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.