Category Archives: Interviews

Interviews: Sling It! (Pollushot 2) creator Greg Lobanov

Greg Lobanov of Dumb and Fat Games

Douglas Laustsen and I recently assembled and arranged the music for the game Sling-It! (Pollushot 2) by Greg Lobanov.  For more information about the game, you can go here.  I can tell you the mechanics are awesome and it’s super addicting.  The music is nice too haha.

Anyhow, Greg had a very clear vision as to what he wanted for the game, music wise, so I asked him if I could sit down with him for an interview.  We didn’t really “sit down” I guess…. this “interview” was conducted via email earlier this week (3/11).  Enjoy!

Classical Gaming:  It must be really exciting to be a gamer who actually… well… MAKES GAMES!  What originally inspired you to pursue game development?
Greg Lobanov:  One characteristic that really separates me from people is my fascination with simple mechanics. The best example I can think of that is an anecdote my mom likes to share about me, which is that when I was very young I’d regularly come across string on the floor and busy myself with it for literally hours (made me pretty easy to take care of). Everybody on some level likes to play with things; that’s why we like games. But whatever that acumen is, I seem to possess it in a bigger than normal amount. I think that’s informed everything I’ve made, one way or another, and it made games a very natural pursuit. Telling a good story in a game has a lot to do with being able to create a fun make-believe the way kids do with their toys. And making a game that feels good and is fun to play involves tapping into that inherent “play” feeling we all have. Plus, I just love making things, and games if nothing else are wonderful as big projects which you can sink an endless amount of thought, creativity and effort into. So, yeah… I firmly believe that making games is what I was meant to do.
CG:  Obviously, and you stated this to me during the production of Sling It!, you feel that music in video games is very important.  What are some of your favorite soundtracks?  Composers?

GL:  I love video game music. I listen to it almost exclusively these days, for better or worse. When I’m talking about “favorites” in video game music I’m rarely talking about an album or a composer, but rather, specific songs. I think that’s because individual pieces are tied so closely to particular game moments, and so when considering an entire soundtrack or an artist there’s always some specific shining stars in the lineup which stand out to me rather than seeing the entire soundtrack as a single unit. That’s not to say I don’t have my favorites. I’m just saying this preface the fact that my favorite game soundtracks are naturally the same as my favorite games.
My absolute favorite soundtracks are those of Earthbound and Zelda: Wind Waker. I don’t remember particular names associated with Earthbound, but I do know it has a lot of associated musicians, and its music is I think a particularly unique expression of many different artists coming together at a moment in time. Zelda, meanwhile, has Koji Kondo. Wind Waker’s best moments didn’t all come from him, but he’s an obvious individual whose music is consistently great whenever he makes it. If I had to name a favorite video game composer I think I’d have to default it to him. But really, favorites aside, I listen to a lot of different soundtracks and composers, almost indiscriminately.

CG:  You made some very interesting choices for the music to Sling It! (Pollushot 2).  Why did you pick the music you picked?
GL:  To score the original game, Pollushot, I wanted something that would be easy to get, free to use, and sound right for the game. I quickly landed on classical music, and used a license-free version of Danse Macabre for the game, which worked surprisingly well. So it started as a choice of convenience, but I think it came to be an actually significant piece of the game’s portrait.
Coming into the sequel, I’d seen how well classical music had worked, and wanted to use it again but this time without restricting myself to free online samples. The decision to focus on Russian/Soviet composers was the result of a few different factors: I have a big heritage in Russia, and I wanted to let some of that flavor into the game. I started to see my game as a sort of loose homage to Tetris, which also used Russian classical music to great effect (including a piece from Nutcracker). And most importantly, Russian composers are just plain great! The Russian theming really helped to inform the game back, too, and helped inspire the idea of an endless pollution-induced winter as is depicted in the game, the TV broadcast-style opening, and the main character’s design. Everything just fit together very nicely.
CG:  I remember you saying that you like to listen to the music to the game while developing the game.  Can you expand on that a bit?
GL:  I think every game has a very particular internal rhythm, and feeling that rhythm while you play is an important part of what makes a good game great. As the creator trying to locate that and express it, it’s like pressing your ear to a block of marble and hearing the statue inside, waiting to be carved out. Just as the music co-inspired the game’s theming and style, it also co-inspires the game’s pacing and feeling. Constantly visualizing the game is very necessary while I work on it, to inform every detail from the size of an enemy to the animation curve of a menu button. Listening to the right music puts me in the proper headspace to do that. I generally build playlists while I’m working, not just of the game’s actual music, but of other tunes I happen to be into at the time, and I generally come to see those non-soundtrack songs as “honorary members” of the game soundtrack, too.
CG:  What’s next for you?  Any other games in development?

