At the recent Metropolis Street Racer press launch, we got the chance to corner Sega Europe's music man, Richard Jacques, and press him for information about the game's soundtrack.
Unfortunately his lips are sealed for the time being, but he was happy to talk about his previous work, some of the background to his work on Metropolis, and games stuff that he likes. Check it out.
Game-Online: Sonic R was the last game you worked on, back in 1997. What have you been up to since then?
Richard Jacques: I finished Sonic R in Autumn '97, and afterwards I had a couple of weeks holiday, but after that I set up a new studio at Sega Europe, which took about, probably four months, building a new room, buying a lot of new equipment, and basically setting up the whole new studio which is completely different to the one I worked in before. Hopefully to provide better soundtracks for Dreamcast with better equipment and generally a lot better quality.
GO: So how did your involvement with Metropolis come about?
RJ: It came about almost a year ago, when Mr. Miyake, the CEO of Sega Europe, approached me and said that Sega Europe were working with Bizarre quite closely on this project and could I do the music, it's a very important title and they wanted me to work on the soundtrack and all the sound effects. So I said yeah, that's great and had some meetings the producers of the game and with Bizarre Creations. It came about like that, really, and I've been very enthusiastic about the project ever since.
GO: Can you tell us a bit about the sound hardware on the Dreamcast? How does it compare to current consoles and PC soundcards?
RJ: Well the first big advantage is the sound memory. For example the Saturn had 512k of sound RAM, Dreamcast has two megabytes, and that's uncompressed. The Dreamcast also has ADPCM compression in hardware, so in theory you could fit about eight megabytes worth of sound memory. That's compressed of course, but the ADPCM compression is fantastic quality and you wouldn't really notice the difference between that and normal CD quality samples. So basically it gives me a lot more scope to produce more sound effects and better quality samples.
GO: Do developers give you free rein on a soundtrack or are they often quite specific about what they want?
RJ: With [Metropolis], Bizarre Creations and Sega gave me a lot freedom with regards to the music. I spoke to some of the producers about it a good ten months ago. We had lots of meetings and kind of worked out what would be appropriate for the project. Everyone had their own ideas, but we agreed that what we finally decided on was going to work. At this stage I can't really say too much but the soundtrack's going to be very big, very wide ranging, hopefully it's going to please every gamer with regards to their own preferred style of music. So yes, I had a pretty free rein.
GO: What are your favourite game soundtracks, including your own work?
RJ: That's a tough one. Of my own work, personally my favourite is Sonic 3D. I wish I'd had more time to do it, and I'd like to do some remixes…
GO: How long it take to do Sonic 3D?
RJ: I only had a month to do that soundtrack, which was 22, 23 in game tunes, which was quite tough and the game was not a particularly big seller but that's my favourite out of the stuff I've done. Apart from that, I'm a massive fan of NiGHTS, the NiGHTS soundtrack is fantastic, Panzer Dragoon soundtracks, all of them are great. My favourite game composer is probably Tim Follin, who goes back to Ghouls and Ghosts days on the Amiga and Plok on the SNES. Yuzo Koshiro's work as well and people like that. Basically any good quality, fully arranged music, I like a lot of orchestral music as well, yeah I like a lot of people's stuff.
GO: Do any artists or bands in particular influence your music?
RJ: I think it depends on the style. It's no secret to the gamers that I like jazz funk music, and my particular favourite band is Incognito who are not particularly well known in Europe, which is a bit of shame because they're a London based band, but they're very well known in Japan. They're my favourite band. I love classical music, listen to a lot of film scores, I'm influenced by a lot of dance music, a lot of garage, a lot of drum 'n' bass, basically various kind of soundtracks that I like listening to and loads of different kinds of music. They all kind of add together I suppose to make up my style.
GO: So if there was one artist or band you could work with on a game soundtrack, who would it be?
RJ: One artist or band - it would probably be Incognito if it was a band. If it was an artist I would like to write a soundtrack with Tim Follin, you know, a co-written soundtrack.
GO: You said you love classical music. Do you think you'll ever get the chance to compose a classical score for a game?
RJ: Well hopefully. I've been at Sega for five years now, and I'd like to think that's one of my strengths, but I've never had the opportunity to write an orchestral soundtrack for a game yet. I may get assigned to a project later this year which may involve an orchestral soundtrack. There's nothing definite yet, but I'm certainly looking forward to the future where hopefully I can write a classical kind of film score soundtrack with a real orchestra, and hopefully people and gonna see what I can do.
GO: Now that graphics and physics are reaching a very high level, do think it's about time developers gave music and sound effects a lot more attention?
RJ: Most definitely. Music and sound in general is still regarded as one of the last things to go into a game. Gradually large publishers and big developers are realising that it's an incredibly important part of games these days, which is nice, and they're taking heed of that and giving the developers more time to make sure the sound effects are up to scratch. So with regards to Metropolis in particular it's nice to have a large amount of time to make sure the sound effects are the best yet and that the music is fantastic. So I think yeah, developers and publishers are gradually learning that it's more and more important and they're learning more about it too.
GO: Metropolis is one of the first game to sample car engines over their full range of performance. Can you talk us through how you went about that?
RJ: Well obviously with the research for Metropolis we did a lot of research playing all driving games, going out listening to real cars. It really came about because the Dreamcast has got a good amount of sound memory, two megabytes, so we could therefore fit a lot of different engine samples into the memory, so we decided that we really wanted to feature every original sound for every car. So we thought 'right we've got to do this properly', and in order to do that we're going to go to the best motor industry research place and therefore the car sounds we've been recording are the authentic car sounds. We've been sampling about on average fourteen different samples per car, and we believe that no one's ever gone down to that level of detail before, mainly because on PlayStation and PC there's not really the amount of memory to warrant that. We believe we've gone down to such level of detail that each car will sound unique and we really think we've done it right.
GO: And finally, how brilliant is Metropolis?
RJ: How brilliant is Metropolis as a game? Personally I've so much faith and respect for Bizarre Creations, they're a fantastic team, very talented team, I'm loving working with them and every week I see the game it just gets better and better and I'm very much looking forward to this Autumn when the game comes out in Europe to see a fantastically polished game, fantastic gameplay, fantastic graphics and, hopefully, fantastic sound.
GO: Richard, thanks very much.
RJ: Thank you