Microcabin music staff interview

by Pac on 03-12-2021, 22:31

U. Yukiharu Urita
N. Tadahiro Nitta

U. I have a couple of questions which were to me by the MSX Resource Center. It was 30 years ago, so my memory is fuzzy, but let's try to remember and answer together. I'll answer partly as an assistant. So let's go!

BACKGROUND

MRC. Can you write a short biography from before you worked on Microcabin games? (education, experience, other music projects, musical inspiration/roots, anything else worth mentioning etc.)

N. When I was in high school, I played trombone in the brass band and bass in another band. At the same time I started to type music using MML on NEC PC-6001mk2. I also used a SHARP X1 TurboZ (with YM2151). When I was in junior high school, I came across the Richard Wagner (The ring of the Nibelung) soundtracks of Apocalypse Now and was impressed. I was more interested in instrumental music and underscore than sung music. I was heavily influenced by Akira Ifukube's Godzilla. I was also influenced by Geinoh Yamashirogumi from Akira.

MRC. Which Microcabin games did you work on?

N. Main representative works include Xak, Xak II, FRAY and Illusion City. I think you can find a lot of information about that by searching.

TOOL

MRC. Can you tell us about the tool that Microcabin used to create the music? Do you have photographs of it? Or do you even have it on a disk somewhere at home?

N. It was called YUMIRIN which corresponded to the sound driver CHARLIE-kun and AKEMI-chan developed by our company, and the integrated environment that encompassed the compilation environment, etc.

MRC. Was it an MSX-specific tool, or was it a cross-platform tool with a converter/exporter for MSX? In the latter case: did the cross-platform tool adhere to the limitations of the MSX(-MUSIC), or did you have to do that yourself?

N. There was a tool for each platform. It was inefficient, but in the case of the MSX, we had to create data specifically for the MSX.

MRC. Did this tool's functionality improve over time, or would it also have been possible to create Illusion City's technologically detailed and advanced music during the days of Final Fantasy and Perfect Soko-ban?

N. It was definitely an evolution. It may seem surprising, but YUMIRIN does not have a command to determine the tempo of a song. There was an "H command" that was added during the development of Fray, which was a command to fine-tune the tempo of the entire song by increasing or decreasing it, but due to driver specifications, the MSX tended to be faster than other models even with the same settings. I remember that the difference was mainly due to the interrupt processing of the sound driver. It's an obvious feature, but it's a big step forward.

MRC. It seems that all Microcabin music features six FM channels + FM drums. The FM chip could've provided for nine channels without drums, which could've been practical and comfortable for music in which drums weren't needed. Why did Microcabin stick to six + drums?

N. When using it in 9-note mode, the performance data for that channel itself consumes memory... I didn't see much benefit in it.

U. Let me add a few things. I remember using the 9-note mode a lot in Princess Maker. I think it depends on the song, but actually I mainly used the 6-note mode.

MRC. While we're talking about drums, many people in our corner of the planet were impressed the first time they heard your way cool snare drum. It's the combination of FM and PSG that wasn't really heard of (at least not a lot). Was the tool made to do just this on purpose, or was it a more generic tool in which someone suddenly found out it could do a snare like that?

N. The tool is based on the aforementioned in-house developed driver YUMIRIN. There were no special features for drum sounds, and the specifications were rather more restrictive than the norm. As for that snaredrum sound, it's a combination of the attack of the bassdrum up in pitch (octave shift) and the noise of the PSG with an optimal tail (envelope). Other than that, the handclaps are preset harpsichord pitches that have been adjusted and changed. In other words, it is not the performance of the tool, but the result of trial and error repeated daily.

THE CONCEPTUAL STAGE

MRC. Who decided about developing new game titles? Management? The development team? Did the composer(s) have anything to say about what music could be made for a new game?

N. Plans are proposed by the development team, but the final judgment and decision-making authority lies with the management team. I may have made a suggestion for music.

