Defying gravity: Ben Prunty on finding fame and taking chances

If the name Ben Prunty rings a bell, it’s probably because you spent far too much time sending your shipmates to their gruesome deaths in galaxy-spanning space sim...
Gravity Ghost

If the name Ben Prunty rings a bell, it’s probably because you spent far too much time sending your shipmates to their gruesome deaths in galaxy-spanning space sim, Faster Than Light.

Indeed, though Prunty might have found fame through his work on FTL, the composer isn’t a one-trick pony. Aside from FTL, Prunty has written Color Sky, an groovy electronic album released thanks to overwhelming demand from FTL fans, and, more recently, the soundtrack for Gravity Ghost, a gorgeous PC physics puzzler, now scheduled for release on PS4.

Of course, once we heard Gravity Ghost, developed by Erin Robinson Swinkwould be heading to Sony’s flagship system, we decided to catch up with Ben to pick his brains about projects past and present.

Yes. We will use anything as an excuse for an interview.

Side One: Gravity Ghost is such a unique game, would you be able to tell us how you became involved with the project?

Ben: I went to a game jam in the Silicon Valley area called TIGJam. A lot of the big indies would do to this thing, Derek Yu who made Spelunky would go, Danny Baranowsky would go, Jonathan Blow was there, so yeah, there were a lot of big indie names going, and I found out about it the day before it happened.

So, naturally, I crashed the party and did some networking. Erin was there showing off her game, Gravity Ghost, and it looked really cool so I offered to do music for it. I gave her a demo CD and asked her to get back to me sometime, and fortunately for me she did!

That was late 2010, so long before FTL came along. I had zero fame and no influence in the industry whatsoever. I was doing hobby projects and student games, but she liked my CD, which was just a bunch of random stuff, so we took it from there.

When you did come to write the score for Gravity Ghost, where did you look for inspiration?

I had an idea of what I wanted, but Erin sent me a bunch of music that she liked. She wanted to use that as a base point. I can’t remember what those tracks were, but there were a lot of really, really indie bands that were really kind of strange. It was a combination of that and what was in my own head.

Did you have to try and win her over?

Yeah, I made a lot of stuff – some of it she liked, some of it she didn’t. The first few tracks were a refinement of the style, but once we found of a sound we both liked we just ran with it. Everything morphed into what you hear now, but the very first track was Painted Stars, so that’ll give you the best idea of what it sounded like in the early days.

So, even though Erin was keen to provide you with your own inspiration, did you pull from anywhere else? How did you find your sound?

I wanted to do this Tim Burton-esque score, something that sounded like Corpse Bride, but she wanted something a little more indie. That’s why it’s all over the place, which is part of the fun. Every track has its own unique style.

What was the biggest challenge you faced, apart from trying to adjust to expectations?

The biggest challenge was trying to stay focused for such a long period of time. FTL came and went during the development of Gravity Ghost, so trying to maintain a consistent style was difficult. It was also a challenge because I hadn’t done a lot of big projects at that point. I’d worked on one, but that was when my skills weren’t as sharp, so I don’t look back on it with any fondness.

Gravity Ghost was pretty ambitious at the time. That in itself was a challenge.

“The biggest challenge was trying to stay focused for such a long period of time. FTL came and went during the development of Gravity Ghost, so trying to maintain a consistent style was difficult.”

Following FTL, after you became ‘famous’, did you feel like there was pressure on you to live up to the expectations of others?

That’s a good question. I’m proud of how Gravity Ghost turned out, and I was excited for it to come out, but I did go back to remaster some of the tracks and rewrite some others to get rid of the awkward bits. I suppose in a practical sense I did change my approach.

Did you feel that you personally needed to up the ante, to deliver something on par with FTL? Or was it a case of taking the handbrake off because you had proven yourself?

Yeah, that was it. I felt like I was doing the right thing, and I just wanted to carry on doing that. Mostly, I was just happy that FTL was done and I could release the music that I’d been sitting on for years.

How did you handle the overnight success of FTL? I imagine it must be such a surreal situation, being thrust into the limelight without any warning. How do you start to deal with that?

I don’t know, I’ll get back to you when I figure it out.

Are you still dealing with it?

It was probably the most interesting experience of my life: the release of FTL and the months that followed. It was a crazy time. I mean, I didn’t have to worry about money anymore, which was awesome.

Just that first day of release, watching the sales go up. We assumed the people who backed us on Kickstarter would be the only ones to download it. We didn’t think our sales would be good, or even great, but from day one it went absolutely nuts.

Despite the fact that you began working on it before FTL was even on your radar, Gravity Ghost came out after FTL had found fame and fortune. After such a long development cycle, were you pleased with the finished product?

I’m actually really impressed with how the game turned out. I know Erin was struggling to make it fun because going from adventure games to a physics platformer was a difficult transition. Even for people who’re experienced with the genre, it’s super hard. The focus of the game changed a lot.

Did that affect your writing process?

Yeah, I wrote a lot of pieces that were eventually unusable, because those sections of the game were gone. Those ended up being the bonus tracks. A lot of it then had to be adapted to be used in other sections of the game. Overall though, I’m really impressed with the finished product. I thought critics were going to savage it, because it is a challenging game, and the controls can be difficult to master, but they all seemed to love it.

What else are you working on at the moment? Anything you can talk about?

Yeah, I’ve got a lot of projects on the go. I’m working on a game called FranknJohn, which is made by a team based in Dublin. It’s a roguelike brawler and it’s in early access right now, so you can play it and hear my music.

I also finished Starcrawlers, which is also out now. I’m working on Darkside Detective, by another team based in Ireland. I’ve somehow got wrapped up in the Irish development scene. I even got to give a talk at a pub in Dublin, which was a lot of fun. 

Are you working on any super secret projects?

Yes. I have a couple, but I really can’t talk about them.

Ah, you’ve signed those NDAs, have you?

Yeah, but hopefully I’ll be able to talk about them soon. I’m sitting on so much cool news, but I can’t say much more right now.

Soon, as in 2015?

Yes, all will be revealed later this year!

Thanks to Ben for his time. You can find out more about Ben’s work by following him on Twitter, or visiting his Bandcamp page.

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