I’m Your GPU – Crafting the digitally-infused pop of Astro’s Playroom

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I’m Your GPU – Crafting the digitally-infused pop of Astro’s Playroom

Embrace the fun, futuristic vibe with the digital soundtrack on March 12.

Hi folks! To mark the release of the official digital soundtrack for Astro’s Playroom later this week, I thought it’d be fun to take a wee “behind the scenes” look at the creative process for the track that players have responded to the most enthusiastically – the GPU song.

Most of the music featured in this post doesn’t actually appear in the game or on the soundtrack – it consists of excerpts from top secret, slightly embarrassing sketch material that was never intended to be heard by anyone’s ears other than those of my Team Asobi collaborators. But hopefully that’s also what makes them interesting!

The GPU Jungle was the first area of the game that I tackled – whilst it was still a work-in-progress at that point, the gameplay felt the furthest along so it seemed like a sensible place to start. My first attempt was quite a traditional approach to scoring a jungle stage, complete with the requisite panpipes:

The feedback from the team was that this was a little too predictable. However, it did have a catchy melody, which is something we strive for in the Astro Bot games because they are, at their heart, ‘old-skool’ platforming experiences. So, before moving on, I had a go at making it a little more “digital” or synthetic sounding:

That certainly felt more appropriate for Astro, but we were still concerned that folks unfamiliar with video game music culture might not “get it.” So, I started exploring something a little more contemporary sounding and began playing around with the idea of writing a song.

Before I’d even started working on the game I had been thinking about personifying the PlayStation 5 console by giving it a voice. This tapped into the idea that perhaps you’ve always known PS5 or somehow encountered it before, as if it were your true love. But I had been saving this idea for the CPU Plaza area as it felt like the most appropriate spot. But now that I was starting again on the music for the GPU Jungle, I saw an opportunity to introduce this concept to the team. Here’s my first sketch:

The lyrics there are:

GP-You and GP-Me, here amongst the trees.
GP-You and GP- Me, as far as your eyes can see.
Voxels and sprites; pixels delight; shaded perfectly.
GP-You and GP-Me.
GP-You and GP-Me. 

Which is intriguing, but the overall tone was too closely aligned with the aforementioned “ethereal true love” concept which wasn’t a good fit for GPU Jungle. So I didn’t share that with the team (this’ll be the first time they’ve heard it too – surprise!). But I stuck with it as a starting point and came up with this:

The feedback on this version was that whilst it was playful it was missing the fun, had gone too far the other way and become too serious in tone. D’oh! However, the team really liked the main riff at the end and thought that we could find a home for it in the CPU Plaza area.

Starting over again, I felt like having tested the waters in a couple of different directions and found where the lines of acceptability were. I could now come up with an approach which would hopefully offer the best of both worlds. I was still keen on trying to make the song idea work, but rather than lead with that and getting side-tracked, I started with the groove of the drums and bass to get the energy right and then worked on the lyrics and melody. Here’s what I sent over to Nicolas Doucet, Creative Director of Astro’s Playroom (with reassurances that I was going to add a vocoder to my voice!):

It’s rough and ready, but even at this stage it had something going on and we were excited to try and make it work.

When I was writing it I was thinking about the genius graphics coders I know or have worked with and wanted the lyrics to be something that they would recognise as being at least vaguely authentic. But I also knew it couldn’t just be a shopping list of rendering terminology, because that’s not something most people can relate to. I’m not sure at what point I realised that the love song idea I had been exploring previously could be made to fit, but I do remember being excited about getting the lyrics to operate on multiple levels because that’s what chamfers the hard techy edges off and makes the song palatable.

Getting the tone of the track right took some iteration – it was tricky to add elements to the core I’d established without them taking something away.  Here’s a version from this exploratory production phase:

You learn something from every little misstep and, if you persevere, each of them leads to something that clicks. Rinse, repeat. Then at some point you realise it’s baked! Here’s a preview of the final version found on the soundtrack album:

I’m incredibly grateful to have such brilliant and trusting collaborators in Team Asobi that give me the encouragement, time and space needed to explore ideas such as this and then use their skills and craft to find ways to incorporate them into the project in a holistic fashion. Not every piece of music I write is subject to such a circuitous or lengthy gestation period – by being the first thing that I tackled, this track had to bear the burden of finding a direction for the entire project.

But I also wanted to take the opportunity to shine a light on a creative process which is so often hidden from view – composers have a tendency to discuss work through the lens of the finished product, but our ideas are rarely, if ever, born fully formed. Music direction is arrived at through a journey.

Thanks for coming along for the ride! I hope you enjoyed this little insight into my world. The official soundtrack for Astro’s Playroom, released by Sony Music Masterworks, will be available digitally here March 12 – happy listening!

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40 Comments

  • As someone who works in this music, this is the kind of insight that I absolutely adore, and you did an absolutely fantastic job with the soundtrack to this game! It was stuck in my head for weeks!

  • Great post! I love seeing the steps in the iterations.

  • What a coincidence, I blasted this song yesterday trough my speakers because I like it very much and now a full article about the development process is published. It is awesome!

