The Sounds of Twilight

Nintendo Power:
The sounds of a videogame take players beyond what they see onscreen by stimulation the imagination and stirring emotions. Through sound, a good game can become great and a great game can become even better. Though Koji Kondo (interviewed in Inside Zelda Part 4) is the composer most closely associated with the Zelda series, the man heading up music composition and sound design in Twilight Princess is Toru Minegishi. A life-long music and video game fan who created melodies for Majora's Mask and The Wind Waker (among other titles), Minegishi grew up playing Kondo's work, and looks up to Kondo as an inspiration and a master of video game audio. As Twilight draws closer, the young craftsman discusses the road that brought him to his instrumental role on the highly anticipated game, and the kind of feeling he intends to bring to Zelda's darker world.

Toru Minegishi:
Clasically trained
When I was 10 years old, the first Legend of Zelda was released in Japan. I really wanted to have the game after seeing the commercial for it on TV, which featured a battle between Link and Aquamentus (the first dungeon boss.) Not only did the game look exciting, but I thought the sounds were incredible. I was taking swimming lessons in those days, but I could swim only about 25 meters. I promised my parents I would swim 40 meters and advance to the upper class of swimming school if they'd buy me the Zelda game and the Famicom Disk System. I kept my promise and I got them. I got totally caught up in the game, and the sound effects and music were excellent, just as I'd expected from hearing the ad. I had a huge amount of respect for the creators who'd produced such a great game. Mr. Koji Kondo, who is my boss now, was the man responsible for the game's music and sound effects. He worked on Zelda, along with many other games that I liked. When I was a kid, I never imagined I'd be working next to him as a sound designer for Nintendo. I have been influenced by Mr. Kondo a lot, and I consider him to be a true master.

My parents like music, especially Latin music and tango. I remember there was always music playing in my house. Ever since I can remember, I've been listening to records such as the Pérez Prado band's. There's always music playing in my current home, too. Listening to this music gives me a chance to become familiar with different styles of music, which is central to creating original sounds. When I was 11 years old, I first heard Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. That symphony was composed for Mussorgsky's late friend, who was a painter, and it was based on 10 of Hartmann's paintings. I was extremely impressed. I liked video games in those days, and I thought Pictures at an Exhibition was kind of like an ancestor of video game music-the way the music was composed to match visuals. It had a big influence on me and probably helped me get into both music and the video game business. Many professional musicians took piano lessons at a young age or got some special music training, but that's not how it was for me. No one forced me to listen to or play music. It was a very natural process-growing up and becoming interested in music. In junior high, I played percussion in my school band, and even though I didn't study music at college, I formed a rock band with my friends. I played drums.

From Sunshine to Darkness
It remained my dream to become a video game sound designer, so I took a test at Nintendo to apply for the job. At the examination, I needed to create music based on given themes, and there was a written music test, too. Luckily, I passed the test and began my career at Nintendo. However, I realized quickly how different a job is from a hobby. Video game players hear music and sound effects simultaneously while they are moving their hands to play games. When you consider that balance, sounds should not stand out too much. As I gained more experience, I learned how deep the sound-design job can be, and what kind of challenges are involved. I was in charge of sound effects in Super Mario Sunshine; that was one game that taught me about the difficulties of the sound-design process. When you're composing game music, you need to input melodies using a keyboard, but I personally prefer to create the melody in my head first. Sometimes I compose music on the guitar, too. Creative processes are different from person to person, I think. That reminds me: I created the hardware startup sound for the Nintendo GameCube. The deadline was very tight for that job, and I didn't have enough time to come up with very many ideas. I imagined the melody in my head, and I was thrilled that my idea was chosen.

I first got involved with the Zelda series with Majora's Mask, followed by The Wind Waker. Twilight Princess is my third title from the Zelda series. From what I've heard from the game planners, and what I've experienced from sampling the gameplay, I think this Zelda has a darker, more melancholy feeling then any previous game in the series. The Twilight Ream, a confined Princess Zelda, Link turning into a wolf, the extremely gloomy feeling of Hyrule before it's saved by Link... all contribute to this atmosphere. I am not consciously trying to use any particular genre of music to represent those feelings, but I want to try to express this melancholic atmosphere at the beginning of the game to engross players. Through Link's efforts, the mood will eventually become more relaxed as the game progresses-at least, that's my plan. Of course, the fantastic melodies from previous Zelda games are very important to keep in mind. Like in a Star Wars movie, you want to present familiar melodies, but you also want to provide the player with something new. Under Mr. Kondo's supervision, I'm in charge of all the field and dungeon music in Twilight Princess. It's a totally new experience for me to have discussions with different groups that are in charge of sections of the game. It's a tough challenge, but it's also a great opportunity to experience something new and produce work that's worth doing. I guarantee that all the teams are concentrating very hard on the development of Twilight Princess!

The Spice of Life
If any readers are dreaming about becoming video game sound designers, I recommend familiarizing yourself with a variety of musical genres. During the development of Animal Crossing, I was in charge of composing K.K. Slider's "present music." I needed to create more then 50 different musical tracks! It had to be from all kinds of musical genres, and it also had to sound like it was played on some cheap keyboard! I had no problem composing music from genres I was already familiar with, but I couldn't create tunes from more then 50 different genres just using my imagination. I needed to study hard and learn about a variety of music to complete the project, and it was a very tough job to squeeze all that information into my head. In order to respond to these types of needs, it's important for sound designers to be familiar with various kinds of music.

Regarding my recent favorite music, I've been captivated by Sting over the last several years. I am not usually a person who listens to a lot of popular Western music, but one day I was casually listening to it and I liked it a lot. I went to his concert when he visited Japan. His music has rich melody lines, and his voice is very appealing. Maurice Ravel is my current favorite classical composer, and I also like Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer of famous musicals such as Phantom of the Opera. I'm a big musical fan, and I even visited New York City once to see several Broadway musicals. Alan Menken, who created Disney's modern musical-style animated features such as Aladdin, is another favorite. Disney's feature animation provided a very good reference when I worked on The Wind Waker. Their films demonstrated how to synchronize music with character animation.

Generating Reality
Ocarina of Time achieved a milestone by eliciting realistic feelings from players through maximizing the power of hardware. Twilight Princess is going in a similar direction to Ocarina of Time's by also appealing to players who enjoy a more-realistic style. In both games, the role of sound is very important. Sometimes sounds can generate more from one's imagination then visuals can. I want to create high-quality sounds to emphasize those moments in Twilight Princess, and generate a reality even grander than that in Ocarina of Time.

Of course, I am currently very busy and need to work very late. As Twilight Princess director Eiji Aonuma mentioned in his interview, Nintendo has an intracompany brass band called The Wind Wakers. Mr. Aonuma is manager, and I am bandleader. We'd like to have a concert soon, but we've had a hard time finding time to practice. Some nights when I've been working really late, I'll stop by the band's warehouse and play drums for a while. It helps me relax and refreshes my energy for work. You can count on me to deliver my very best.