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Interview: The One-Two Punch of Street Fighter IV's Audio

Gamasutra talks to the sound director and composer for Capcom's fighting game rebirth Street Fighter IV about classic soundtracks, character-themed audio, and... bagpipes in a fighting game?

April 9, 2009

13 Min Read

Author: by Jeriaska

[In this audio interview, Gamasutra talks to the sound director and composer for Capcom's fighting game rebirth Street Fighter IV about classic soundtracks, character-themed audio, and... bagpipes in a fighting game?] Often when more than one sound creator participates on a given game soundtrack, the designers retreat to their separate corners to focus on their individual approaches to the audio. For the soundtrack to Street Fighter IV, however, sound director Masayuki Endou and composer Hideyuki Fukasawa were hardly isolated in their methods. Their involvement in developing the way the fighting game sounds might be described as the endeavor of a tag team. In this informal conversation with the sound creators, Endou and Fukasawa share details on their collaborative process, which can be traced back to several of Capcom's popular action series. The designers reflect on the challenges of finding regional instruments to match the international setpieces of the Street Fighter combatants, the struggle to provide a contemporary feel to melodies that fans have known by rote for years, and the effort to choreograph songs and sound effects to increase the drama of the game's fights, medleys and animated cutscenes. Composer Hideyuki Fukasawa & Sound Director Masayuki Endou Endou-san, Fukasawa-san, thank you for joining us for this discussion of the sounds of Street Fighter IV. Can you describe your roles on the production of the game title? Masayuki Endou: I was in charge of sound direction and sound design. Hideyuki Fukasawa: My job was composing songs, arranging and programming audio. When was it that you first began work on Street Fighter IV? ME: The project itself got going three or four years ago, while sound production started just about two years ago. Does that sound right? HF: I remember just two years back the producer, [Yoshinori] Ono, got things rolling on the main production. At that time, what was determined as the central concept behind this new installment of the long-running franchise? ME: This was going to be a new beginning, but not in terms of a remake. The concept was to reinterpret the series for this current generation of game hardware. We felt the realism of Resident Evil 5's sound design would not necessarily work for Street Fighter. Rather, we were looking for a balance between the hyper-realism of foley art and taking liberties with combat effects that were further from reality. These can have a degree of dramatic force, especially when they are familiar from previous installments. We were looking for a mix of sounds that were both nostalgic and fresh. HF: For my part, I started off by bringing to this game what I personally wanted to hear. In arranging previous themes, my mission was to make the new versions reflect a very modern style, while bringing out new sources of drama in the story of each character and their locales. Past Collaborations and Preparation What sorts of objectives were driving your work on the Street Fighter IV soundtrack? ME: For both the music tracks and sound effects, we thought a lot about what would have an emotional impact. Choreography was very important. While we could rest assured that Fukasawa-san's songs sounded great, we knew the effect would be compromised if the timing were off. HF: Endou-san's direction was essential. I can get so wrapped up in my own musical tastes that I lose sight of what the player expects from the soundtrack. That was the advantage of working with an insightful director. In all honesty, my goal in joining this project was to avoid getting beaten up by fans for having mangled their favorite themes. (laughs) Essentially, what I needed to do for the soundtrack to be a success became clear early on. I wanted to establish a new paradigm for the music style that had legs and would last throughout the coming decade. On which projects have you collaborated together previously? ME: Fukasawa-san and I just happen to wind up on the same projects, like Chaos Legion, Onimusha, and Monster Hunter Frontier. From the mail we receive, some fans seem to think it was planned that way. Regardless, we seem to work well together as a team. On this project, the game was for new gen hardware, so much of the audio was created with surround sound in mind. While I offered some direction, Fukasawa-san composed the individual tracks, which I then mixed to be optimized for 5.1-channel sound systems. His sessions were prepared with the mix in mind, so there was useful continuity between our roles. HF: At times it feels like Endou-san and I shared the same childhood memories. At one point we discovered that we both happened to have the same obscure 12-inch vinyl records in our collections. These common interests help us communicate, which is of great value in working together on projects. What kind of research went into giving the game an international musical palette? HF: I listened to a lot of folk songs and popular music from Russia for that one