Grasshopper’s Evangelion / 山岡晃の新たな終わる世界

Grasshopper Manufacture once did a lot of work for hire — the Shining Soul games on GBA, Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked for PS2 — but in its post-No More Heroes rebirth as an iconoclastic and very independent studio, it seemed likely those days were behind it. Huge publishers like EA (Shadows of the Damned) and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment (Lollipop Chainsaw) have engaged the studio to create big-budget original IP. Why go back to making anime games?

Anime games like Evangelion 3nd Impact, released this week for the PSP in Japan by Bandai Namco Games. (“3nd“, by the way, is a play on the word “sound” — “san” being Japanese for “three” and, of course, the Third Impact being a big event in the Evangelion universe.)

Is it the stewardship of Akira Yamaoka, who has recently taken the title of chief creative officer? Is it just the way the Japanese market works, where studios rarely turn down paying work that in the west would seem undignified? It’s not clear, and unfortunately, I didn’t think to pose these questions to Yamaoka when I spoke to him at the Tokyo Game Show.

I was very curious about Evangelion 3nd Impact itself, however. It’s a music game based on the popular series’ recent Rebuild of Evangelion film series, which includes Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone, and Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance, and it came out this week in Japan. The Q&A, conducted at TGS, follows.

Can you tell me how the idea for Evangelion: 3nd Impact came up? Like, how you started making it?

Akira Yamaoka: So how it all started is that Namco Bandai, they just threw out: “Evangelion — is there anything that we think we can work on together?” And so Grasshopper actually came up with a few other concepts, including the one that now is 3nd Impact. “So an action RPG, and what about this music-based, rhythm-based game?” And from there on, everything just kind of moved forward.

Are you a fan of the original show, or the new movies, or anything?

AY: I don’t think I’d say that I’m a huge, huge fan. Not crazy about it. I just like it normally.

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Dan Froelich and his Yamaha FM chip

If I were smart, years ago I would have tracked down Dan Froelich and asked him what he used to write his funky CMF soundtracks for Jill of the Jungle, Solar Winds, Xargon, and other early Epic MegaGames stuff. Turns out I no longer need to, as he has written about his experience on his website. It seems he tracked his early game music in Adlib Visual Composer, a program that spoke to Adlib’s Yamaha FM chip (not dissimilar from the Sega Genesis chip) using a combination of piano rolls and FM instrument banks. Those elements were later crunched together into .CMF files for use with early Sound Blaster cards. To give a rare peek at the raw Adlib sound, Froelich has included clips of his Jill of the Jungle score, exported into ProTools. Cool beans!

So for anyone who wants to write early 1990s shareware music, that’s how the experts do it. Or rather, how an expert did it. I’m sure there are other methods.