Monday 23 September 2013

Why Guile's Theme Goes With Everything: Part 3

Welcome back for another installment of The SFII Interview.  While this may be steering away from my real interests, I made the decision to finish translating the interview - nobody likes to see a job half done.

I'm rather pleased I chose to try and complete the whole thing.  It was an eyeopener for me, and I definitely something about game music production.  It sounds like Abe had a pretty tough time due to the limitations of what he had to work with, but it certainly didn't prevent him and his partner creating some brilliant and memorable music.

From a couple of other interviews I've read, it seems like the tribulations Abe and Tanaka had to face were happening across the industry due to the lack of support for MIDI production.  For another view on game music production for old Nintendo systems, have a look at this interview with Keiji Yamagishi.

In terms of the translation, I don't think be at all comfortable talking about music production on 20 year old hardware and software in English, so it was a challenge to try and write the parts of professionals.  I'm not convinced they sound like music producers talking about music production for video games, but I don't really know what that's supposed to sound like.

Once again, here's the original.  Feel free to suggest any improvements or translation tips! 

Round-table - second half
From FM to PCM.
Komio Over the course of the Street Fighter Series, is there anything you had particular trouble with?
Abe Well, our production environment wasn't good at all.
Komio In what way?
Abe To start with, we didn’t use MIDI.
Komio So how did you make the songs?
Abe We used a sequencer to get the song to a point that was exactly how we imagined.  Then we had to re-make it with a program we used at the time called a "score editor".  We used to convet the sound data into corresponding values and enter them into the editor and make the song that way.  After that we had to check how it sounded, but we weren't able listen to it with the software.
Komio You had to put it on the hardware?
Takano Yeah, kind of onto the hardware… we had to write the track to the ROM.
Komio What a headache.
Abe We took a great deal of care inputting everything into the score editor, but we had no idea how it would actually end up sounding.  After that we had to check how it sounded, but we weren't able listen to it with the software.
Komio Wasn't that expensive?!
Abe No, no, it would disappear.  When the new track was being written, it overwrote the ROM.  We could do it again and again.  It always gave off a lovely smell!
Takano (Laughs).  So… you made memos as to what to amend and where, and when you'd got a certain amount you did, like, a retake?  For example, "The snare's too strong", or, "The decay sounds weird".  Memos like that.  Then, did you fix them all at together and burn them again?
Abe No, we didn't wait until we had a few, we did them one by one because otherwise we'd forget.  For the most part we fixed any problems soon after we found them.
Komio I must be a pain when you can’t hear anything.
Takano Like you wouldn't believe.
Abe The most trying thing was when you play a track directly off the chip, you have to listen right from the start.  If there's a mistake with the very last sound, you still have to listen to the whole thing all the way to the end.
Takano If you're not paying attention, or you're thinking about something else, you have to start again…  The original SFII audio was FM, but for the arcade releases after that, it was changed to PCM.
Abe I'd always worked with FM, so when everything went to PCM, I was lost at sea, to be honest.  The sounds didn't play exactly right and the tune would waver.
Takano Really?  Well, it's surely the result extensive experimentation, countless inputs, amendments and voicing that made such a beautiful sound come out then!
Abe Thank you…  Honestly, it was just like that.  It's not like the resources we have today; the sounds wouldn't come out at all how we imagined.  To start with, everything was out of tune.  We couldn't get anything in harmony.
Komio That's pretty rough.
Abe Yeah, it really was a painstaking task.  At first we had absolutely no clue how to work with the PCM audio.
Takano But with SFII, Abe had set the groundwork for the transition to PCM audio on the SNES almost singlehandedly.
Komio Really?  
Abe Well…  For the SFII series, we started with FM, did the SNES version, and then we did the PCM audio for the arcade.
Takano Was that trickier than the SNES?
Abe Well, it was difficult; there were loads of peculiar niggles.  There was noise, the pitch wasn't sharp…  If you played Do-re-mi, just in a normal way, it wouldn't come out properly.  It was crazy.
Takano Was the pitch miscalculated, then?
Abe Probably.  It was a real pain in the backside.  I can't say for certain, but it's almost like there was some very fine tuning here and there from the very start.
Takano Right, so you had to tweak it to get things in tune.
Abe This hasn't anything to do with SFII, but there are cases of games that were using FM when they started development, but changed to PCM mid-way through.
Takano Whoa!  That's gotta be tough!  When we used FM, we input every sound, every pitch bend carefully.  When you changed to PCM did you have to redo it all again?
Abe We did everything again.
Takano Was the final release done entirely with PCM?
Abe Entirely PCM.
Takano When I joined the company, the CP System 2 had just barely been developed.  I only had a small chance to have a go on it.  At the time, my position involved using a emulator to do tuning and stuff.
Abe Yes, when Takano joined it was a rather good place to be for development.  Although the CP System 2 was a long time in development, and while at first we were burning ROMs left right and centre, at least during this time we were getting it to sound like MIDI.  Because of this, and from a personal point of view, I wanted to continue using CP System 2, but then our production 
environment really started to improve.  These days the hardware is changing so fast.  As soon you've finished something, and before it's even matured as a piece of  hardware, there's something new out already.  What I really would've liked was be to allowed to continue using it until I really got to grips with it, but, of course, things don’t quite work like that.
Abe I can't listen to those old songs now without getting embarrassed.  It's the same with anything; there are plenty of embarrassing things from the past.
Takano (Laughs)
Abe That's always the case; when you think you've really given it your all and completed something, and then you listen back later, it's like, "This is rubbish".  It always happens, even after all these years.  (Laughs).

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