We are extremely pleased to be interviewing Hirokazu Tanaka, the legendary composer of the original Metroid game. Tanaka-san discusses his time composing Metroid and reflects on his work’s lasting legacy.
Disclaimer: In an effort to ensure that Mr. Tanaka’s words are not misinterpreted in our translation, we have also included the full interview in Japanese, which can be accessed here.
I was born in 1957. I joined Nintendo in 1980 as an engineer. Until I left the company in 1999, I took part in developing arcade games, Game & Watches, Famicom and Game Boy sound, and games. In 1999, I left Nintendo, and now I am the representative director and president of Creatures Inc.
Metroid was being developed by Nintendo Research & Development 1, and I just happened to be a member of R&D1’s sound team.
I never really thought about it that much, I only thought about wanting to compose suitable music and sound effects for a game like Metroid.
The Brinstar theme is the music at the start of the game, and we sought to make a difference in the music in order to ease the immersion into a game such as Metroid. As for why it has endured, I just think it was only because it was the first music in the game.
I think that is a mistranslation. They didn’t say that. Music from mainstream games of the time had a basic and cheerful atmosphere as in the Mario games, so I thought that the people from the sales department and the like would not think of it positively. I thought in that sort of way because I didn’t get feedback directly from the company. However, at that time, while our project was supported by department staff outside of development, I think the game’s content was thinly understood. Naturally, this couldn’t be helped as video game history had just begun.
It’s not an “I like this, I don’t like that” sort of thing. Personally I like it all.
I didn’t search and listen to them by myself, however I frequently get informed of them on Twitter and such, and in that case I listen to them properly. They make me feel very honoured and happy.
I don’t give them a hard thought, I just keep on programming them until I am satisfied.
It’s been a bit too long so my memory is fuzzy, but as far as Nintendo R&D 1’s room goes, it wasn’t any special environment. There were a lot of other staff members, and from these, several people were making Metroid.
To tell you the truth, I don’t remember. Having been involved in so many games, I don’t recall anything special for Metroid. As for the most challenging aspect, it was sound source development for the Famicom and the Game Boy.
Yes, I named them all. I was just inspired on a whim.
I was inspired by the first spaceships drifting in the darkness of space. I wasn’t inspired by Alien’s music, but I was fascinated by the senses of urgency, tension and uneasiness that dominate the whole movie. I was affected by that mood of not knowing when something would happen.
Well, I don’t completely remember that, but when we were making the ending, I think someone said “What if we make her a woman?”. I don’t remember who that was.
It wasn’t a mistranslation, Sakamoto-kun was Shikamoto-kun. He lived in Nara. Nara’s parks are known for having lots of Shika (Deer in Japanese) in them. R&D1 staff of the time used to call him Shikamo-chan. It was his nickname of that time. Sumi, Kacho, Hyakkan, Goyake, and Penpen were nicknames of R&D1 staff from that time. I didn’t know if we should have used our real names, but at that time we played around and ended up using these names as credits…
When making music, I felt like getting informed of its charming aspects only with my own ears, by relying on my own sensitivity and intuition without having my opinion swayed by other people.
I think I was developing Mario Paint or MOTHER 2.
Personally, I do not know about anything other than the very first Metroid. Because I only was the first Metroid’s music composer, and because I was not involved at all in the following installments of the Metroid series, I cannot make a comment on this.
After leaving Nintendo, for about 20 years, I made lots of music for the Pokémon anime and movies. When that trend fell, I made a summary of my live activities in Tokyo since the age of 50. When I summarise my history, after going from an amateur band to game music to Pokémon music, I would like to go back to composing music privately. I think it’s a memorial album for the start of my life after 60. When I think about separating my musical life into periods of 20 years, I think it’s the start of my fourth phase. I’m also thinking about a next album.
Despite the franchise being over 30 years old, I cannot hide my surprise that there’s still lots of Metroid fans out there. I am now over 60 years old, but even now I am still encouraged by the fans to continue making music and to live my life in Japan. I am honoured to be able to do such an interview at this age. From my corner of Tokyo, I would like to pray for everyone’s happiness. Thank you very much.
© 2018 Darren Kerwin and Hirokazu Tanaka
Special thanks to Antoine Fantys and Toya Yukawa and RoyboyX
Header image by Benjamin Stewart
Interviewed on 7th August 2018