Interviews// Sine Mora: Sound Director Akira Yamaoka

Posted 22 Mar 2012 10:58 by
For Grasshopper Manufacture, XBLA shootíem up Sine Mora marks a bold new development adventure. Co-developing this crazy Diesel-punk blaster with Hungarian studio Digital Reality has resulted in a wonderfully crazy bullet-hell experience. And critics seem to love it, as do gamers who have scrambled to download it.

I was able to sit down with sound director Akira Yamaoka, who has previously had an extensive career at Konami producing, among others, the Silent Hill soundtrack. His work on Sine Mora has helped convey the feeling of excitement and action in the game, and I was interested to find out more about his approach.

SPOnG: Youíve worked on a lot of games in terms of sound direction, most notably the Silent Hill series. How does that compare to working on a shoot-íem-up game like Sine Mora?

Akira Yamaoka: The approaches I take for both types of games are different, but in terms of actually making the music and the philosophy behind it nothing really changes. It all comes down to the emotion that we want to convey to the player. In Silent Hill, I went in with the approach of scaring the player. With Sine Mora, thereís more action involved so I wanted to attach some kind of feel-good factor when you gun something down.

SPOnG: Of course, with survival horror games thereís a heavy emphasis on sound effects to create tension, rather than the use of musical instruments. Sine Mora obviously focuses on the opposite to create this grand atmosphere - which approach do you prefer?

Akira Yamaoka: I would have to say, I prefer the former - the Silent Hill approach to music direction. As you say, itís more like creating sound effects rather than making music, and I really enjoy doing that.

SPOnG: This is a digitally distributed title, on Xbox Live Arcade. Grasshopper Manufacture has largely made games on disc up until this point. Do you think that you are afforded more creative freedom because of the digital distribution angle? Thereís got to be less risk involved.

Akira Yamaoka: Well, actually I wouldnít say it makes much of a difference when it comes to artistic freedom. But I do think that the digital distribution system will grow and grow, so I can see developers and artists adjusting our creativity towards that and taking more risks.

SPOnG: What was your experience working with Digital Reality, a European studio? And did this affect your work at all? Did you work more closely with Goichi Suda (SUDA51) or Theo Reiker? Or were you able to ignore both of them and have complete creative freedom?

Akira Yamaoka: It was exciting, I loved working in collaboration with Digital Reality. I had previously worked with a US developer on Silent Hill, so I had experience working with Western studios. But European developers have a different way of doing things. I found it really interesting and stimulating - I learned quite a lot.

In terms of my work approach, nothing really changed too much. Both Suda-san and Digital Reality let me do more or less what I wanted to do. I had total artistic freedom.

SPOnG: On a fundamental level, how do you feel about Japanese developers working with Western studios to make games like this? For years it seems that Japanese developers have been worried that their industry has been overtaken by the skills of the West, and are trying to catch up.

Akira Yamaoka: I donít think itís about fear, but I think that Japanese developers have got things to learn, indeed. Obviously we were winning at one point, and I think we may have become kind of big headed about that. So we have to know where we stand now, and realise that we have so much to learn from European and American developers. If we donít, we will never be able to grow as an industry.

SPOnG: Youíre also working on Black Knight Sword, another downloadable title. The visual design is very much like a theatre, which is interesting when you consider that music and sound is an integral part of the theatre experience. Did that make things interesting for you, as a sound director?

Akira Yamaoka: Youíre right about the theatre thing, and it made things very interesting indeed. I was thinking of Czech puppet shows and various European animations when it came to the gameís design. That was a big influence, and because the game plays like a theatre it very much feels like youíre directly controlling the play. Itís a bit of a different approach and I think thatís what makes Black Knight Sword unique.

SPOnG: Whatís next for you? A lot of game publishers have started putting dubstep - particularly Skrillex - within their trailers. Whatís your opinion of dubstep, and would you ever adopt this trend and go down that route for your games?

Akira Yamaoka: I would love to go in that direction! I can see why game trailers are starting to use dubstep. Itís more like a sound collage rather than using a traditional music structure. A melody based drum is involved, as well as all kinds of electronic gear, so I would love to use that in a game.

SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.

Akira Yamaoka: Thank you very much!

Sine Mora is out now on Xbox Live Marketplace

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