A guided tour through the FTL soundtrack: analysis of themes.

As I mention in the text writeup included with every copy, the FTL soundtrack is very self-referential. Lots of sounds, melodies and chords show up multiple times throughout. Here I’m going to break down three of the major motifs, point out each time they pop up, and tell you a bit about them and how they fit in with everything else. You might want to pull up the soundtrack in bandcamp so you can follow along.

The Space Cruise Chords

This is a very simple three-chord progression that was the very first thing I wrote for FTL. I was trying to prove to the guys at Subset Games that I could make something fun and breezy, but also not overly saccharine. Sometimes it has more minor chords mixed in. I think the name ‘Space Cruise’ really sums up the feeling of it. Since Space Cruise shows up at the title screen, many people will decide that this is the ‘main theme’. I see all three of the major motifs I list here as equally valid main themes, and honestly it’s up to you as to which one resonates the most.

Here they are as they appear in Space Cruise.

SpaceCruiseChords
The Space Cruise Chords show up in these tracks:
  • Space Cruise (at 0:57)
  • Colonial (at 2:09)
  • Civil (at 1:32)
  • Cosmos (at 3:28 in Battle only)
  • Victory (at 0:02)

The MilkyWay melody

I actually wrote this melody a few years before, when I was challenging myself to write and produce a new piece of music every week for three months. It was an incredible learning experience, and I recommend everyone to try doing a similar exercise. Anyway, when I wrote the melody I was actually envisioning some kind of old DOS space game. When the opportunity came up to write for FTL, it made perfect sense to fit it in. The MilkyWay melody also shows up in heavily modified form in both Federation and Last Stand. In both cases, the melody is mostly just a four-chord progression that’s been arpeggiated into eighth notes. The key to its signature sound is a delay effect. Simple eighth notes become something far richer with a few different layers of delay on top.
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Here’s the MilkyWay melody in it’s natural habitat. The fifth note in the fourth measure is sometimes replaced with a eighth-note rest.
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MilkyWayMelody
The MilkyWay melody shows up in these tracks:
  • MilkyWay (Right from the start, but ends at 1:40)
  • Last Stand (at 4:01)
  • Federation – Federation is interesting because the first half (starting at 0:31) uses the MilkyWay melodic structure, but the chords are different. Then, in the second half (at 2:27), the chords are a bit closer to MilkyWay’s but the melodic structure is changed.

Conflict Theme

This is (to me) the emotional heart of FTL’s soundtrack. The melody itself is supposed to describe the consequences of warfare. As you tool around the galaxy in FTL, you are constantly reminded by the scenarios you get into that there’s a war going on. The melody is kind of mysterious, but also a little bit sad, and it pops up at seemingly random times throughout the soundtrack, usually near the end of a track. It’s always reminding you that there’s a larger conflict going on and people are dying. I wrote it for Mantis originally, using it to deliberately change the mood of the track into what I just described. It turned out to be such a solid little melody that I kept using it elsewhere. The theme usually consists of the 4-measure melody repeated 3 or 4 times, each time by a different instrument. I changed it up a lot in Civil by adding more chords and giving the melody a bit more detail, in addition to adapting it for a 3/4 time signature.
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Here’s the conflict theme as it appears in Mantis.
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ConflictTheme
The Conflict Theme shows up in these tracks:
  • Mantis (at 2:26)
  • Civil (at 2:03)
  • Rockmen (at 2:57)
  • Federation (at 2:03)
  • Last Stand (at 3:28)
There are other things that pop up often. Loud, punchy, ‘tribal’ drums show up in Void Battle, Deepspace Battle, Cosmos Battle and Last Stand. The bass synth instrument that’s so prominent in Mantis Battle makes several appearances throughout the soundtrack, though it plays different melodies each time. I’m sure there are others that I’ve forgotten about, and probably connections that I didn’t even notice myself. Let me know if you think you’ve found some other connection.
Update: I’m aware that the sheet music presented here is “incorrect”. This is because I’m lazy and simply exported note data using Cubase. It’s still understandable, just weird. Sorry for the confusion! When I have the time I’ll fix it up. 
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