If you’ve watched anything even remotely related to video games this year, you’ve probably seen a trailer for Death Loop. The latest game created by Arkane Studios (Dishonored, Prey) is undoubtedly one of the biggest titles to be released this year, both in terms of popularity and critical acclaim.
The colorful new title sees players stuck in a 1960s time loop on an island/former military base called Blackreef, where its eight inhabitants seek to kill the protagonist before he can kill them. If the mechanics of the time loop of Outer Wildlands and the modern Hitman the trilogy had a stylish baby raised by the folks who made one of the best first-person stories of the 2010s with Preythe result would be something like Death Loop — but not exactly.
In addition to intricate visuals and refreshing gameplay, Death Loop boasts a score by award-winning composer Tom Salta. Major series of video games (Halo, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegroundsthe Tom Clancy games) and trailers for massive movies (Toy Story 3, Coraline, Harry Potter) to your favorite 2000s TV shows (Punk, America’s Next Top Model) and huge pop stars (Cher, Whitney Houston, Sinead O’Connor), Salta has worked on just about every type of project imaginable. At Death Loophe was tasked with taking his three decades of experience and channeling it into an immersive, far-reaching score to transport players to Blackreef’s unique 1960s atmosphere.
In honor of the final release of his latest title, TURN spoke with Salta to discuss both his work on Death Loop as well as some of his previous greatest hits.
TURN: Death Loop obviously has a pretty unique visual style, so what did you do with the score to match it?
Tom Salta: We wanted the score Death Loop be as unique as the game itself. Starting from the motif of the main theme, “Welcome to Blackreef”, you will start to hear a repeating loop in the music that is used throughout the score. Using a wide range of late 60’s instruments like Rhodes, Wurlitzers, Hammond B3, Clavinet, vibraphone, bass, drums and authentic guitar sounds, the score has a unique and identifiable sound that I hope will will fully immerse players in this other world.
You’ve worked on so many different projects in music, film and games, but do you think there are themes or sounds that stay similar across much of your work?
[Laughs.] I’m probably the wrong person to ask! I always try to reinvent myself and give every project I work on an original sound. Nevertheless, over the years people have told me that there is often something identifiable in my music that gives me away, but it’s not the themes, the instruments or the styles. It could be something about the overall sound, the mix and maybe my overall musical sensibility. But I’m still not entirely sure. When I find out, I’ll let you know.
Outside of creating and recording in a global pandemic, is there anything that has made your experience with the Death Loop really unique score?
One of the things that makes my approach to the late 60s unique is that, since I’m not a guitarist, I used many other instruments to create distorted sounds and imitate guitar parts. One of my favorite sounds was running the Clavinet through guitar amps. I also mangled many other instruments through various vintage style amps and effects, all of which added to the unique color of the score.
Having worked with some of the biggest names in music, film and video games, are there any major differences when working in one medium versus another?
Gaming is a non-linear experience, and music should be approached the same way. Unlike my work in various other media, my music in games is created in chunks and sections designed to loop or connect in different ways. This allows the game engine to seamlessly transition from one musical state to another without drawing attention to itself.
Of all the projects you have worked on over the past two decades, is there one that has marked you personally?
It’s hard to choose favorites, as there are different scores over the years that hold a special place for me for various reasons. One of my first scores for red steel in 2004 was both challenging and extremely rewarding. The wide variety of music and the speed with which this score was composed was unforgettable. It was also a huge creative effort for me, especially as I had to dive into various styles of Japanese music.
Prince of Persia, the forgotten sands was also another enriching experience. I always dreamed of scoring a Prince of Persia game, and when I finally got the chance, I was absolutely thrilled. Listening to this score again now is like musical therapy for me. It has an otherworldly sound that is often meditative.
There are many other personal highlights for me, but the last one I must mention is my various works on the Halo franchise. Given how Halo: Advanced Combat inspired me in 2001 to get into game notation, it was literally a dream come true to be on the music team in 2010. Recreating the original scores for Halo: Advanced Combat and Halo 2 in the Master Chief collection was a once in a lifetime experience – then creating the original scores for games like Halo: Spartan Assault, Spartan Strikemore animated film Halo: Fall of Reach, was both challenging and exhilarating. I love to listen to these scores from time to time. This brings me back to my fondest memories of Halo.