Freeware game Hydorah is the brainchild of Locomalito of Andalucia, Spain. For the soundtrack, whose cover art is by illustrator Marek Bayej, musician Gryzor87 drew on the established audio styles of retro sidescrolling shooters, while also infusing his own rock and classical-inspired tastes.
Free with every download of the game from the Locomalito website comes the entire hour-long, 50-track soundtrack album in mp3 format. In this interview with the composer we hear about the lengthy collaborative process that made the pipe dream of this ambitious homebrew shmup a reality.
What can you tell us about your personal experiences playing games in the arcades and how this has informed your composition style?
Gryzor87, musician: When I was 12 or 13 there were arcade centers in my town, and I spent a lot of time and coins playing and watching other players. I enjoyed this very much, because those videogames were absolutely gorgeous with their graphics and electronic music. I was also amazed at the incredible skills that some people had. There was a spirit of competition and these games were intense in all senses. The arcade music had a drastic influence on me. I remember when I got home I tried to play those melodies on the piano, enjoying the music again and again…
How long has it been since you first met game designer Locomalito, and have you found that as a design team you are capable of complementing each others’ strengths?
We met four years ago and we both share continuous feedback. As we live in the same city, we meet frequently and spend a lot of hours talking about our projects, so we can polish the results until the both of us completely agree. Locomalito offers me advice about music and vice versa, and in the end I think it works. To answer your question, I would say that we are complementing each others’ skills very well.
How has your specific geographical location been significant to your development as a musician?
We live in Andalucia (south of Spain) and here you have access to a high variety of music and musical events. It has been important because I have had many opportunities to listen to every genre of music, including those in videogames.
Could you point to any specific tracks from Hydorah that are inspired by Spanish musical styles?
In the Ice Planet (called Untulia) there is a piece composed in a “Japanese-Spanish-arcade-style.” There is a Spanish-nylon guitar part inspired by flamenco and Paco de Lucia, one of the most important musicians of Spain.
Do you see potential for an independent game scene in Spain?
Little by little. Spanish people are becoming involved in videogame culture and recognize the value of independent games and their importance.
The vast majority of independent videogames today are played in isolation. Might there be a loss to the gaming experience by not having a public space like the arcades where games like Hydorah can share the benefits of a communal environment?
The arcades have been disappearing gradually for a decade to now. There are still a few, but the sales of home consoles and computers that can support powerful emulators offer an alternative for the player, and they can have all those kinds of games at home. These days I think it would be interesting to create something like an ‘Arcade Club Society,’ a place that you can go to for playing, talking, releasing steam, and discussing ideas about videogames. I think in the future, videogames will be just like literature. There will be a whole culture around them. Indeed, that culture is flourishing now.
How did you go about styling particular tracks after the environments or gameplay situations being designed by Locomalito?
Well, as I said, we both have been in contact on every idea, concept and game passage, and the creative process has been developed in many ways. Sometimes Locomalito sends me screenshots and I compose the music. Sometimes I show him a piece of music and he creates a whole stage. Sometimes he sends me a video of a whole stage, and I compose the music second by second in perfect synchronization, like a movie.
How would you describe the style of vintage hardware that you used to create the music for your game?
I have some old synthesizers (Yamaha SY55, Korg 01/W, Korg Trinity, Casio Cz-230S, etc.) and they have been used for Hydorah. Mainly, drum kits are sampled from those devices in order to manage them easily. Also an ancient model of keyboard, called ‘Muselaar,’ which is mentioned in our ‘making of pdf‘ file, has been included on the soundtrack.
I have been working with these keyboards and software models (nearly perfect copies of vintage synthesizers) over the past three years. I have to say, it’s been very enjoyable reliving the music, videogames and sweet moments of my teens. Most of the sound styles belong to the late ’80s/early ’90s, but there are exceptions in some tracks.
Could you mention some of the game scores that have both left a lasting impact with you and also inspired the creation of the Hydorah soundtrack?
I had an MSX computer and various Konami cartridge games such as Nemesis, Salamander and Gradius II. They had an exclusive music chip inside called the SCC (Sound Custom Chip). The sound was just like the arcade games and I was wondering if one day I would be able to compose music in that style for a nice videogame like Hydorah.
That day finally came. I have to say, it’s been a dream come true. As for inspiration, I’ve liked very much the scores of Gradius, Haunted Castle, Rastan, Salamander, Double Dragon, Vulcan Venture (arcade) and Metal Gear, The Maze of Galious, Vampire Killer, Space Manbow, Nemesis I-II-III, etc. (MSX).
Also there are many external influences in Hydorah OST. I would mention marching bands in music celebrating the collecting of all secrets. Music for films like ‘Harry Potter’ have influenced the “Black Gate Descent” theme. Classical music from Igor Stravinsky, “The firebird suite, 1910,” influenced the Verminest (bug planet) theme.
Let me relate an anecdote. I read in one forum that this track ‘ripped off’ Super Metroid. The truth is, Super Metroid is heavily inspired by that Stravinsky masterpiece. I wrote that Verminest entrance motif as homage to this great musician. There is a link on YouTube where Stravinsky himself is conducting his own creation. The Super Metroid/Verminest part is inspired by the section beginning at the 5:58 mark.
Do you find it challenging to pay homage while steering clear of copying or imitation?
Since the very beginning, both Locomalito and I thought of creating an original game, but one that is stylized and based on classic shoot’em ups like Gradius, R-Type and many others. The whole concept was intended to be as a ‘son’ of these games, though with its own personality. All contents had to be created in that way. However, there is a part of the game where you can reveal a deeper homage to these titles. If you are good enough and beat the game in a certain way, the homage is uncovered.
Were there any particular tracks in the game that you struggled with more than others?
Oh, yes! While a few tracks were created in 20 minutes or a day (such as the map room theme), others have been a real nightmare to arrange and produce. “Battlefront” and “Scylla descent theme,” which has a real choir, each took me six or seven days to complete. This is the very first time this vocalist has recorded a track, so we worked a lot to reach the desired result. Indeed, vocal tracks are extremely difficult to fit into a 16-bit style videogame, but for some strange reason the Scylla song worked well with the descent stage, and it contributes to enhancing the feeling of tension and action involved in the gameplay.
Were you looking to explore certain genre archetypes, like jazz fusion, progressive rock or techno?
Yes, I thought every stage suggested its own style of music. Since the stages are quite different, the music should be different as well. Jazz fusion works fine in open space (for example, Galaxy Force II for the arcade), so the “Outer Wall” stage has that style. Progressive rock works with strange planets like Rubinia. There is a black hole stage, which creates a kind of optical illusion, so I put a techno piece in there to contribute to the twisting of your senses. (laughs) There are also heavy metal styles and references. A piece called “No Mercy” is clearly inspired by the famous Judas Priest heavy metal band, which I love. There are other styles, but always the sound is based on retro synthesizers. The whole soundtrack has to be uniform and homogeneous even while the styles are different.
What has been your reaction to the initial response from game players to Hydorah?
It has been a surprise. We expected one or two thousand downloads, but one week after the release there were more than 200,000, including mirrors sites. I am very pleased by this because many people are enjoying Hydorah and discovering old school videogames at the same time.
What goals related to the creation of games do you have for the future?
Locomalito is a very talented programmer and game creator, so I expect to work on more games with him. In fact, we have just begun working on the next one. It’s going to be an 8bit NES-looking title, one with less production than Hydorah. It’s called The Curse of Issyos, an ancient Greek mythology action-arcade game. I hope not to spend three years this time before the release.
[Hydorah and Hydorah OST can be downloaded from the official Locomalito website. Images are courtesy of Locomalito.]