theme. While the beat has a house and techno feel to it, Russian folk songs helped form the melody. Another important part of the background research involved immersing myself in the music of Street Fighter. My iPod was packed with fighting game tracks, and they brought to my attention the strong melody lines and well crafted arrangements that have characterized these games. Personal Perspectives on the Characters What characteristics did you feel were important to lend the stage music of the handful of characters that are new to Street Fighter IV? ME: A guideline that we kept in mind was to let each song act symbolically. That might not be expressed through the main melody. It could be as simple as a motif within the song that operates as a thematic hook, giving it a symbolic power. In terms of crafting songs that left a strong impression on the player, we felt that Street Fighter IV should share this characteristic as its common bond with Street Fighter II. For instance, C. Viper brings to mind a sense of speed. Abel is complemented by a sorrowful melody with strength of force. El Fuerte's theme is as catchy as the fighter is hot-blooded. Rufus rides a motorcycle, so his song exudes that freewheeling spirit. Seth is plagued by despair and chaos. Gouken shares similar and opposing motifs with Gouki. Each of these themes reflect the personality of the characters. HF: I agree, you get a sense of C. Viper's fresh arrival to the Street Fighter series through the swift pace of her musical theme. Her backstory also proved pivotal in informing the song. Because she's carrying this dilemma of being both a mother and a high ranking member of a top secret organization, the drama behind her situation provided plenty of ingredients for the music track. In the case of C. Viper, as with the other character themes, it was never my conscious intention for them to be reminiscent of what has come before in the world of Street Fighter. By contrast, I was aiming at discovering atmospheres outside the bounds of familiar territory. Particularly, El Fuerte's song means something to me because it feels like such a departure. Street Fighter IV Original Soundtrack Tracklist Are there ways in which the theme music intentionally reflects particular dramatic situations? ME: As sound director, for me everything hinged on the drama of the characters' confrontations in the ring. The vocal parts foregrounded in the rivalry scenes are actually interwoven with the musical themes. For instance, when playing as Sagat versus his rival, the intensity of the song is timed to rise as Ryu begins to speak. I'm still amazed by the effectiveness of this scene and the dramatic atmosphere of the Gouki vs. Ryu bout. Were there any particular technical issues that proved challenging, such as making certain that sound effects did not clash with the musical themes? Endou: With fighting games, too much concern for balance can stymie the project. In the case of Street Fighter IV, just when a character will speak or where a sound effect will take place is unpredictable. Ensuring the music was solid regardless was a challenge, but I felt that Fukasawa-san was up to the task. During the mixing stage, I applied equalization to adjust the frequency range of the voice tracks and sound effects so that they would not obscure the music. Volume controls were also applied so that the right elements of the soundtrack would be elevated depending on the situation. For the cutscenes, Fukasawa-san and I did discuss which sounds to emphasize. We left audio design decisions up to each other and never ran into conflicts. HF: The sound effects were not on my mind while composing the stage themes. Where I was more considerate of the interplay between music and effects was during the animated cutscenes. Luckily these audio requirements never seemed like constraints. Just the opposite, it was an opportunity to make use of sound effects to leverage the dramatic impact of the music. There are a number of unique choices to the instrumentation, such as the electronically distorted vocals on the Tokyo overpass stage, or the bagpipes heard in the distillery. How did you ensure that these unusual choices served the purpose of the compositions? HF: The cultural backgrounds of the various stages helped to guide the selection of musical instruments. "Historic Distillery" takes place in Scottland, so bagpipes naturally came to mind. You might think, bagpipes in a fighting game? However, modifying the traditional way that the instrument is played, it seemed to bring just the right touch to the stage theme. This is just one example of instrument choices that seemed risky at first, but proved effective. Endou-san had no shortage of helpful advice regarding which rhythm fit which groove, and what kind of instruments would help to match a given melody. We somehow found the nerve to carry these experiments through. How did you go about differentiating the alternate tracks for the Brazil, China and Vietnam stages so that the same melody took on different qualities? HF: These three themes received arrangements for the console game that were not present in the arcade. These were going to be songs that players were familiar with, so for the home console I was looking for arrangement techniques that would add a further dimension. The