MRC. Did the composer(s) have a say in other aspects of a new game, like gameplay, graphics, story and game mechanics?

N. I think there were times when I did, but basically I didn't interfere.

MRC. Did team-members and/or management provide the composer(s) with temp-music as an example of what the music could preferably be like?

N. Sometimes the planner or director would suggest it as a hint.

MRC. In our corner of the world, contests are being held regularly, and one of the frequent discussion topics is whether developing big projects is prone to failure. With many Microcabin games spanning multiple disks, with lots of music and graphics, did any of the development team ever have the fear that a game project may be too big? If not, was there a specific method of keeping a project going (while avoiding feature creep), other than salaries?

N. We were still a small group at the time compared to modern production, so we were not particularly anxious.

THE MUSIC

MRC. Were you actually conscious of the fact that no other MSX software house had music like Microcabin's? If yes, was all this like an artistic competition, trying to outdo other software houses?

N. Of course, we always wanted to be the best at MSX software, but we didn't realize that we really were. We still wanted to compete with other manufacturers and make good products.

MRC. There's a great lot of different musical themes in games like the Xak-series and Illusion City. In a movie there are usually less themes, but they're exploited in much greater depth. Was it ever considered by Microcabin and its composers to try the movie approach, and focus on a few continuously developing themes, rather than go for a large quantity of different themes? Not at least because RPGs, more than for example arcade shooters or puzzle games, are a lot like interactive movies.

N. The number of songs ordered depends on the project. Illusion City does something similar to what you've mentioned. I think the use of music and the number of songs can be said to be somewhat of its time. Also, at that time in Japanese game music, there were a few cases where the development and application of motifs were not understood.

MRC. Was creating the music a dayjob at the Microcabin office, or was it something you could do at home?

N. Office.

MRC. How much time did a typical song (60 - 90 seconds) take to produce?

N. From the development background (taking into account the target platform at the time), I think it was about a week. During that time, I was probably more busy dealing with the problems caused by the development environment of the time than writing songs.

MRC. Where did the inspiration for the Microcabin-music come from? Western music? Hollywood? J-Pop? Specific composers/artists?

N. Rather than music, Riding a motorbike or taking a bath will reset your mind and help you come up with new ideas.

MRC. Have there been songs by you which were rejected by the team or management? Or did the composers have the ultimate word in this, perhaps?

N. Of course! We have so many! I think we had the right to decide in some cases.

MRC. One thing that set Microcabin apart from other game companies supporting MSX-MUSIC is its general sound. Is it the tool you've used that somehow makes all this very easy, or do you actually share a keen and above-average interest in sound design?

N. The latter. I'm glad. It would have been nice if there was a tool that made it easy...

LOOSE QUESTIONS

MRC. The PSG plays a larger role in Illusion City than in (for example) Fray. Why?

N. Some of the MSX2+ models didn't have MSX-MUSIC, right? In Fray, I prepared PSG-only music data for those models. In fact, I created the performance data for PSG ahead of time, and arranged the YM2413 part on top of it. This means that if you mute the YM2413 slot, you can listen to the song as it is, as a PSG-only song. In Illusion City, PSG was not created in the same way as in Fray, but was composed and programed as an independent part of the ensemble from the composition stage.

MRC. Between Xak The Tower of Gazzel and Illusion City: which game do you think features the best music and why?

N. Illusion City. This is because I felt that the wonderful worldview and the great potential for expression (flexibility to accept all kinds of attempts) that I sensed from the subject matter was directly expressed in the form of the work.

MRC. Were there any game concepts/ideas lying around that never took shape on MSX or any other system? If yes: would those have featured music unlike the style we've heard so far?

N. There may have been some, but nothing special from there.

MRC. In your opinion, did Illusion City and Xak The Tower of Gazzel truly hit the limits when it comes to music, or haven't we even heard the best of what an MSX with MSX-MUSIC could do?

