Creating the old-school soundtrack of Sonic Mania

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Sonic Mania doesn’t just need to look the part — it needs to sound right, too. The upcoming game aims to bring the series back to its glory days, with pixel art and side-scrolling action reminiscent of the franchise’s 16-bit hits. But a large part of re-creating the feel of classic Sonic comes down to the music. Mania features bright, vibrant chiptune tracks to go along with its colorful, blocky world.

The soundscape is the work of Portuguese composer Tiago “Tee” Lopes, who actually got his start posting Sonic remixes on YouTube nearly a decade ago, before working with Sega on the next major entry in the series. “Although I wanted to make something that everyone could enjoy,” he says of the soundtrack, “I must confess that I specifically aimed to make older Sonic fans feel like they’re kids again.”

Lopes was first introduced to the series with the Master System version when he was eight years old, but he says it wasn’t until he played the more robust Sonic games on the Sega Genesis at a friend’s house that he really fell in love with the music. “I’d hear it inside of my head for weeks after playing the game,” he says, “sometimes filling in the memory gaps with little elements of my own.”

Eventually he started composing his own chiptune-style music, and he learned in part by dissecting and remixing classic Sonic tunes. The process gave Lopes a newfound appreciation for the music he loved so much as a kid. “Dissecting [original Sonic composer Masato Nakamura]’s songs to create a remix really opened my mind to new possibilities and ways to provoke certain feelings in listeners,” he says.

In 2008, Lopes began posting his remixes on YouTube, and eventually he joined a fan project that aimed to create a high-definition remake of Sonic 2. Several people from that project ended up leaving to form the game studio Pagodawest, and they once again enlisted Lopes’ help to craft new music for their games, including mobile titles like the well-received platformer Major Magnet. Eventually they landed a gig with Sega working on Sonic Mania, and the studio immediately turned to Lopes for the music. “They decided that I was their guy,” he says.

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When it came to actually composing the new tracks, Lopes wasn’t given much in the way of direction. Because the game was still in development, and the levels weren’t actually playable, the team would share some concept art or descriptions of what an area would be like when it was completed. From there, it was Lopes’ job to create music that would fit that vibe. “Sometimes it was a bit of a shot in the dark direction-wise,” Lopes explains. “Some of the pieces in the game took several iterations to get right, and many others evolved significantly over time.”

The goal was to make a soundtrack that was approachable to new players, but also had a style and depth that longtime fans would appreciate. “I wanted the songs to feel true to what was going on musically during the ‘90s,” says Lopes. “And I drew inspiration from and included many nods to other Sonic and Sega games that only true connoisseurs will be able to pick up on.”

With the project now mostly wrapped up — Sonic Mania launches on August 15th — Lopes is free to dream of the other classic games he’d love to work on. He spouts off iconic names like Mega Man and Castlevania, but it’s following the work of a particular musician that intrigues him most: iconic Streets of Rage composer Yuzo Koshiro. “That would be an amazing challenge,” Lopes says of working on the franchise.

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