GL:  I hope to work a lot this year and put out many more games in the coming months. As I was finishing Sling It! I already made a lot of progress into my next game. I haven’t formally announced it yet, but it will be called “Perfection.” and it’s a tranquil, simple puzzle game in which you cut shapes to fit into outlines.

Screenshot from Perfection, coming soon!

For more information on Greg Lobanov and Dumb and Fat Games, you can check his website out here.  Special thanks to Greg for responding to my questions so eloquently, Doug for putting up with the deadlines I kept altering on the work, and Sharon Torello from LocalArtsLive for helping Doug and me connect with Greg in the first place.


Interviews: Matt Uelmen on “Top Score”

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an interview that I’ve really liked.  Emily Reese’s interview of Matt Uelmen on Minnesota Public Radio somehow slipped through the cracks on me.  He’s one of my favorite composers.  His work in Diablo II still reminds me of my youth- hacking and slashing down Meph runs, getting my items stolen by people who said they were my friends, tricking people into thinking I was trading them a Shako when it was actually just a green hat, etc etc.  Not really great memories, I guess.  BUT MEMORIES ALL THE SAME.

I’ve mentioned his involvement with Torchlight II briefly in an older post and highlighted a small interview with him.  This interview, though, is really at length and really lets you hear what the composer has to say about his music.  It’s definitely worth listening to, even though it’s a couple months old.  It’s great to hear him list his influences and explain his tracks in detail.  He’s not just some composer who presses the buttons on his computer and makes sound.  I wasn’t surprised to hear that he knows a lot about theory.  His compositional technique seems really solid.

You can find the complete interview HERE.  It’s only about 17 minutes long.  Check it out and let me know what you think!  And I love that he’s a real nerd.


Interviews: Miki Higashino

My fellow blogger over at [Score.] brought to my attention an awesome interview by Square Enix Music Online with Miki Higashino, composer of the Suikoden series.  Check out the full interview here.  If you’re AT ALL a fan of Suikoden, you will definitely need to read this.  Chris Greening does an EXCELLENT job.

Some highlights:

When asked about the limitations of working with older sound systems, Higashino responds:

Everyone on Konami’s sound staff, not just I, spent countless hours working on music and sound effects, trying to overcome the limitations of the sound systems we worked with. You had to be persistent, and keep going through the process of trial and error — just the image that one holds of a Japanese salaryman. Watching them, my perceptions of music and work changed dramatically.

Higashino on Suikoden:

At the beginning of the project I spent two days reading through the scenario, and even then I had come up with ideas for the music in my mind.

Suikoden is based on one of the most important historical novels of Chinese literature. but the game’s towns, cities, and characters span an entire world, with elements of all kinds of cultures, East and West. I realized that it couldn’t all be depicted using a single genre of music. On top of that, the game was on a massive scale, and there was no doubt that this world was unlike anything seen before in an RPG. So I decided to compose something completely different from the music in a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest

The development team wanted theme music for every character, but with 108 characters joining the player’s party, it just wasn’t feasible. Personally, the only characters that stood out to me were Neclord and Millich Oppenheimer (laughs).

Higashino on Suikoden II:

Suikoden II was on an even larger scale than its predecessor, as I knew the moment I laid eyes on its thick scenario. As there was a clear increase in the number of cities and towns, I felt there was a need for a more methodical compositional process.

