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Iwata Asks Koji Kondo About Mario Galaxy 2's Music

The sound staff talks about orchestrations and their fear of Miyamoto. Kondo shares a Mario music secret.

 

Pretty much all Nintendo published games get an Iwata Asks column where CEO Satoru Iwata quizzes the development staff about the title's development. The bigger titles get two Iwata Asks columns. Three and up? That kind of treatment is saved for the biggest of the big -- games like Super Mario Galaxy 2.

The third Mario Galaxy 2 column arrived today. Following up on the first initial conversation with Miyamoto and the second conversation with the core development staff, this latest column is all about the music, with commentary from Koji Kondo (below picture, right), Mahito Yokota (center) and Ryo Nagamatsu (left).

Kondo is, of course, Nintendo's most well known composer and the creator of the classic Super Mario Bros. theme music. Similar to his role with the first Galaxy, he had Yokota head up sound direction while he worked on a number of songs himself. Kondo also had a supervisor's role, making sure all the music fit with Mario.

Nagamatsu is new to the Galaxy series with part 2. He's a relative newcomer to Nintendo, with only four years of working the company. However, he did do work on New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

You'll recall Miyamoto having revealed during the first interview that the original plan with Galaxy 2 was to place new gimmicks on top of the worlds form the original Galaxy. However, the staff ended up creating around 95% new areas of play.

It looks like the game's sound component followed a similar path. There was some talk initially of, going along with the Mario Galaxy 1.5 theme, not changing the music. However, they ended up having to make new music that matched the new elements of the game -- most notably the blue sky that you can see on the cover. There was also the issue with Yoshi. They had to make music that matched the character.

In the end, they made so much music that Miymaoto told the sound team that they'd worked too hard. It seems that Miymaoto felt that some fans might have been looking forward to hearing some of the original Galaxy tracks in part 2.

The end result, as some who've managed to get their hands on the game in advance will know, is a mix of completely new music along with arrangements of Galaxy songs and arrangements of Mario series music. You can hear some samples here:

Like the original Galaxy, Galaxy 2 uses orchestral music. The Iwata Asks column provides a glimpse at a February recording session:

Look closely, and you'll see Kondo and Miyamoto in there. Actually, the game's entire development staff went to view the recording sessions. Space was tight in the studio, so the staff had to take turns watching.

The orchestra for Galaxy 2 consisted of some 60 members, up by about 10 from the 50 of the original Galaxy. The orchestra was conducted by Taizou Takemoto, a famous classical conductor. This is the same Takemoto who conducted the August 2002 Smash Brothers Concert at the HAL offices in Tokyo. Yokota noted that Takemoto is a true game fan, and when initially visiting Nintendo to hear Galaxy 2 music samples, he was able to converse with the developers using gaming jargon.

Doing the orchestral recordings for the first Galaxy was apparently so difficult that Yokota and crew were a bit nervous about getting Miyamoto's permission to repeat the process for the sequel. To make sure they would get the okay, they spent two days creating presentation materials that they hoped would convey to Miyamoto the value of going orchestral. However, when they gave him the materials and asked if it was okay, Miyamoto returned a quick yes without much consideration. Miyamoto apparently felt that because the original's music was orchestral, fans would be looking forward to orchestral music for the sequel.

Nintendo's musical master, Koji Kondo

Outside of the orchestral songs, Galaxy 2 includes some big band (trumpets, trombone, sax, drums, etc.) songs. Recording these required that they add around 10 big band artists to the 60 person orchestra.

You can hear an example of the big band tracks here:

The Yoshi Star song was made by Kondo. The reason Yokota asked Kondo to make this particular song is because he was worried that if he'd made the song himself, it would have ended up being an extension of the Mario Galaxy music. He wanted something of a different taste. Additionally, he feels that one of Kondo's specialties is making Yoshi music.

Yokota made a couple of requests of Kondo for the song. He wanted it to not be orchestral. Additionally, he asked Kondo for a song that sounded like the primeval age. This worried Kondo, as he had to figure out how to create an ancient atmosphere despite the game taking place on a planet.

Regarding his work on the game in general, Kondo explained that, compared to his work on the original, he'd wanted to make more songs for Galaxy 2. For Galaxy 2, he ended up working on five songs. The included the Yoshi Star Galaxy theme, the theme song for the Mario star ship, and a Koopa Jr. theme.

Outside of working on his own music, Kondo also passed along some of his expertise to the development staff. Nagamatsu recalled an instance where Kondo did not approve of a song. Nagamatsu had worked hard to make a song for the world map, a new feature that Galaxy 2 inherits from New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Hearing this song, Kondo said that it wouldn't work because the world map needs to have music that, rather than good, makes the player want to hurry up and play the next stage. He suggested that Nagamatsu make a simple looping song.

You can hear the world map song here:

One of the goals for the world map song, explained Yokota, is for players to cool down when they return to the Mario star ship after having worked up a sweat while playing the various Galaxies.

Elsewhere in the conversation, Kondo discussed Mario music in general. He explained that he recently came to realize that he might have made the original Mario overworld music in such a way that it matches how a player might move Mario. Nintendo even prepared a video to show this:

The text bubbles that appears on screen indicate the following four steps:

  • Mario advances
  • Mario turns away at site of the first Goomba
  • Mario turns back to face the Goomba
  • Mario stomps on the Goomba

See if you can hear how the music matches Mario's movements.

Kondo stressed that this isn't something he had in mind when making the song originally, but it's something that may have been in him subconsciously, making the music turn out the way it is.

The sound team also discussed the game's soundtrack, which will be appearing at Club Nintendo as a bonus item. See this story for more details.

The Super Mario Galaxy 2 soundtrack, available only through Club Nintendo.

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