Just a week ago, Backbone released their Super Streetfighter II Turbo HD Remix Beta on Xbox Live Arcade. If you have downloaded this, you already know that it kicks ass. If you haven't, you need to download the also awesome Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 (800MS points) first and get the beta through the title screen - it's well worth it!
What strikes first as you load the beta, is the pounding soundtrack that thrashes along with the menus, remixed from the original SNES version's soundtrack. Made all the more brilliant by wailing guitar and meaty drumming. Nostalgics will relish this fresh spin on the old school tunes.
You may not know, however, that this fantastic score is the work of internet-based game soundtrack remix community OverClocked ReMix.
OverClocked has been on the go since 1999 and has gathered together an insanely talented group of musicians who are free to remix their favourite game tunes and upload them for the world to appreciate. The site is bursting with talent and if, perhaps, you have ever played the awesome Streets of Rage Remake, you will already know their work. (Download this if you like beat-em-ups)
We got the chance to pick the brains of site founder David Lloyd (aka djpretzel) and Head Submissions Evaluator, Larry Oji (aka Liontamer) about OverClocked's work on the superb new Super Streetfighter II Turbo HD Remix OST. Check it out below then visit their site to sample some of the amazing talent on display.
How did OC ReMix come about? What was the driving force behind it?
djpretzel (DJP): The driving force behind all of it was of course greed, sex, and power, but we've learned with time to settle for respect and modest t-shirt sales.
No, actually, OCR was borne out of a combination of opportunity, analysis, lack of a social life, love of games & game music, free time (see: social life), and self-inflicted practice. Basically, I wanted a way to keep active musically, a way to force myself to get better at both composition and production, and arranging game music in a variety of styles seemed like the perfect fit.
Little did I realize that I'd be popularizing a new artistic outlet for so many talented people while simultaneously dooming myself to years of server administration and web development. At that time, there was a small but active scene doing mostly electronica mixes of Commodore 64 games, but I wanted to open it up to all games, and encourage multiple genres.
While my own hillbilly rendition of the classic Bubble Bobble theme somehow failed to elicit a flood of additional hillbilly mixes, the variety present in the site's early days did have a great overall effect in furthering this goal.
Major kudos for landing the soundtrack to Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix! How did this deal happen? Is it growing more common now that developers will outsource their soundtracks or do most have in-house teams/bands, etc?
DJP: Basically, Shael Riley and Stephen Malcom-Howell (aka Malcos) coordinated the OC ReMix album Blood on the Asphalt back in 2006, which remixed the soundtrack from Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Capcom found it, liked what they heard, and the rest is history: they contacted Shael, who contacted me, and we eventually all got together and worked something out where communications were organized and everybody was on the same page in terms of what needed to be done.
Larry Oji (LO): As far as having the opportunity to work on HD Remix in the first place, that's a byproduct of American entities, namely Capcom USA and Backbone Entertainment, developing the title. If Capcom of Japan were handling this, we'd probably not be involved due to the language barrier and Japanese companies typically having their own in-house musicians. I don't know how common it is for soundtracks to be outsourced this way, but I know our musicians have appreciated the chance to showcase their stuff on this one.
Dave: You have developed a thriving community through your site - how quickly after setting up online did you find there were so many like-minded people out there, willing to submit their work?
DJP: Well, right off the bat it was clear there was fan interest, but in the early days I actually had to go "door-to-door" soliciting submissions from all over the place. This approach let us build up a library that had a pretty diverse selection of both games and music genres, and thus illustrated the vision I had for what the site should be.
I'd say after the first year or so, I no longer had to go knocking, and we had enough word of mouth to keep moving forward. I think there's a lesson there: when you're trying to get a new idea off the ground, you can't really afford to expect people to come to you - you have to go to them.
What is your view on video game music today? Personally, a lot of my friends have a real love of all things 8-bit when it comes to music and we saw recently in Grasshopper Studio's No More Heroes, a few excerpts of retro tunes alongside modern compositions. Are instrumental scores ever in danger of being overused? I use the example of EA Trax here: a lot of people really dislike this system for how it has commercialised music in EA's games.
DJP: Many of EA's games ARE commercial, though; I almost always favor original music over licensed, but those first two Need for Speed: Underground games just wouldn't have been the same without Snoop & co. I think companies need to do what's right for the game... for certain genres, that might mean licensed music, but if I'm playing something that's supposed to be transporting, something trying to create a world altogether unlike our own, I want original tunes, and good ones.