I would begin by looking at all of the maps I’d received, and think about what kind of people would live in each area and what kind of culture they would have. What kind of climate, races, and industry would there be? Then I would decide on Celtic and early music here, with Spanish music and fado in the city to the south, Middle Eastern music over there, for the ninja village, Japanese music, of course, and so on for each area.

You enter a city, and it’s as if you can hear the music that would actually be performed there, somewhere; isn’t it a bit like taking the player on a journey around the world? So I spent that time searching for and listening to all kinds of folk music and ethnic pop.

Some thoughts:

  • It is EXCELLENT to see that Higashino was so involved with the story and plot of the Suikoden games.  I’ve always noticed that her tracks definitely fit the environments and her town themes are absolutely awesome.
  • It is VERY apparent she spent a lot of time sketching out the music for Neclord, as she says.  I’ve often wondered why Neclord’s music was so involved.  I mean, she wrote this very involved passacaglia just for Neclord’s castle… which constitutes maybe 15 minutes of total game play.
  • The rest of the interview focuses on the other musicians she worked with and inspired.  It’s interesting to see her paired up with Yasunori Mitsuda.
  • I also find it fascinating that she lists her best work as an arcade soccer game.  Here’s some gameplay.
  • And 108 themes?  That would have been amazing.  I’m still really satisfied with her output in the games, regardless.

Feel free to post any comments and/or corrections!  Got a favorite track by Higashino you want to share?  Do it!  And of course, read the interview because it’s awesome.


Interviews: Tim Follin

As a follow up to highlighting Tim Follin’s work, this interview I found on YouTube explains a lot about Follin’s personality, influences, and general attitude toward game music.  It’s in two parts and worth listening to.  I promise.

(credit:  mikydeewilliams)

The man’s words speak for themselves.  I’ll open everything to discussion below.

Tomorrow, I’ll highlight composer Jun Ishikawa.  Not the author.  The composer.


Runic Games Q & A with Matt Uelman

Matt Uelman has been a favorite composer of mine for years.  His catalog includes Diablo and Diablo 2, as well as World of Warcraft.  Recently, Matt Uelman collaborated with Runic Games to bring us Torchlight.  His soundtrack to the game is stellar and evokes everything necessary to bring the world of Torchlight to life.

But this should not be a surprise to anyone who knows Uelman’s work: his music has always been understated but unforgettable.  The nostalgia of each of the Diablo games are easily invoked just by listening to Uelman’s tracks.  From the first time your Warrior stepped into Tristram in original Diablo to the vicious battle your Assassin barely survived to defeat Baal in Diablo 2:  Lord of Destruction, Uelman’s works were there invoking the darkness of the unknown and the taste of victory.  The world of Diablo and the music of Uelman are intertwined and inseparable.

Possessing the same sensitive and immersive qualities as his works for Diablo, Matt Uelman’s music for Torchlight does not disappoint.  He developed his music  based on the various demos of the game he had access to and was therefore able to fully understand “the world” of Torchlight.  The results of these efforts are tracks that fit the flow, character, and integrity of the game.  Here’s an example of his excellent town theme for Torchlight:

(credit: )

Just… a perfect track.  His dark melodies are ponderous and bold and juxtaposed beautifully by his 12-string guitar’s haunting harmonics.  His grand dynamic swells and increasingly deep strings tell us of a tumultuous time in the history of the world of Torchlight.  Well done, as usual.

So you’ll have to imagine my excitement when I foundd out that Uelman would be brought back to score Torchlight 2!  I’ve been monitoring the Torchlight 2 website for some time as Runic Games has been posting “sneak peeks” of  their upcoming sequel to Torchlight in anticipation of E3.  To my delight, I discovered that one of these “sneak peeks” involves a comprehensive interview with Matt Uelman.  This article provides wonderful perspectives to a very underrated composer as well as insight into video game music creation/recording process.  Please check it out here.  It is a MUST READ for anyone who is a fan of the man and his work.

As a reward for reading this artcle, I’ll leave you with perhaps Matt Uelman’s most iconic track:

(credit: )

As one keen commenter on this YouTube video points out:  I stayed awhile and listened.  Hope you did too.


