Overclocked Oji Q&A

Posted by | on April 17, 2008

Larry “Liontamer” Oji took time out of his busy schedule as head submissions evaluator over at OcRemix.org to speak with us about his interests, experiences, and memories. This guy loves his video game music!

OCRemix logoI never expected the “Good Bleepin Tunes” article to do anything but scratch the surface of the great artifact that is video game music. Now look at this ! I’ve got my nostalgic fish hook in the mind of Larry “Liontamer” Oji, the head submissions evaluator at OverClocked ReMix, the biggest video game music community on the internet ! I’m gonna try and net the big deal about video game music, OC ReMix.org, and the reason why we get weepy when 8-bit goes stereo.

First off, your profile on OC ReMix includes the moniker “Liontamer”, where did you pick up such a knightly nickname ?

Larry Oji pic1Well, I’m a big fan of pro wrestling, and have been for 18 years. If there’s anything that gets me particularly nostalgic, it’s old school WWF and WCW (shortly after they broke off from the NWA). Pro wrestling’s a great combination of athletics, entertainment and politics.

Back in 1999, a favorite wrestler of mine was the emerging “Lionheart” Chris Jericho, who played a great cocky heel and was extremely entertaining on the mic. It was also around that time in high school where I started establishing an online presence, so I came up with “Y2J Liontamer,” a combination of Jericho’s WWF nickname “Y2J” when he jumped to the company in 1999, along with the name of his WCW finishing move, a Boston Crab variation called the “Liontamer.”

A few years later, I realized how n00b “Y2J Liontamer” sounded, and trimmed it down to the more credible “Liontamer.” I’m not really a huge fan of the direction Jericho’s gone since I took on the name, as he doesn’t get to rip into anyone on the mic anymore, but the nickname is a part of me, and I’ve got great memories of that time in wrestling history.

What are your responsibilities as “Head Submission Evaluator” ?

Being the Head Submissions Evaluator of OC ReMix since June 2006 has been a wonderful experience. It’s a role that site creator David “djpretzel” Lloyd did on his own for the first six years of the site, but now that I handle it, it frees up a lot of time for djp to work on other things for the organization. When musicians submit their video game music rearrangements to be considered for OverClocked ReMix, I take the first listen to everything and provide the first cut. Once I check a submission out, I either stop it dead in its tracks and use a form letter to give some points on why it won’t make it, or post it to the judges panel where myself and the other OCR music judges collectively decide if it passes with a more formal look, or I’ll just decide that it’s made it without the need for any additional evaluation.

For the responsibility, you need a good, perceptive ear, a working knowledge of both game music and the OCR standards on interpretation, and an understanding of what makes successful music. And that’s not to forget sacrificing loads of free time. Since the beginning of this year, we receive about 2.5 submissions a day or about 900 tracks a year, which is a big step up from the year and a half I was Head Submissions Evaluator before 2008. Back then, we got just over 600 submissions a year. Why it picked up, I honestly don’t know, but we certainly love the additional attention and how the community continues to grow.

At OC ReMix, we’re looking for creative interpretations of original video game music where an artist preserves connections to the original game music but also adds their own new ideas and personal style into the picture, the difference between a “ReMix” and a remix. For those that don’t know OCR, once you take a listen to recent ReMixes and compare them to the original themes, you’ll get the idea.

You can’t just plug in anybody to fulfill the role I’ve carved out for myself, but I feel lucky in that I’ve gotten into such an integral position at OC ReMix being a music enthusiast rather than a musician. It’s great experience akin to a record label A&R man on many levels, scouting talent and helping, along with the OCR judges panel, to critique artists’ works and help them improve their craft.

And are there any other projects you’re involved with within the video game music community ?

Despite not creating music though, I’ve gotten some vocal cameos in two of OC ReMix’s freely available album projects: Kong in Concert, a Donkey Kong Country tribute album where I played Funky Kong for my colleague Vigilante‘s track “Funky Monkey Love.” I never thought I’d pen lyrics about how Donkey Kong “lays it down,” but never say never when it comes to the internet. [laughs]

Larry Oji pic2

Big Giant Circles and Liontamer with VGM composer Jack Wall at Video Games Live in Washinton, DC

I also recently provided spoken word stuff for Big Giant Circles & zircon‘s track “Adrenalyne Kyck” for OCR’s free Final Fantasy VII tribute album, Voices of the Lifestream. BGC vocoded and otherwise mucked around with my voice to provide a really cool break section in the track where I quote FFVII‘s game director Yoshinori Kitase on his decision to kill off Aerith. For me, it was a great way to honor Kitase’s prime role in making FFVII the legendary game it came to be.