N. I don't think I had reached what I wanted to achieve yet. And I'm still pursuing it.

MRC. The MSX turbo R version of the Fray intro keeps restarting the music after each snippet of sample playback. Did no-one of the composers cringe at this during the development of the game?

N. I found it interesting (and odd and funny) to see the MSX doing all it could to process the data.

MRC. The music in Illusion City is, on average, much lengthier than that in earlier Microcabin games. Was this because the MSX turbo R featured more memory or was there an artistic or practical reason?

N. The result is a quality improvement that is both artistic and closer to methods such as film scores. I don't remember having any trouble with memory shortage or anything like that.

MRC. Some of Illusion City's music is more minimalistic, acting more like underscores like in movies. Was this because the game asked for it, or was it a personal wish to go beyond the traditional hummable music and have more mature movielike music here and there?

N. It's from desire. I feel like I was given free reign.

MRC. The last fast-paced part of the intro of Xak The Tower of Gazzel is among the highlights in Microcabin's MSX history. Not at least because in our scene, we just couldn't reach this level of complexity due to having limited tools. It's also a rather unusual song, compared to the rest of the game, and compared to other games. Can you tell us who came up with this concept and how this song came to be?

N. It was not suggested by anyone. It was an idea that I had been working on since Xak2, and I gave shape to it in Tower of Gazzel. I am proud to say that I am not what you would call a "melody maker", but I think that is why I have reached the reversal point that I have reached.

MRC. With a bit of luck you may still remember this. Imagine you could swap one MSX-MUSIC hardware voice for a new MSX-MUSIC hardware voice. Which voice would you sacrifice, and what kind of voice would the new one be?

N. I'd like to change the Clarinet (laughs). I think I can replace that sound with PSG. I'd like to replace it with a tone that has more overtones (with a feedback level about 3) and a sense of attack.

MRC. If not for your own music for Microcabin-games, which MSX game companies and MSX game soundtracks have earned your respect, back in the days?

N. The manufacturer of the same MSX that I particularly respected was Compile. I used to enjoy every disc station. There was a parody of Tchaikovsky in it, and that was particularly memorable.

MRC. Did working on Microcabin game music, and working on MSX in particular, make you interested in other skills too? Such as programming, designing and perhaps even story writing and map editing?

N. I was interested in creating graphics for characters and backgrounds. In addition to sound, I was also interested in drawing.

MRC. Did you also produce the Roland CM32 MSX-MIDI versions? If yes, in retrospect, what's your opinion about these MIDI versions, compared to the FM+PSG versions?

U. I'll answer this question from my side. At that time, the data production for the Roland CM-32L version was mainly done by an outside production company. In Microcabin, I was only in charge of a few major tunes. I don't think there is a big difference between what you all felt with the MIDI version and what I feel. In a good way and a bad way.

N. There was a need for it, and that was the time, too.

MRC. What kind of specific hardware and software was used for an MSX game development? (coding, graphics and music). And how many people involved in a project?

N. The Panasonic FS-A1WX and FS-A1WSX were used for development. And FS-A1ST. I think there are about 3 to 10 people for one project.

MRC. Some games such as Xak, Xak II or Final Fantasy were released for multiple platforms. Were there specific sinergies between the different development teams (MSX2, PC-98, PC Engine, X68000, etc) during the development of a same game? Which ones?

N. In many cases, the development of ports to other platforms is done by outside companies, and in most cases, there was no particular involvement in this process. However, if we were to take on a port, we would try to make it better than the other models.

MRC. Were you involved with the releases on other platforms as well? The games mostly feature the same tracks, but sound very different due to the used hardware. How do you compare the results with the MSX versions?

N. For example, Xak was first released on the NEC PC-8801mkIISR series. It was then ported to the MSX and Sharp X68000, each of which took advantage of the positive aspects of the sound chip installed in that hardware to compose the music.

