In this guest feature, Nintendo Life regular and chiptune musician Shiryu explains how Wii Music played a pivotal role in encouraging his prolific output.
As tradition mandates every year, I sat watching the Nintendo's 2008 E3 presentation with high hopes of a new F-Zero being finally announced. As the presentation moved along, Cammie Dunnaway kept pushing products that were clearly not targeted at me and my generation of core gamers, bought up in the mean streets of 8- and 16-Bits. No harm there, since Nintendo's and the late great Satoru Iwata's new vision of "games for everyone" meant that there was a whole new audience to whom Nintendo had to push product presentations. I understood that, and was feeling positive because surely there had to be some sort of killer app being shown at the end of the presentation, right?
There was not. Instead, Shigeru Miyamoto mimicked his way into saxophoning the heck out of a Wiimote. At first I believed Wii Music to be a complete music production package, but was quickly disappointed to discover it was more of a laid back, casual fun experience for playing instruments. As the Internet raged and become flooded with instant animated gif memes, I began to wonder if Nintendo was still making video games for me. Playing a bit of the Mute City theme in the presentation was truly the nail in the coffin from my perspective; I was one disappointed Wii and DS owner by the end of that presentation.
But there was something about Wii Music that still made me want to give it a try, an allure I could not quite understand myself. Miyamoto is after all a proven genius and he loves music (he plays several string instruments in real life). Kazumi Totaka is a brilliant composer with game director duties in the title, so this was their way to pass on that love onto people who play video games. I bought Wii Music on release day and I had fun, so mission accomplished. The title became popular around the holidays when people came to my home and began making ridiculous motions in front of the TV. It somehow worked in the same way that Wii Sports had made people gather around the Wii in the previous years. Nintendo was once again doing what no other video game producing company did, taking risks and reaping both rewards and criticism from its fans.
I was no stranger to music production by this time, even without any sort of professional training or knowledge. I began messing around with computers and the ability to make music with them as early as 1990, when my parents got me a Commodore Amiga 500. By 2008 I had already self-published dozens of free albums online, it was (is) my favourite hobby next to gaming. I had begun a new phase in my music producing "career" in 2008 since I was finally free from college but was also managing my first full time employment. I feared my hobby was coming to an end but fortunately this was not the case, as even nowadays I manage to more or less balance things out.
Until this time, I made original electronic music using newbie standards; it was a lot of work but lots of fun. I never even tried to touch or remix any sort of video game music, because for me the original chip tunes were perfect as they were. I believed I would just go on to ruin them. However, life is full of surprises, and events that would be deemed unimportant by most were about to change everything.
When I had some free alone time, I liked to mess around with Wii Music's features. Conducting an orchestra was a lot of fun and I quite enjoyed tinkering with the instrumentation, or rearranging as it's called. You could switch the entire flavour of a song by, for instance, trading all the orchestral instruments for the NES instrument, making the song sound straight out of 1985. Staying true to my F-Zero nutcase nature, I ended up giving the Mute City theme this treatment and well; it sounded wonderfully retro, as if F-Zero had come out in the Famicom instead of its elder 16-Bit brother.
And then, my brain synapses fired up. How would the entire F-Zero soundtrack sound like if the game had been released on the NES? This was the foundation of my very first release back of 2010, F-Zero: The 8-bit Suite.
Made with a simple and free soundfont, this small EP was my first non-original release. Remember, I am no audio professional and nowadays I would have certainly given it a lot more polish before release, but the reception by both friends and strangers alike upon uploading was very positive. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and it seemed to tickle people the right way. I had my fun, but my brain kept flaring up…
Enter Shiryu's Arcade (yes, it is a TRON reference). I was lucky to grow up along with the industry, so I experienced video games from a tender age with 8-Bit computers and consoles to the stuff we find nowadays on the shelves. However, unlike most of my friends I always took particular notice to video game music. I would most of the time play the melodies on the piano just by hearing them once and yes, I was one of those guys who hooked up video game systems to the stereo so I could record the game's music on tape.
So, I decided to expand the scope and began arranging several pieces of my favourite video game soundtracks not just from Nintendo games, but Sega, Commodore Amiga, PC Engine, arcade and even some PC games. Shiryu's Arcade Volume 1 was released on February 2010. Among the twelve tracks I included a Tetris and Super Mario Land suite that reversed my previous release, by switching the original chiptune instruments into high quality orchestral samples. I was quite happy with the end result. Nowadays Shiryu's Arcade has been completed earlier this year, with the release of the double disc Shiryu's Arcade Volume 10. Over those five years, I have covered well over one hundred music pieces from many composers across many formats.
I would like to say that how this story ends, but my mind once again kept wandering and asking "What would this sound like? How about this? What if I added that and subtracted this?". Video game systems of my youth began reaching historical ages. Some of them were turning twenty, twenty five or even thirty years old! So I decided to release tribute albums to them, with musical covers of my top choice video games for the systems. One of them was my all-time favourite home console, the mighty Super Nintendo that turned twenty back in 2012.
In a moment of mixed megalomania, insanity and pure retro-gaming passion, SNES XX was born. A six hour, six disc, twenty orchestral rearranged tracks album with music from equal number of games from my youth. I assure you that those were some not so nice three months of hard work, it was my biggest release ever yet the reception far exceeded anything I could expect. Not only I was connecting with people who shared the same passion for video game music as me but I was also introducing the album to an audience that seemed to believe video game music was nothing more than beeps and blops. The last track from that album is a forty minute Secret of Mana suite that nearly drove me insane, but I often go back and listen to it for that sense nostalgia that those tunes never fail to invoke.
More console tribute albums followed in the next years, with the Famicom turning thirty, the Mega Drive turning twenty five followed by the all-conquering Game Boy reaching the same age. I also began releasing specific video game series tributes with a very special, long overdue F-Zero special edition (that I kept postponing until I considered I had enough knowledge not to insult the original compositions), the big twelve individual releases for the Mega Man XXV project covering every NES and Game Boy Mega Man outings plus Mega Man 7 on Super Nintendo, along with tributes to Fire Emblem, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros and the Zelda series. As of late I also began producing Super Nintendo soundtracks to be used with byuu's MSU1 multimedia enhancement chip for games like Top Gear 2. I have set my sights on you next, F-Zero…
And what will the future bring, I often wonder? More video game projects, certainly? Perhaps more original music releases? Or maybe I will just retire and play video games for the rest of my life… there is no wrong answer here. It is truly as Nintendo's literal translation goes, "leave luck to Heaven" or "leave one's fortune in the hands of fate", I go where my imagination takes me. Not for the money, not for the fame, certainly not because I hate sleeping, but because… I like to do it. I want to do it! It's that simple. My family and friends do not grasp this concept, seeing me working so very much for so little palpable reward. I could never find the words to explain to them, so maybe if I refer them to this article they will understand that slightly better.
But what If I had not bought Wii Music? What if that single moment when I played F-Zero's Mute City with the NES instrument never happened? The last five years of my life would have turned out quite differently for sure. For that "accident" I am very grateful to Miyamoto-san and the rest of the team that produced such an underrated, unique sound toy for everyone regardless of age and gender to enjoy. My musical escapades are the best, greatest way I found to give something back because truly I stand above the shoulders of giants.
What about you, Nintendo Life readers? Has Nintendo pushed you into art? Did you learn the piano so you could play Totaka's song? Are your Miiverse posts careful works of hand painted art? Did Art Academy: SketchPad turn you into the second coming of Picasso? Did Mario Paint inadvertently introduce you to the musical step sequencer? Did Splatoon turn you into an expressionism painter? Share your stories and your works in the comments below!