Tag Archives: spooky

GIMMGP Jack O’ Lanterns IV: SO MANY PUMPKINS

After weeks of gorging on spooky video games and consuming mass quantities of Autumnal foods, the day is finally here- Halloween has arrived!  Of course, our favorite time of year wouldn’t be complete without a video game themed jack o’ lantern haunting our doorstep.

This year, Laura and I have chosen an upcoming title for which we are particularly excited as the subject of our pumpkin carving.  As a special treat, we thought a look back at the Ghosts of Pumpkins Past™ would make for a frighteningly fun addition to the usual festivities.  So please enjoy GIMMGP’s Gallery of Gourds, and as with every year, have a safe and Happy Halloween!

2012: Pokemon Pumpkins- Gengar and Pikachu

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2013: Pokemon Pumpkins – Axew and Wobbuffet

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2014: Gaming Pumpkins – Bayonetta 2 Panther/Snake and Shy Guy

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2016: Gaming Pumpkin – Persona 5’s Morgana

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The Horror in Brevity

Many moons ago, reddit users were asked to come up with horror stories that are only two sentences long.  Many of the tales spawned from this request are quite creepy and leave a lingering unease, in spite of their length.  The most effective of these stories play on universal human fears and utilize the reader’s ability to extrapolate the narrative even further.  Due to their nature, these two-sentence musings provide few details as to the setting or the characters involved.  There is no time to explain or to build the surmounting terror; the reader is thrust into a story in motion at the climax of a bad situation.  As I read through these very short stories, I wondered: could a video game scare players under similar constraints?

When gamers make a list of the best survival horror titles, the featured games often have one trait in common: an atmosphere of dread.  From small towns infested with monsters to remote space stations that may not be as empty as they seem, these settings are crafted to put the player on edge.  So much work goes into the ambient sound and visuals of each area, so the player does not need a bulky narrative to explain why he/she should be frightened.

Despite this effort, the developers of such titles take the time to build a complex story.  The best of these games make use of both setting and story to create an engaging game, while the worst of them clutter a potentially chilling experience with unnecessary areas and exposition.  Across the board, these games follow the traditional three-part mold of a feature-length film.  It’s almost as if a horror game has to contain certain story elements and have a lengthy playtime to be a success.

Sepulchre

Enter Sepulchre; a point-and-click PC game from Owl Cave.  From the developers’ website: “It’s a game featuring horror, trains, and huge bags.  It should take most people around half an hour to play through.”  A perfect example of truth in advertising, Sepulchre took roughly forty minutes to complete, during which time I took control of a passenger on a train, eager for a bite to eat.  Like the two-sentence short stories, this game does not require much set-up to cause a sense of dread.  The lack of information, along with striking visuals and sound, created a foreboding atmosphere that lingered long after completion.  It seems a video game can incite fear under heavy constraints.

If you are looking for a short jaunt into an ominous world not so unlike your own, please check out Sepulchre.  Your time together may be brief, but the horror will last a lifetime.

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Undertale – Spider Dance

There are certain songs and sounds that call to mind terrifying experiences.  Classic horror movie themes rely on specific melodies to conjure uncomfortable and haunting memories to the mind of the viewer.  In the case of video games, a repeated theme or visceral noise can be used to emphasize the power of a specific scene.

Very early in Undertale, the player may find a pair of spider webs surrounding a sign that reads, “Spider Bake Sale. All proceeds go to real spiders.”  The player is presented with an option to purchase a Spider Donut or a Spider Cider, payment made by leaving money stuck to one of the webs.

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As a devout arachnophobe, this little scene made my skin crawl.  I pictured the spindly legs of spiders stirring donut batter and pouring cups of cider for horrifying local bake sales. With limited funds (and a fear of eight-legged bakers), I decided not to leave any sort of monetary gains for these little monsters.  Little did I know that by supporting the efforts of the spider-kin of Undertale, I would avoid battling their leader, Muffet.

