Arkane’s supernatural, retro-futuristic shooter Deathloop had one of the best video game soundtracks of 2021. The game, whose plot revolves around a Groundhog’s Day-esque time-loop, is set on an island in a stretch of alternate history informed by the 1960s and 70s. To capture that vibe, Deathloop‘s composer Tom Stalta merged jazz, tense strings, and hard-hitting early rock to deliver one of the most distinctive and fresh game scores in recent memory.

GAMERANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

Game Rant spoke with Stalta about his newly Grammy-eligible work on Deathloop, how the creative process differed from prior projects, and his plans for the future. Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

RELATED: 15 Best Video Game Music Scores and Soundtracks of 2021

Q: Please introduce yourself briefly and share some of your past projects.

A: My name is Tom Salta and I’ve composed the music for franchises like Halo, PUBG, Prince of Persia, Need for Speed, Red Steel, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, Wolfenstein and many others.

Q: If you had to pick a favorite track from Deathloop’s soundtrack, which would it be and why?

A: The main theme, “Welcome to Blackreef” is definitely my favorite, my second favorite being “Updaam.” For me, “Welcome to Blackreef” captures the unique personality of Deathloop and creates the feelings that make this game so special for me. “Updaam” is also one of my favorites, probably because I really love the insanely cool Mini-Moog solo that Jazz legend Philippe Saisse performed towards the end.

Q: Did you play Deathloop while working on its score? If not, how did you interact with the game while developing the soundtrack?

A: I was not given the opportunity to play the game, but I was given lots of documentation and video captures as the game developed. This was enough to help me understand the look, feel, sound and personality of the game. As I composed the music for various areas, the audio team would put my music in the game and send me back video captures, so I could see and hear how everything was working in context. This was invaluable because I was able to make adjustments and improvements to everything as I went along.

Q: How do you go about designing music for thematic targets, like Deathloop’s super-spy and retro-futurism vibes?

A: Every target, or visionary, in Deathloop has a distinct personality and backstory. Arkane did an amazing job of showing me each character. This enabled us to have conversations about what kind of musical instruments, sounds and style would best communicate their unique and colorful personalities to the player.

Q: How does Deathloop compare to previous projects you have scored?

A: One of the things I loved, and feared, about Deathloop was just how unique the approach was. When a game as original and unprecedented as Deathloop comes to market, there is always the risk that it won’t connect with the audience. But when it does work and connect with the audience on a large scale, magic happens. And this is one of the things I admire so much about Deathloop, and why I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. Deathloop is certainly one of the most standout experiences I’ve worked on to date. In some ways, it reminds me of some of my work on Red Steel back in 2006.

Q: Did any other game soundtracks influence your work on Deathloop?

A: I can confidently say that there wasn’t any other game soundtrack that had a clear influence on the score to Deathloop.

Q: What other media or inspirations affected your approach to Deathloop’s music?

A: All my inspirations came directly from the music of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. When listening to the score to Deathloop, it can give you a lens into my memories of favorites of that era. Some might pick out influences from Pink Floyd, Yes, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Beatles, Cream, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Frank Zappa, Nancy Sinatra, early James Bond, Nelson Riddle, and many others.

RELATED: Deathloop Announces Goldenloop Update with a Trailer

Q: What do you think is the defining feature of an excellent game soundtrack?

A: Instantly recognizable, immersive, rich and varied, and expansive.

Q: Are there any other games or gaming composers who you feel deserve more attention?

A: I’m always appreciative of games, scores, films, shows, etc., that take the path less traveled. I love the outliers, most of which never even make their way into the mainstream.

Q: How do you strike a balance between contemporary appeal and period-appropriateness? Rephrased, how do you avoid sounding dated while being faithful to a setting?

A: Great question. All I can do, no matter what style I’m working on, is to create music that I would enjoy listening to. In fact, in all honesty, I don’t consider myself a huge fan of 60s music in general. But working on Deathloop gave me the opportunity to expand my creative voice and come up with a musical recipe that I enjoyed listening to.

Q: Do you have any advice for young creatives looking to compose music for games?

A: I am always happy to share advice with young creatives. The most important thing to understand is that this industry, like anything else in life, is all about relationships. Everyone likes to work with people they know and like…and developing relationships takes time and patience. So, if you have a strong enough desire to do something, get out there and make friends. Patience and persistence is key.

Q: What was it like working with Arkane?

A: Arkane was wonderful. The Audio Director, Michel Tremouiller, is a consummate professional and knows how to effectively get the best out of composers. I attribute this to his ability to know exactly what he wants and communicating it effectively. While at the same time, he is open to new ideas and allows the composer to explore the entire creative field.

Q: What was your greatest challenge in scoring and sound designing Deathloop?

A: My biggest challenge was finding a way to sound late ‘60s but still have attitude, action, and punch. Surprisingly, there’s not a ton of “tough sounding” music from that era, so I had to hone in on specific grooves and styles to support the hyper-action fighting in the game.

Q: Can you tell us anything about your current, or upcoming projects?

A: For once, I am in fact at liberty to share one exciting project I am currently scoring; Outlast Trials. For anyone not familiar with the Outlast series, it is arguably one of the most terrifyingly scary games on the planet. Some might find it surprising to hear I’m working on a horror score, but ironically, horror is one of my favorite genres. Since I was five years old, I was building haunted houses out of chairs and blankets. As I reached my teens and twenties, I was creating full-blown walk-through haunted houses every Halloween with my friend Bill, complete with custom music, sensors, jump scares and even live actors. So scoring a horror game like Outlast is really a dream come true for me. I promise it’s going to freak people out.

Q: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

A: Some of your readers might appreciate knowing that I offer Masterclasses on scoring music for games. I love teaching and connecting with people, but I don’t have the time to get out there beyond the various annual courses and conferences. So creating my own Masterclass was a perfect way to make my content available 24/7 to everyone around the world. I have a 7+ hour course on the making of Deathloop’s music.

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Deathloop is available now for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.

MORE: Redfall’s Multiplayer Focus Can’t Distract Arkane from the Story

Source: Tom Salta’s Masterclass

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