Rafael Dyll Interview: Leaving Behind a Decade of Game Scoring
Long-term followers of the site will already be familiar with Rafael Dyll, as we extensively interviewed him back in 2010. In the five years since, the German indie composer has gone from strength-to-strength: working on everything from the retro-inspired shmup scores Gunlord and NEO XYX, to the diverse soundtracks for sleeper hit Rainbow Moon and Rainbow Skies, to even a few original tracks and remixes.
In this interview, Dyll talks about the projects he has worked on since we last spoke. Along the way, he reflects on the diverse games and soundtracks that influenced his latest works — among them Chris Huelsbeck’s Turrican to Michiru Yamane’s Castlevania — and gives a taste of what to expect from his three upcoming game soundtracks. However, in this ‘final hurrah’, he also confirms his intentions to take a break from game composition to focus on original music projects.
Interview Subject: Rafael Dyll
Interviewer: Don Kotowski
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Don Kotowski
Don: Rafael, thanks for agreeing to a second interview. It’s been a few years since we last talked about your gaming works. How have things changed for you since then?
Rafael Dyll: Thank you for inviting me to the interview. Things have been stepping up quite a bit. I’ve had a number of releases on PlayStation 3, including the surprise hit Rainbow Moon, which was recently re-released for PlayStation Vita, as well as NEO XYX, released for Japanese arcades and NEO GEO. There have also been a lot of requests for music for games and other media. Early last year, I also joined a video production company, managing business and creating exciting ideas for visual productions. I also moved my studio and settled down near Düsseldorf, one of Germany’s biggest and bustling cities.
Don: When last we talked, you had just finished with the expansion to the PSN game Söldner-X 2, entitled The Last Chapter. Since then, you have been very busy working on a lot of indie scores for games coming out on older gaming platforms such as the NEO GEO and the Dreamcast. Before getting into the specifics of those scores, how would describe composing for these systems, any limitations it brings, and its effects on your creative process?
Rafael Dyll: Some of the games I have worked for, were initially designed for older hardware, which normally resorts to using FM and proper sound programming, using on-board sound chips. The guys from NG:DEV.TEAM have found a way to playback audio samples, which allows me to produce the score in my regular studio. The limits are sometimes due to memory restrictions, so I (and players) have to live with clever track loops. The tough part is that the themes are therefore often short and I have to rely on catchy tunes to keep things exciting. On Sega’s hardware, I use the same recordings, but with full CD quality and sometimes expand on the originals.
Don: You once again worked with NG:DEV TEAM in 2012 to produce the music for the Turrican inspired Gunlord for the Sega Dreamcast. How would you say that Chris Hülsbeck’s music for that series, in turn, inspired your music for the game and were there any other influences? What was the overall atmosphere that you were aiming for with this score?
Rafael Dyll: Chris was a major influence on my interest in game music in the first place. Being one of Germany’s game music exports in the 90s, his love for melody-driven tunes was always inspiring. It doesn’t get much bigger than Turrican in Europe, and the game’s series has a huge fancies even today. I spoke to Chris a few times in the past and was delighted that he enjoyed the Gunlord main title, which is a huge homage to his work (not limited to Turrican). Of course, the aim was to somehow emulate the Turrican atmosphere and at the same time create something new, using my own harmonies. I used a lot of edgy sounds and synthetic samples to underline this.
Don: Can you touch upon the bonus track you wrote for the soundtrack as well as your thoughts regarding the remixes present at the end of the soundtrack?
Rafael Dyll: The bonus track was one of a handful of tunes that didn’t make it into the game, but I had this feeling that it caught the spirit of 90s platform action quite well. The remixes at the end of the album are fantastic. It’s quite emotional to hear other producers take one’s own notes and turn them into something that touches the original in a special way, expanding on ideas or changing details. Incidentally, Gunlord was planned to be released on Nintendo 3DS, perhaps even Wii U – I urge every fan to support NG:DEV.TEAM to make it happen.
Don: Continuing with NG:DEV TEAM, your music for the retro arcade shooter NEO XYX was recently released for both the NEO GEO as well as Dreamcast in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Can you describe your approach to this soundtrack and any challenges that it presented?
Rafael Dyll: The developers wanted me to try something different by producing tracks that were pretty short and looped without noticeable breaks, but also used sounds that could have been used in a late 80s arcade machine or on 16-bit consoles. It’s part of the retro-trend I’d say. So once more, the challenge was creating something that sounds fresh but also clearly is based on retro sounds, you know, with the chirpy Game Boy-like arpeggios and Mega Drive pads and all. I was given a handful of suggestions, YouTube links to classic arcade and cartridge soundtracks and took it from there. It received a lot of love from the community, I guess it was also unexpected to hear this kind of approach from me after Rainbow Skies. You can preview the soundtrack from my Bandcamp below.
Don: Before moving onto recent and upcoming works with eastasiasoft, I’d like to talk a little bit about some of your smaller, independent projects. In summer of 2012, you started releasing tracks, as they were completed, for your electronic EP, Stereophonic. Can you describe your inspiration for the three currently released tracks on your Bandcamp website and the overall direction of the album? What other types of electronic styles, besides trance, if any, can we expect to hear on the finished product?
