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Hip Tanaka on his start at Nintendo, the Metroid soundtrack, Earthbound's sampling issues

by rawmeatcowboy
09 August 2012
GN Version 4.0
A portion of a 1up interview with Hip Tanaka...

1UP: You started with Nintendo as an engineer. Can you talk a little about that, how you got into video games in general, but specifically Nintendo, and how you went from engineering to composition?

HT: When I first entered the company, I was in the arcade division. They were creating arcade games. I was creating sound effects for arcade games, so I was in charge of making things like the boom-boom-boom sounds in Donkey Kong, or Mario's walking sound and jumping sound. I created specific electricity circuits for those specific sounds. But then Nintendo started creating the Famicom, and the Famicom had an exclusive chip for hardware sound. From there and beyond, I created musical tracks, not just sound effects.

1UP: Metroid had a big impact on me because it was one of the first games I owned, but even so, I look at it compared to the games that came before it, and it seems very... It just seems much more atmospheric, and I think a lot of it had to do with the music. The kind of music that you created for that game was very different from the music I'd heard in other video games. I was just wondering if he could talk more about the thinking behind the music in that game, because it was so unconventional.

HT: Like I said, when I create soundtracks for games, I don't approach it as myself creating music for the game. I'm just a part of the development team. So to bring out the game's features, what sound or background music is able to bring out the atmosphere of the game? The theme that I had for Metroid when I was creating the soundtrack is that I wanted the people who played the game to feel like they'd accomplished something. I wanted them to feel rewarded for clearing the game. Because of that, I wanted people to feel the music and the atmosphere to be dark and gloomy, to give you a sense of feeling afraid and unsure about things. You're not confident. And then after you clear the game, you feel rewarded and happy that you cleared the game. So the soundtrack for the ending is the most happy song in the whole game. But I felt like starting the game off like that would make people feel a little down, so that's why I made the beginning music a heroic theme. That track, as well, doesn't have a melody to it. It's a heroic theme, but it doesn't have a distinct melody.

1UP: At the time sampling was something that was new to music in general, it was something that had only recently kind of entered the mainstream and people had become aware of it. So to see it in a video game, dated to 1995, to me that seems very progressive. Is that just a reflection of your interests in music in general?

HT: The sampling issue is a little sensitive, because... well, I don't know for sure, but it sounds like that is one of the reasons EarthBound is not able to come out in America. It's a topic we should probably avoid.

Full interview here