Creepy Castle: Music in the Castle!
Hey guys, this is Zach again, and this time I want to talk about something that’s especially important to me in a video game: the music! The right music can make a good game great, and make a great game something truly memorable that sticks with you forever.
I can’t actually think of any moments in video games that I consider to be truly great where the music was not playing an integral role. Phoenix Wright lives by the pounding beat of one of its Cornered themes filling you with adrenaline as you finally begin to break apart a murderer’s false testimony. Yoko Shimomura’s touch is incredible enough to make the wacky melodrama of Kingdom Hearts something you can be excited for with tracks like Forze Del Male, and beautiful enough to conjure emotions in places you might not expect, like the Final Battle Theme of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time.
I’d say music is the most nebulously absorbed part of a video game – we tend to care more about what’s happening in a dialogue box or the action on screen – but at the same time, in some ways it might be the very most important part.
So, obviously, making the right soundtrack for Creepy Castle was incredibly crucial to me. I wanted something that was memorable and motivating, based in rock and metal, and at the same time had the proper retro sound to go with the old-school visuals. Ideally, I wanted something like the old Capcom or Konami soundtracks of the NES days. There was just one problem: when I started making Creepy Castle, I didn’t have any musical capacity at all. Fortunately, my friend Marius Schneider from Germany is a great composer, and he’s been helping me with Creepy Castle since its very first two-day-game-jam incarnation. Marius has a Celtic approach to music and a background in guitar, and his music is a perfect fit for the upbeat and catchy nature I’m going for. (He’s also very talented at writing and world-building, and he’s helped a lot with the story of Creepy Castle.) He originally wrote nine songs for the original Creepy Castle prototype.
As the game expanded and after the Kickstarter was successful, we found ourselves with the opportunity to do a lot more with the soundtrack. Marius went back to those original nine tracks and tried to make them a bit more unified, expanding some songs and rewriting large parts of others. We also kept finding reasons to include new songs: unique themes for certain characters, new areas, specific enemies, etc. It happened organically, without a particular plan, but in the end we expect there to be more than 60 unique tracks in the game!
That’s a lot of music for one person to handle, so in some cases Marius went into his personal vault (so to speak) and dug up unfinished and unused songs he’d written over the years, polishing them up or using them as inspiration for new tracks. One that especially stands out is a mysterious, Egyptian-sounding theme that has found a new home as the theme of an important area in Scenario 3. In addition, I’ve been working to improve my composing skills since the Creepy Castle prototype was built all those years ago, and they’ve reached the point that I’ve been able to add to the soundtrack as well. I’m probably only writing one song for every 10 that Marius does, but I’m glad to contribute tracks like the Ghost Palace Boss theme.
While I’m very happy with the songs I’ve made and Marius’s tunes are amazing, there’s one thing about the Creepy Castle music that had always bugged me a little, and that’s the fact that we weren’t creating authentic chiptunes. Ever since we started making the music back in 2009, we did stick to rules like limited channels (two lead, another for bass, another for percussion), but we just exported the sounds as MIDI files, then fed them through a program called GXSCC to make them sound like they’re being generated by an an 8-bit sound chip. It’s OK, but it’s not ideal, so eventually Marius began redoing the music the proper way with tracker software.
Unfortunately, the going was slow, and we still had a lot of other work to do on the game, so remaking all the music was somewhat impractical. Luckily, Nicalis introduced us to musician and remixing genius RushJet1 – who I’d already been a fan of for years – and he’s remixing all of our songs into proper chiptunes. Better still, he’s even contributed a few original tracks to Creepy Castle, and collaborated on a few more. One of my favorite tracks so far, which was somewhat inspired by Yoko Shimomura’s emotional, imposing boss-fight song from Kingdom Hearts 2, is called “Wanting All the Things You’ll Never Have,” and it wouldn’t have been possible without Marius’s fantastic bass track or RushJet1’s instrumentation.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this look at the music of Creepy Castle! If you want to know more, you’re in luck – there’s a jukebox option in the game, and each song has a bit of commentary from the composer. I hope you look forward to checking it out!