As far as the 8-bit "chiptune" sound goes, I think some folks err on the side of being purists; I'd be willing to bet that if composers back in the 8-bit era could have somehow crammed symphonic quality scores into 32KB, most of them would have. However, they worked with what they had, which resulted in some absolutely fantastic compositions.
To me, it's always been more about the compositions - the actual notes - and less about the sounds, so while I totally dig chiptunish textures, I don't see them as the holy grail or perfect embodiment of retrogaming nostalgia that some others do. That being said, I'm sometimes worried that because modern composers don't have to work within those same restrictions, there's a tendency to rely more on production to impress and entertain listeners than actual composition.
Again, it depends on what's right for the game, but I've always loved the game soundtracks I actually find myself humming months later, and outside of Super Mario Galaxy, that hasn't happened to me very often lately.
LO: I think the current state of video game music is exciting. A lot of people don't realize that game music is a medium, not a style. When you think about it that way, there are just all sort of great things happening with it: more attention from companies on the importance of music, better audio capabilities, more diversity in soundtracks, more game music concerts, more recognition for composers, more physical and digital soundtrack releases, more fan-made music tributes than ever before, and the emergence of 20- and 30-somethings that's loved video game music since childhood and have finally grown up. There's still a ways to go, but we're at a point now where game music is more legit and more respected, both inside and outside the industry.
As for whether 8- and 16-bit chiptunes are going the way of the dodo because of modern instrumental scores, I believe chiptunes will always have a place in gaming via portables, small/indie developer games, homebrews and throwbacks. If anything, the chiptune musician community is an underground but relatively huge untapped resource that I'm really surprised more companies haven't tapped into. Whether it's soundtracks or even arrange albums, there are lot of potential professional outlets for chiptune composers that I'd love to see them involved in.
How easy or difficult is it for your contributors to remix a song and find that special something that makes it stand out from the original cut?
DJP: One of our most active ReMixers (Another Soundscape, now also a judge) put together a Leisure Suit Larry ReMix in less than a week, so we could present it to the composer (and series creator) Al Lowe at an anime/gaming convention. In contrast, it took me over a year and a half to finish my last mix, an arrangement of Tifa's theme from FF7. The point being that this varies from artist to artist and track to track.
Honestly, if you look at most of the mainstream music that gets played on the radio these days, and then see what artists in our community are able to come up with, I think it's pretty damn impressive. These guys (and gals!) sometimes make it look easy, but taking someone else's music and interpreting it - adding something new while respecting what's there - is always a challenge, whether it takes a day or a month.
Coming back to Street Fighter, when you found out you would be given the job of remixing the Super Turbo soundtrack, was it a case of 'right, we've got to appease the millions of die-hard SF fans out there - oh crap!'?
DJP: Well, I AM a die-hard SF fan, so I guess I was just focused on appeasing myself. That sounds wrong...
LO: Maybe if I had the job of being the point of contact with Capcom like Dave did, I'd feel more pressure. It seemed like the main pressure on Dave was ensuring a steady workflow and meeting Capcom's deadlines, not whether the music would be good. I didn't have any doubts at all about how good our music would be and whether it would click with the gameplay and the fans.
I'm sure a minority of naysayers will complain about things; that's the law of numbers. But I think the fans will overwhelmingly enjoy the HD Remix soundtrack. Now if a decade later, Fidget compiles the top 10 worst game soundtracks of all time, and we somehow end up on it, then you'll know we failed. [laughs] But that's about the only way you'd convince us we did a poor job and didn't do right by such a historic franchise.
I can only imagine it seemed like a mammoth task at first. Did you kind of get into the groove from that point?
LO: It helped that we had such a great starting point to work with in Blood on the Asphalt. The tracks that were carried over from that project and from other OC ReMixes took care of several of the character themes. One thing that's cool is that most of the preexisting mixes that have been adapted for HD Remix aren't merely cut-and-paste jobs: every theme's been modified to flow just like the standard looped music in all of the other versions of Street Fighter II. You're gonna feel comfy with these tracks.
The original arcade version's OST was a technical marvel, one of the best. How difficult would it have been back then to cobble that together on much older hardware compared to today? Does having primitive tech with less audio choices make things easier, or does the wealth of freedom offered to composers thanks to modern tech make things even more complicated?