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Later in the game, as I made my way through a room filled with cobwebs, I was ensnared by the leader of the Spider Bake Sale.  For not supporting her efforts to liberate her arachnid comrades from the cold of the Ruins, Muffet lashes out at the player; attacking with unique spider-themed strikes.

The music for Muffet’s battle (appropriately called Spider Dance) calls to mind the spindly movements of a spider.  A frantic melody launches from the start of the song; calling to mind the feeling of first laying eyes on a spider that has invaded your space.  This gives way to a minimalist string sample, which simulates the actions of a spider spinning a web to capture their prey.  The whole song is intense, engaging, and appropriate for the frantic battle with Muffet.

As with so many of the themes in Undertale, composer Toby Fox uses leit motifs across tracks to emphasize a certain theme.  In the case of Spider Dance, this song shares its melody with equally haunting tracks like Ghost Fight, Pathetic House, and Dummy!  Each of these songs centers around otherworldly encounters; where the player is faced with haunting moments that could scare them into submission.

Of course, any frightening situation can be overcome with enough… DETERMINATION.

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Ghost Pokémon

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Nearly 18 years ago today, my brother and I set out to be the very best, like no one ever was.  Catching Pocket Monsters was our first real test, but to train them, aye, that was our cause.  Pokémon had hit the shelves not a week prior, and our parents graciously gifted both versions of the Game Boy classic to us.  My brother received Pokémon Blue, and became a great trainer of water-types, with a stately Blastoise at the helm of his troop.  I was given Pokémon Red, but I did not find my true calling in this game until I ventured into the tower at Lavender Town.  It was at this resting place for fallen Pokémon that I would catch my first Gastly, which cemented my destiny as a ghost-type trainer.

GhostBelieve

With each new journey into the world of Pokémon, Nintendo would increase the number of ghost-types to catch and raise.  As a young trainer, I delighted with each new phantom that became available; marveling over the new designs and attacks.  But once I grew older, I started to notice that my beloved ghost-types harbored a much darker nature.  With just a quick glance through my trusty Pokédex, I found stories of hauntings and torment; tales of restless spirits that prey on the souls of the living.  Just take a look at some of these examples below!

GhostHaunter

Haunter: Its tongue is made of gas. If licked, its victim starts shaking constantly until death eventually comes. In total darkness, where nothing is visible, Haunter lurks, silently stalking its next victim.

GhostGengar

Gengar: To steal the life of its target, it slips into the prey’s shadow and silently waits for an opportunity. The leer that floats in darkness belongs to a Gengar delighting in casting curses on people.

GhostMisdreavus

Misdreavus: A Misdreavus frightens people with a creepy, sobbing cry. It apparently uses its red spheres to absorb the fear of foes as its nutrition. It likes playing mischievous tricks such as screaming and wailing to startle people at night.

GhostLitwick

Litwick: Litwick shines a light that absorbs the life energy of people and Pokémon, which becomes the fuel that it burns. While shining a light and pretending to be a guide, it leeches off the life force of any who follow it.

GhostBanette

Banette: A doll that became a Pokémon over its grudge from being junked. It seeks the child that disowned it. Banette generates energy for laying strong curses by sticking pins into its own body. This Pokémon was originally a pitiful plush doll that was thrown away.

GhostDuskull

Duskull: Duskull wanders lost among the deep darkness of midnight. There is an oft-told admonishment given to misbehaving children that this Pokémon will spirit away bad children who earn scoldings from their mothers. It loves the crying of children. It startles bad kids by passing through walls and making them cry. Once this Pokémon chooses a target, it will pursue the intended victim until the break of dawn.

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Mimikyu: This Pokémon lives its life completely covered by its cloth and is always hidden. People believe that anybody who sees its true form beneath the cloth will be stricken with a mysterious illness. This Pokémon is dreadfully lonely, and it thought it would be able to make friends with humans, if only it looked like Pikachu.