MRC. There being several and more powerful platforms coexisting with the MSX in Japan, in your opinion what were the pros and cons of the MSX computers over its competitors?

N. I don't know if it's a strong point, but I personally think the graphics are great, especially the color development. The cons is the sound... That's why it was challenging, and why there was room for us to enter.

MRC. In retrospect, what's your opinion about the MSX-system in general?

N. I don't know what to say... It's a best friend position for me. There is no doubt about it.

YOUR FANBASE

MRC. At least here in the West, Microcabin's music is often a popular candidate for composers wanting to make new arrangements. Have you heard any of those? If yes: what's your opinion about them? And what's your opinion about the fact that people are covering your music anyway?

N. I am very honored. Unfortunately, I haven't heard it yet, but I'd love to hear it.

MRC. More in general: while working at Microcabin back in those days, did you have any notion of the fact that there was an active and large group of MSX fans in Europe, Latin America, Korea and even in the Middle East and Russia?

N. I didn't know about it at all. It was only when the Internet became a part of my daily life that I learned of its existence.

MRC. Have you, in fact, ever seen/heard recent MSX productions made in our corner of the world? If yes, what's the first that comes to mind?

N. I have seen cartridges with an SD card slot. I'm very impressed with that one!

TOTALLY RANDOM QUESTIONS

MRC. Do you still listen to your original themes or don't you care anymore?

N. I hadn't paid attention to it for a long time, but I've been listening to it a lot lately.

MRC. Ever played Happy Fret? If yes: how far did you get?

N. Sorry, I don't know what kind of game Happy Fret is.

MRC. Related to game sales, what position ranked the MSX normally in productions like Xak's saga over other platforms?

N. I think it was a very important position, and in fact we were very focused on it. Many of the users had a deep love for MSX.

MRC. Which sumo wrestler will win the tournament? MicroCabin, Konami, Falcom or Compile?

N. I think Compile will win hands down! Because the people of Hiroshima seem to be strong. That humor and swagger!

MRC.Finally, please send a message to MSX users.

N. Dear MSX Fans,

It was 1991 when the MSX disappeared from my desk. It was 1991, when I finished the work on Phantom City. After that, I never had a chance to see or touch the MSX. Not until 2020...

After I retired from Microcabin in 2006, I stopped my career and I thought I would never resume this career, but in 2020, a big thing happened. It is the Covid-19 pandemic. As many people lost their jobs because of this, I also lost my job from 2006. In the meantime, I received a message from a Dutch MSX fan. He told me that the MSX is still active in the world, that it is still in progress, and that there are people all over the world who still love the MSX music I made. And the message was, "I want you to make music again".

The moment I received this message, I woke up as if I had been struck by lightning. The sensations that had been dormant for so many years came back to me as if it were yesterday.

And it was here that I discovered the true wonderfulness of the MSX. After all these years, I finally...

Even at that time, there were many other models that were better than the MSX, but I think the MSX's greatest strength was its low cost and universal standard.

The frustration of inferior performance and the joy of chip tuning. When I think about the fact that each of these emotions were occurring almost simultaneously around the world at that time, I can't help but feel the greatness of the MSX.

Feeling that this former joy would not fade, and wishing to sustain it in the future, I purchased an MSX2+. It was a reunion after 29 years.

And I have started a new project with the MSX2+ as the center of my production. It's called "Oasis in 2op". 2op refers to two-operator FM sound sources such as OPLL, which were neglected by the music industry at the time because they were "toys".

On the contrary, these people's perceptions are my motivation, and making OPLL and PSG beautiful and shining is what I used to do, and what I will do in the future. Oasis is a place where the 2op shines beautifully. It may be a place of the mind, but it is there.

We recently released a mini-album of cover songs from our time with Micro Cabin called Oasin in 2op - CLOAD, but this is just the beginning. The real Oasis in 2op is about to begin. Please look forward to it!

