may share this perspective, I consider the voice actors to be part of this group too—that's what I mean by an all-inclusive "new world." Our creative efforts aren't purely limited to music.

—I'd like to now ask about the sound development of specific games. Where do your ideas and concepts come from? Let's begin with Shimizm and the Garou Densetsu series.

Shimizm: Sure. Basically, these are fighting games, and their core is a system of gameplay that I endeavor to match with my music. What is the game itself trying to express…? That's where I look for my themes. For sound effects too, for example, with punches, I try to make them as realistic as possible. I place a lot of importance on that.

The Shinsekai Special Band rocks out at a show in 1994. The band was composed of SNK staff, but not the game composers (Papaya, Shimizm, and Konny) themselves.

—What challenges have you faced during those developments?

Shimizm: Challenges, eh… I guess it would just be the sheer volume of songs we have to compose for each game. (laughs) There's also the original image of these songs, in the earlier versions, and we work hard to make sure we preserve that while also adding something new.

Konny: Garou Densetsu 3 would be a good example. In that one we sought to change up the patterns and image. By doing so we establish a distinct identity for each game. Through it all, though, we're always seeking to make things more "real".

—How about Samurai Spirits?

Konny: It's all about the way the sounds are used. I'm trying to express a world of "wabi-sabi". As a result I arrived at the idea that "silence is also music."

—Your notion of what "sound" is has broadened, in other words?

Konny: Yes. A game about samurais is naturally going to have lots of different chanbara (samurai cinema) sounds, and my way of thinking is that, taken together, that kaleidoscope of sound is itself a form of music. So while we are certainly composers of music, I see it a little differently from the specialist profession known officially as "composer". Our approach is to take the individual sounds—our raw materials—and searching for the right way to arrange and express them… and Samurai Spirits represents the highest achievement of that idea.

—And what can you tell us about King of Fighters?

Papaya: King of Fighters… it contains a lot of different elements. Take the Garou characters, for example… we aim to preserve the image of those characters while also somehow unifying everything into a cohesive whole. The world of the game is also very important to us, and we try to mix things up in a way that will be interesting. In any event, organizing all the data is a real pain in the ass. (laughs)

—Right, because there are so many teams.

Papaya: Yeah, and every team is very popular. Some fans like multiple teams, but then there's people who are specifically Garou fans, for example, and we want to make sure the portrayals live up to their expectations. At the same time, this game is a King of Fighters game, and we don't want to lose that either. On the Garou stage, for example, the main motif is Andy's song, but we try to arrange it to match the background ocean scene. Basically there's a ton of things we have to consider, but that's also what makes it so interesting.

The Mediterranean Sea stage theme (Terry's Team) from KoF.

—By the way, lately it seems as if the public perception of game music has changed.

Papaya: Our perspective has always been that game music is a part of the game, conceptually speaking. With recent improvements in hardware, so much more can now be expressed, and I think people are starting to recognize game music on its own merits. Magazines now regularly feature game music news and articles too. Also, this may not be very relevant, but they sometimes use game music themes on TV programs now too.

—Yes, and as it receives such exposure, game music becomes something you expect to hear in a normal, everyday setting.

Papaya: Yeah, I think it's a reflection of how it's gradually seeping into our daily lives.

Konny: I think that no matter what new sounds we're able to use, the essence of our work won't change. However, it is true that game music is becoming easier for the masses to enjoy. Compared with the old FM synthesizer era, with today's CD-ROMs, we can make game music that even your non-gamer can enjoy. In that sense I think things have really broadened.

—Can you tell us what you think of the future of game music?

Konny: Where will game music go from here? Well, I think we're going to see "regular" artists and musicians—people with no connection to the game industry—getting involved with game music, and those worlds will collide, to the enrichment of all. I don't think that prediction is limited to game music either: I predict we'll see famous graphic designers, famous screenwriters, and various other people getting involved. In that midst game developers will have to decide what stance they want to take, and what direction they want to go.

—Do you think game music will one day break free from the bounds of games and be seen as art?

Konny: Our work as Shinsekai is ultimately bound to our stance as game developers, so we are thinking about fundamental questions like what our music should be, and how it should evolve from here… but the notion that "we're artists!" is not something we're thinking at present.

Papaya: Another thing, I think multimedia is becoming more and more popular, and games are included under that umbrella. And from where I'm standing, the most interesting possibilities in multimedia lie in game music. There's still room for revolutionary change. Practically speaking, I mean the possibilities of interactivity. In film music, for instance—and movies themselves for that matter—everything is linear. But all games require at least some degree of interaction. This is a point that I think we need to do more thinking on.

—How do plan to integrate those ideas...?

Papaya: If I say too much it will result in spoilers, so I'll leave it at that. (laughs)

Samurai Spirits - Composer Commentary

from the Samurai Spirits OST Liner Notes

Greetings, I am Tatenori, Chairman of the "Let's Learn About Japan Club." We are lovers of traditional Japanese culture and arts, and we work day and night to share the wonderfulness of Japan through music. When it came time to compose Samurai Spirits, my co-composer Papaya and I embarked on a quest to find the right compositional approach for these songs. After many days of struggle, we finally arrived at two themes: "environmental" and "in pursuit of Japanese music" (unfortunately, this resulted in a style far different from what the planners had originally been hoping for…). However, these were two very difficult themes to execute, and this soundtrack is the result of countless hardship and experimentation, up to the very last minute. But as a result, we feel this is music you can share with anyone, non-gamers included, without any embarrassment, and we ourselves, as composers, are actually very fond of what we've done--the sweet taste of satisfaction. And now I will turn the mic over to Papaya, who composed the music for Hanzo, Charlotte, Galford, Kyoshiro, and Tam Tam.

Kyoshiro's theme "Magatama", inspired by a mysterious dream of the Sanzu River as described by Papaya below.

"The Way of the Samurai is found in death…" those are the famous words of Hagakure, but I wondered to myself… does one really have to die?! All this talk about death and risking your life, maybe it was just a bunch of boasting exaggeration? So I thought, but one night, after I was having complete writer's block on a certain song, I fell asleep and dreamed about the Sanzu River. I heard music coming from the opposite bank of the river, and that music became Kyoshiro's theme (true story!). Then I awoke with a start and in my hand, I was clutching a magatama… (ok, that part's a lie). Other than Charlotte's theme, the other songs I wrote also have mysterious origins. Traditional Japanese music is not to be taken lightly…! Papaya signing off.

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