A Conversation with Takashi Tateishi

A detailed and personal interview with the legendary composer of Mega Man 2

Conducted by Mohammed Taher in April, 2015.

Note: To further commemorate Tateishi-san in this interview, I asked my friend and Brave Wave composer Takahiro Izutani to make a Mega Man 2 remix. Please enjoy his version of Quick Mane Stage below. Takahiro Izutani is the co-composer of the Bayonetta series, Metal Gear Solid 4, and more.

Takashi Tateishi: Good evening!

Mohammed Taher: So, I'm writing a book about Famicom composers, and the reason I'm doing that is because a lot of them didn't get the recognition they deserved, and I think that's a shame. People like [Ninja Gaiden composer] Keiji Yamagishi-san quit because they thought no one cared about their music, so this book is dedicated to them and to letting people know about the composers and their inspiring work. [Editor’s note: As explained in Wavelength 05, the book is on an indefinite hiatus.]

Tateishi: Thank you! You're the first person in the world I've ever met with this kind of viewpoint.

Mo: I'd like to know how you began making music.

Tateishi: My parents were schoolteachers, and they too had ambitions that one day I’d become a teacher. But in order to become a schoolteacher, you actually have to learn to play the piano, so that's when I began studying music.

Mo: Oh, so your parents were teaching music?

Tateishi: They were elementary school teachers, so they taught every subject. Music was one of those subjects, and if you couldn't play the piano, you couldn't teach.

Mo: Interesting. And did you get a degree in music?

Tateishi: I have a degree in economics; I didn't actually study music in school. But, beginning in middle school, I was in a band, and doing performance is where I learned to play the keyboard.

Mo: Was your first job related to economics?

Tateishi: After I graduated, I joined an advertising firm. While working there, a friend of mine who was a graphic designer showed me a job listing from Capcom asking for musicians. So, I applied.

Mo: Was that something you wanted to do back then, game music?

Tateishi: At the time, I'd played and liked Super Mario Bros. on the Famicom, as well as many arcade games like SNK's Ikari. So after playing all these, I did think about working on them.

Mo: So Capcom was your first video game company? And that's where you met Manami Matsumae and Yoko Shimomura?

Tateishi: I didn't know Manami beforehand, no. And Shimomura hadn't yet joined the company. And of course my senpai was [Bionic Commando composer] Harumi Fujita-san.

Mo: Was Mega Man 2 your first project at Capcom?

Tateishi: My first was an arcade game called Mad Gear. After that, I did a few other titles—one of which was Mega Man 2.

Mo: Do you recall why they picked you to work on the music instead of Manami Matsumae, who had already composed the original game?

Tateishi: She had proven herself to be a very capable worker, so they sent her to the arcade division. I joined the company after her, and was put onto the console project which, at the time, had less prestige than the arcade games.

Mo: Were you familiar with Matsumae-san's work on the first game?

Tateishi: Oh, yes. I referenced it quite a lot.

Mo: I wondered about that, as the intro music for Mega Man 2 uses a portion of the ending music from Mega Man 1. Was this your decision?

Tateishi: Director Akira Kitamura wanted people to know this was a direct sequel to Mega Man 1. So even though the first game ends fairly peacefully, he wanted players to feel "back in action."

Mo: There are rumors about you having trouble composing Air Man's stage and that Matsumae-san helped you with a portion of the track. Is that true?

Tateishi: It's partially true she helped come up with the melody since I was having trouble finding one. It's also true I worked on U.N. Squadron while she was working on Mega Man 1. So in a way we basically ended up swapping jobs. [laughs]

Mo: Ah, so it's true that you both helped each others!

Tateishi: Correct, we returned the favor and assisted each other. No one's officially stated that point, but the rumor is true. And I'm not even in the credits for U.N. Squadron.

Mo: I wonder what you had in mind while composing Mega Man 2. Was there a specific genre of music you were going after? Nowadays the public associate Mega Man music to rock music, and most of the fan covers around the internet are of that nature too.

Tateishi: There weren't a lot of games with rock motifs at the time. If you look at Super Mario, that's more like classical music, right? So with Mega Man 2 I did imagine as if the music would be played by a guitar. And at the time, there wasn't anyone at Capcom who really did "band" type classical music.

Mo: It must have been an intimidating project to tackle.

Tateishi: I was actually quite happy to be involved with Mega Man 2, as I loved the first game. But my first few attempts at creating songs were rejected by Kitamura-san for making music that sounded too cute. I was asked to make "cooler" music. In fact, of all the songs I made in that first pass, only Crash Man made it into the final game.

Mo: That's interesting. Of the eight boss themes, Crash Man is the one that feels the most different.

Tateishi: At the beginning, all of the songs were similar to that. I ended up making totally new ones.

Mo: Did you rearrange and improve the rejects, or did you have to start all over?

Tateishi: Oh, they're gone. No one has them. [laughs] But when I went to work on Cocoron, Kitamura-san asked for cuter-sounding music, the type of music I couldn't really do in Mega Man 2.

Mo: How did your tracks take shape?

