David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” and Adam Orth’s game Adr1ft go together so well it’s almost painful—which is why Orth didn’t even try to get the rights.
“For like 100 obvious reasons I didn’t want to do that,” he told me. “Adr1ft is a really personal game, and I wanted every element in the game to be by someone I was close to in some way.”
That brings us to the “Weezer” in the headline: Adr1ft’s sparse soundtrack, consisting only of a handful of classical piano tracks, was, oddly, performed by none other than longtime and current Weezer guitarist Brian Bell.
“I’ve been really proud of Adam, watching him have a life after the band life,” Bell told me.
Orth and Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo grew up playing music together in Connecticut, and they remain friends to this day. Orth even has a page on Weezerpedia (the Weezer encyclopedia, of course). When he called Cuomo about Adr1ft, the 45-year-old’s first project since a very public falling out with then-employer Microsoft in 2013, Cuomo suggested Bell for the job.
“He asked Rivers to do it, and Rivers suggested me,” Bell said. He’d been taking piano lessons—brushing up on skills he’d been neglecting since childhood—from the same instructor who was teaching Cuomo’s 9-year-old daughter to play.
Bell recorded the tracks—which include Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 (Sonata Pathétique), Moonlight Sonata and Fur Elise—at home, and Orth sent back notes—detailed ones sometimes, about the audible squeak of a pedal or very specific timing requirements. Bell’s rendition of Moonlight Sonata made it into Adr1ft’s Moonlight trailer, which went a long way to building hype for the game:
“I’m a musician and music is a really important thing to me,” Orth told me. “It was a very important touchstone in a lot of ways in the creation of Adr1ft.”
He kept a log of all the music that he listened to while he created the game. “It was a pretty massive list, but I found some—what I thought at the end of the day were interesting patterns and some weird subconscious choices in the music that I was listening to,” he said. Hence the Spotify playlist below.
Orth began developing Adr1ft in 2013 after a series of controversial tweets about the then-in development Xbox One forced his employment with Microsoft to end. The game concerns a lone astronaut floating through the wreckage of a space station. Orth has been open—to me, back when I was writing for TechRadar, and to others—about the parallels between Adr1ft’s drifting protagonist and his own life during that time, and the catharsis that creating Adr1ft granted him as he moved from Seattle to LA and gathered a publisher and a team of other developers around him.
“These songs kept coming to me over and over again and they just had this really beautiful connection to the game,” Orth said. “When I went back to it at the end it was really surprising to me. When I look at the list now it’s all obvious to me that I would be listening to those songs…but it kind of turned into this little magic moment.”
Orth had notes about some of these tracks, like song 18, the Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat major:
One of the first pieces that really inspired me was number 18, Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2. That’s a piano piece that was actually co-opted into the end of this song by Muse. In their song it kind of has these like jet engines and like rocket sounds kind of over this beautiful piano piece, and that really sparked my imagination.
…and track 12, “Fearful Odds,” from the soundtrack to the film Oblivion:
That one song has this very powerful kind of building sense to it, and that’s kind of where I got the idea about the intensity of trying to stay alive and survive.
…and number 3, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here:”
When I play Adr1ft and I hear the audio and I read the stories and everything, I can just see all of that album all throughout the game.
“Space Oddity” isn’t in the game itself, but it of course inspired Orth:
I’ve always been a huge Bowie fan and the little kind of trilogy of songs that I have in the middle there—they’re among some of my favorite Bowie songs and they all have this kind of connection to space and being alone and being kind of cast away.
…and finally, regarding Nine Inch Nails’ “Adrift & At Peace:”
Maybe subconsciously that’s where the name came from—I don’t know!
Adr1ft is available now on Windows PCs with support for virtual reality using Oculus Rift, and with support for HTC’s Vive headset arriving in May and PS4 and Xbox One versions expected later this year.
And Weezer’s self-titled “White Album” is available today, April 1.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games. He has a David Bowie tattoo. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.
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This article was edited once post-publication to clarify facts about Orth’s relationship with Weezer.