Over Clocked ReMix Interview Part Two

Over Clocked ReMix Interview Part 2

Interview by Jamie Davies, July 2008

We conclude part one of our interview with djpretzel and Larry `Liontamer` Oji about their work on the upcoming XBLA and PSN game Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD.

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CA. Have there been any particular challenges in working with the XBLA and PSN?

DJP: Not really; we just sent Capcom WAVs, they did the encoding and implementation.  At one point it looked like size limit on XBLA might be a factor, but Microsoft is now wisely granting exceptions when they make sense.

CA. Who’ve been the key influences in your musical styles and workings?

DJP: My favourite band is Talking Heads; David Byrne has probably inspired me the most, by successfully working in a wide number of genres while always sounding distinct.  I think thats what I shoot for with what I do, specifically: trying to make a lot of different music, in different styles, that Im proud of, and that also sounds unique and has my own character to it.  OC ReMix encourages working in multiple genres partly because thats my personal goal as a composer/arranger, and partly because I feel everyone should be open-minded and challenge themselves.  Yoko Kanno is another composer who work spans an impressive number of styles, but always sounds unique.

CA. Has there been anything in this generation that’s really stood out for you in terms of both games and music?

LO: Well, in terms of recent original soundtracks within strong games, the Katamari Damacy series, Shadow of the Colossus, and Super Mario Galaxy are the best examples I can think of in the past few years. The Halo series, Cave Story, LocoRoco, Okami and Portal are also great. They all stand out in their own ways to fans.

DJP: What he said, pretty much.  Ill add BioShock and the God of War games onto that list as well.  I actually think Katamari Damacy is a little overrated compared to LocoRoco, which Im a huge fan of.  I was really digging what I heard from the Stranglehold score, too; it seems like that game didnt get enough credit.  You also have to throw a nod to Nintendo for re-popularizing elevator music, light jazz, and lounge with a lot of Wii titles and the system menus themselves.

CA. Video game music’s come a long way since the early 8-bit days with much grander and more elaborate production values. Most of the tracks on OC ReMix seem to be based around retro titles or have a retro-tinge to them. Do you think there’s a reason for that? Does it say anything about the music in today’s games?

LO. Daves had some great insight on that in previous interviews. The advent of better audio capabilities in games has allowed ambient, mood-setting soundtracks to flourish, but I wouldnt say modern soundtracks are necessarily inferior to classic chiptune work. Theyre just not based as much on hooks. As long as a soundtrack has melodic tracks though, it can be ReMixed. Mentioning stuff like Super Mario Galaxy and Katamari Damacy before, Im hoping the best of modern soundtracks are already forging our next generation of ReMixers.

DJP. Theres another answer, too: most modern game soundtracks already have high production values and will often feature several variations/arrangements themselves, making them less attractive material to arrangers, since a good deal of arrangement has already been done.  Its a bit more fun to take something basic a core idea and embellish it in a given direction, as opposed to taking something very elaborate and trying to reduce it to something that can be manipulated more readily.  It can certainly be done, as many mixes on OCR do prove, but it can definitely be trickier.  8-bit music is fantastic source material for arrangements because the relative simplicity is like starting with a blank slate heres this great melody, played by a fairly rudimentary synthesizer, without a bunch of bells and whistles that might bias an arranger towards a particular genre.  Its not that the building blocks are better, its that theyre clearer, easier to work with, which facilitates a lot of experimentation.  All of that is usually possible with modern game scores, too, its just a lot more work!

CA. This latest generation of systems has made downloadable content and titles a reality. PSN, XBLA, WiiWare and GameTap tout themselves as being launching platforms for smaller devs or indies – what do you think and how do you think that’s going to shape up in the future?

DJP: In general, I think this is a great trend that should really bring gameplay innovations that wouldnt get the type of mega-buck backing required for a physical release.  Its still sorta new, but were already seeing games that are more experimental, like flOw on PSN, than traditional console fare.  I think whats just as exciting is the concept of user-created content within games, like LittleBigPlanet, where the console market can tap in to some of the modding enthusiasm that PC gamers have enjoyed for years.  Its democratizing, in either case, and I think the game developers and composers of tomorrow can more easily break into the industry with this sort of middle ground in place.

CA. Although you’re no doubt some time away from being finished, do you have any ideas as to what you’re doing next after HD Remix?

LO: Actually, were basically done with our work on HD Remix; as far as Im aware, its the character artwork that remains to be completed. People have complained about delays, but we know a thing or two about long turnover times, because we receive tons of ReMix submissions to OCR and sometimes it takes a while to post the accepted material. Capcom could have half-assed it and easily went for the cash-in on a game like this: they didnt have to get OC ReMix to provide the new soundtrack, Backbone didnt have to re-balance the game mechanics, Udon didnt have to make sure the HD sprites actually lined up arcade perfect, etc. Capcom knew theyd suffer a hit from some vocal fans for any delays, but that kind of negative reaction will be moot once the game is ready to go and people can finally appreciate the hard work put into it.

DJP: As far as your question goes, we dont have any other commercial game soundtracks lined up at the moment; this is our first, but we definitely hope itll open some doors for us in this arena.

CA. Are there any games or genres that you have a burning desire to work on?

LO: I think once producers have the chance to check out the soundtrack for HD Remix, theyll see what a strong community of musicians we have. As cool as it would be to arrange other classic game soundtracks (and we definitely would love to), we shouldnt be pigeon-holed as just those guys who can remix. Any fan of OC ReMix knows that our artists arent just good at arranging existing works, theyre equally creative with their original material as well. We have a deep roster of contributors who can collectively work in virtually any style of music.

DJP: Because of the diversity of styles that artists at OCR can work in, itd be amazing to work on a game dynamic enough to call for several different genres, if only to take full advantage of the flexibility & talent of the community; it seems offhand like platformers and adventure/RPG genres have the best odds of making that work, but really were just looking to follow HD Remix up with something different, but equally compelling.  That being said, if Sega ever did a Space Harrier remake or sequel, I personally would be all over that, as its one of my favourites.

CA. And what’s next for OC ReMix?

DJP: Weve got big plans for 2008 in the short term we should be releasing Delta-Q-Delta, an album of arrangements from Doom II, which is dark, brooding and industrial and should please fans of our first Doom project,
The Dark Side of Phobos
; weve also started doing interviews with game composers, which are really insightful and revealing.  Beyond that, there should be other album releases as well, but were also looking to make some key improvements to the overall website that should be very cool.  Keep your eyes (and ears) open!

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A big thanks to djpretzel and Larry (Liontamer) Oji for answering our questions.