GDC 2010: Interview with Akira Yamaoka (Joystiq)
Date published: 2010.04.02
Having composed Silent Hill's unmistakable audio ever since the series began, Akira Yamaoka is best known for unsettling even the soundest of minds with an unpredictable mixture of industrial noise, haunting melodies and straight-up rock. He left his position as producer and fan-made custodian of the survival-horror franchise earlier this year to join Grasshopper Manufacture and Goichi "Suda 51" Suda's "video game band."
Although Grasshopper isn't ready to talk specifically about its upcoming collaboration with EA, we did get an opportunity at GDC to ask Akira Yamaoka a few general questions about his move and his relationship with Silent Hill.
Joystiq: What have you seen at GDC this year that interested you?
Akira Yamaoka: [laughs] I'm actually really busy with having interviews and I did a session, so I was busy with preparation for that. So, I didn't have much chance to look at a lot of sessions yet because of that, but the image around GDC has been changing. It seems like a lot of seminars are more like -- they don't really talk about new technology but they talk more about concepts and stuff like that. That's what I feel about GDC now.
Joystiq: Now that you've shifted from Konami to Grasshopper, what kind of role do you play and how does it differ from your previous work?
Yamaoka: It seems like every interview that's been done is asking this question. I thought that Western people didn't really care about moving to a new office and a new company, because they don't really stay in the one company, they don't stick with that. The reason I decided to join Grasshopper is because, you know, Grasshopper is making a game that is targeted to the global market and I want to add my audio to help and target that global market. So, that's going to be my role as well.
Joystiq: In targeting the global market, does that make it exciting to work on the collaboration between Mr. Suda and EA? Do you expect it to have that big Western impact?
Yamaoka: Yeah, of course, I'm interested in the project with EA, because it's really more targeted at the global market -- and not just overseas, but we target Japan as well. Also, Grasshopper's organization itself is aimed to work internationally, and the vision and the team, including Suda-san. I'm really interested in working with people to have the same vision. So, that's why I'm really excited about that.
Joystiq: Gaming is such an intensely visual medium, with technology and graphics always improving, but do you think that music evolves at the same pace? Or is it not as important in terms of technology?
Yamaoka: Yeah, like you said, you can't measure how much it's improved visually, you can't really see that. In sound, you can't really measure it because you can't see it. In atmosphere, it's something that you feel and visually, it has to have some things to improve as well. I talked a little bit about that in my conference. It's really difficult to implement something like music and audio into the game, that fits the atmosphere of the game, so the audio also needs to improve to fit the world of the game.
Joystiq: Have there been any video game composers recently that impressed you?
Yamaoka: Yes, I'm really interested in the style of the music of Heavy Rain, because the game itself is very unique and cinematic, but you can also play with part of that cinematic. The music itself needs to fit into the world, and so it has a good challenge and a different taste than ordinary music.
Joystiq: Are you hoping for traditional games to make music and sound more active? I'm thinking of games like Elektroplankton or Everyday Shooter, where the music itself is part of playing the game.
Yamaoka: I don't think it's a necessary leap for games to make, because the gamer has to enjoy playing it. If you see something visually in the game, you're really happy to see that. So, the music has to fit really well, with the content itself, to make the world of the game. It's necessary to have music and sound effects to express what the game wants to be, so in that way it's necessary, but ti doesn't have to be ahead of the game itself.
Joystiq: But we've seen, as with Silent Hill, that the music can be such a huge part of the game that people almost can't bear to separate them. In some ways, Silent Hill is Akira Yamaoka. Do you want to maintain that relationship?
Yamaoka: Yes, I like Silent Hill, so if they ordered me to do some work for that, then I'm interested in doing that as well.
Joystiq: If things didn't work out, would it bother you if they found an imitator?
Yamaoka: Uh ... [laughs] Well, I never thought about that until you pointed it out. I don't know what's going to happen, but maybe ... maybe not. I think if more users feel something very different -- like you said, that's the franchise style -- and they have an image about the title itself already and they have some other sounds on top of that, then maybe they'll feel ... not comfortable, but different.
Joystiq: You're very closely associated with the horror genre, but you've done some tracks for Dance Dance Revolution. Is there any specific genre for which you'd like to compose, something that feels less typical?
Yamaoka: Well, I don't really mind what genre it is when I'm trying to make the music and when I'm composing the songs. But, I am interested in making some game that is not a horror game.
[Translation: Naoko Mori]