Endless Space’s Alien Music Makes Spreadsheet Management Feel Transcendent

Image: Iceberg Interactive / Amplitude Studios / Kotaku

Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today I’m here to sing the praises of Endless Space’s lowkey ode to micromanagement, which featured the only game soundtrack that’s ever made me feel equal parts noble and enlightened for spending hours fiddling with resource sliders.

Endless Space (playlist / longplay / Bandcamp / VGMdb) is a 4X strategy game in which alien civilizations compete to colonize the galaxy. Sometimes they make peace and trade for mutual benefit. Sometimes they go to war, their ships pummeling one another with lasers and missiles as they glide by in the silent vacuum of space. When things are going great the music envelopes you in an otherworldly blanket of chillwave electronica, and when things are going bad and your empire is crumbling the music envelopes you in an otherworldly blanket of chillwave electronica.

Composer FlybyNo’s entire soundtrack is like something you might meditate to while creating sorting parameters in Excel. Motifs repeat, inverted, sometimes dissonant, echoing back through the chiming of bells or pulsing of some great cosmic marimba. It’s never triumphant, despite your mandate to take over and terraform entire worlds, but never sad or judgmental either. Each track feels like someone from a different world flipping through the historical record of an entire solar system with mild curiosity and zero personal investment.

Iceberg Interactive / Amplitude Studios / Baelog (YouTube)

Take “Beneath the Strings,” which zooms in from the ambient undulations of an underwater planet to the orderly beeps and boops of an automated assembly line and the back out again. At times it’s mathematical. At times it feels like falling to the bottom of an ocean. “Flawless Theory” operates on a similar dichotomy, but between the feeling of a gaseous atmosphere and the mechanical ships that fly through it. Strings soar, followed by a staccato parade of chimes and synthesizer notes.

Iceberg Interactive / Amplitude Studios / Baelog (YouTube)

Endless Space came out in 2012 and I still remember playing it in the corner of my parents’ attic, huddled over my brand-new 17-inch Asus laptop at the executive-style cherrywood desk they’d bought 15 years prior when our family got its first desktop. The room was dark except for the low-wattage desk lamp and the glow of the screen, and turn after turn it became easy to lose myself in the movement of resources and armadas while the game’s musical dissection of the life and death of a galaxy played out in the background. You can practically hear the amino acids coming together and then falling apart again in “Reach the Amoeba.”

Iceberg Interactive / Amplitude Studios / Baelog (YouTube)

Pushing spreadsheets never felt so exalted and historically important. Lots of 4X games feel like zero-sum competitions, but Endless Space’s soundtrack made it feel more like listening to a treatise on the quantum mechanics of how mineral mining impacts tax rates and whether warship hulls can afford magnetic shielding. Unlike most games where you’re confined to a city, a continent, or a planet, in Endless Space you exist simply as a cursor transcending space and time. Fortunately, the game’s soundtrack is equally magisterial.

I was about to start waxing philosophical on the vastness of the universe and how as a measuring stick it helps shrink even the worst things down into temporary blips, but I’ll turn it over to you all before my editor yells at me. How are you? What management clickers are you taking refuge in these days, and do any of their tracks make crunching numbers feel like one of life’s most transcendent pursuits?

Kotaku staff writer. You can reach him at ethan.gach@kotaku.com



I don’t know what 4X Strategy means.