LO: In an interview with OC ReMix's podcast, VGDJ, Video Games Live creator Tommy Tallarico joked about how much more involved the musical creative process is nowadays compared to when he simply played songs live to MIDI. The freedom of modern technology definitely makes things more complicated.
If the timing of the original SF2 somehow shifted, I think modern-era setups would have an easier time enabling the core ideas behind the soundtrack. Ultimately though, the original Street Fighter II soundtrack benefited from its place in time more than you think. If it had been made in the days of 8-bit, the unique sounds and textures the tracks needed wouldn't have been possible. But if it had been modern, there's no way it would have been as loop-based and hook-driven.
Which stage music do you guys like best and which was the most fun to dissect and piece back together in your own style?
DJP: Larry didn't do any mixes - he's more coordination, project management, etc. and I only did one, E. Honda, so unfortunately we can't give much insight there. I can say that my favorite theme is probably Ken's, which Juan Medrano (aka Sixto Sounds) did a great job on.
Also, Capcom actually rejected my initial take on E. Honda's theme, which was a little too electronic and aggressive for a bath house setting. So, that wasn't exactly "fun" per se, but it did force me to take a fresh approach and try something more appropriate but still groovy. It was definitely a learning experience, and I like my revised, accepted version much better!
LO: As the non-musician, I get to give the cop-out answer that I love all of the original themes. But I swear on my life, I really do love all 17 of those stage themes. Analogous to Koji Kondo's songs of the Super Mario Bros. series, Capcom's sound team was simply on fire when it came to the Street Fighter II series' music in that every theme was catchy and memorable.
As for HD Remix, I worked the most closely with Jimmy Hinson (aka Big Giant Circles) with his take on Guile's theme, and it's become my sentimental favorite. Jimmy collaborated with Justin R. Coleman, who provided guitars, and the end result is amazing. Meanwhile, Dave is gonna be playing E. Honda's stage about 90% of the time! [laughs]
The burning question, what are you doing next? And name the top three games that, if a remake was on the cards, you would kill to do the soundtrack for?
LO: We aim to be a comprehensive online destination for people to learn about and experience video game music - keep an eye on www.ocremix.org! For any producers that need music for games, we've got hundreds of talented musicians that run the gamut of musical styles.
OC ReMixers aren't just talented at arranging other people's music, they're talented composers in their own right. As for remade games I'd love to do to the soundtrack for...hmmm...Street Fighter's been a dream in and of itself. Let's go with Castlevania, Final Fantasy VII and Super Mario World. Just like Street Fighter, they're all huge games with amazing soundtracks, and they all bring out in best in OC ReMixers.
DJP: We're always expanding, thinking of new ways to look at the site, new features to add, etc. One of the things we've started doing recently is conducting interviews with both game composers and ReMixers. We're sorta used to being on the receiving end of interviews by now, but it's been a blast to ask mixers and composers alike their thoughts.
With any luck, 2008 will see some very significant additions to the site, as well as improvements of our existing content. As far as remakes go, I'd love to do something from the Shinobi, Space Harrier, or Alex Kidd series; I'm a sucker for the older Sega stuff.
Finally, best piece of music in games ever? - Discuss.
LO: You can't pick just one, can you? Well, if you go by the most ReMixed track on OC ReMix, Nobuo Uematsu wins with Final Fantasy VI's "Terra." Even legendary composer Jeremy Soule sent us his take on it, that's how deep the fandom reaches. But Koji Kondo's "Overworld BGM" from Super Mario Bros. is the most casually known piece of video game music for good reason, and I certainly love it, so that's a solid answer.
Myself, I'm really partial to British game composer Tim Follin, so I'm gonna go out there and give props to the new age style stuff he wrote for Lemmings on the PSP. All of his work is great listening. I'm mulling over whether Dave's gonna pick something from the Sega Master System...
DJP: Cheetahmen II, baby! Actually, I'd like to think that the best piece of game music hasn't been written yet, and will eventually be written by someone from the OC ReMix community, who learned and grew as a composer while mixing game music. In the meantime, though everything Larry mentioned is equally amazing, I'm gonna be a little unorthodox and go with the main theme from Wizards & Warriors, by Dave Wise: timeless, elegant, and memorable.
An honorable mention goes to the opening theme from Phantasy Star III, which I'd actually turn my Genesis on just to hear, then turn it off again, because I'd already beaten the game several times over.
Once again, if you need any more convincing - head to http://www.ocremix.org and sample some outrageous musical talent.