30 July 2014

LMH Mixtape #4: Junko Tamiya

Episode four marked the first occurrence of the "composer focus", an entire installment dedicated to showcasing the works of one musician.  The tradition began with Junko Tamiya, and although a few selections by other composers sneaked into the original episode, the errors were excluded this time around to produce an all-Tamiya mixtape.

NOTE TO THE DETAIL-ORIENTED:  Bionic Commando's "Area 1" was composed by Harumi Fujita, but Junko Tamiya's involvement as its arranger for the NES port merited its inclusion on the setlist.


Instant new favorite:  Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight - Alleyway (Planet 1, Area 1)
Brewed new favorite:  Strider - Hiryu/Theme for Counterattack

Now That I've Found It, I Can't Live Without It:  Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight - Rooted (Planet 2, Area 2)

Picardy Third Alert:  Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight - Skimmer (Planet 1, Area 2)

Track listing (this has non-Tamiya tracks not included in this mix) and original episode:



  1. Junko's focus needs a comment, so here's something her music made me think about. Apologies for the ridiculous length!

    I'd never played Strider, but the way Brent described the function of the music in this episode -- that each individual level was a "medley of songs" that changed as you progressed -- really intrigued me. In retro video games, the different musical "numbers," at least in my experience, are often as clearly delineated as the stage acts. Levels are relatively short and isolated, separated by intro screens, level selects, or worldmaps; bosses are frequently through doors or in unique spaces; stages have clear endings; and the levels themselves may not be narratively connected beyond a basic "this is a tour of ecologically diverse planets in a distant solar system" or "here's the next town due east of the one you just visited." (Not that I don't love this sort of thing, mind you.)

    It makes aesthetic and coding sense to attach unique tunes directly to these already-defined pieces, so you loop through one piece until the next major screen/gameplay change or load. The result is something akin to the standard rock/pop album: a collection of semi-related, stand-alone tracks.

    What Junko did with Strider is entirely different and more immersive, and it struck me that it is an effect which modern games have strongly adopted and even take pains to achieve. Nowadays many games' background music shifts under your gameplay, with perhaps several themes to each "section," but it aims to feel consistent and unsegmented. The experience is more akin to an orchestral piece or movie score with lengthy, nuanced movements than the more regimented rock/pop album approach.

    This is what Strider did, and it's fascinating. I've watched gameplay, and sure, it has clearly delineated stages and other standards, but the stages are long, continuous experiences in large, varied environments, and music changes and leitmotif throwbacks occur not just when you expect them to, but when you reach seemingly random bits of landscape. The crest of a roof. An arbitrary climbing height. The tracks within a stage are also clearly related and structured to make a sensible thematic progression. It's not just a random collage of neat-sounding stuff.

    Do we know of other classic games do this? I'm thinking specifically in the pre-CD era, because it seems this is less intuitive and harder to achieve with the limitations earlier formats present. Could Junko have been one of the first to pioneer this sort of continuously shifting musical immersion that's so common today? I don't have the breadth of experience to answer this on my own, especially when it comes to arcade games.

    And, thanks to anyone who read all of that. :)

    1. Thanks for the hearty comment, which this episode needed with such a lack of comments. One game that kind of comes to mind is Pitfall II for the Atari 2600. The music is continuous and it changes, but not through different parts of the levels, but it changes depending on how well you're doing. Also, all of the tunes are basically variations on the same tune, so this example might not count. Strider's soundtrack is extremely unique in that there doesn't seem to be any games from its era or before that do what it does. So yes, perhaps Junko Tamiya was a bit of a pioneer in this regard. She's certainly a musical genius.

    2. Woah! I wouldn't have expected an Atari 2600 game to be a leading example for this kind of thing. I'll have to check that out.

      The only comparable thing I can think of myself is the X-Men 2: Clone Wars Genesis soundtrack by Kurt Harland. Each level has a standard tune to it, but an extra unique musical line gets added in depending on which character(s) you play. Nightcrawler has a lot of sneaky-sounding plucked strings mixed in, for instance, Wolverine gets some electric guitars, Psylocke gets what sounds like... an extremely creepy minimalist koto? Oh, and Gambit gets some sassy riff. Because Gambit.

      It's not all that similar to what Junko did, but it's slightly related, and seriously cool.

    3. Wing Commander for MS-DOS, was a floppy disk game released in 1990 that contained a dynamic sound track. Dubbed the "OriginFX Sound System", the engine allowed composers George A. Sanger, and Dave Govett to created an epic, film like score that would dynamically change during the missions. It would be almost ambient when enemies weren't around, and would grow more intense depending on how many enemy ships were present. When you destroy an enemy ship, a short fanfare would play.

      I know that the LMH doesn't cover computer music, but it's the best example I personally know of. The Ad-Lib sound card that it was originally written for is very technically close to the Genesis sound chips, for what it's worth. There were console ports, but to my knowledge, they all lack the dynamic music system.

    4. Hey Retro Nick, thanks for coming all the way back here to share your knowledge! I've enjoyed your other recent-ish informative posts, too. I really appreciate the soundtrack tips.

      I'll be investigating this game too. Really interesting! I do branch out and enjoy some computer music every now and again, so rest assured, it's a great suggestion. Thanks again!

    5. Awesome! Glad you enjoy the tips. The opening fanfare of Wing Commander is outstanding! I compare it to the end credits of Star Fox, or even the opening of Star Trek TNG tv series.