The holiday season is encroaching, and you may have already been jarred by TV commercials for holiday layaway, but before we give our thanks and jingle our bells, there’s one very special day that we get to celebrate. Yes, it’s the time to practice our sinister laughter, friends – Halloween is coming!
For gamers, Halloween may seem like a natural extension of our passion. Gothic and grim elements are often plentiful in our favorite pastime. Plus, some of the more die-hard gamers already enjoy donning colorful costumes at conventions, so these folks need only open their closets to find a stylish Trick-or-Treat fashion statement. Games have provided plenty of macabre experiences, accompanied by suitably spooky music. So, to celebrate the approach of Halloween, I’ve decided to dedicate the month of October to creepy and classic game music. Every week I’ll post a handful of Halloween-appropriate tracks from some venerable video games. This week, I’ll be starting with music from the lo-fi era of game scores. The sound in these games was designed to be generated by the sound cards of early personal computers and the limited audio resources of game consoles such as the Nintendo 64.
Alone in the Dark (1992)
Inspired by the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, this survival horror game trapped players inside a haunted mansion. Some of the music is surprisingly atmospheric, considering the limitations of the personal computers that were expected to render the chilling soundscapes of this nightmarish adventure.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors (1993)
The music of this tongue-in-cheek horror game clearly shows its age, having been created for the Super NES and the Sega Genesis. Amusingly, though, this bleep-and-bloop game score has its moment of reverential horror symbolism in the form of the Gregorian chant melody that appears during the track “Curse of the Tongue.” The Dies Irae, translating as “The Day of Wrath,” has been woven into many movies, from The Shining to Sleeping with the Enemy. Here, the melody does its best to sound gloomy, using the cutesy sound palette it has available:
Super Mario 64 (1996)
Here’s a mind-bendingly creepy moment from, of all places, Super Mario 64. In this part of the game, Mario climbs a staircase that never ends, no matter how hard he tries to reach the top. The music for this gameplay sequence creates the impression of an ascending musical pattern that continues on its upward course forever. The technique is a musical illusion known as the Shepard Scale, in which the ascending notes progress in simultaneous octaves – the upper notes imperceptibly fade away, while the lower notes subtly fade up and take over. This process happens repeatedly, creating the illusion.
Donkey Kong 64 (1999)
A very creepy track from Donkey Kong 64, this music emulates the sound of the traditionally Halloween-associated xylophone and theremin, making for an early game music ditty that fulfills our Trick-or-Treat expectations.