Tak Fujii Discusses How Wanting to Inspire Creativity Led to Gal Metal

Gal Metal is the newest music game to come across this writer’s desk but this one doesn’t fit the mold of any previous rhythm games. This title has the player stepping on the double kick pedal as the drummer in a metal band that uses their music to prevent an alien invasion. There are no new plastic instruments to purchase, instead the player swings the Joy-Cons as if they were drum sticks or uses the touchscreen to simulate a drum kit set up. There is no note highway to tell the player what to do, instead improvisation and creativity are encouraged. Hardcore Gamer was fortunate enough to sit down with producer Tak Fujii, who is passionate about not only Gal Metal, but rock and heavy music in general, to discuss some of the game’s inspiration and what we can expect to find in the game.

[Hardcore Gamer] How would you summarize what Gal Metal is?

[Tak Fujii] The school girls will defend Earth from an alien attack… that’s not a good explanation (everyone laughs). It’s a brand new rhythm game and exclusive for the Nintendo Switch and you are the drummer in a band and the Joy-Cons are your drumsticks. It plays like a rhythm, but unlike other rhythm games there no notes on the screen so it’s 100% free drumming so it’s a brand new idea that doesn’t exist in previous music games.

I was a little confused by that when I was playing the game. I was expecting something like Rocksmith or Guitar Hero where they tell you what to do, but when I figured out it was a free for all it became more fun. It’s kind of set up where you can do whatever want as long as it makes sense in the music, whether you want to stick to a basic four on the floor or go crazy and throw in a bunch of blast beats.

(a menu in Gal Metal is opened up showing several categories with different preset rhythm patterns) We have a few basic rhythms to practice in the presets to help teach you, but as you proceed in the story mode you learn more songs and more tricks and its gonna be getting a little bit harder for the beginners but it’s a challenge. The game doesn’t tell you where you should use or how you should use, as the player you decide how you want to play the song. We also have a couple open slots in each group where you can create any crazy rhythm you want.

Looking at some of the song titles like Puppets, Harlot, Sabbath, and looking at the guitar shapes the theme is obviously metal. The songs in the game, are they originals or licensed songs or inspired by anything in particular?

A lot of the names of characters or songs are based on the history of rock n roll and heavy metal and heavily influenced by it, they are meant to be easter eggs. All the music in the game are classical pieces arranged to sound like heavy metal. We could bring licensed music into the game, but the concept is about you creating your own rhythm. If I bring in a famous metal track, it does have a drum on there, and I respect all musicians and the drum track that is on that song is the best combo for the song, and that will result in the player trying to emulate the master track and the perfect play will be exactly the same as the original track. However, my game is about building the rhythm by yourself so thinking of the best rhythm you can come up and you learn how to construct a rhythm that will make the audience stand up and shout. We used classical music because the original doesn’t have a drum track and we all know those pieces have lasted 400 years so they must be good.

It kind of seems like metalifying classical music the way guitarists like Alexi Laiho and Yngwie Malmsteem have done but makes the focal point on being the drummer. But there are no drum tracks for Beethoven so it’s not like you’re just trying to emulate Dave Lombardo or Hellhammer.

Exactly. And the idea to build the drum tracks is everyone is going to develop their own unique pattern so no one is going to be the same. It’s not about how you read the notes, it’s how you make the notes, and the game will judge and give you a score, but the music, the creation, the soul of the metal is something a human will judge.

Basically just pound out whatever the music moves you to create. How did this concept get born, it’s something I really like since unlike most other music games the emphasis here is on creativity. 

I’m an old person, I’m of the age that was into the ’80s and ’90s era of heavy metal and I do have a great music history and have twenty years of working in the gaming industry and saw how the music games where game and how they were played, but the whole thing was about watching the flying notes and trying to emulate that. The goal was to be perfect, it’s been out for years now and it seems people aren’t really doing anything new. Knowing the song is a starting point, and for rock and metal you have to have some skill, some fire in your fingers, but that’s not the end of the playing. What you have to do is stand up to the audience, you talk to the bass, you talk to the drums, and have to make all the instruments communicate. You have to give it your soul, your style, your way to play, how are you going to make your own music, whether it’s metal or jazz, and creating your own melody. That is a key element for the music. How you have a part in the band, as a player, I want to bring that feeling to game. Not just playing the note correctly, but bringing the crazy performing playing feeling to the game. That’s how this got started.