GhostCubone

*Brrrr* That is some creepy stuff!  Little did I know that the most tragic and gruesome tale of all would lie with a normal-type Pokémon.  I am speaking of none other than Cubone, the sad little creature who wears the skull of its dead mother.  When it thinks of its mother, it cries, making the skull it wears rattle with a hollow sound.  Now, when you first look at this little monster, you may feel sorry for it and want to take it home to be your friend.  But put that situation in human terms, and the mood completely changes.  After all, would you be friends with someone who wears their mom’s skull as a hat?  I didn’t think so.

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Grim Fandango- Manny and Meche

During the 1990s, there seemed to be a glut of spooky romance across various media platforms.  Movies like The Addams Family and Nightmare Before Christmas shared eerie love stories on the big screen, while authors like Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton provided supernatural intimacy on the printed page.  At record stores, there was no shortage of music with themes of Gothic adoration, and video games were starting to come into their own with telling stories of otherworldly love.

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While I would hardly consider Grim Fandango to be a horror game, its story and subject matter certainly revolve around death.  Our intrepid hero Manuel “Manny” Calavera is a travel agent for recently departed souls entering the Land of the Dead.  As he begins to uncover a plot of crime and corruption within his employer, the Department of Death, Manny meets a virtuous soul named Mercedes “Meche” Colomar.

At first, Manny merely thinks of Meche as his ticket out of his dead end job.  If Manny can score a client with an honorable life such as Meche’s, he believes this will work off his debt so he can move onto a true afterlife of rest.  But when Meche’s chance at a golden ticket to the Ninth Underworld is stolen from her, Manny begins a quest that will ultimately lead him to fall in love with Meche.

Over the course of the game, a certain piece of music pops up as Manny and Meche begin to show feelings for each other.  The exact instrumentation varies in each scenario, but the basic melody calls to mind a haunting dance between two souls.  Soft strings resonate feelings of love and sorrow; the struggles of a romance that has been tested by difficult circumstances.

Composer Peter McConnell created a beautiful piece of music to encapsulate the feelings between Manny and Meche, and the remastered performance by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is both heartwarming and haunting at the same time.  There is a sense of sad uncertainty to the music; as if the dancing couple may not get to enjoy each other’s company once the song is complete.  But just as Manuel Calavera said, “Nobody knows what’s going to happen at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip.”

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Castlevania: Rondo of Blood/Dracula X – Opposing Bloodlines

In the past, we used the Prelude track from Castlevania III to highlight the differences in audio and sound chips between the Famicom and the Nintendo Entertainment System. This year, we will take a look at another song from the Castlevania series that made its debut in two very different versions of a particular title.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was released on the PC Engine Super CD-ROM² System in Japan in October of 1993.  This game was a massive upgrade from previous entries in the series; featuring anime-style cutscenes, hidden and branching level pathways, multiple endings, and an unlockable second character.  In addition to the changes in gameplay, Rondo of Blood was the first Castlevania title to make use of Red Book Audio.  This meant that the game’s soundtrack could feature CD-level sampling along with the PC Engine’s onboard soundchip, leading to higher musical quality in songs like Opposing Bloodlines:

Two years later, Konami would release an alternate version of Rondo of Blood to the Super Nintendo.  Titled Castlevania: Dracula X, this game featured similar graphics and level design to Rondo, but technological differences between the PC Engine and the Super Nintendo led to some drastic changes between the games.  Levels were redesigned, certain pathways were altered, cutscenes were removed, and the unlockable second character became a non-playable character to be rescued.

