14 min read

Interview: Nakamura, Yokota On The Origins Of Lumines Supernova

In this audio interview, Jeriaska talks to the co-creators of Lumines' music and audio-visual design about their work on the beautifully crafted puzzle game update for PSN.
[In this audio interview, Jeriaska talks to the co-creators of Lumines' music and audio-visual design about their work on the beautifully crafted puzzle game update for PSN.] This year, the debut of Lumines Supernova for the PlayStation 3's Playstation Network coincided with the tenth anniversary of Brainstorm Co., Ltd, the sound design company behind the Lumines Remixes albums. Three soundtrack albums have been published in Japan, composed of audio and sound effects from familiar Lumines skins by series composers and guest musicians including h ueda of Every Extend Extra and Keiichi Sugiyama of RezLumines Remixes album featured songs by Brainstorm founder Takayuki Nakamura, the primary composer and publisher of the Remixes CD series. His contributions to the album were joined by the songs of Katsumi Yokota, the protean illustrator and musician who served as director of Lumines Supernova. In this in-depth discussion with Nakamura and Yokota, the Lumines designers offer their perspectives on the most recent installment of the puzzle game franchise and reflect on the origins of Lumines, from the making of Yokota's influential game prototype and the founding of the Brainstorm music studio to the release of Supernova for PSN. Nakamura-san, thank you for joining us for this discussion on the origins of the Lumines series. Could you begin by telling us about how you have gone about designing audio for each installment of the puzzle game series to complement the visual design of the skins? Takayuki Nakamura, Lumines music composer: For the production of the original Lumines, the music tracks and skins were designed simultaneously. Yokota-san and I would pass ideas back and forth, each of us making the necessary adjustments on our own sides. At that time, audio had to be completed before finalizing the skin. However, for the Versus Mode, Yokota-san had a very specific idea in mind. The audio tracks on "The SPY loves me" and "Japanese Form" were largely influenced by the specific overall design that he had envisioned. Beginning with Lumines Live! and Lumines II, we tried a different approach. The skin design took precedence, so as to provide more concrete suggestions for the audio. This made greater variation possible for the music tracks. The sophistication of the skin design for "HIKARU frame work" in particular made a deep impression on the soundtrack. As for the music of the Rockin' Holiday Pack, all the skins had been specified in detail by the time I joined the project. It turned out to be a considerable challenge to find the right sound to match the last two skins I was responsible for. One of them was a beach theme, with Santa Claus relaxing in the Southern Hemisphere. It became "Papa!," which mixes a reggae beat with a yuletide styled melody. After that, "Discoveries" was intended to be a festive New Years celebration, though there were not any concept illustrations available to inform this idea at the time. The Classic Pack has recently been released for the Playstation Network, including skins from the original Lumines. Do you feel that these tracks have taken on a different quality now that they are running on the Playstation 3 hardware? TN: I wouldn't say I'm particularly nostalgic about this selection. However, I remastered the tracks for the Playstation 3, and I think they sound a little different from their original versions on the PSP, Xbox and PC. The sound is a lot clearer and has greater range. The tracks are fully intended to be heard on a 5.1-channel sound system. Is it too early for word on a Lumines Supernova remix album? TN: Unfortunately, it is. I would like to publish an album, especially if there is demand from listeners. Can you tell us what qualities you feel stand out about the music you have written for Lumines Supernova? TN: For Supernova, again it was the case that the skins were designed prior to the audio. There were already specific ideas in place for "UFO," "sleepy weather report" and "DQ0.8." This made it enjoyable to construct tracks that enhanced those design concepts. The skins for "Take me to the sky," "Catch the beat," "colors," and "JumporBounce" were rather abstract, which left it up to me to determine their sound. I was concentrating on my contributions to Supernova between May and September of last year, and having had that much time for the project gave me the liberty to experiment with new sound materials, more female vocal samples, along with samples of my own voice, which I think brought something new to the sound design. [Lumines Remixes samples, courtesy of Brainstorm] Yokota-san, you yourself are responsible for writing a number of songs for the original Lumines. Do you have a background in music composition? Katsumi Yokota, director of Lumines Supernova: Primarily, I am a graphic designer and illustrator. When it comes to music composition, I'm truly an amateur. That