Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s ongoing hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. Today we’ll take a trip back to 1999 by way of 2018 with a breezy 10 minutes of refreshingly chill cyber-vibes.
Victoria Dominowski’s Secret Little Haven (Bandcamp / longplay / VGMdb / Itch.io) is a unique narrative adventure whose plot unfolds via navigating a fictional operating system on the late-’90s personal computer of a girl named Alex. She’s trans, but hasn’t quite figured out what that means for her yet. The game invites us to “join her on her story of self-discovery through friendship and media as she explores her computer for the treasures and curiosities of the early internet.” Couldn’t have put that better myself, so I didn’t.
Secret Little Haven’s remarkable for how thoroughly its nostalgic aesthetic evokes its chosen era — its trailer features a Neo Geo Pocket and Dreamcast VMU, if that tells you anything — while the gameplay pays loving tribute to such staples of the teenage turn-of-the-century computing experience as instant messaging, virtual pets, anime forums, fan fiction, and melodramatic, overly elaborate sigs. If that all sounds intriguing, check out our write-up from back when it came out.
You can tell just from the imagery above that Dominowski is a seriously talented graphic designer, and judging by the game’s 10-minute, synth-driven soundtrack she’s got some musical chops as well. Here’s what three bucks on Bandcamp (or five on Itch, as the OST also comes with the game) will getcha:
The good vibes flow immediately in “Welcome to Sanctuary OS,” with chimes and piano offering a gentle onramp onto the late ‘90s information superhigh. This is the album’s predominant mode, perfect music to chillax to while idly chatting with your future MySpace top eight about the latest Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon fansubs. “Chilling on the Information Superhighway” and “Sunset on the CRT” follow suit, with the latter evolving into a beautiful bit of piano.
“Hello, Failure” introduces a moment of tension, but it’s more the exciting, nervous kind than anything really scary. “Defragmentation” continues a slightly darker, pensive feeling, capped by the 18-second synth explosion “NO_TURNING_BACK.” Press all the keys you want, it sounds great. The faster-tempo, determined-feeling “This Connection is Secure” injects a jolt of energy and leaves me wanting more than its slight 62-second runtime, after which the title track provides relaxing closure with a return of the chimes and piano, backed by languid rainfall.
Warm, comfy, relaxing: The Secret Little Haven OST succeeds magnificently at drawing me into the nostalgia of a past shared by those of us who came of age alongside the World Wide Web. It’s funny how vaporwave, a genre that didn’t formally exist 22 years ago, can still thoroughly conjure those feelings of yesteryear. It’s almost as if these nostalgias are half remembered and half a construct of the ways we choose to look back at and frame our pasts — if that makes sense — so the feelings evoked are at least as important as the concrete facts of what we experienced. Or maybe it’s just that vaporwave is an inherently backward-gazing genre that can’t help but lend a reminiscential air to anything with which it mingles.
What I can say for sure is that I’ll be pleased if Victoria Dominowski chooses to release more music, because the meager 10 minutes featured in Secret Little Haven beg for a full-length encore.
That’s all she wrote for today’s Morning Music. This may be the briefest selection we’ve ever featured, not that anyone’s counting. Anyway, I hope you enjoy. You’ve now made it to the halfway mark of another week; how’s it treatin’ you so far? I’ll take my answers in the comments. See ya Friday.