Aside from that, I’ve been slowly but surely gathering tracks for my own tribute album effort, Dirge for the Follin, honoring British game music composer Tim Follin, who’s one of the most critically acclaimed yet under-appreciated talents in all of VGM, so that should finally be released this year.

I also spend lots of time at VGMdb.net, which is the premiere database for video game music albums. We’re cataloging every single video game music album ever made, and we’re doing a great job so far. I’ve added all sorts of albums, but my specialty is cataloging digital release albums by artists from the fan community, otherwise called “doujin,” a catch-all Japanese term connoting fan-created material of all kinds, in this case doujin music.

Video game music is a niche enough subsection of music where I’m always trying to spread the word on it any way I can. Anything I can do for video game music via my work at OC ReMix, VGMdb, or my video game music news blog VG Frequency.com, I’m there to do PR for it and help raise its profile.

Has there ever been a point (probably around 3 am) when you’ve been staring at your computer screen, and listening to remixes for so long that you actually thought you were Captain N the Game Master ?

Captain N Team[laughs] You know, though I did watch it a lot, I was never into that show enough. Now I have to turn in my gamer membership card. I definitely watched it, but the Super Mario Bros. Super Show and the Super Mario World cartoon stuck with me so much more. The Super Mario World cartoon theme song was actually written by prolific film, television and games composer, and Devo member, Mark Mothersbaugh. Thank God for YouTube though, I can get my dose of Captain N. [watches the intro] Dayum, that brought back a lot memories. [watches more] It’s the “Gameboy” episode. Wow, they really messed up Mega Man, didn’t they? He sounds like Tattoo from Fantasy Island. Actually, they messed everyone up, but that’s like me hating on comic book movies that change the characters. I can complain, and I will, but who am I to complain? [laughs]

But, yeah, OC ReMix is like a second job. It doesn’t pay a dime, but it’s a labor of love for both games and music. Until I get my dream job of hosting a national radio show on video game music and working in entertainment, OC ReMix will always be my favorite job, as it hardly ever feels like one. Regardless, I’ve definitely spent way too many late nights listening to OCR submissions at the expense of my sleep. My girlfriend of 4 years, Paige, she’s been incredibly supportive. She’s got years of PR experience and helps us in a big way, but there have been plenty of nights where I’ve needed to go to bed and instead it’s 3 AM and I’m still judging submissions. She’s let me hear it! But it’s that drive that gets you where you want to be in life. And where I want to be in life is working professionally with video game music 12 hours a day, 6 days a week!

Personally, the music from NES games like the original Final Fantasy and Metal Gear got me thinking that there was more to a game soundtrack then just random bleeping, and are the tracks I frequent the most on OC ReMix. What were the titles you played back when you were a starry-eyed gamer that inspired you to follow the path of the video game music enthusiast ?

See, now you’re gonna get me into in it! But you said I could ramble, and you’re hanging with me thus far, so I’m gonna roll with it! [laughs] It was actually games like Street Fighter Alpha 3, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Capcom vs. SNK and GoldenEye 007 coinciding with the advent of Napster that truly put game music and listening to it on its own on my radar.

But for the games that stuck with me and planted the seeds, you bet, bro, it’s the older stuff. In the NES days, the Super Mario Bros. series was gold. Even Duck Hunt and Excitebike, as brief as those themes were, had some really memorable tracks. I loved the Foot Bag music of California Games for the Sega Master System. The in-ring theme of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! was exciting! It created a lot of tension when you were trying your damnedest not to mess up.

And in the 16-bit era, Street Fighter II, naturally. It was one of the few games where every single character theme was memorable, all 12 of them. F-Zero‘s “Mute City” was awesome. The first Donkey Kong Country sounded amazing both for its time and now. David Wise‘s “Aquatic Ambiance” in that game is a track that I’ve listened to on pause many a time.

In terms of the side scrolling beat-em-ups, Final Fight 2, Streets of Rage 1 and 2, and TMNT IV: Turtles in Time were the kings. Turtles in Time showed off Konami’s sound team at some of their best in terms of music creativity. Double Dragon and Double Dragon II had awesome soundtracks as well.