Interview Highlight: 1UP’s Jeremy Parish Interviews VRC6 Creator Hidenori Maezawa

I have to say, I think Jeremy Parish is one of the leading game music bloggers.  Every single time I have a question, I run a Google search to get started, and two hours later, I somehow end up on his blog on 1UP.com.

So I was JUST talking about the complications with the VRC6 to MMC5 transition of Akumajou Densetsu/Castlevania III:  Dracula’s Curse.  And it turns out, Jeremy Parish, in an interview with Konami composer Hidenori Maezawa, actually managed to find an answer to my questions.  Here’s an excerpt that I found especially interesting.  “1UP” is Jeremy Parish.  HM is Hidenori Maezawa:

1UP: Gradius II for Famicom was one of those games that never came to the U.S. because it had a special chip that improved the graphics and sound. Did you find it easier to work with those chips, like the VRC6?

HM: (in English) I made!

1UP: You made the VRC6?

HM: (begins drawing diagrams) These are the waves for the sound. With Famicom, there were three types of waves — square, triangle, and sawtooth — and you were able to use one for each of the three channels. But with the VRC6, you could add an additional three channels for a total of six notes, six channels.

I was actually the one who developed the chip. Of course, there were other technical people who put the parts together, but I was involved in its design. A chip is small, but the prototype is huge! I think the chip was first used in Akumajou Densetsu, which was Castlevania III in America.

1UP: Yeah, when it came to the U.S, Castlevania III didn’t have the same chip, so it didn’t have all the sound channels. Did you have to do the conversion on the music yourself?

HM: No, I didn’t work on the U.S. port, so I didn’t have to tone down the music for the NES myself. On the other hand, for Contra and Gradius I did have to scale down the music from the arcade — make it work on a low-tech machine. In fact, it was when I started to do this work, that’s when I really started to feel emotional about the work I was creating, when I started thinking, “OK, I have to do a really good job with this.”

1UP: That’s the interesting thing. Maybe it was the challenge, or maybe just the sound of the hardware, but something about those games really worked. Did you feel at the time that the games you were creating were something special?

HM: Here’s how I explained it to people back in the day. Say you have Tokyo Tower; when you say to people you’re going to create Tokyo Tower, you’d first think about what sort of materials you’d have to gather to build it. That’s something you can do with current technology. But back then, we were working on low-spec hardware, so we couldn’t properly express Tokyo Tower. What we did instead was — there’s a sort of art craft here in Japan that’s made of bamboo. You use the bamboo and you can make really detailed models, and they have their own distinctive flavor. So that’s how I always described my work: a tiny, detailed bamboo art craft version of Tokyo Tower. It had its own distinct flavor, and it was tangible — you could reach out and touch it more easily than the real Tokyo Tower, and it was the work of just one person. So in a way it’s more real than something you see on TV or on a movie screen. That’s probably why the work had its own unique warmth.

(The rest of the interview is fantastic – PLEASE go and read it – Part One and Part Two.  UPDATE:  And Part Three – didn’t realize there was a part three.)

This answers so many questions.  Wow.

  • It means that Maezawa DID NOT convert his own tracks from Akumajou Densetsu to MMC5.
  • Maezawa is the creator of the VRC6.
  • Here’s a documented example of a composer talking about “scaling down” his work for a “low-tech machine”.
  • His “Tokyo Tower” metaphor gives great insight into the mind of a composer working with limited resources, attempting to make something memorable.

Of course, more to come.  Hope this was informative.


Fidelity Concerns: Noriyuki Iwadare’s “Fighting Spirits”

I have been combing through interviews to find some good examples of video game composers talking about the issues they faced when either rearranging their music or porting their music to another console.  I found a great interview with Noriyuki Iwadare, the composer for the Lunar and Grandia series, speaking specifically on the matter.

Iwadare has been in the unique position over the years of being able to rearrange most of his music, as Lunar: The Silver Star has been recreated numerous times on various consoles.  The original was on Sega CD, then it was re-released as Lunar:  The Silver Star Story Complete for Sega Saturn/Sony Playstion/Windows PC, then re-re-released as Lunar Legend for Game Boy Advance, and finally, re-re-re-released just last year on Sony Playstation Portable as Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star. Iwadare had this to say:    [excerpt taken from Interview with Noriyuki Iwadare (Square Enix Music Online – January 2010) – By Chris, webmaster of Square Enix Music Online, tranlasted by Shota Nakama.]