Rafael Dyll: If I had just a bit more time, I would definitely spend it on writing and producing trance or EDM in general. The Stereophonic EP is just a very small collection of music I wrote in-between game music projects. I still have a number of unfinished tracks on the hard-drive, so chances are that I will still add one or two tracks to the album, which was designed to grow. I simply didn’t want to wait until I have a minimum of, let’s say, 10 tracks ready — because that simply wouldn’t happen. So I gave in to fan requests and released them one by one. I enjoy all kinds of music.
Don: On your SoundCloud page, you have a few pieces and compositions that I’d like to discuss. Could you talk about the following tunes: “Coast of Adria”, “Everything About You”, and “Two”.
Rafael Dyll: “Coast of Adria” is actually a track I hope to add to Stereophonic. “Everything About You”, as mentioned, is a free remix for fans of Norwegian trance act The Blizzard, which they supported. It features some fantastic vocals by Relyk. The song “Two”, originally written by US songwriter and artist Brian Hazard / Color Theory, was my take on this great song, using his original vocals, but with everything else pretty much created from scratch. I have been in contact with Brian over the last years and he also mastered my “Everything About You” remix. Chances are that we will collaborate on a few more projects, we’ll see. If things work out in future, I hope to use more vocalists and maybe even write some original songs, including lyrics writing.
Don: Moving back to game works, you worked with eastasiasoft on the mobile game, Ninja Sprint. Unlike your other eastasiasoft scores, it definitely as a more playful vibe. What was your inspiration for this score and did you find composing for a mobile platform to be more challenging than that of a console?
Rafael Dyll: Fans of Commodore gaming will sense some Last Ninja excitement in the music for Ninja Sprint. I was approached to write something positive, driving the player forward and I couldn’t help adding some SID-like (The Commodore 64 had a sound chip called SID) sounds. It was also fun expanding on my ventures into asian melodies, although I have to say, that Ninja Sprint is obviously a very light-hearted approach to asian music culture. Don’t take it seriously please. But do download the game for iOS and Android, it’s cheap. The music also available from my Bandcamp below.
Don: Another eastasiasoft game you composed was the acclaimed Rainbow Moon for the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita. Unlike eastasiasoft’s other Playstation games, this was a strategy RPG. How did you approach this soundtrack, compared to your predominantly action-oriented scores, and what served as inspiration for some of your tracks? Could you also reflect on some of your favorite pieces on the soundtrack?
Rafael Dyll: Rainbow Moon is something I’m quite proud of. It’s 32-track extravaganza nurtured by the team’s (and my) love for RPGs from the PlayStation era. It is intentionally synthetic, with bursts of acoustic elements like guitars, strings and orchestra, as well as jazzy elements. I was quite involved in the games’ development: not only writing the music, but also creating a lot of the game’s sound effects and vocal recording. I listened to a lot of Japanese fantasy scores, not just from that era, and ended up creating a very wide scope of tunes: There’s some epic fanfares and hymns in there, but also pop tunes and jazz elements. Towards the end of my work on the game, I noticed a lot if inspiration from the Castlevania series, particularly Michiru Yamane’s work. I truly admire her compositions. I guess it just blends in when you listen to a lot of someone’s stuff.
Don: You are currently working on a few upcoming projects, both for Hucast Games and eastasiasoft. Although these games are not released at this time, they are both expected for this year. Are you able to give any details into the overall sound design or approach to either the arcade shooter Ghost Blade by Hucast Games, or Rainbow Skies, the sequel to Rainbow Moon?
Rafael Dyll: I think both soundtracks will appeal to fans of my previous works. It’s back to shmups with Ghost Blade, a very colorful, fast-paced science-fiction shooter for Sega Dreamcast. The sound design for the game is very Japanese, with some Euro-elements. Picture Einhänder, some Cave-inspired atmosphere and perhaps a sprinkle of Sega’s OutRun (yes, OutRun), which used guitars and synths with a heavy melodic drive.
Don: Wow, you know your shmups! What about Rainbow Skies?
Rafael Dyll: Rainbow Skies is a fantasy strategy game for PlayStation consoles, developed by Sidequest Studios, expanding on the Rainbow Moon universe. I also expanded on my own work on Rainbow Moon here – by using even more world-instruments and asian melody development. For some of the game’s music, I collaborated with Eanan Patterson, who plays violin on the emotional title theme. Due to other commitments at the time of production, my work on the game is shared with Eanan, who is also composing for the game.
Don: Rafael, thanks once more for taking time out of your busy day to update us on your works. Is there anything you’d like to tell fans of your recent works since last we talked and what can we expect in the future that hasn’t been touched upon in the interview?
Rafael Dyll: Thank you again for inviting me to talk. It’s always a pleasure to chat about my work and if it is of any interest to fans out there, even better. I’m already working on a totally new franchise’s soundtrack, so things keep moving. That and some unreleased music I have written for games that are still in development. However, moving forward, I will be taking a break from commercial video game freelancing to put more effort into non-game projects. I frequently update my Facebook fanpage and SoundCloud account with news. Thanks to everyone for the support and here’s to more music fun in the next years.
Posted on May 23, 2015 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on May 23, 2015.