As a musician, I understand. I’ve played in both original bands and cover bands. I hate cover bands, it’s easy money but it’s really what you said about those other games, just trying to perfectly emulate preexisting rhythms and melodies. Creating something organically and playing it live is a completely different feeling. Gal Metal seems like it’s trying to force people to get creative. Guitar Hero, for a while anyway, seemed like it was getting people into wanting to learn how to play real instruments and learn how to play the songs in the game in real life but there wasn’t a much of an emphasis on creativity. This seems like it’s trying to get people into playing music but also creating music.

The music industry nowadays is very computerized. You can use various apps to create a perfect pentatonic solo or simulate an orchestra. It can create beautiful music but it’s not going to have the same soul. It’s not the same as actually playing an instrument and creating something for yourself. I want to recreate people creating music as part of a band, as an extension of themselves. I think you know that.

(at this point I fail in my duties as an interviewer and we go off talking about various experiences with concerts)

Back to the topic at hand, this game is all creativity based and there’s no right or wrong way to play a song, just whatever you feel fits in with the music but there is a story mode. How do you balance the complete freedom in playing with set narrative?

There are a bunch of crazy patterns in the game so if you were the musician and you hear these notes you have an idea of what beats would fit (goes into different examples of drum beats that I’m not going to even try to transcribe). For the beginners it’s hell, what am I supposed to do with this? In the story mode in the beginning you’ll only really need to use those two basic beats, it’s just a basic four beat pattern. When you go to the next chapter you’ll be learning more complex rhythms. You may want to try to learn the new combos when they are demonstrated since they would fit the song. You can do any basic rhythm with a song but you have the choice to go faster or get more complex. If you want to spend a little more time, you can try using more advanced rhythms that might fit the song better. When you complete the game you’ve unlocked all the different rhythms in the game, so now you can go back to the early songs and try those more advanced rhythms in there. The idea is to recreate the songs you’ve already played with different, more advanced combos that you learned during the game. The story mode itself is like a big tutorial, what’s a drum, what’s a band, what are the kick, snare, and cymbals, and when you finish you are ready to be on stage.

When I was playing out there I was using the Joy-Cons as drum sticks but I was told you can do more complex stuff with the buttons or touchscreen. How do the controls break down for that and can you do specific drum techniques like tom rolls?

Let me show you. (At this point he goes into the option menu, he shows the layout of the buttons where X is snare, Y is bass drum, R is ride cymbal etc.) Any button is mapped to provide something to the rhythm, so let’s go to the Enter Sand rhythm pattern, which is a basic one two one two combo with a kick drum and floor tom. It opens up an opportunity to be like a real drummer, using this will allow you to take any rhythm you want to and play it on any combination of drums.

Basically you can just create an absolutely crazy drum solo over Dvořák.

We do include an option to create your own rhythms in the preset menus. (opens up the menu and creates a new rhythm to save into a category. It sounds like a black metal version of New World Symphony – 4th Movement) so you can reference your own created rhythms.

I wasn’t really sure what to make of Gal Metal at first, drumming game where a high school band is protecting the world from Aliens, but it seems like a good way to help develop a sense of rhythm and encourage creativity.

This is the main goal. (he reaches for the guitar that was sitting behind him, an ESP that looks exactly like the lead guitarist’s ax in the game)

I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an actual ESP in a store. I know they were popular with the thrash metal bands in the ’80s and Children of Bodom use them but any time I go into Guitar Center now they just carry the cheaper LTDs.

ESP is the finest. Edwards is okay. I just went to the factory and talked to all the people who actually made this guitar. It’s incredible. They only have one machine to cut this big body out and everything else is handmade. You see this is one piece (shows how the neck seamlessly is connected to the body).

Great sustain, never been a fan of bolt on necks.

It’s beautiful. It’s a signature model for Gal Model. I know what it is to be in a band, talking to your bandmates with a drink in the studio making music and that is something we are missing in the other music games. We are trying to create that feeling with this game. The story mode talks about the music but it also talks about the friendship and how you talk with the band members.

A lot of bands start with a bunch of people that barely know each other but kind of force themselves to become friends because they have a common music goal and they all play the write combination of instruments. Then you spend time together writing songs, going on the road, and end up bonding and building these really strong friendships you can’t get anywhere else. 

Right and those things are in story mode and that is what I really want to show to any music game lovers. Music is not only single player, we make music together. We make harmony. We make the big sound by uniting people. I want to teach that feeling through this game. Talk to your buddies, get your gear, hop on a stage together.

You can make some really cool stuff with music programs, but it’s just not the same as getting four or five people together and just playing their hearts out.

Exactly! That is a feeling that computers can’t recreate. That is the motivation behind this game and I support musicians. I want this game to get people interested in creating music and starting bands and ten years down the road when they do interviews say Gal Metal is what sparked their interest. That’s something I want to hear. It’s educating people about creating music.