The music of FTL: Faster Than Light - an interview with composer Ben Prunty
Do you have a favorite track in FTL?
I’m really proud of the Engi music. It has a really cool chord progression that I like.
Your title theme does it for me. Something about bells and reverb just says “space,” I guess...it suggests vastness. Was that a lot of pressure? To just encapsulate the whole game in this song that people would hear all the time, every time they started the game?
Well, we didn't know it would be as popular as it was. We totally thought it would be a niche thing for a niche audience. Permadeath, really difficult, not very flashy, kind of like playing a board game—we didn't think these are the kind of things that would appeal to a huge audience.
I’m so happy that they are.
Yeah, I know! It’s really pleasing to know that there’s such a demand for this kind of thing. But, I don’t know, I didn't have too much pressure on me. I was mostly just trying to please them, the guys making the game. That title screen music was actually my original pitch music. They were like, “OK, why don’t you send us something, and if we like it we’ll use it for the game.”
So I was thinking, I have to come up with something that feels like cruising through space but doesn't feel too threatening. Kind of breezy, but not overly happy. I don’t want to be saccharine, but I don’t want to be dark either. So, I spent two or three days just trying to come up with a chord progression that sounded like this cruising thing that was not too threatening. That’s what you hear when it builds up to a climax in the beginning—those chords are what you hear, and I reuse them all throughout the soundtrack.
"I’m like, 'Hey, Denise! Do you want to go grunt in a closet for me while I record?'"
On your blog you wrote a post about what you used to make the soundtrack. The Natural Instruments Komplete bundle and all that. Did you have a favorite sampled instrument or synth?
I had a synth bass that I started to call the Mantis Bass. I don’t remember what it was called originally but some bassline from one of the synths in the Komplete bundle. I don’t remember now, because I saved it as a preset. I loaded up this bassline and made modifications and saved it as Mantis Bass. And that bassline shows up a ton in the whole soundtrack, but it was really prominent in Mantis.
Do you record any of your own samples? I noticed you mentioned some microphones.
There was like, an older project where I recorded my banjo a bit. I haven’t done any real recording except for sound effects. Sound effects for FTL and Gravity Ghost.
So you did all the sound design for FTL?
Right, oh yeah, there's the screams.
Right, if a male crew member dies, that’s me screaming. If a female crew member dies, that’s my roommate.
It’s nice to have resources like roommates.
I’m like, "Hey, Denise! Do you want to go grunt in a closet for me while I record?" Not creepy at all!
So, obviously you love games, since you wanted to compose specifically for games. Do you have any desire to enter development, or do you just plan to stick to music?
So, yeah, actually, for the last year or so I was really trying to learn more about game development and programming. When I was a kid I made a lot of games. I made card games and stuff, I made like--I was a big fan of Jurassic Park and I was 10 when it came out—and I made this Jurassic Park single-player card game that was kind of like a roguelike. I didn't realize at the time that I was going to become a huge fan of roguelikes, but it was already starting there. I made this crazy single-player card game and a whole ton of other ones.
"I’m often flying by the seat of my pants, but that’s fun too."
I found this old TRS-80 pocket computer made by Radio Shack in the ‘70s in my dad’s basement, and I started learning programming on that, which was a variant of BASIC. So I started making games on that, and I do have this desire to make games, but obviously I’m much better at doing music because I have a lot more experience. And my other real passion is writing, and those things I know I’m decent at, so I think I’m going to stick to that. But I don’t know, maybe something will come up and I’ll have to make something.
So, now you’re working on Gravity Ghost, full time composing. Any other projects?
Not yet, I’m looking for other projects. I’m kind of working on a solo album, but I don’t know how far that’s gonna go.
OK, last question. You call yourself an expert at giving off the appearance that you know what you’re doing. Do you know what you’re doing?
[Laughs] Yeah, I’m really good at making it look like I know what I’m doing, but I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing. I’m often flying by the seat of my pants, but that’s fun too.