The core Sonic the Hedgehog series, 1, 2 & 3, was also great. I spent lots of time in Sonic 3 trying to unlock the sound test so that I could sit and listen to the unused Mushroom Hill Zone music that later arrived in Sonic & Knuckles.

It’s been a while since I’ve been asked to think in depth about those games, so it’s actually incredible realizing just how big an impression those tracks left on me. Why did those tunes burn into our memories? Well, they all had great melodies and great hooks. And the fans never forget. Video game music is better at that than any other music. djpretzel made a great point in a radio interview though that video game music itself isn’t a genre, it’s a medium, i.e. a way of presenting music. Whether it’s back in the day with chiptunes or with today’s modern soundtracks, video game music is the broadest, most all-encompassing medium out there for hearing all kinds of different music.

Do you ever catch any of these old favorites popping on the OC ReMix submission list ?

Less than I would like, but that’s only because my personal favorites aren’t representative of what the community gravitates toward the most. Lots of my favorite game soundtracks are represented pretty well nonetheless. But whether it’s OC ReMix or other game music arrangement communities, games like Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Super Metroid, Mega Man 2 and Chrono Trigger, all games I’ve never played, rule the roost.

Don’t mistake me for being bitter about it though. I actually didn’t own too many games growing up. I had a small but awesome collection that I loved, but there were many other titles held in gamer circles as classics that I’ve still never touched. I don’t necessarily feel the need to play them as an adult. I know better, because if I did, I’d use up all my free time that way! [laughs] But thanks to OC ReMix, 8- and 16-bit soundtracks from games like Mega Man X, the Castlevania series, and the Legend of Zelda series are now just as second-nature to me as the games I grew up with.

The OC ReMix database is packed full of every kind of musical arrangement. Some ReMixes use all electro elements, some include virtuoso string and brass accompaniments, heavy metal guitars, heck I even found a Guaraldi-esque jazz piano recording. Do you find that certain styles of music lend themselves best to the vintage tunes of the 8- and 16-bit age ?

Yep, my colleague JigginJonT made the Guaraldi-esque jazz piano you’re referring to, and it’s a kickass piece from Final Fantasy VI, “A Day in the Life of a Gambler.”

In my experience at OCR, but following the fan arrangement scene in general, orchestral, rock, and electronic are the broadest, most all-encompassing genre labels that cover most of our music. So I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of a general stab as to what styles work the best. But at OC ReMix, not all ReMixes are cut from the same cloth. You’ll find tons of different styles and dynamic ranges for songs that fit within an overarching genre.

Nonetheless, several other genres work just as well with game music ReMixing, they just aren’t applied as often. But jazz, rap, new age, acoustic guitar, ambient, disco, J-pop, solo piano and many other styles all click together in the same cohesive way when put into the right hands. Two things I learned very quickly when I first became a fan of OC ReMix in 2002 – 1) nearly any style is acceptable and more than welcome with open arms, and, 2) no matter when one believes the community is spent for creativity and new ideas, the artists in the community will surprise you. That’s a big reason why, after 6 years in the scene so far, I haven’t gotten tired of it at all.

Old fashioned, chewing gum-strewn video arcades are becoming a thing of the past, I was wondering if you had an arcade anywhere around where you grew up ?

I actually didn’t. The closest thing to my hometown of New Haven, CT that I knew of was the Milford Amusement Center, which was down the Boston Post Road, and way out of my mom’s driving range as a kid. But there was a old Bradlees in Hamden that had, at different times, Street Fighter II, World Heroes 2, and Super Street Fighter II. In Super Street Fighter II, and I’m strictly talking about the arcade version, I loved T. Hawk’s theme in particular. But yeah, my mom would hook me up with 50 cents or a dollar, and I’d have the greatest time playing those games while she shopped. Being so young, even just watching the demos on the cabinets was mesmerizing. I was easy to keep occupied!

It’s obvious that with all the backwards-compatibility, downloadable classics, and in-game retro goodies showcased by the Wii, that Nintendo is fully aware how much nostalgia sells.
Do you think in our era of retro-fueled escapism that OC ReMixers have a better chance of breaking into the mainstream as video game music composers ? Could we be listening to OC ReMixes like LousySpy’s “What the Funk?” on the next Mario Dance Dance Revolution game ?

