Takeshi Abo (Composer at StarCraft, KID, 5pb Games)
Works: Chaos;Child, Memories Off, Infinity series, Steins;Gate
This is a short interview with Takeshi Abo about his career
and the composition done for Starfire (PC-98)
Interviewed/translated by Pixelated Audio on 2017.08.15 for Episode 87
- PA: How did you get started in music and what led you to work in the game industry?
ABO: Way back when I was an elementary school student, 11 or 12, I was totally in love with games but I had no idea how they were actually made.
But, when I eventually learned that games were created in a PC environment, I became quite interested in game development.
I started by making my own game… And after it was finished I realized I wanted some sort of sound to put in it as well. So, next, after I added sound, I wanted to make music for it…
But i didn’t know how to write music so I ended up just borrowing stuff from other games at first . However, I really wanted to do it myself (write my own music) so that’s when my musical career began.
- And about how old were you at this time?
I dunno, it was junior high so probably about 13 or 14 years old.
- How did you become involved working at Starcraft?
Right, so like I was saying, around Junior High I started making a game… I mean, at that time it wasn’t really a big deal or anything. But by the end of High School, the Sharp X1 or maybe it was X68000 had just come out and I was using that. And so I started making music with a specific focus in mind. If it was a role playing game, I’d do this type of music, if a shooting game, this type (and so on) which came out to around 200 different songs. And then from that group I chose about 40 or so songs and sent them over to StarCraft.
But if you’re wondering “Why StarCraft?”… I remember I was in elementary school and the first game I saw at an electronics shop was an old adventure game called “Mystery House” which was made by both MicroCabin and StarCraft. Since I was more aware of StarCraft and they were also in the same prefecture (just about an hour away) I figured I’d give it a shot and send over my samples.
So, I was like, here’s my music and just sent it over. I got a reply pretty quick and then had an interview about a week later. They made their decision the same day and then called me back to come in for work the next day.
- In our opinion, your music focuses on rhythm and pace to carry the mood. More or less defined by the situational setting or atmosphere. But how would you define your musical style?
I guess, unlike other forms of music, game audio tends to match the scene or adapt to the story, for example, in a shooting game, I want to account for speed, visual contrast and other things like boss battles and match the feeling.
- We’re sure your style was shaped by music you liked. Could you explain to us some of your influences?
Well, of course, YMO. Yellow Magic Orchestra.. I mean, their music was basically a blend of analog and digital instruments (both performed and sequenced)
It was so impressive at the time that a computer could produce all that sound automatically…
My father had me listen to some of the music and I remember asking him “Who’s playing the instruments?” He was like.. It’s a machine. And I just didn’t understand how a computer could play music…So that’s why I became so fascinated with YMO.
Also, a lot of Japanese singers at that time… western stuff like beatles. I dunno, I didn’t really stick to any genre. I listened to pretty much everything.
So definitely influenced by YMO but also movie soundtracks. Japanese Anime’s like Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind…. Really, there were so many things that influenced me, especially a lot of other game music from that time.
- Well, what were some of the game soundtracks your liked?
The older stuff… hmm there’s a lot. For example, for Konami I was a big fan of gradius. For Sega, there’s Space Harrier, Out Run, Super HangOn… I guess during that time.. Pretty much everything.. Haha
Just about everyday I’d go to the arcade and bring a tape recorder with me. And I’d go up to machine where people were playing and ask them “Is it okay if I record the music while you play?”… I’d do the same at my friend’s houses when they would play games on the computer. I just would listen to it at home over and over and over.
So that had a major impact on me.
- Today we’re talking about Starfire for the PC-98 (an earlier composition of yours while you were at Starcraft). Looking back, how was this composition important to you?
Well, it’s a game set in space…hmmm how do I explain this?… well anyways, about half of the music was something that I just wanted to write
So yeah, half was something that I just wanted to write.. The other half was more tailored directly for the story’s atmosphere. You know, it’s been so long I don’t remember very well at all.
The story is about the interaction between humans and the unknown. So the story, I believe, is these humans exploring the unknown ships and creatures and it’s like the movie “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.” So it’s like that encounter, I guess. Again, its been a long time. I probably messed that up.
GALAXY I – H
- Please tell us about this track.
So the Bass tone… and this isn’t limited to Starfire but when writing any song I have to start with creating the tones or instruments in FM… and so I’d make probably more than half of the tones early on then try to start writing music using what I’ve already created. That’s how I did it most of the time at least (when using an FM sound source)
But yeah for this song I started by creating the bass sound and I ended up using three different tones. The low sound the bends, a muted tone, and the slap bass tone the starts really high and then drops. So I would mix and switch those three tones around one by one and eventually land on a phrase I liked. Once I had this bass phrase, i would start adding the chords and then rhythm section. So yeah, everything surrounding that bass. I remember really wanting to make use of that sound I created. I was really dedicated to using it.
- What was your process for writing music on the PC98 using the YM2608? What hardware and software did you use to write this music?
For the software, at StarCraft I used one of the standard drivers at that time called MUSDRV. And I customized that to fit my needs and also added various extensions, etc. Of course this was all written in code, specifically in MML (which is all text and data)
And with that text data or code, you’re able to drive the FM sound source. And we did that the entire time at StarCraft
On the hardware side, back then I used a PC9801 (the DX2 model) the CPU was an Intel 286, and really that was about it.
- And back to the software, you didnt use recomposer or any other software like that?
No, not at all. During my time at StarCraft everything was MML.
- And did you use MUSDRV the enitre time as well?
It was the standard driver so we used that nearly the whole time. However, in the later stages for games like FlixMix and RhymeStar we moved onto a different driver.
- I noticed the later games used a driver called KORIN, is that the one?
Right, for Starfire, KORIN was still in development so it wasn’t until after Starfire’s release that we started using it, starting with RhymeStar
- Could you tell us about StarCraft?
Sure. Long ago, prior to doing games, they were a software house. It was a company building and we were in a really wide open single floor where the graphic program team was.
Initially I was put on the same floor but because I was making a lot of sounds it was really disruptive to everyone else. So they moved me to another room, actually a traditional Japanese style room (you know, with Tatami floors, etc) and so that’s where I made the music.
- After StarCraft and then KID, you moved over to 5pb games, can you tell us what you’re working on these days?
Sure. Yes, I’m currently working for a company called MAGES (5pb is the game division) and doing mostly adventure games and visual novels. Next month, September 28th, we’re releasing another adventure game called Occultic;Nine that I did the music for.
Originally this was an anime but we decided to create a totally new soundtrack.
Interview recorded and translated by Pixelated Audio on August 15th, 2017.
We’d like to thank Abo-san for taking the time to answer our questions and help preserve Video Game Music history for years to come. Thanks! – Pixelated Audio
For more game audio specific questions from StarCraft that aren’t transcribed here, listen to the full interview from Episode 87.
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