Brazil stage is set in a jungle, so regional music with lots of percussion was called for. "Pitch-black Jungle Stage" plunges the listener into the jungle at night. The sense of danger is more ominous because the sun is down, so in comparison with "Inland Jungle Stage," the feeling is more chaotic, and the tone of every instrument resonates with greater aggressivity. Fukasawa-san, you have an interest in working in electronic media, both in music and visual design. Can you tell us a little about how your multi-media creativity impacted the Street Fighter IV project? HF: I like to acquaint myself with works that incorporate graphics and sound. I've heard a certain well known film director contends that as much as 50% of a viewer's experience of a film is the result of the soundtrack. While it might sound like an exaggeration, my personal inclination is to believe it's the truth. Music lends images certain overtones. I find it really exciting that a personal interpretation of visual content can be embodied by the music track. In composing for Street Fighter IV, the stage layouts and the character designs were a continuous part of the dialog. Of course, I would be very happy if listeners of the soundtrack can pick up on the excitement of working on this game. History of the Series There is a twenty year history to the Street Fighter games. Was a sense of the tradition underlying the series a primary motivation in incorporating melodies from previous titles? ME: Certainly, we felt reminding players of the tradition of the series would be easy to accomplish by bringing back the songs of Street Fighter II. The difficult task was to arrange them so that they were seamlessly integrated into the world of Street Fighter IV. Fukasawa-san excelled at this. HF: The melodies of Street Fighter II leave such a strong impression that going into the project I thought you could do no wrong. In reality, it was this strength that made them tough to arrange. I would find myself hesitating when modifying the harmonies or bass lines because the source material was so well refined. Had you listened to any of the many arranged albums? A few that come to mind are the Alph Lyla album with Yuji Toriyama, Street Fighter Tribute supervised by Shinji Hosoe, and the more recently released HD Remix arrangements by OverClocked ReMix. ME: We listened to the arrangements and did our research. All the albums you mentioned are unique in their style, thanks to the long history of the series. None would have been embarked upon were there not strong feelings about the game. There is perhaps no greater affirmation of the lasting power of a game's music. HF: I listened to the previous arrangements, too. Honestly, my first thought was that in the face of this towering stack of cool remixes, I didn't stand a chance. How specifically did you go about arranging the songs from Street Fighter II? HF: Well, I actually had a secret weapon. Endou-san possessed a standard MIDI file of the original tracks. When he sent it to me, I was like, "This is going to be a snap!" Little did I know, I would end up performing all the tracks over again on a MIDI keyboard. Just relying on the computer to do the work for me was not enough for the job. I had to train these songs into my muscle memory and start from there. What were your intentions behind creating a medley for the staff roll theme? ME: We had a genuine reason for this. Compared with an RPG, the time it takes to complete a fighting game is relatively short. When you beat the game, the next thing on your mind is, "Okay, which character do I play as next?" By listening to each of the theme songs of the characters consecutively, players would get a sense of their personalities and be like, "Oh, that's Guile's theme? I'm going to play as Guile this time!" Also, by bringing together old and new themes, we hoped to bring back old and new memories of Street Fighter. In conclusion, what are some of your favorite details of the audio design that those who play the game can listen for? ME: I think it comes down to the spectacle of the confrontation. The rivalries that have been simmering since long ago are the dramatic backdrop of Street Fighter IV. The challenge in bringing these confrontations to life in terms of the audio entailed rendering the familiar 2D world in 5.1-channel surround sound. The drama is there in the sound of the super combo finishes and ultra combo finishes, which can only be truly experienced in a surround sound environment. HF: I was very particular about using instruments that are appropriate to the region. The use of certain samples that came from my digital audio workstation were also a source of pride, in that I cared about where the samples were from. The drum track for Rufus's theme, for instance, is by an American drummer using an American brand drum set. Finally, the sadness conveyed by Viper's theme means a lot to me. I hope that you enjoy these touches and have the chance to hear our future projects. [Interview conducted by Jeriaska. Translation by Ryojiro Sato. This article is available in Japanese on Game Design Current and in Russian on Game-OST. Images courtesy of Capcom and Suleputer. Street Fighter IV Original Soundtrack can be imported from Amazon.co.jp.]

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