Funny that you mention DDR. Former OCR judge Dain “Beatdrop” Olsen actually won a contest this past year to have an original track of his included in DDR SuperNOVA 2. He credits OCR for inspiring him to work with video game music in the first place, and hopefully he isn’t the last OC ReMixer to make their mark on that franchise.

You’re definitely hitting the nostalgia trends though, Shawn. We’re already seeing the move toward retro-gaming benefiting OCR thanks to us producing the remixed soundtrack for Capcom’s Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, which is due out later this year.

For those in the dark on the game, Capcom and Backbone Entertainment are taking 1994′s Super Street Fighter II Turbo and giving it a facelift by re-balancing the game mechanics and redrawing the characters and backgrounds in high-definition.

Street Fighter HD pic

Along with that, Rey Jiminez of Capcom heard OCR’s free Super Street Fighter II Turbo tribute album, Blood on the Asphalt, and subsequently got in touch with djpretzel about the album being adapted for the game soundtrack.

We’re developing edited versions of several of the album tracks, along with several new arrangements. Once everything’s signed, sealed and delivered, several OC ReMixers will have their first professional game music compositions credits. Meanwhile, for my non-musician self, I’ll have an assistant music producer credit for my part in getting things done. HD Remix is definitely the most important thing going on not just with my involvement in the community but with the community’s involvement in professional game development.

If HD Remix is any indication of the future, we definitely hope to field professional offers to either arrange existing soundtracks or create brand new ones. Down the line, I already know you’ll see some OC ReMixers make a substantial mark in professional video game music, whether it be through OC ReMix collectively or striking out on their own. Much like Beatdrop and his landing DDR, several of our guys have already had successes making music for games, and I’m expecting more for them.

OCR has some of the most creative, productive, and passionate musicians in the world. We love games, and we love game music. You give us any game project you can think of, any soundtrack style, and we have artists that can do an amazing job in scoring it. Original work, arranged work, it makes no difference.

Larry Oji pic4

OCR Judges Big Giant Circles, pixietricks, zircon, Liontamer and OCR founder djpretzel evaluate a submission

Do you have any advice for people interested in becoming a video game ReMixer, but are unsure where they should begin? That OC ReMix front page can be intimidating…

It certainly can look that way, but it shouldn’t be. Take a start by reading all of the Stickyed threads in our ReMixing forum. We’ve got plenty of resources on the OCR Wiki and our forums to help newcomers learn and troubleshoot about music hardware and software, as well as learn about OCR’s Submissions Standards and receive fan feedback, all to help them move in the right direction. Beyond that, you need a basic ear for music, which you’ll develop as you improve, as well as humility, persistence, and a very thick skin.

Learning actual instruments takes years and years of practice, but for those that do not have that much time or the money to purchase actual instruments and equipment, being a desktop musician can be a great release for the ideas that you have, and a gateway to learning other things.

To become an accomplished desktop musician, i.e. creating compositions via your computer, you don’t need to know how to read sheet music or know a B from a B-flat. There are several musicians who have started from scratch with no performance or formal music theory experience and, 2 to 3 years later, have gone on to do some amazing music.

It’s something I’d do myself if I wasn’t having such a great time with all my other responsibilities, but believe me, any of you out there, if you have the diligence but lack the experience, you can be a solid ReMixer. And it’ll teach you how to be a capable musician, period, not just how to ReMix video game music.

Last, quick question, Ms. Pac-Man… hot ? or not ?

I dunno, man. [laughs] She’s too round in the face… Keep her, bro, she’s all yours!

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4 Responses to “Overclocked Oji Q&A”

  1. AvatarAnthony
    1

    Awesome and lengthy interview! I had no idea that Blood on the Asphalt would be on SF HD, that’s awesome!

    Reply to this comment.
  2. AvatarToni
    2

    In highschool, I hacked a Sega Genesis into drum pad and used Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition as my sound bank :D

    Great interview — will be checking out OcRemix.org now for sure.

    Reply to this comment.
  3. AvatarPlatonist
    3

    interesting!

    5 stars ;P

    Reply to this comment.
  4. AvatarStephie
    4

    I haven’t finished reading this but I just havta write this. Blond guy in the middle picture is HAWT! And the Super Mario cartoons where AWESOME!!

    Reply to this comment.
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