Tateishi: Game data was quite small at the time, so the challenge was to take a short amount of music and make it as long as possible.

Mo: Do you remember how long it would take you to compose a track in Mega Man 2?

Tateishi: In the most ideal situation, I'd make a song in the morning and Kitamura-san would approve it in the afternoon, and then the game data would exist that night. 

Mo: And you programmed the music data into the game yourself?

Tateishi: Yes.

Mo: How did you know when you were done with a track?

Tateishi: I would measure the music against images of the game, or the game running, and then consult with Kitamura-san. If they matched well, the song was done.

Mo: Did you make all the songs while looking at the stages?

Tateishi: In this case, all the sound went in after the game was done. So the images were mostly complete and I could cross reference the song with the visuals.

Mo: When you were making the music, obviously you were seeking Kitamura-san's approval, but were you also thinking of the player's enjoyment? Or was that not really a conscious consideration back then?

Tateishi: Every composer back then did picture someone sitting in front of the TV, and we wanted the player to feel like they were listening to music that came from all around them. Catchy theme songs, things players would enjoy.

Mo: All the stage themes are universally loved, but one song that really stands out is the Wily Stage 1 theme. I remember the first time my brother and I got to the stage—we just sat and listened to the track motionless because it was too good, way different from the rest. It had a huge affect on us.

Tateishi: Thank you!

Mo: Was there a strong reaction from the team to the Wily Stage 1 theme? Did Kitamura-san comment on it?

Tateishi: Kitamura-san did say it was very good, and to make more songs just like that.

Mo: Did you compose it early on?

Tateishi: Wily Stage 1 was one of the last songs I made, based on feedback from another track.

Mo: Do you remember which track that was? Wood Man comes to mind…

Tateishi: It could be Wood Man, they do sound similar! I can't really remember the specific song. But everything early on was rejected so I considered quitting Capcom. [laughs]

Mo: You did a wonderful job. You know, every stage has super cool music. But then you go to the last stage, and there is nothing. There is only the sound of acid dripping from the ceiling. Was this your decision?

Tateishi: That's Kitamura-san's idea. He's a genius.

Mo: Indeed. Mega Man fans see me a lot with Matsumae-san so they think I know all the ex-Capcom staff, and I end up getting a lot of emails asking about Kitamura-san.

Tateishi: Even Inafune-san says Mega Man was made by Kitamura-san.

Mo: What was Inafune-san's role on Mega Man at this stage?

Tateishi: Kitamura-san directed the game but Inafune-san was the character designer, and he had a large say in how the characters moved, how they're designed and whatnot. So in that sense, Inafune-san can be credited as co-creator of Mega Man.

Mo: The story goes that the first Mega Man wasn't successful, and so the team worked overtime and after hours to complete the sequel. Is that true?

Tateishi: At the time, manufacturing and distribution of games was quite costly, yet even then Capcom Japan made 200,000 copies of Mega Man—just in Japan—and they all sold out. However, it took six months to replenish the stock, and they wanted to get Mega Man 2 out...

Mo: To capitalize on the success of the first game.

Tateishi: Yes, they made it because the first game was a success.

Mo: So it wasn't developed as overtime, it was just one of the many projects in the works?

Tateishi: Well, I guess you could call it overtime. It was a game made while we worked on other duties. There was no rule that it had to be done during "overtime," as we had other jobs and worked on Mega Man 2 alongside them.

Mo: When Mega Man 2 came out, was it seen as a success?

Tateishi: Yes, it was a smash hit.

Mo: Does anyone from your family, or any friends, know and love the game and its music?

Tateishi: No one from my family really know much about it, nor do many of my coworkers these days.

Mo: Why is that?

Tateishi: Well, Mega Man 2 wasn't as popular as games like Mario, Zelda or Final Fantasy, and it was quite a while ago. So that's why no one really talks about it today.

Mo: There are a lot of critically acclaimed game soundtracks, but Mega Man 2 is universally loved and the dearest to many. Every gamer knows it.

Tateishi: I sometimes watch remixes made by people outside of Japan, I'd hear people sing, "I'm Mega Man..." and it makes me smile knowing people enjoy it that much.

Mo: Do you remember the first time you met someone who said they loved your work on Mega Man 2?

Tateishi: You're the first, in 2013. No one else has.

Mo: Wow. I'm surprised. I don't even have a follow-up question... how could no one come up and say something.

Tateishi: …

Mo: Now that you know how big Mega Man 2 is outside of Japan, do you look fondly back at the soundtrack?

Tateishi: Yeah, my thoughts have changed since I met you and became more aware of how people felt. But even when I was at Konami, I didn't even bother telling anyone I did Mega Man 2. So the fact you came all the way to Japan to tell me these things makes me very happy I worked on the game all those years ago.

Mo: But at one point you did resent the soundtrack?

Tateishi: Not resent, but I was embarrassed of what I'd made. It's more of a psychological thing. I have a lot of pride so when I think about it I get a little shy.

Mo: Do you remember the last time you played through Mega Man 2?

