Last year, Mark Reichwein (aka Kyo) ran a Kickstarter campaign for his latest brainchild: he wanted to produce an album of boss battle music in the style of various 16-bit era games. The initial seven-track album is now complete and up on Bandcamp, so you can see for yourself how things turned out (spoiler alert: they turned out awesomely!). His selection was impeccable as I still own six of the seven titles he chose (though selling my copy of EarthBound remains one of my biggest gaming-related regrets to this day).
As it stands now, the album currently has only seven songs on it, five more are tracks planned for release sometime in December. The games that inspired the additional tracks are sure to please many 16-bit fans: Final Fantasy IV, Donkey Kong Country, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.
Needless to say, I was extremely excited to be able to kick around a few questions with Reichwein about this project. I’m even more excited to get to share them with you!
Joseph Michael Owens: What was the inspiration behind the Kickstarter campaign/overall project?
Kyo: I stumbled upon the blog SNESology, which collects and showcases music made with SNES soundsets. Some are covers/arrangements, but others are totally new songs written to sound like they could fit the original games. I had thought before about how great it would be if people did just that, but I had no idea people were actually doing it and that the instruments from these old games were so readily available in such good quality, so I was hooked and had to try it for myself. So I made a couple boss themes for FF6 and Chrono Trigger, because boss music is my favorite kind of game music. They turned out pretty good I thought, and it was always my goal to make an original album one day, but I never had enough inspiration until now, so I decided to go for it.
JMO: Boss Music is definitely my favorite kind too! It really gets you motivated/amped. On the flipside, nothing could make you more terrified than hearing certain boss music cued up before a battle. You’d wonder if you were ready. You’d wonder how far back you’d have to travel if you lost.
How did you choose which games to make new music for?
Kyo: Just went with the games I loved the most for their soundtracks. But for the Kickstarter, I wanted to make things more collaborative, so I let backers vote on the stretch goal tracks. I wasn’t originally going to do any more than 7 tracks because of how little free time I have (job + 2 kids), but the extra support was nice persuasion.
JMO: The tracks are of course all original compositions. Did it ever occur to you to do remixes or covers?
Kyo: No, I actually was never really interested in making remixes because I always thought the coolest thing about making music was being able to make something original. Not saying remixes can’t be cool or that I don’t listen to them, but I’ve always been focused on getting better at making things I could call my own.
JMO: Did it (or has it) ever occur to you to do an 8-bit album? Are the same resources available that there are for 16-bit tracks?
Kyo: Yes, actually! That’s the next kind of album I want to do! (More on that project at the end of the interview.) The software I use for 8-bit stuff is FamiTracker (http://famitracker.com/). Unlike the 16-bit stuff, where it’s mostly all about sampled instruments, 8-bit is all about waves. Sine waves, sawtooth waves, etc. FamiTracker has a built-in editor that lets you bend and stretch those little beeps and boops to form the “instruments” you need. I also really enjoy rekcahdam’s browser-based tracker, PulseBoy (http://www.pulseboy.com/). I created one of the albums songs on it.
JMO: You have officially made my day again with that answer, that’s so great!
There’s so much authenticity to each of these tracks. The listener could completely believe that they were really in their respective games. Where did you get the stems/sounds to create each track?
Kyo: Just did a search for “SNES soundfonts” and found some websites that hosted them. But then I couldn’t find any for certain games, like Secret of Evermore and Super Mario RPG, so I ripped those myself which required some old software and DOS emulation.
JMO: Did you arrange all of these tracks inside a particular DAW?
Kyo: I used OpenMPT, which isn’t the most state-of-the-art, but I had used trackers like it as a kid (FastTracker, Impulse Tracker, etc.) and I wanted to try my hand at it again. It’s where I got my start in making music.
JMO: Inspiration and setting are huge factors in music production. What kinds of conditions are best for making boss battle themes? Is it different from making other kinds of music?
Kyo: It might be different for others, but I like to play videos of boss battle gameplay from the game I’m doing, crank the volume, and just get myself psyched up like I would be if I was playing the game. I like to start off a little before the battle starts, so I can build up to it. I let the feelings of anticipation grow and grow, focusing on the music and sound effects, and then once the battle hits, I mute the video, wipe all thoughts from my mind, and try to see what comes to me. Basically, I try to make it come naturally from nowhere. Unfortunately, this only works sometimes, but it’s pretty great when it does. Otherwise, I just hit notes on a keyboard like a baby, and try to find a pattern in the chaos. This is mostly how I write other music as well. Try to let it come to me naturally, or randomly through key bashing.
JMO: Was the creation process for these tracks much — if any — different from your usual creation process?
Kyo: Pretty much the same with the only difference being I never had to sit down with reference material and try to write music based on a limited style and theme like this. I’ve only ever composed music for a game once, so up until now, it’s been free creative reign to make whatever I wanted. That was something I wanted to challenge myself on with this album in order to grow as a musician. I had to see if I could do what the pros do and actually do something within set styles, rules, and instruments.
JMO: Do you have a personal favorite among the tracks you’ve finished?
Kyo: The Final Fantasy 6 track. The melodies for that came from nowhere, which felt great, and I replaced the boss music in the actual game with it to see what it would be like, and it just felt so good to have it work.
JMO: Oh man, the FF6 theme is also my favorite. It’s so incredibly epic!
And I have to be honest, that’s really awesome that you actually got to see how it sounded in the game itself! Who’s theme did you replace?
Kyo: The boss named Number 128. Check it out here: http://youtu.be/REPqDWz6FM8
JMO: People have the means to make their own music more these days than in the past, especially with music production apps, software synths, all-inclusive DAWs, and various other programs for countless platforms, what particular hardware/software are you currently using in your own studio?
Kyo: Don’t got much since I only ever made music as a small hobby whenever I had the time. For software, I use an old version of Cool Edit Pro (now known as Adobe Audition) and OpenMPT. For hardware, all I have is a Roland MP101 keyboard plus a few microphones. The mics are for vocals and guitar recordings because I mainly write songs with lyrics. But I recently wanted to get back into writing game inspired music like I used to when I was younger. After this though, I want to get more serious and actually lay down some money for professional software.
JMO: What’s your next project going to entail?
Kyo: An 8-bit album with a twist. I’ve written a small album’s worth of mellow, acoustic guitar songs with lyrics, and I’m creating 8-bit arrangements of them. But the 8-bit versions are written to sound like game music, not exact copies of the acoustic versions. They’ll use the same melodies and structure, but they will have things going on that make them sound like they were from a game. I already have about half of the 8-bit side done, and the acoustic songs are written but I still need to record them which will be the hard part. So it’ll be like a yin/yang-type, double-sided album.
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It would be a pretty significant understatement to say I’m excited for Kyo’s next project. Until it’s ready, we’ll all have to keep ourselves content with his 16-bit additions (“homages” just doesn’t properly credit what he’s been able to do here) to some of our favorite games!