The massive hype machine that is No Man’s Sky has finally arrived and the game’s epic size is matched not only by the impressive algorithm used to generate it, but also by its soundtrack.
In order to create the right soundscapes that would match the game’s incredible universe, developers Hello Games enlisted the help of one of their favourite bands, math-rockers 65daysofstatic. Last week the band released an album made up of their work on the No Man’s Sky soundtrack and we caught up with founding member Paul Wolinski to talk about creating music for one of the most ambitious games we’ve seen in years.
“When we first got started they just said to us that all we needed to do was write a 65daysofstatic record and they would figure the rest of it out,” says Wolinski. But that wasn’t enough for the band. They wanted to work more closely with Hello Games on the generative side of the soundtrack creation.
“We’re massive geeks really, and we’ve been trying to get involved in this world for a long time so we really squeezed our way in as time went on,” says Wolinski. “Because the game was so ambitious, Paul Weir – who is the audio director for the whole game which includes a lot of sound design as well – clearly had his hands full. Once he realised that we were willing and able to get more involved in the generative side of things, he was incredibly supportive.
“Paul Weir designed the audio brain that exists in the game but he took on board any ideas that we had about some of the logic and the rules that the brain could use in order to make use of the music in the most effective way.”
The game’s pool of music was then built out of what they’d created for the album. “We wrote the music on our own,” says Wolinski, “and then we started building more and more audio based on the songs. Towards the end of the process we gave that all to Paul [Weir]. He worked his way through it and it became more of a collaborative back and forth. He made suggestions on what other pieces of music we might be able to make that would fit nicely with the system as it was coming together.”
The creative process was clear. “There’s a lot of stuff in the game that isn’t in the record. That’s because we wanted each form to play to its own strengths. The in-game soundtrack, by definition, needed this vast pool of audio. It’s a lot more atmospheric. There’s going to be a lot of time in the game where it’s not going to be doing very much. That’s important for soundtracks. You don’t want to be blasting big melodies all of the time. There’s lots of stuff that, I hope, will work really well in the game context that wouldn’t necessarily be quite as compelling on a record, repeatedly listening to it in the same form over and over again.”
It seems like creating music for No Man’s Sky was as much about pulling apart the music as it was putting it together, “The record was written first,” agrees Wolinski. “We made all the songs and made them work in the linear classical form and then pulled them apart into their essential ingredients to be reformed in the game.”
Incredibly, Hello Games gave 65daysofstatic a very free reign as far as creating the music went. “We got surprisingly little in the way of artwork and footage. At first that freaked us out a little bit but as time went on we realised just how valuable it was. They were big 65 fans anyway and the only brief we’d got was to write a new 65daysofstatic record because they’d been using a lot of our old material during the early development stages. We saw the launch trailer and the early concept art and we knew that the game had a very strong aesthetic.
“When we first started working on it we half-expected that they’d be sending us footage or things to give us some tangible things to write for but they didn’t because the game didn’t really exist in that way. It existed as code and algorithms. While at first we thought that was weird, in the end it was really good because it forced us to avoid getting trapped into writing too linearly. If they’d given us any footage – no matter how hard we’d tried to avoid it –we’d end up scoring that footage to some extent.
“To have just the still images and the descriptions they gave us of the experience they wanted to create,” says Wolinski. “That made us use our imagination. In hindsight, it was a really good challenge and a good way to approach it.”
No Man’s Sky is out now on PS4 and PC. The accompanying soundtrack No Man’s Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe is out now. Listen to it below. 65daysofstatic will be touring Europe to support the launch, beginning on October 17th in Tilburg, Netherlands and finishing on November 18th in Glasgow, Scotland.