Interview with Akira Yamaoka (GamesRadar)

Date published: 2008.04.23
Source: GamesRadar

Akira Yamaoka is a busy man. Konami's had him hard at work providing dozens of moody, ethereal tunes for the Silent Hill series as well as head-thumping remixes for Dance Dance Revolution. And on top of all these immense audio responsibilities, he's also turned out an original album and taken an even more hands-on approach with the latest Silent Hill, ensuring that it doesn't stray too far from what made the franchise so popular.

Despite this near-constant work stream, Yamaoka-san was still able to answer a series of email questions we fired off last week.

GamesRadar: Silent Hill: Homecoming is a game of changes, from gameplay to development to player interface. Did you consider it a chance to make changes to the music style as well?

Akira Yamaoka: For the music style, because it's a Silent Hill title, I focused on creating music/taste that won't disappoint the Silent Hill fans. In order to take advantage of the spec of the next gen machine, I utilized 5.1ch surround technology and such for the first time in the series. Creating the title with the members from outside Japan was a challenge and also a very good experience.

GR: Do you know the rough size of SHH's soundtrack? We’ve heard there are around 30 tracks but will they all make it into the game?

Yamaoka: I haven't got the final size of the soundtrack yet, but I believe there are around 30 tracks. Also, there are many other songs that I arranged. If those songs are included, there will be a lot of tracks.

GR: You've had a larger role in the creation of SHH than the past few projects - what are your thoughts on this Western company telling a Western horror story as told by Japanese developers?

Yamaoka: Well, we literally traveled across the ocean and created this title. I don't think there are many other games that were created like this. Because the Western team is telling the Silent Hill story, this title will be a very special title for the series.

All the members in the team truly love Silent Hill. I wasn't concerned at all that they might just use tricks and make some Silent Hill title. I wasn't concerned about the style, either. Only concern I had was if my English would be good enough to communicate with them. :)

GR: Have any recent soundtracks, be they game or film, affected your SHV compositions?

Yamaoka: Recently, I've got a lot of opportunities to talk with the game creators in other companies. We just chat or talk about our work and many other things. When I talk with them, I can look at things in different perspectives, so the opportunities have somewhat affected my writing. I think not the soundtracks themselves, but the creators who make the soundtracks affect my writing.

I feel that such opportunities broaden my outlook and I can enjoy writing more.

GR: Any talk of including a soundtrack CD with the game as with Silent Hill 3?

Yamaoka: No plans yet, but I'd love to consider that.

GR: We've read you recorded over 200 footsteps for Silent Hill 2 alone. Now that you're working with much more powerful hardware, do you feel pressure to deliver an even wider set of sound effects?

Yamaoka: I wasn't worried about that. We had the strongest sound programmer and creator for this title and we were able to make each effect more effective without storing actual data in memory.

By using the know-how, we can create not just 200, but infinite number of sounds. I hope the players will enjoy the effects, too.

GR: That same source, IMDB, notes you completed the beautiful "Theme of Laura" in just three days. Was this an atypical amount of time for such a robust piece of music or do you generally work that quickly?

Yamaoka: Actually it was a special case. :) I created one of the Silent Hill 1 songs that starts with a mandolin in 3 hours. For me, I think that I lose energy and punch if I spend a long time to create songs. I think it's better for not only musical works but other products to just simply write or express what we want to say rather than taking a long time and create very carefully. The players often love the different parts or elements from what the creators put special focus on. So I don't think spending time and making things carefully is always a good thing.

GR: We were quite happy to hear your music in the Silent Hill movie, but what are your thoughts? Were they implemented well, or were there songs not used that you feel would have been more fitting?

Yamaoka: I was so happy, too. The director, Mr. Christophe Gans, always asked for my opinions. He always asked for my suggestions for the music, too.

There were many songs that we wanted to use, but we could not use because they just did not fit the scenes or timing. But I think the songs were implemented well.

GR: If we had to choose a favorite track from the series, we're torn between "Theme of Laura" and "Sickness Unto Foolish Death." Do you have a strong preference for any particular track?

Yamaoka: I agree with you 100%. I love both of the songs. I also love the first one, "Silent Hill." I have a special place in my heart for the first one.

GR: You're most known for Silent Hill, but you've produced music for many games over the years - Sparkster and DDR, for example. Has your personal process for generating new music changed in that time?

Yamaoka: My personal process for generating new music hasn't changed at all. I always try to keep myself at both ends. Normally, the creators have their own styles and create things with the styles. But I am a creator and also a producer. I create dark, stoic sounds like the Silent Hill music, but I also make more major, popular pop sounds. I want to have the both sides in me. Creating such totally different sounds is my personality and uniqueness.

GR: Is it hard to bounce from the moody, gritty Silent Hill world to environments like DDR and beatmania? Is it like a whole other state of mind for those projects?

Yamaoka: Not the same state of mind. When I work on Silent Hill, I keep myself somewhat calm. If I get hyper, it will be difficult to create the stoic sounds.

If I continue to be in the dark mood like Silent Hill, I might get depressed, but I get other projects like DDR or BEATMANIA at a right timing. It's a good balance.

GR: This one's digging deep, but hopefully we can put this fan question to rest. Your Wikipedia page claims you had a role in the music of Jerry Boy/SmartBall for the Super Famicom/SNES. Is this true, and if so, can you recall what you contributed? We ask because one of the GamesRadar editors is a curiously strong fan of the game and your music, so tying them together would be quite a treat.

Yamaoka: It's a long time ago. :) Once I was a freelance game creator. Jerry Boy was an experimental game at the time. We were trying different things to see what we can do with the hardware, Super Famicom. I remember I was struggling with programming for the hardware everyday. It wasn't easy to create music like today. I had to repeat trial and error with the very, very limited memory.

I just happened to take the Jerry Boy project because I was asked to work on the sound through a friend of mine. I am impressed that he knows about Jerry Boy! Not many people know about it. :)

GR: Finally, what are you listening to these days? Any new standout bands that have caught your eyes and ears?

Yamaoka: I have been listening to the Nine Inch Nails' new album a lot.

Special thanks to Yamaoka-san for answering our questions and to Konami for the speedy translation. We'll have more on Silent Hill: Homecoming as it becomes available.