In addition to the gameplay and design changes in Dracula X, the audio had to be configured to make use of the Super Nintendo’s sound hardware.  Without Red Book Audio for sampling purposes, many songs had to be reworked to exclusively utilize the inherent samples and instrumentation of the Super Nintendo.  This led to new versions of every song on the soundtrack, including the aforementioned Opposing Bloodlines:

While I ultimately enjoy the experience of playing Rondo of Blood over Dracula X, I can still appreciate the music from the Super Nintendo version.  The sharper guitar sounds from Dracula X call to mind countless afternoons spent playing the game as a rental from our local video store; desperately trying to make my way through this particularly difficult game.

Rondo of Blood was re-released once more in 2007 as the Dracula X Chronicles for the Sony PlayStation Portable.  This version of the game featured a 2.5D remake of Rondo, along with the original PC Engine version, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on a single disc. Despite porting nearly every other PSP game to a major home console, Konami has let this penultimate version of a Castlevania classic languish on the now defunct handheld.

So as we imagine a world where all versions of Rondo of Blood are freely available for us to enjoy, please have a listen to a final version of Opposing Bloodlines from Dracula X Chronicles:

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Reviving the Living Dead: Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without A Pulse

It’s a rare video game that will let you take control of a zombie.  Most of the time, players are limited to competitive shooters where it’s humans versus the undead (Go Team Zombie!) or in action games via a sort of temporary “extra life” as a shambling corpse(read: SO SLOW).  There have been a few games with undead protagonists like the mummy Chuck D. Head in DecapAttack or the ghoulish Polterguy in Haunting, but these examples are not really “zombie” games, strictly speaking.  You don’t exactly lead Polterguy to devour brains or guide Chuck to create a legion of creeping creatures.  That’s the sort of thing you leave to Stubbs the Zombie.

StubbstheZombieCover

Rebel Without a Pulse hit store shelves in 2005, during the appropriate month of October.  The titular Stubbs the Zombie was once Edward Stubblefield, a traveling salesman who met his untimely demise from a gunshot, courtesy of his gal Maggie’s father.  After collapsing in the woods in 1933, Stubbs is reanimated in 1959, at the grand opening of Punchbowl, Pennsylvania.  Angered at the venture capitalist who disturbed his eternal rest, Stubbs decides to hunt the wealthy playboy and cause quite a bit of carnage along the way.  What follows is a comedic and creepy quest through a sort of retro-future metropolis; the “city of tomorrow” that might have been seen in 1950s science fiction.

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Most of the game is spent trailing industrialist Andrew Monday through the city of Punchbowl.  As Stubbs, players can attack the citizens of Punchbowl, eating their brains and creating a group of zombie comrades that devour right alongside you.  Stubbs has some additional actions, most of which involve tearing off his own arm to beat enemies, activate switches, and take control of better-armed adversaries for some shooter options.  There were also plenty of vehicles to commandeer and drive recklessly through the perfectly polished pathways of Punchbowl.

stubbsthezombieprotip

For my college self, the gameplay and visuals in Stubbs the Zombie felt like second nature, since the game was developed using the Halo engine.  As an avid Halo 2 junkie, the co-op campaign and Xbox controls made the transition from space marine to dopey zombie salesman rather seamless.  My friends and I would switch off between stages, playing as a pair of zombies on a mission of revenge (and eating tasty, tasty brains).  As we shambled through Punchbowl, a fantastic soundtrack of 50s and 60s era hits covered by modern alternative rock artists kept us bouncing in our seats.  The whole game was a delightful tribute to the goofy-spooky horror movies of the past.

Just like the previous title in our zombie game round-up, Stubbs the Zombie is a tough title to track down.  Our zombie friend was briefly ported to the Xbox 360 as an “Xbox Original” download, but the game was removed from the Marketplace in 2012.  There are still original Xbox, PC, and Mac hard copies floating around the internet, but an appropriately retro system is required to play any of these versions.  Since the developer, Wideload Games, was purchased and closed by Disney Interactive, it is unlikely that Stubbs will rise again on any modern offerings.