Finally, I would like to thank Microcabin for bringing me into the MSX-world, and to the MSX-world for still being my fans. It has been 30 years since the MSX era, and both MSX and us are now plus 30 years old.

I sincerely wish you all the best for your MSX and your own health.

(This interview was conducted between November 2020 and November 2021)

Комментарии (15)

By sd_snatcher

Prophet (3517)

Аватар пользователя sd_snatcher

04-12-2021, 00:18

Domo arigatô gosaimashita Nitta-san, Urita-san, Pac and MRC crew, for this wonderful interview! It was such a joy to read it.

And feel very welcome back to composing your gems for the MSX. I was flabbergasted by the quality of Nitta-san's new album, "Oasis in 2op". Please keep them coming and, if you can, please also release them in a format that we can enjoy on our good old MSXs.

You were the inspiration of a generation when you squeezed the "impossible" out of the humble MSX sound hardware, leaving even western hardware with much more powerful FM soundchips like the OPL3 eating the dust. In that regard, we should in fact call you Nitta-sensei, and Urita-sensei.

By Fabio_acrs

Supporter (8)

Аватар пользователя Fabio_acrs

04-12-2021, 05:56

I can't thank enough everyone involved on this interview.

It was a great ride reading every bit of it.

By ro

Scribe (4714)

Аватар пользователя ro

04-12-2021, 08:48

20 minutes well spend, I think the last lines of Nitta-san sums it up nicely: MSX it's strength is the strong emotional connection. Why are we still here? Well, it's because of the warm feelings I get when reading such while having Xak TOG playing in the background. This might be a good start for a tradition: interviews with MSX leaders. Next up, Compile Smile

By Stakker

Expert (65)

Аватар пользователя Stakker

04-12-2021, 09:35

This was great, thank you for the interview!

By SwissPanasonic

Resident (59)

Аватар пользователя SwissPanasonic

04-12-2021, 09:53

I was lucky to visit Microcabin in 1992 (1st trip to Japan) and in 1995 in Yokkaichi. I had also visited T&E Soft in Nagoya and Konami but of course the warmest welcome was at Microcabin. Still rare to be able to enter the company as in The Tower (?) Of Cabin. I remember Mrs Nitta, Nakatsu, Urita and Fukuda in particular

By Stakker

Expert (65)

Аватар пользователя Stakker

04-12-2021, 10:08

The new CALL VOICE album is excellent. Found it on Spotify. I wish it was on Bandcamp, so people could buy it and support him directly.

By wolf_

Ambassador_ (9972)

Аватар пользователя wolf_

04-12-2021, 10:23

Ha, these were mostly all (I think) my questions which I had set up for this interview.... loooooooooong ago.

By Giangiacomo Zaffini 2

Champion (267)

Аватар пользователя Giangiacomo Zaffini 2

04-12-2021, 11:05

Very interesting to read interview. Micro cabin MSX-Music greatness still remains magic sauce, but it is OK.

By ren

Paragon (1928)

Аватар пользователя ren

04-12-2021, 16:46

Thanks! Additional questions:

I seems the composition of the sound team changed during the years:

  • Xak I & II: Nitta & Sasai
  • Fray: Nitta (+ Sasai PSG arrangements?)
  • Gazzel & Illusion City: Nitta, Fukuda & Urita

So while you seem to be the constant factor, it seems Sasai left the team at some point and Fukuda & Urita entered.

  • Can you tell something about the creative process, and working together with the other composers/arrangers?
    Were you the one that was in lead, or had a more prominent/directive role?
  • Sasai also was on track composition for Xak I & II right? Could you possibly provide a 'composer breakdown' (who did what) for these soundtracks?
  • according to the information given for the Fray MSX OST [vgmdb] released by project EGG it seems Sasai was responsible for the PSG arrangements, yet here you state that you did those yourself, and bolted the FM part on top of that? Or did they mean to convey that Sasai was responsible for the *Xak* PSG arrangements? I believe you did composition together with Sasai for Xak I & II?