Tateishi: I finished it every day when it was in development. [laughs] I actually beat Mega Man 1 a few times before working on Mega Man 2. I'd eat lunch and beat it before coming back to work.

Mo: Do you remember if Kitamura-san worked on Mega Man 3? [Editor’s note: Kitamura talks about Mega Man 3 in this newly translated 2011 interview.] 

Tateishi: After Mega Man 2 he went to SNK, and then afterwards to Takeru, where we worked on Cocoron together.

Mo: After Cocoron, did Kitamura quit or did he try to make something else?

Tateishi: Takeru itself went out of business, and I haven't seen him since then. After that, I went to Konami.

Mo: So you worked on Cocoron... did you move to that project because of Kitamura-san?

Tateishi: I left Capcom for Takeru so I could make music more freely and so that more people within the company could hear my music. And since you always want more people to hear your music, that's why I left for Konami after that.

Mo: Did you join Konami as a composer? I’m thinking of my favorite Konami composers, [Symphony of the Night composer] Michiru Yamane and [Silent Hill composer] Akira Yamaoka. Were they present at the time?

Tateishi: Michiru Yamane was already there, consider her my senpai. Yamaoka-san joined a year later.

Mo: What about [Castlevania composer] Kinuyo Yamashita?

Tateishi: She's kind of a legend, she had already left by the time I arrived. I never met her. I ended up joining Konami and the first thing I had to study and reference was her earlier work.

Mo: Do you recall what you composed for Konami?

Tateishi: Well, just to explain a bit, when I was at Capcom, I was the only person composing music with a band background. But at Konami, many composers were from bands so I ended up not doing much composing by the time I got there. But I did 10 songs for the first Tokimeki Memorial.

Mo: Even though Mega Man 2 was such a hit…

Tateishi: Well, I didn't think I did such a good job with the game. No one really told me the work was good. I was surprised later to hear how many people liked it. 

Mo: Did the number of musicians at Konami make you think about changing jobs?

Tateishi: There were so many capable musicians there, I felt they should be the ones composing the music, while I pursued sound engineering and programming.

Mo: And you worked on Suikoden III?

Tateishi: Yes, I was a project manager rather than a composer.

Mo: After you left Konami, did you think, that's it, I'm done with games?

Tateishi: I'm fine with the gaming industry, but no game companies were approaching me back then. I hadn't worked as a composer in some time so after Konami, it was hard to get back into that line of work. So, I started my own company with some friends.

Mo: And that’s MOST COMPANY. When was it founded?

Tateishi: 2002.

Mo: Did you compose anything there, or were you mostly a producer?

Tateishi: I'm the president of the company, and in that time forgot how to use sequencers. [laughs]

Mo: What made you decide to join Mighty No. 9 after all this time?

Tateishi: Well I just wrote one song and I'm done for now. [laughs]

Mo: You’re also part of my joint project with [Inti-Creates composer] Ippo Yamada, Project Light. What convinced you to join our album? I know you're not too fond of making music these days. [laughs]

Tateishi: Ippo-san asked me to create a song for Mighty No. 9, and even though I've rejected similar offers for years, I agreed. And since I said yes to that, I thought it would only be fair to accept your request as well. [laughs]

Mo: Was it hard to compose for Mighty No. 9?

Tateishi: It was a slow process, but I did eventually manage to trudge through it.

Mo: Looking back, who were your influences while making music?

Tateishi: I drew a lot of inspiration from the instrumental band Mezzoforte.

Mo: What about Yellow Magic Orchestra?

Tateishi: Ah yeah, that was a considerable influence as well.

Mo: Just about every game music composer I know mentions YMO as an influence!

Tateishi: Me too!

Mo: Is there a game musician that appeals to you right now?

Tateishi: I'm not sure who the composer is, but I feel StarCraft has excellent music. It's a very fun game and that type of music really appeals to me.

Mo: Did you play StarCraft II?

Tateishi: No. I haven't played many games recently.

Mo: Is there a musician you feel a type of kinship with? Someone you can share your worries with?

Tateishi: I've been friends with both Matsumae-san and [Street Fighter II composer] Shimomura-san for years, and when she had her 25th anniversary concert last year I ended up assisting her. And I'm still close with Yamaoka-san.

Mo: Which of your scores did you like the most?

Tateishi: Well, I mean, Mega Man 2 would be the best one.

Mo: What was your driving factor when making music back then?

Tateishi: Back then, I had dreams of being a famous composer, and that was motivating. Today, I feel like I'd make music because it would make people happy and that happiness would come back to me through those people.

Mo: You may not be rock star famous, but every person who knows about game musicians knows about you and talks about you regularly.

Tateishi: I'm very happy to hear that, especially to know that someone came from Kuwait to tell me. If I hadn't made that music I never would have met you, so this is quite a happy thing.

Mo: I'm happy for how things turned out, and for finally meeting you. Mega Man 2 is a game I've played since I was a kid, but now it has a new meaning because of our friendship.

Tateishi: I'm already looking forward to the day when we meet again.