Even for the heady price that most of the original Xbox copies are calling for, Stubbs the Zombie is worth checking out.  It is a hilarious and gory co-op romp through a quirky science fiction setting.  There is a lot of fun to be had and brains to be eaten, so shamble forth with a friend and help Stubbs find his fate!

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GIMMGP Spooky Games Month VI: Big Bag of Treats

Good evening, faithful readers!  We are moments away from the midnight hour that rings in our favorite month of the year.  Over the last several autumns, Laura and I have filled the scary season of October with piles of posts on horror games and their ilk.  This year, we’ve got a grab bag full of tricks and treats for your reading pleasure!

Each week in October, a wide variety of spooky posts will shamble forth from GIMMGP Headquarters to your computers and mobile devices. Mondays will highlight new grisly game music articles, continuing the fiendish experiment from last year. Wednesdays will feature articles from the past; resurrected from the grave and updated for a proper haunting. And on the menu for Saturdays: fresh pairings of ghoulish games and batty brews, cross-posted from my new blog, Digital Draughts!

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As we prepare for the sixth spooky season here at GIMMGP, I am reminded of a tradition from my childhood.  Around this time of year, my family would watch a recorded copy of Disney’s DTV Monster Hits.  This little special combined haunting hit tracks with spooky vintage Disney animation.  Outside of the vignettes of Mickey Mouse hunting ghosts and various evil queens plotting destruction, I have vivid memories of skeletons dancing in the moonlight to rock music.

Despite their creepy cavorting, I found these bony brutes absolutely delightful.  In celebration of these musical monsters, I’ve crafted a list of my favorite video game skeletons for your enjoyment!

Yorick – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

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I can’t help but smirk at this poor soul’s predicament.  After fighting all sorts of threatening monsters on my way to vanquish Dracula, it caught me off guard to find a skeleton kicking his own skull along the ground.  Honestly, I wish I could help Yorick reattach his head, but any attempt I made resulted in the immediate destruction of his fragile skull.  Alas.

Papyrus – Undertale

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As my favorite game of 2015, Undertale featured a wealth of lovable characters.  However, there was a certain skeleton that stood bony head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Papyrus is such a lovable goof. Despite his attempts to be a ruthless member of the Royal Guard, Papyrus simply cannot bring himself to subdue and capture the main character. His dopey enthusiasm is infectious throughout Undertale, and his battle theme is super catchy to boot.  Also, Papyrus is the first skeleton to ever take me out on a date, which makes him an extra special boy.

The Sanbone Trio – Gitaroo Man

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Speaking of catchy music, the somewhat obscure rhythm game Gitaroo Man features a fantastic group of skeletons known as the Sanbone Trio.  Armed with devilish maracas made from their own bones, this group of intergalactic warriors challenges the player to a Latin-flavored music battle (appropriately titled, Born to be Bone).  In spite of the challenge presented by these skeletal brothers, I managed to find my rhythm and take them down with relative ease (but not on Master Play, that’s just absurd).

Skeleton Biker – Castlevania 64

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Let’s be frank at the commencement: I did not enjoy Castlevania 64.  It paled in comparison to the two-dimensional versions of the beloved series; featuring poor camera work, frustrating platforming, and half-finished ideas.  However, this bemoaned sequel did feature skeletons riding motorcycles.  So I guess it did contribute a small piece of awesome to the Castlevania series as a whole.

Manuel Calavera – Grim Fandango

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I have written plenty in the past about my love for Grim Fandango and its protagonist, Manny Calavera.  This down-on-his-luck grim reaper sits not only at the top of my favorite video game skeletons list, but also in my favorite game characters of all time.  His bone-dry wit, clever quips, and earnest demeanor make him such an engaging character.  If you haven’t enjoyed Grim Fandango Remastered yet, please take the time to do so.