Chris: For the PSP’s Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star, you re-arranged and re-recorded all the music from Lunar: The Silver Star. How did you remake this classic score for the new generation and how does the music compare with previous adaptations? What highlights should listeners expect from the vocal and instrumental themes?

Noriyuki Iwadare: First of all, Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star features the music from Lunar: Silver Star Story, not Lunar: The Silver Star. Even though they are kind of similar, they have different game scenarios and music.

Well, it is true that we re-arranged and re-recorded the music from such an old game from over 10 years ago. First I started considering how I was going to arrange the music. The original music was made for built-in sounds, so the task was to not change the impressions the pieces create, but to enrich their quality.

Then for the recording, I tried to record as many instruments on my own due to the lower budget limit. I bought and practiced the ocarina, recorded the guitar and trombone, and whatnot. I did my best to do whatever I could do to improve the quality of the music. For the North American version, we also re-arranged and re-recorded the music for the cutscenes, so please check that out.

(for full interview, check out : http://iwadare.cocoebiz.com/interviews/14.html )

Iwadare, as I read in other interviews, essentially recreated all the music from Lunar:  The Silver Star for Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete due to the fact that the game scenarios (as he says above), plot, and “general feelings” of the games were different.  I’ve also read there MAY have been copyright issues but I cannot find any confirmation on that.  He wrote nearly 100 tracks of new music for Lunar: SSSC, some of which were not included in the game and were pushed on to a bonus disc.  Let’s take a look at Iwadare working with Sega Saturn/Sony Playstation sounds (Fighting Spirits):

(credit: TaylorK1984)

So, Iwadare wrote this battle theme specifically for the remake over 10 years ago.  Interestingly, he released an “arrange album” right around the time of the Sega Saturn release (1996).  Here’s an actual rock band arrangement of the same piece, done by Iwadare himself:

(credit: TaylorK1984)

Wow.  So is this how he would have liked the theme to actually sound?  From what I’ve read, Iwadare was ALWAYS frustrated with limitations of gaming consoles so I would have to say yes.  Notice also, that since he wasn’t using a “loop” (commonly used in game music scores to make sure the theme can play indefinitely), he actually tacks on an interesting ending.  Definitely an upgrade.

Then… uh…. the game was remade for Game Boy Advance as Lunar Legend.  I think this speaks for itself (this was REALLY hard to find):

(credit: ECNLMusicOnline)

I don’t know if we should even talk about that.  Obviously he tried his best but when you’re dealing with hardware that is inferior to your original design, things get a little muddy.  Or a lot muddy.  I couldn’t find a version of this that loops but the 8 bar intro to the song is not included in the loop (you can BARELY hear that as it tries to loop).  I think that’s weird, considering it’s only literally 8 seconds of music and it’s already in the song once so it’s not like it’s new data or anything…  weird.

Finally, let’s look at his most current version of the work in Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star:

(credit: Alkahest)

Wow, so clearly Iwadare’s opinion has changed on the piece over the last 13 years.  It’s refreshingly orchestral (I think a lot of game music is headed in that direction).  I also think it’s funny to imagine Iwadare on trombone playing backgrounds.  The guitar is up an octave vs. the arranged album.  There’s a lot more reverb.  There’s also more intense and almost distractingly busy background figures.  I feel like Iwadare threw everything he had into it (with varying success).  Strangely, he did not choose to include parts of the arranged version (there’s a 30-40 second bridge).  I guess he really was just re-arranging the original SSSC version of it.   I wonder why he would do that, considering how much more the bridge adds to the whole piece.  It’s also especially strange he would leave it out considering how Iwadare frequently expresses his frustration with the limitations of the older consoles- both in sound quality and length of tracks.  It’s fascinating that in a scenario where he is given much more freedom, he doesn’t necessarily take those risks.  I’d love to ask him about that some day.

At any rate, I appreciate any of your comments.