Sound Byte: The Sounds Behind Pac-Man
Hiroshi Okubo from the sound team at Namco Bandai shares his thoughts on creating the right sounds for the iconic ghost eater.
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Pac-Man, who celebrated his 30th birthday last year, has a long history of eating pellets and running circles (or rectangles) around colorful ghosts. It's a formula that is so simple yet has withstood the test of time. Like other long-running series, Pac-Man has had its fair share of spin-offs and redesigns. But the last couple of makeovers have rejuvenated the brand, delighting fans and newcomers alike. In the most recent Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, the addition of new sleeping ghosts, bullet time, and a catchy soundtrack takes the game to a whole new level. If you weren't born when the first Pac-Man came out, then now's the time to introduce you to the man with the bottomless stomach in Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. In a translated e-mail Q&A, we talked to Hiroshi Okubo of Namco Bandai about the new sounds of Pac-Man and what it was like to revisit the franchise. For those who haven't tried the new game, Sound Byte is giving away 10 Xbox Live Arcade codes via Twitter, so follow @gs_soundbyte for more details!
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GameSpot: Tell us about yourself and your role on the new Pac-Man Championship Edition DX.
Hiroshi Okubo: My name is Hiroshi Okubo from the sound team at Namco Bandai Games Inc. in Japan. For Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, I was involved in managing and giving direction to the sound team. I was also in charge of creating one of the soundtracks for the game. The sound team for Pac-Man Championship Edition DX consisted of Akitaka Tohyama, Hiroyuki Kawada, Taku Inoue (who took care of the soundtracks), and Etsuo Ishii (who is taking care of the sound effects).
GS: Pac-Man has a long 30-year history. How do you approach the sound in order to keep things fresh without losing that Pac-Man feel?
HO: Although the new game consists of beautiful graphics and exciting new gameplay, we always felt a strong respect towards the past Pac-Man titles while working on Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. We can say that this principle was carried into the sound area as well. Since Pac-Man is so iconic and self-explanatory, it wasn't too difficult for us to come up with new concepts towards the new title since we knew the character of Pac-Man so well.
GS: What are some of your earliest experiences with Pac-Man? Has that affected how you approached the new Championship Edition DX?
HO: I personally loved the '80s Namco classic titles from my childhood. I remember buying the Pac-Man soundtrack back then and listening to it a lot. Being a loyal Pac-Man customer at the time has definitely helped my work for Pac-Man Championship Edition DX.
GS: Why do you think Pac-Man has been able to keep his popularity and make such a comeback in his recent game?
HO: I believe every aspect of Pac-Man--from the gameplay to the sound, the character image, and the setting as a whole--is still universally enjoyed throughout the world. The latest installment manages to carry the original's unique charm, but also introduces exciting new elements that are relevant to today's gaming population.
GS: Could you tell us about your process when it comes to designing the right sounds for the game?
HO: Our job is to come up with an emotion in a sound format which adds to the gameplay experience. Playing the game and being able to understand its core concepts are crucial components. On this occasion, we decided on the overall direction or approach of the music first. Then the individual engineers make sure the music isn't disturbing the player's mood or concentration while they are playing the game. They also have to make sure that it syncs with the gameplay by working closely with Mr. Iguchi, the game's designer. By repeating this routine, we were able to come up with something everyone was satisfied with.
GS: The new game can get quite intense as the pace quickens and the trail of ghosts increases. How do you design the music and sound to get that frantic feeling across to the player?
HO: As mentioned before, we make sure that we are aware of the core concepts of the game while also working closely with the development team. We take special care in making sure the sounds and music in the game will work in sync with the gameplay being represented onscreen.
GS: For those who are interested in pursuing sound design, what advice do you have?
HO: My best advice would be to absorb as much information as possible by playing video games. Playing a game to try and understand why a given sound effect or music cue makes the gameplay experience fun, soothing, or new is an excellent starting point. I would also suggest to not hesitate with sharing your appreciation of music with friends. Discussion and input from others is incredibly valuable.
GS: Thank you for your time!
Sound Byte is GameSpot's game music blog, which covers every aspect of music in games, including interviews with top game music composers and discussions of new or classic game soundtracks. Have a question or suggestion? Leave us a comment below or e-mail us at email@example.com. For a list of previous Sound Byte features, click here. Follow us on Twitter! @gs_soundbyte