is, while I was in school it was a hobby of mine to play the guitar and bass. For the purpose of making the Lumines prototype, I bought some PC software and forged ahead, piecing together loops of electronic music. Previously, while working on the Sega game Rez, where I was working as the art director, I had picked up some ideas about using sound effects successfully. Clearly background music is very important, but for the prototype my focus was on the sound effects and the music was constructed primarily to supplement them. Which of the songs that you wrote stand out to you? KY: When I went about creating the original prototype for the game, I wrote songs that included conventions of the puzzle genre, built on multiple audio tracks and ambient sound effects. "Square Dance" was the first song I wrote, so it holds a special place in my memory. It all started from there. As the director of Lumines Supernova, what were you interested in accomplishing with the new game? KY: As a LuminesHow much concern do you have personally in the reception of Lumines in territories outside of Japan? KY: It's of major importance. The number of people who play the game in other regions far surpasses the domestic market. From the beginning of the series we have been careful not to limit our focus to Japan, and in particular have responded to feedback in North America and Europe, frequently checking website forums for what people are saying. What software did you use to build the original Lumines prototype, and how did the game diverge from this model as it has expanded onto multiple platforms? KY: The software I was using included Fruity Loops and Cubase. The graphics were primarily done in Adobe Photoshop. Translating the demo onto game hardware turned out to be a straightforward operation because the prototype had been solidly built. As a consequence of thinking about how to package this game design, Challenge Mode was created as a standard form of continuous play. Carrying over the same rules, Time Attack, Puzzle Mode, Mission Mode and Dig Down Mode later came about. While creating this prototype, I was experimenting with constructing a rhythm beat by beat in time with the movement of the "timeline" bar sweeping left to right at the top of the screen. It seemed to me that a game could be paced by the unbroken flow of this timeline. I approached several game designers that I had worked with previously with the idea, namely programmer Kodera-san and director Hattori-san, and the rest is history. This prototype had been perfectly timed with the launch of the PSP hardware, so a lot of what we discussed was how to find visual designs that matched the specifications of the portable console. How far back does your relationship with Nakamura-san go and what did you feel he could bring to the music of Lumines? KY: We first met after the Lumines prototype had been completed. I had been looking for someone who could write music to match the specifications of the Lumines game. Hattori-san had previously worked for Sega and introduced me to Nakamura-san. In terms of what Nakamura-san brought to the table, he was capable of constructing a rich variety of songs built on a deep understanding of the game design. Due to the constraints of the sound system, at first I thought we would be limited to dance and techno music. I had some misgivings about the project because of the lack of musical variation, but he put my fears to rest by demonstrating solutions. [Lumines Remixes Winter samples, courtesy of Brainstorm] How specifically has music for the game gone in different directions from what you had originally intended when starting out? KY: At the very beginning of the Lumines series, I was a bit hung up on the interactive properties of the game. For instance, the background music simply would not progress unless at least a single block was eliminated by the player for every sweep of the timeline. It was not an ideal design, neither for the sound designer nor for the audio-minded player, as it interfered with the compositions. We decided to modify this after Lumines Live! I believe that since the change, each song has become more worth listening to. The requirements of an interactive experience and the aims of a creator can at times run counter to one another. You could argue effectively for placing emphasis on either one, but I think it requires the skills and planning of a director to successfully tie those purposes together. What were your impression of Lumines Remixes when the album was published by Brainstorm? KY: It was really gratifying to hear these songs given such a high quality treatment. To hear the sound effects effectively integrated into the design of each track was an interesting way to go about creating a Lumines soundtrack. What role do you see the albums playing in broadening recognition of the franchise? KY: Because the remix albums are released on Nakamura-san's label, publicizing them takes place outside of Q Entertainment. While the music is deeply associated with the game, there is something to be said for its ability to stand on its own as a discrete object. A distinct quality