Let’s Work Out What Happens in ‘No Man’s Sky’ Based Solely On Its Soundtrack
Hello Games' sci-fi epic hasn't been big on it story so far, but we can guess some beats from its 65daysofstatic-made music.
Despite the immeasurable hype that's surrounded it since it was first revealed back in December 2013, No Man's Sky has remained a fantastic mystery, a dazzlingly multi-coloured enigma, a sci-fi shooter-cum-puzzler with no pre-release spoilers to really write home about. The Hello Games-made explore 'em up, born in a small studio (and probably a boozer or two) in Guildford, UK, promises near-infinite gameplay – procedurally generated planets mean that it'd take the user 500 billion years to see every possible outcome of all the mathematics going on under the hood, based on spending a single second on each new world, some 18 quintillion of them. And that's been the hook during the game's gestation, that incredible size.
Hello Games are hoping that the wonder of being the first person to step foot on a freshly generated landscape will drive the player onward to further discovery, without a blinking marker on a HUD to indicate where the next telegraphed point of progression is. Further details remain vague: we know that many people can be playing together online, albeit potentially light years apart from one another at all times; and that there will be alien races to trade with, and regulations to stay on the right side of when mining for resources. Beyond that, information's on the threadbare side, especially when it comes to the plot. But Hello have repeatedly implied there is one, that there is an ultimate ending to the game, at the centre of a universe that the player begins their campaign on the extreme fringes of.
No Man's Sky is now finished, its development complete – the game has, to use the correct industry terminology, gone gold. Director Sean Murray tweeted as much yesterday, July the 7th: "It's happened. No Man's Sky just went gold. I'm so incredibly proud of this tiny team. 4 years of emotions."
The same day, I received an advance copy of the game's soundtrack (perks of being a music journalist for a decade-plus), written and performed by electronics-get-riffy instrumental foursome 65daysofstatic. The ten-track Music for an Infinite Universe is, essentially, a new album proper from the Sheffield-formed band, which also happens to be the complete compositions for an incredibly anticipated video game, something of a bonus. That it'll be its makers' biggest-selling LP to date is, surely, a given. And from its first seconds, my mind began tearing away from terra firma, picturing what scenes these songs could be set to in the game itself. Because while a lot of 65days' music is rearranged into soundscapes to match the tempo of No Man's Sky's core gameplay, fuller songs will be triggered by select set-pieces, certain semi-scripted events. Important story beats, in other words.
Through these songs, and their titles, maybe, just maybe, we can begin to piece together what actually happens in No Man's Sky. (Please note that the order the songs appear in below is not the same as they run on the album. Just FYI, likes.)
Every journey in every game begins somewhere. I'm feeling that this is the music for that moment, for when your ship first fires up and the hanger door opens before you. This is it, strap in, probably for the rest of your life. Stark piano keys adopt a march atop squealing synths, like motors turning over, shrill and spinning with just-press-go potential. And then it's gone, everything stripped away to leave only silence; the stillness of the biggest black mankind's ever stared out into.
We've seen footage of the player having to take down robotic enforcers in No Man's Sky, for getting unruly on a planet's surface. These Sentinels could come in many sizes – we've seen flying versions, and bipedal ones striding towards us with hostile intent. "Monolith" sounds like an encounter with something especially enormous, and particularly deadly. It builds up the layers of tension over its opening two minutes before some heavy drum beats – steady, considered, foreboding – enter, and then the whole piece drops away into a throb. When it picks up speed again, the emotions coming through are exclusively fight or flee, with one of the two options, the preferred one, entirely out of the question. The fuzzy glitchiness of the final minute is alien and inorganic; either a powerful foe pressing the player into desperate measures, or perhaps coming apart under their fire. Long story short: this has got boss encounter written all over it, the enemy potentially one that reveals its powers across various modes of appearance, and lethality.
Named, presumably, after science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov, this song of two halves could well come in during your first, no-really-you-can't-skip-it space battle. Its first stage, its first two minutes, would work well as you pick off smaller craft amid an asteroid field; then, after a pause, to take in a sun peeking out from the other side of a strange world you're seeing the for first time, the OMFGwillyoulookatthosethings battleships come into the equation. Here, everything's heavier, to complement the increased volume of the artillery in play. Not that we weren't exploding anyway.
The word parallax relates to distance, the way in which we can measure the distance that separates our own planet from its closest celestial neighbours. Gaming in the late-1980s also brought us parallax scrolling, where background imagery would move slower than layers between it and the foreground, creating an impression of depth using purely 2D visuals. One of the first games to use this technique was Shadow of the Beast, in 1989. So, red distance, or red momentum, then, thinking literally; and what's red but the colour of danger? This song certainly sounds like some serious shit is happening while it plays – and that serious shit is happening fast. I'm imagining some sort of race to a point in the universe, perhaps its middle, perhaps against the clock, perhaps against other ships that also happen to have their missiles locked on your thrusters. It might be that this song comes in at a late-game stage, where you really are zeroing in on that central objective. That's what I'm going for: No Man's Sky will get frantic when it needs to, and when it needs to its music is going to get properly hectic, too.
