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GDC: Grasshopper Composer Takada's Musical Mission

Masafumi Takada introduced himself to his GDC audience as “sound designer, composer, and fire prevention supervisor” for Grasshopper Manufacture (Killer7, No More Heroes) and discussed the ways in which he translates game graphics, desi
Masafumi Takada, sound designer for Grasshopper Manufacture introduced himself as “sound designer, composer, and fire prevention supervisor at Grasshopper.” His hour-long talk discussed the ways in which he translates game graphics, design ideas, and even game creators into music. “My theme is always translation,” he began, then fleshing out the concept of translation through arrangement of existing tracks. When doing the Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles, he had to think about the fans, he said. “I didn’t want to disappoint them. This is a rails shooting game, so it had a different tempo from Resident Evil.” Upon actually seeing the game he realized a faster tempo wouldn’t be a proper translation. So he added more rhythm instruments, using the original song’s special phrases as musical elements, increased the musical scale of the track, and proactive instruments like electric guitars. As another example, he discussed God Hand. The director was Shinji Mikami, and “He told me it was a pretty hardcore game, so I wanted to use music to relax it a little bit,” said Takada. “I looked at the game, talked to him on the phone, and decided I might create the music based on the images I saw.” Since creating relaxing music was an unusual approach, it was hard for him to get the ok for the first music pieces he wrote. Also Mikami was in Osaka, while Takada was in Tokyo. “Maybe it was because we had distance between us,” he said, “but I couldn’t get it right.” Mikami then asked Takada to come to Osaka. “At Grasshopper I usually write with the developers in the same office. I decided to take Jun Fukuda and go to Osaka so I could breathe the same air as them. I also had a secret mission to eat good food there.” After discussing the project with various staff members, Takada thought about what kind of music Mikami would be if he were actually a piece of music. “He’s very funny, and always has lots of topics to talk about. I used him as a filter for the music,” said Takada. “When I went to Osaka, I was able to work very quickly.” In God Hand, he repeated phrases and themes in order to keep the game consistent. For example, there was a boss that would come back as a devil – so Takada reprised the same track themes when he was back as a devil. Music memory is similar to smell memory, says Takada. When you smell something, you might remember certain things. And when you hear a theme in music, you may remember something you experienced before. “But current generations systems don’t have any smell capability,” he said, “so I figured I’d use music.” For this reason he tied a relationship between that boss and that music, and then revisited it when he returns. With Killer 7 he attempted to translate the visuals into music. There were lots of different environments, and it was hard to figure out what kind of music to produce, he said. “If it was good, I kept it. If not, I had to start over. It took quite a while, and was a bit frustrating,” admitted Takada. “Eventually I decided to watch the screen and translate what I saw on the screen into music. I had to base it on my instinct – and I was afraid that this result might not yield consistent results.” So for a common thread, he used consistent sound effects, and this was created in the same way as the melody. He wanted to use the music to cap each climax of the scenes that game director Goichi Suda wrote. “We all work in the same building, and here we have a good relationship where the sound design can influence the production group,” he said. Lastly, Takada spoke about No More Heroes. “This is our next original game, long after Killer7. My first task was to create movie trailer music for E3…the schedule was very tight, and I think I only had one day. I was watching the movie and thinking about what to do. I was playing the piano and a certain theme came to me. I was just letting my fingers play, and this music came to me, which you hear in the E3 movie. I decided to use it as the main phrase.” In this game there are minor battles, then boss battles. Takada decided to put that minor phrase in the minor battles for consistency, and then made the boss music based on the bosses themselves. Lastly Takada mentioned that he’s putting together a remix album of No More Heroes’ music. “For this we’re using a number of musicians who don’t necessarily fit into a given genre, so it’s like another retranslation,” he said. During the audience Q&A, Smash Brothers director Masahiro Sakurai came up to the mic, saying: “When I asked you to work on Smash Brothers for me, almost forty people were involved in that, but you really surprise me. You have so many genres, I’m just curious how you do that?” Takada responded: “If I make one type of music in one genre, then I’m happy with it. When I was a kid, I made rock style music, and got happy with it, so I wanted to make something new. Then I listened to new music, and wanted to copy it!” Sakurai asked a followup: “Do you have a favorite and least favorite genre?” Takada’s response: “When I went to music school I liked jazz, and wanted to learn jazz. I graduated, but now when they ask me to make jazz music, I have to use my brain, not my natural instinct.” To end up, Takada offered this quote: “I love game music. For me this is really important in my life. I can even say it’s my mission in life.“

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