  • Awesome post!!!! Please PlayStation Blog, keep bringing us stories of development like this one in the future! Loved the different iterations of the music and appreciating the evolution it shows from start to finish!

  • Literally just this morning I went to Spotify to see if this soundtrack was on there s I had a hankering to listen to this song. So happy to see the full OST is coming out soon!

  • Awesome insight! I absolutely love the Astro’s Playroom sountrack, especially this song. It brings a great sense of joy and nostalgia and now that tou have shared this creative insight, I love it even more!

  • When’s the vinyl? That’s all I care about.

  • Brilliant insight into quite possibly the most catchy piece of level music in any game ever – I was humming along to it long after completing the level. The whole design of this game is fantastic…

  • Great articles, the music in the game is super great, especially gpu jungle and ssd song. Can’t wait for a full 3D astro games on playstation 5.

  • This was definitely one of my favourite songs in the game though I have to say I absolutely loved the main theme! Amazing work!

  • I LOVE the main theme of Astrobot Rescue Mission!!! The trailer is probably one of my most played on YouTube.

  • I am your GPUUUUU :D

  • I already played astro twice on ps5. It’s a blast! Fun, light-hearted and innovative game.
    My only complaint is the absent of Astrobot on Sony merchandise.
    He has potential to become as big as Mario.
    Sony must create Astrobot toys,figures, pop, etc.

    • Agreed, i’ve been searching for Astro merchandise… alas, nothing

    • Probably wont be able to become as big as Mario if you think about it.

      Mario has those mushrooms he eats to make him grow.

      Astrobot doesn’t have a mouth.

  • I love this game so much. Great job on the soundtrack and great to get more insight into it. Can’t wait for the next Astro game.

  • Absolutely loved the music in this game. Superbrilliant job! <3

  • You did an outstanding job with this game. I absolutely loved it. And the soundtrack was just awesome. Looking forward to what you will do next!

  • So amazing to learn about the creative processes and steps developers / artists are going through to make these games. Seeing more and more lately on the Playstation YouTube channel and blog is amazing. Kudos and great job. Looking forward to the next Astrobot game :)

  • It’s such an awesome, catchy song, and I’m glad that I saved GPU Jungle for later in the game, as it put such a great cap on my experience with the game! I really hope we get more Astro, that’s for sure.

    It was also great to see your explorations on the concept. As a visual artist, I’m oh so familiar with the iterative process when it comes to working towards a finished piece, and it’s so fascinating to see how other forms of creative expression (such as music), go through their own version of that creative process!

  • V1, V2, V3, V4, V4_AGAIN, V5, V6, V6_FINAL, V6_FINALFINAL…

    A lot of creatives know the iterative process well, and examples like this are great insights into what goes into that type of work. It paid off because the final track is magnificent and a treat to listen to!! Well done!

  • This was an amazing post. Gave some great insight into the ost development process for games, as well as the build-up of the character of the atmosphere in Astro’s Playground.
    Plus, some great music! I really love tracks 2,3 and 4 and am enjoying just listening to them as music.

  • This is a really insightful post, thanks so much. The music was one of the best thing about the game and I can’r wait to give the soundtrack a spin on Friday!

  • “When I was writing it I was thinking about the genius graphics coders I know or have worked with and wanted the lyrics to be something that they would recognize as being at least vaguely authentic.”

    You absolutely nailed it! I recently played this track as an intro to a meeting with a bunch of Windows GPU kernel driver engineers, to liven up the audience in the early morning. Everyone loved it. The song is a great way to verbalize the work we do, behind the scenes, to create the things you can see (programming registers, debugging shaders) even to the non-tech savvy folks.

    PlayStation has done so much for the gaming community over the years and this game (and the PS5) feels like the perfect culmination of that effort. It was a rewarding experience to unlock all the artifacts and create the puzzle mural. Crash Bandicoot an Spyro were exciting to see, so many memories.

  • Thanks for an awesome, insightful walkthrough of your whole creative process. Please do more blog posts like these Sony!

  • Love to see these behind-the-scenes looks at the development process of games. More of these, please!

    Also, real talk, you legitimately have a nice singing voice in that v5 version!

  • Love it, thanks so much for releasing these!

  • Thanks for the insight. Really love the soundtrack of both Playroom and Rescue Mission. The music is such a big part of the charm of these games. Really great reading about, and hearing, how this came to be.

  • A soundtrack featuring some of the most joyous music you could imagine, coupled to a game that perfectly celebrates PlayStation’s history as well as ushering in a new generation. Astros Playroom is an absolute classic, and that’s in no small part to the amazing music.

  • Now can we get a full game

  • Friend anyone I only have 1 friend

  • The version you sent to the CD before adding vocoder is awesome!

  • Great read. Fantastic soundtrack. Full of earworms. Vinyl release please.

  • The music in this game is great, and this song in particular brought back fond memories of another artist I love, DMX Krew. You should listen to his song “Lies Inside” — if I didn’t know better, I’d say it might have been an inspiration for I’m Your GPU 😃

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