of the Lumines games is its interactive audio. By contrast, the Lumines Remixes albums present an artist's rendering of the audio elements into a distinct design, making it a different kind of musical experience altogether. Both deserve a listen. Music is a feature of Lumines that I treasure, because the possibilities are so expansive. Nakamura-san, you have worked as a sound designer and composer for various well known Sega arcade series. How did it come about that you began working for the company, and what other memorable game projects have you been involved in on the way to founding your own recording studio ten years ago? TN: My work at Sega began in 1989 as part-time employment, and I formally joined the company the following year as a sound designer. I was enrolled in the sound team for the arcade game division, which was overseen by Yu Suzuki. By the time I left Sega in 1996, I had worked on a number of soundtracks for arcade game titles, including OutRunners, F1 Exhaust Note, Virtua Fighter and Virtua Fighter 2. When the Sega Saturn was released, I was involved in porting Virtua Fighter to the console. Members of the Virtua Fighter staff started a company called Dream Factory after I left Sega, which was affiliated with Squaresoft. I was invited to create the soundtracks for Tobal 2 and Ehrgeiz. Brainstorm, my own company, was formed in 1999. [L.II remixes samples, courtesy of Brainstorm] What were some of the defining features of the Lumines game concept that interested you in being involved in the original title's development? TN: I think the sound system is the most interesting aspect of Lumines. The standard for music in games that are made today is that a certain rhythm is determined for the player. On a fundamental level, playing Lumines is a sensation like playing a musical instrument. I think that shifts the focus of the entire experience. When I heard about this idea from Yokota-san, who was working as a graphic designer, I was intrigued. At the time when he showed me the prototype, it was close to how it appears today, up to and including the presence of his song "My Generation." The concept of having a player's activities synchronized with the music appealed to me as well. Even now Yokota-san and I still have discussions on this subject, asking "What other methods can we explore to write music that is in synch with the game system?" How many of the songs from Lumines II wound up on your album L.II remixes? TN: From among 40 pieces found in Lumines II, I chose only eleven of my favorites for the album. There was also a single track, "Inheritance," included from Lumines Live! for the XBox Live Arcade. It might have been preferable to see more tracks included in the album, but there was only so much time free for the project. Would you ever consider remixing the additional skins for a new Lumines Remixes album? TN: If there were requests from listeners and I could find the time for it, I would be interested in creating a remix album for the remaining tracks. Do you have a favorite song? TN: It's a tough call, but one that stands out is "Big Elpaso." Songs that are not written in a 4/4 time signature conflict with the technical specifications of the Lumines game design, but this song finds a way around the restriction. The song has an irregular meter, alternating between 5/4 and 3/4 time signatures. For every two bars, the meter averages out to 4/4, which works out just right for the game. It is a song that I really appreciate for this reason. Can you explain why it is necessary for the music to be in the 4/4 time signature? TN: You will notice that while playing Lumines, the playing field pictured on the screen is divided into 16 sections. A bar is constantly sweeping across the top of the screen from left to right. The movement of the timeline matches the tempo of the music track and is in synch with the beat, moving to the rhythm of eighth notes. A total of sixteen eighth notes corresponds to two bars in the 4/4 time signature. Those are the rules. As I mentioned, "Big El Paso" circumvents the rules by alternating time signatures. In general, it is very difficult to write songs for the game in alternate tempos. Brainstorm has recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. Has the music studio developed along the lines that you had envisioned for the company when it was founded? TN: I would say it has, though it was not as though I had all that specific an image in mind of what I wanted the studio to become. To build my own studio necessitated immersing myself in an optimal setting for sound construction on a daily basis, so it was a process of bringing my surroundings in line with that imagined environment. For me, having persisted in the industry this long is a source of pride, and the work I have done on Luminesand Meteos has been a tremendous source of happiness. [Interview conducted by Jeriaska and translated by Kaoru Bertrand. This article is available in Japanese on Game Design Current. Images courtesy of Q Entertainment. The Lumines Remixes albums can be imported from]

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