"END OF THE WORLD SUN"
And could this be that end point? Amid the combative guitars and triumphant drums, there's something quite celestial about the undercurrents of this track. Like staring into the end of times and seeing them begin again. Everything consumed, everything absorbed, everything recycled into something, somewhere breathtakingly new. New game plus, mate, I'm telling you, if you want it.
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"PILLARS OF FROST"
Exploration in No Man's Sky will take the player not just onto the hard crust of new worlds – some lusciously verdant, others barren and as good as lifeless – but also beneath oceans and into subterranean cave networks. "Pillars of Frost" is a three-minute drone that sounds like a cathedral organ played backwards, filtered through the Great Atari ST in the Sky and dumped into a deep freezer the size of eight International Space Stations. This is the real cold, the biting chill; but this is also a piece of awe and that "w" word again, wonder. This is finding some remarkable place below the surface of an ice-crusted planet, a place where once a race not so unlike our own perhaps carried out rituals; or simply lived, sheltered from the hostile conditions above. I'm seeing huge structures, ornate designs, remnants of what was; but everything's dead, now.
Not every new system you discover in No Man's Sky will be welcoming. This track, light on compositional variety but heavy on a queasy unease, feels like a cue to accompany exiting light speed and realising that all is not quite right where you've ended up. It thuds and clunks, while the pretty, delicate keys of surrounding arrangements warp and twist, like scraps of the prettiest silk being wrung taught, deformed, by hoary hands that mean to cause harm. This is definitely (ha!) the point where starry eyes narrow and prepared steeliness replaces the carefree abandon of the early game.
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"BLUEPRINT FOR A SLOW MACHINE"
This feels almost like a sister song to "Debutante", the 2010 track that accompanied No Man's Sky's E3 2014 trailer. It begins with sheets of synths, shifting against a twin-star sunset. It moves this way and that, just catching the breeze, until firmer, more purposeful percussion pops and fizzes into existence, and everything builds into a compelling cacophony that sets the skin electric and the hairs at full stretch. What it's saying is unclear, but if I had to chance it – much like everything else so far, really – I'd be expecting this to come in during a breathable atmosphere encounter, perhaps on foot. It's a little like "Monolith" in how it escalates, albeit without the same degree of dread attached. This might be a less-risky fire fight against Sentinels, perhaps the very first one, as lower-powered metallic aggressors with no useful minds of their own could certainly be regarded as slow machines.
That 'No Man's Sky' gameplay trailer of 2014, featuring "Debutante"
The long flight, the A to B that you're happy to take at your own pace, no fast travelling permitted. At some point, fairly early in the game, you'll have to stretch the limit of what you know, what you've seen, and take on No Man's Sky's next-level-deep designs. Playtime is over, the training wheels are off; but let's pause for three minutes and bask in chiming guitars that seem to want to speak to the stars themselves, as the screen's extremities fill with interstellar clouds consisting of all the colours of the rainbow. Ergo: this is No Man's Sky's own "Far Away" by Jose Gonzales.
A video game's got to have its credits. And here's No Man's Sky's credits music, I reckon. The song feels almost too changeable, too skittish of feeling, to really fit one moment, a single mood; but as a snapshot of everything to come – or that has been – in the game, it's perfect. Which is probably why it was the first of these soundtrack cuts to be made public, by VICE no less, alongside an exclusive 65days mini-mix that you should totally now check out, here.
A number of soundscapes come with the album, too – at least, they do with certain bundles available. While these are less traditionally "structured", heard in isolation, removed from visual context, they're excellent indicators of the atmospheres to expect in the game itself. Some are Julianna Barwick-like looped delights, others bear significantly sharper teeth and claws, and just occasionally everything takes an unexpected turn for the acidic, Aphex style. Solo piano lines tumble, static rises and crumbles, and feedback cries out into the great ether, hopeful of an echo.
It's all great, to be honest, and if its quality serves as a barometer for what to expect from the game it's been made for, every ounce of buzz around No Man's Sky will have been justified, and every hopeful explorer-to-be richly rewarded. There is a lot of danger out there, okay; but we're all going there, regardless.
No Man's Sky is released for PlayStation 4 and PC in August – on the 8th in the US, the 9th in mainland Europe, and the 10th in the UK. For further information, visit the game's official website. For more information on 65daysofstatic, pay the band a visit at their own official website.
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