Produced for Microsoft's Xbox Live Indie Games platform, six-stage rail shooter Prismatic Solid attracted attention upon its debut last year for its solid gameplay, low price and abstract, prismatic visual design.

A finalist in Microsoft's Dream-Build-Play competition, the title was developed by one-man team Heloli, run by seasoned game programmer YO1 KOMORI, based in Shinagawa, Japan.

What Prismatic Solid demonstrates is that establishing a career in the mainstream game industry does not necessarily overshadow the allure of indie development. Projects more modest in scope, like the auteur showcase Prismatic Solid, can offer designers greater creative freedom and a relaxed environment for artistic expression.

The music score to the Xbox Indie Game comes courtesy of Shinji Hosoe and Ayako Saso of SuperSweep. The two frequent collaborators are among the most experienced game composers working today and also perform live DJ sets as Sampling Masters AYA and MEGA. New to the industry back in the late '80s and early '90s, the musicians began their careers with Namco arcade games Dragon Spirit and Rolling Thunder 2.

Even today, the musicians' work reflects an independent spirit. The publication of the Prismatic Solid CD soundtrack album took place through their Sweep Record label and was sold by the Sampling Masters in person at the Comic Market hobbyist festival. Translation for our interview with the composers is by Yoshi Miyamoto, the interpreter on our previous GDC music chat.


Sampling Masters AYA and MEGA

Like many experienced game composers in Japan, you've contributed to various titles under pseudonyms, including Prismatic Solid. How do you choose which name to be credited by on a given project?

Ayako Saso: When writing techno music, we often go by "Sampling Masters." However, there are plenty of instances when we're writing music as "Shinji Hosoe" and "Ayako Saso."

Shinji Hosoe: We were credited as "Sampling Masters" on Namco Bandai Games' Ridge Racer titles. That was also the case while writing music for Konami's Beatmania series. Whenever it's a techno-style project, that's the name we go by.

Who was responsible for the coding on Prismatic Solid and how did you become involved with the independently developed title?

AS: It's by Hayashi Yoichi. He's a genius. We met while working on the Playstation game iS: internal section, where he served as a programmer. Oh, and before that he was a member of the Bushido Blade staff.

SH: Back when he was working for Square Enix we were hired for the same project. He's a brilliant programmer.

What made you decide to write in this established style of the Sampling Masters on Prismatic Solid?

SH: Just from the appearance of the game, the images radiated a certain techno vibe. It really seemed like a good fit for the Sampling Masters sound, so we went with that style. We wanted to match the feeling of the game.

AS: To guide our process, we received video footage of each stage. There were all these amazing, colorful objects flying across the screen. It had the look of retro CG videos, so something similarly pleasing was required for the music.

SH: The appearance was reminiscent of internal section. That style, with its resemblance to old school CG, I find really appealing.

Having worked on big budget franchises like Ridge Racer and Tekken, what motivated you to write music for an independent game?

SH: I've been impressed by many indie titles and was interested in making one. On a major franchise you are used to receiving lots of requests from various departments. Maybe it's not the same with all indie games, but on this one we were given complete creative control. There seem to be a lot of independent games being made these days and it's interesting to see development systems like XNA really taking off.

AS: Whether the game you're working on is for the arcade, DS, PSP or Xbox, it's always fun to build experience with different platforms. Scoring film and video is also really interesting. The great thing about making indie games is that you have the freedom to do what you want. In a formal workplace, you're always hearing, "We need this and this and this and this, and do it well, please." Everything has already been decided on, and you're expected to cater to those specifications. Not having all those demands placed on you makes the process a lot more fun.

SH: It's a way more chill environment.

Was your approach any different on a technical level when compared with your triple-A game titles?

AS: On a technical level it was very similar to other projects. Though, as Hosoe mentioned, we did enjoy greater creative freedom. Working together we discuss things like, "How do you feel about going this route?" "What do you make of this kind of melody?"

Is there particular software you're utilizing for techno music?

SH: I'll use just about any sequencer. Previously I've gone with Opcode's Vision software. Vision is no longer being produced, which is why I've switched to Cubase.


Official soundtrack album trailer

Prismatic Solid was a finalist in Microsoft's Dream-Build-Play competition. Are there similar initiatives being organized locally?

SH: There are contests for independent developers in Japan. They aren't widely publicized overseas.

You don't hear much about Comic Market outside Japan, as well. That is even though tens of thousands of people attend the event twice a year in Japan. How would you describe the festival, having set up your own booth there numerous times over the years?

SH: Comic Market is an event where various custom products are bought and sold, but they are being produced not by manufacturers but by the end users. There are thousands of these "circles" assembling to sell their products. That's the main purpose of the event. You see all these interesting products that you would never expect to see entering the marketplace.

AS: For us, it's also a place where we get to see in person the people who play our games. It's great to speak with them, and hear that people are enjoying our music.

SH: It's a lot of fun, so of course we plan on attending in the future.

It's impressive how closely the two of you are in touch with your audience. In addition to attending all the Comic Market and M3 events to communicate with listeners in person, you're also connecting with people overseas through twitter. Has taking to social networking in such an outgoing way provided you with any surprises?

SH: I'm always surprised when people say they like my music from a really old game. It's really shocking. Why do people still know about these games?

AS: That's always a big surprise. People have told me that they like my debut game, Rolling Thunder 2. Why do people remember this game from 20 years ago? I was assigned that score right when I entered [Namco]. It was the first title whose music I worked on alone, and during the location tests at arcades, I was so anxious to see how people would react to the game that I would stand in the back watching everyone play, my heart beating really fast. Back then I never expected people here would know of the game years later, let alone game players from overseas.

Do you have any interest in working with independent developers abroad, and would you ever consider flying outside Japan for a live performance?

AS: Yes, definitely.

SH: And performing as DJs overseas sounds interesting. I'd really like to do that.

AS: Keep in mind that we don't speak any English. (laughs)

Looking back, do you see your present situation as game composers being a reflection of your early ambitions to build a career in this field?

AS: Back then I listened to music in arcade games again and again, and it really interested me to learn to make music like that. However, I can't stand composing at all. (laughs) I really hate making original music. You might wonder why that's what I do for a living. The truth is I love arranging other people's music, which is why I started writing music in the first place. With arrangement, you can change the atmosphere of a given piece. The original melody is preserved, but you get to experiment with the atmosphere in a creative way.

SH: For my part, I'm entirely self-taught and never studied composition. I write my own kind of music. People tell me the chord progressions are out of the ordinary.

AS: That surprising aspect of his music is something I myself envy. Music theory can sometimes enforce habits on your thinking that restricts creativity. What he comes up with is outrageously creative, so I'm always jealous of that.

This content is available in its original Japanese as part of the Videogame Music in Context DVD series. Images courtesy of Heloli and SweepRecord. Translation by Yoshi Miyamoto. Photo by Jeriaska.