Dry Bowser – New Super Mario Bros.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of Laura’s preferred skeletal characters on this list.  As Dry Bowser is truly Laura’s favorite video game skeleton, I will let her words speak for this adorable monster:

I inadvertently picked Dry Bowser the first time we played the DLC for Mario Kart 8. What started out as an accident turned out to be a beautiful moment of serendipity. Do you know the feeling of finding a character in a game that truly understands you? Sure, he isn’t particularly fast, but this goes deeper than that. We are soul mates. The way he bullies the other players on the track. The way he breathes fire when excited or angry. How ridiculous he looks riding tiny motorcycles. Truly, we were made for each other.

With October imminent, I ask you faithful readers: who are your favorite video game skeletons? Let us know in the comments!

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Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – Bloody Tears

The time has come, faithful readers of GIMMGP!  That magical day is upon us.  Time to celebrate the spooky holiday of Halloween!

CV2Curse

Over the last 30 days, I have shared some fantastically creepy and impressive video game music.  It has all been leading up to this track.  As Halloween is a time to enjoy delicious treats, today’s song is pure indulgence for me.  Not only is this track from an appropriately spooky game, but it is also my favorite music across the whole of video games.  It is none other than Bloody Tears from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest for the NES.

This fantastic song was composed by Kenichi Matsubara, who would go on to write the music for the arcade version of Castlevania, titled Haunted Castle.  In the context of Castlevania II, this rousing theme plays the moment our hero Simon Belmont leaves the safety of a town.  As the first rolling notes of Bloody Tears hit, the player is immediately accosted by reanimated skeletons, bloodthirsty werewolves, and maniacal mermen.  The song is a perfect match for the macabre action encountered in the forests and swamps of this classic game.

CV2Swamp

Like so many beloved themes from the NES-era, Bloody Tears became a recurring track in its parent series.  Over the course of the Castlevania lineage, Bloody Tears has been featured in 19 different games.  This song is also considered in the pantheon of excellent NES music, and has been covered in a variety of musical styles, including hard rock, soft jazz, and acapella.

For the final day of our Spooktacular Video Game Music month, I leave you with a showcase of covers and reimaginings of this rousing and spooky track.  Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Banjo-Kazooie – Mad Monster Mansion

Halloween means different things to different age groups.  For older adults, it is a season of decoration and preparation.  Entire neighborhood communities work together to cover their homes in increasingly scary items and fill their candy bowls with all sorts of treats.  For young adults and teenagers, this is a time to wildly celebrate and consume piles of horror media.  House parties full of costumed patrons overindulge in autumn drinks and scary movies.  And for kids, Halloween means costumes, candy, and trick or treating.  The holiday is certainly spooky, but there is a sense of goofiness just behind the scenes.  All of the ghouls and ghosts take on a playful demeanor, as kids dress up and make believe.

Typically, it is the more lighthearted media of the Halloween season that transcends the age groups.  Campy horror movies, fun animated television specials, and spooky platforming video games can be fun for a broad audience.  The Nintendo 64 classic Banjo-Kazooie provides a great example of this with the Mad Monster Mansion.

BKMadMonsterMansion

Mad Monster Mansion is full of traditional horror elements.  The world features spooky locations like a graveyard, a hedge maze, and a creepy old mansion.  The main enemies are ghosts, skeletons, and animated tombstones.  Banjo even gets in on the act, transforming into a little pumpkin to complete certain challenges.  This haunting area also features an appropriately fun track:

Composer Grant Kirkhope crafted a bouncing melody inspired by the film Beetlejuice, and included tons of campy sound effects to enhance the playful mood of the piece.  The track matches the goofy and spooky aesthetic of Mad Monster Mansion, creating an experience that is fun for all ages.

For an episode of their podcast, the Super Marcato Bros. featured an exclusive interview with Grant Kirkhope.  Their talk with the composer is fantastic, giving all sorts of insight on the history of developer Rare and the creative process behind the music of games like GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, and of course, Banjo-Kazooie.  If you are a fan of the glory days of the Nintendo 64, or just an enthusiast of game music and composition, I highly recommend listening to this episode!

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