    I was under the impression, and I verified by a quick (kss) check, that the PSG is actually specifically/separately arranged, and not just that what's left when you turn off FM. E.g. there are some tracks there that only use FM, and they have an separate/independent PSG counterpart.

    If I'm not mistaken Xak I & II are specifically arranged for PSG+FM & plain PSG as well?

  • the snare drum? What about the fat/rich (kick) drum(s) And the 'grittiness' in general :)
    There seems to be some evolution in sound Xak I → II → Gazzel. You did tell something about the sound driver's evolution, possibly there's a correlation here, or would you say that this (perceived) evolution of sound should ('just') be attributed to the skill of the composer/arranger (primarily)?
  • do you still have access to YUMIRIN + source music data, and would you see any possibility of releasing that to the public?
  • do you still have the unreleased songs lying around, and would you consider releasing those?
  • did you have particular favorite colleague chip composers at that time and/or were you in contact with some of those (possibly working for other (MSX) companies)? Currently?
  • Tower of Gazzel seems mainly by Fukuda's hand, can you tell something about your involvement in this soundtrack? Does that reach beyond the tracks attributed to yourself? Did you have any involvement in the work done by (/ tracks attributed to) Fukuda? (I believed this game was released on PC-98 first);
  • did you work closely together with the sound driver programmers - did you e.g. provide them with input/wishes which they in turn would incorporate in the driver?
  • can you tell something about suspected influences from the 1979 novel & 1984 movie The NeverEnding Story (Die unendliche Geschichte)? E.g. Xak's Rock Biters, the passing of an important gate/ordeal between two sphinxes, The Tower of Gazzel's Staff Roll tune - which (to an extent) seems to resemble Bastian's Happy Flight?
  • ...

By sdsnatcher73

Prophet (3409)

Аватар пользователя sdsnatcher73

05-12-2021, 07:06

I wonder if there is any song data left from the unreleased Xak III… I guess some music must have been made already befor the project was canceled.

By gdx

Enlighted (5596)

Аватар пользователя gdx

05-12-2021, 08:28

Thanks for the interview. I loved the music from Microcabin and would love to hear new musics in new games, even if they are mini games. A collaboration with one or two developers would be a great pleasure.

For me Compile, Konami and Microcabin were the best composers of the time (even if some were remakes) because their musics made the game even more catchy. We felt the work he had had in the choice of musics and integrating into the game with sound effects.

By wolf_

Ambassador_ (9972)

Аватар пользователя wolf_

05-12-2021, 11:47

Quote:

The Panasonic FS-A1WX and FS-A1WSX were used for development.

Does anyone know whether the PSG in these machines is too soft, correct or too loud compared to other sound chips? Because these machines could then be used as reference. Personally I always had the impression that the Philips 50/55/80 didn't represent these MC tunes as they should've sounded.

By MP83

Master (218)

Аватар пользователя MP83

07-12-2021, 03:47

Thanks for the interview! I'm really happy to hear that Tadahiro Nitta has reunited with the MSX, by getting a MSX2+ after 29 years. Smile

By meits

Scribe (6509)

Аватар пользователя meits

07-12-2021, 10:02

wolf_ wrote:
Quote:

The Panasonic FS-A1WX and FS-A1WSX were used for development.

Does anyone know whether the PSG in these machines is too soft, correct or too loud compared to other sound chips? Because these machines could then be used as reference. Personally I always had the impression that the Philips 50/55/80 didn't represent these MC tunes as they should've sounded.

These two computers are known to be quite spot on with their audio. The 8250 and up need some serious tweaking before they get anywhere near.

By Ivan

Ascended (9305)

Аватар пользователя Ivan

07-12-2021, 12:12

Thanks to the MRC team for the interview!

Quote:

However, if we were to take on a port, we would try to make it better than the other models.

I wish Spanish software companies did the same! Sad