Friday Facts #406 - Space Age Music

Posted by Albert on 2024-04-12


It was November of 2021 when we started conversations with Petr Wajsar, a very talented Czech music composer, to create the soundtrack for the Factorio expansion. Since then we have been working together on the soundtrack of Factorio Space Age. Conceptualising and finding solutions to our not small amount of problems, and filling the expansion with quality music, specially designed for the best possible Factorio experience.

Petr is a very special musician, because besides being a proven master of electronic music, his education and experience in the conservatory makes him capable of composing music using the full range of a classic orchestra. His modern style of going to more experimental solutions, makes him very flexible at creating the score of the Factorio Space Age expansion.

Orchestrated music

This time though, since we are combining electronics and orchestral music, we decided to record the orchestrated parts with a real orchestra in a real studio. The difference, as you know, between a synthetic orchestra and a real one can be huge.

The experience of playing the game with this soundtrack must be, at least, noticeable.

Recording sessions

Recording music with a traditional orchestra is a big challenge, which requires a long process and a really complex coordination. From music directing and composing, to orchestration, coordination of all the musicians, arrangements, recording, post production, etc.

In the case of our soundtrack, 174 professionals are involved, without counting the Factorio team.
The music production company Soundsgate, which represents Petr, is taking care of this whole process for us.

The recording sessions of our soundtrack have been held since November 2023 in the ─îesk├Ż Rozhlas studios, in Prague.
I post you here some pictures of the first recording session.



Current soundtrack will stay as 'Nauvis' soundtrack

The style of the Factorio 1.1 soundtrack was already given by our dear Daniel James Taylor. Petr had to adapt his work to continue with Daniel's Nauvis soundtrack. That doesn't mean that the expansion of the soundtrack won't add new colours and textures to the game. Totally the contrary. The new content for the expansion, as its name says, expands the soundscape of Factorio to new dimensions.

In general, what the soundtrack tries to do, is to accompany the player throughout all the mental processes required by the game, to focus the attention at the time of designing the factories and its logistics. So the music should create a balanced and relaxed atmosphere to allow the player to concentrate.

The music is not decoration, it helps the player to have a better immersive experience and also to visualise what is not shown on the screen.

The Factorio motif

A constant in the entire soundtrack, and I'm adding Daniel's work also, is the Factorio motif. I'm sure you have it tattooed on your brain already. Do you remember the melody that sounds when loading the game?. Yes you do. Well, Petr developed an entire universe based on these couple of notes.

This melody sounds through all the planets with many different moods, rhythms and instruments. The good part is that you don't hear it clearly, one just feels it. This is amazing because it creates this sort of coherent cosmos that undoubtedly belongs to Factorio. One example is the video of Vulcanus, coming below.

Something also shared by all the planets, is the idea of a sense of wonder. We want to express how incredibly nice and positive the discovery of all these new worlds is. Some of the tracks in different planets have this idea behind them.

Factorio engine constraints

We don't have a way for the engine to tell the music system what is happening in the game. In other words, the music system has no idea if the player is in the middle of a battle destroying biter nests, or meticulously placing transport belts to satisfy the needs of a growing factory.

This fact is greatly limiting the creative solutions at the time of composing the score. Imagine the player quietly placing pipes to simply connect 2 machines, and suddenly there is super epic battle music in the background. This would create a silly situation, and we don't want that.

The solution that we decided to take is, instead of trying to illustrate the action itself, we better go for a description of the landscape, in a more ambient solution. The atmosphere of the planet and its nuances. The mood and its variations.

The music must be neutral in a way of not having big emotive peaks, but on the other hand it should be rich and dynamic, otherwise it would become dull. So the balance between neutral and expressive is something very important to control.


There are 4 new planets + Space, so we will have 5 unique soundscapes

Every planet/surface has its own mood, shapes, and spirit. The player should feel on which surface the action is focused, without having to look at the graphics. Well, this is a very subjective matter, sometimes it is clear for some, sometimes not that much. But you get the point.

At the beginning of the project we had to work almost blindly, because none of the graphics or gameplay were fully designed, just ideas, which is what anyone needs to start anything. But now it is different, with all the work done by the team, we can start showing little tastes of how things come together.

All the music excerpts and visuals presented in this post are Work in Progress. The videos are meant to be proof of concepts. I made them to easily visualise all these concepts that I'm talking about. I hope you enjoy them.

Space

The space platform is the most tricky one, because it has 2 modes: stationary in space, and in motion. So we decided to cover both cases with 2 complementary elements:

  • We use a spacey atmosphere (obviously), with a bit of synth electronics trying to describe how it feels floating in the cold void of the universe.
  • We use a rhythmic bass for the feeling of the platform movement, the powerful thrusters impulsing the big mass of metal. Like a space ferry, "slow" but unstoppable.

Vulcanus

Dark, oppressive, hot and heavy. But also wonderful.

We found it very coherent and appropriate to use long chords of brass instruments. These are pointing to the magnificence of this fantastic landscape, with contrast to the hazardous volcanoes and lava.

Fulgora

The main theme in this area is electro-magnetism. We are aiming for more electric sounds. Petr made lots of experiments with the sound of electricity. Like tapping an audio jack with his finger and recording rhythms with it, then manipulating it for use in the compositions.

The excerpt shown in this video illustrates it quite well.

The other 2 planets

In the future we will explain more about the other planets, for now these are undisclosed subjects. But I can't resist showing a little bit more, this time without graphics. Listen to this track and imagine a remote and unexplored planet, full of...


Over 5 hours of soundtrack

Every surface of the game plays around 1h of music. That means that we have to play 5 hours of soundtrack, +1h of Nauvis. Next week we will speak about some techniques that we developed to not only cover this amount of time, but also surpass it.

What's next?

Now we have all the demos and recordings of the orchestrated parts. We don't yet have the final mixes, only a few of Petr's pre-mixes. Every step in the process produces changes in the track, normally for the better.

We are also starting to see in a better shape the graphics and the gameplay. So I'm going to put all this material in the engine before the final mixes, in order to test it and get feedback.

I'm quite sure that we will be able to fine-tune the entire soundtrack in a way that pays off all the energy Petr (and everybody involved) put in to such a crazy project.

Stay tuned.


As always, orchestrate your thoughts at the usual places.