“[And] the fact that this game was going to be pre-installed in every PlayStation 5, that meant in some respects, the commercial pressure that would be there for a traditional product was kind of lifted because… We didn’t have the weight of having to justify people’s purchase decisions just through our product, and that meant that we could maybe afford to take a few creative risks on Astro’s Playroom that otherwise, we might have been too scared to go there.”
Taking those two ideas to heart, Young went about beginning to work on his second Astro Bot score. And while the soundtrack is full of infectious tunes, from the bouncy sounds of CPU Plaza that introduce players to Astro’s Playroom to the rhythmic grooves of SSD Speedway, Young’s process, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, began with an idea that would be behind some of Playroom’s most recognizeable tracks.
“I had been briefed on the project before I started working on it, a few months before. I was out for a run one morning and I was thinking about all these ideas and what was I going to do, and I had this idea of making the PlayStation 5 sing to the player, personifying the spirit of the PS5,” Young said. “And I came up with this lyric, ‘You remember me, I’ve been in your dreams,’ which was this idea inspired by a lot of the original PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 advertisements which had a lot of dream-like imagery.
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“As it comes to pass, I didn’t actually get to do that specific [lyrical] idea, but that really sowed the seed of the idea in my head when we were working on GPU Jungle, to make the GPU sing to the player.”
But Young emphasizes that just because the conceit of the song came about naturally, it “wasn’t like I just wrote the song and that was it.” GPU Jungle went through several iterations before it became the track we all know and love.
“I tried the obvious thing [first], which was a traditional, old-school approach to scoring the Jungle stage. And the feedback was, ‘That’s a little bit too expected, what else can we do?’ They were also a little bit worried about maybe it being a little bit too kiddie…so, I then tried something a bit more contemporary and mainstream and that’s when I started thinking about, ‘Okay, maybe this song idea’s got legs.’”
Young began to focus in on that idea of a more traditional song with lyrics, but jokingly admitted that his first attempt, as a kind of love song, “was a little too sensual,” and while the next iteration didn’t work either, it ended up becoming the basis for another piece of music in Playroom.
“Then I did something that was a bit more clubby, and that didn’t quite fit the GPU Jungle level because it was maybe a bit too serious in tone, of going from too kiddie to too serious, but the developers felt that might actually work in the CPU Plaza area, which didn’t actually exist at that point, so I wasn’t fully aware of it. And so that track in the hub area was originally [born from] one of the sketches for GPU Jungle,” he said.“I tested the waters a bit and felt I could find some middle ground that would work, and we came back to the song idea. And it just seemed to all come together relatively quickly. I sent over a little sketch that was just me singing it in my voice, and I was excited about it because I was like, ‘Oh, this is cool, I think it’s working,’” Young said. “It was not ready for primetime, but I think Nicolas was like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s a bit weird, but it’s cool, and that might work.’ That was the first thing that I worked on for the whole game. So in a way that set the tone.”
And that tone is one that runs throughout Astro’s Playroom’s charming soundtrack, which is often integrally built into the rest of the levels. Though Young admits he was unaware about the GPU Jungle Easter egg – the song’s lyrics are inscribed in areas of the level for players to find – he praised the wider Astro’s Playroom dev team for their ingenuity and the ways they found to make Young’s ideas work in the levels.
“The song idea was mine and I don’t think it was too much of a hard pitch to sell them into it, because I think they got it. Snd I think they already planned to put the GPU Mountain in to the vista, so getting them to make it actually lip-sync to the music wasn’t too much of an ask, I think they were quite excited about that idea,” Young explained from his side of things.
Spoilers for Astro’s Playroom’s Endgame Follow!And on the subject of risks Young was able to take on the project, one of Astro’s Playroom’s biggest setpieces allowed the composer to find creative ways of paying homage to PlayStation history, which is often at the core of Playroom’s experience.
Young explained how, in wanting to provide a memorable soundtrack for the final T-rex boss fight that serves as an homage to the original PS1 demo disc, he discussed his methods for making it as authentic as possible.
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“I went back to period synthesizers and sampled them and converted them over to the PlayStation 1’s proprietary audio format to get some of that PS1 grit, and then impulse response of the PS1’s reverb to try and get even closer to that kind of sound. And then in the track that follows that, it was all period ’90s synths and percussion sounds to try to do the other kind of PlayStation 1 music approach, which is rather than the real-time, Final Fantasy 7 approach where you trigger memory-resident samples, it was like the red book CD audio approach, a bit like Wipeout, where you would just play the CD tracks. So I tried to do both approaches in there.
“And I think for a lot of people, that would go over their head, particularly people who have never had a PlayStation 1, but you don’t need everything to land home with every single player. Some people will spot stuff and get super excited about it or emotional about something that they remember from their youth.”
Young’s risks, of course, paid off with a score that will be available for those who want to listen digitally if they’ve already mastered Astro’s Playroom. But Young explained how he was excited by the prospect of composing for a game that will be available to everyone who buys a PS5, not just at launch but for years to come.
“It’s nice when you realize you’re able to do something that you probably couldn’t do on other projects, and then you can dial it up and make it your own. The nice thing about the game being pre-installed on PS5 is that it’s this great opportunity to really find an audience,” he said.
“At the beginning of the project, it took me a long time to get my head around the fact that, I don’t know what percentage of people who buy a PS5 actually boot up Playroom, but it’s probably the majority, so you can say within the lifetime of the console, at the very least, it’s potentially going to be 10’s of millions of people checking it out. It’s mind-blowing, but such a great opportunity.”
For more on Astro’s Playroom, check out our guide on where to find Astro’s many PlayStation Easter eggs and be sure to read our Astro’s Playroom review if you haven’t yet played.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior News Editor, host of Podcast Beyond!, and PlayStation lead. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.