Composer Tom Salta already had an established career prior to his first video game projects. He began his career in the late 1980s, but began to feel stifled creatively.
“Prior to Halo, some of my favorite game music was Zelda and Super Mario and stuff like that,” Salta said. “It’s great music. It’s unforgettable, but it didn’t resonate with me like I want to do that.”
Halo, along with games like Rainbow Six and Prince of Persia, began to change his perception.
“They started to light me up creatively,” Salta said. “I felt like I love this, I want to do this. This is an outlet where I can be myself.”
Salta has built a prolific portfolio of video game projects in the years since.
Salta’s work on Deathloop, which is nominated for eight BAFTA Games Awards, including Best Music, is the latest example of Salta’s stellar work.
Deathloop is, in part, a throwback to the 1960s and 70s and required a score that was heavily influenced by the time period. It was up to Salta to turn those influences into a cohesive score.
“I can easily imagine a chef in a kitchen with all these ingredients all over the place to make these dishes,” Salta said. “And all these ingredients are musical influences like Jimi Hendrix or James Bond or Led Zeppelin. I have to make some good tasting stuff, but I have to use these ingredients.”
The game’s score has received near universal acclaim, but its main theme almost sounded vastly different.
“After I got into the game, I started feeling a disconnect between the original theme and what I was starting to perceive as the personality of Deathloop,” Salta said. “The scope of the original theme was they wanted something very mysterious. Just mysterious. I get that. Black Reef is this mysterious, lost island.”
It soon became apparent to Salta, however, that something was off. So, he worked on a new version of the main theme in secret.
“I started to get a sense of these visionaries, the targets you’re supposed to kill, the pacing of it, the tongue-in-cheek nature of it, the snarkiness, this game doesn’t take itself seriously,” Salta said. “I came back and was like, this is cool and everyone approved it, but I want something hooky. I want something that looped, something that is memorable and has a commercial melody to it. Something I can sing easily and something that sounds good in an action scene as well as a mysterious scene and any shade of gray in between.”
After sharing the new theme, Salta’s work convinced Arkane that it was the right direction, but a new challenge then awaited him: scoring the action heavy sections.
“If the reference is the late 60s, it sounds like ‘Austin Powers’,” Salta said. “It wasn’t like that kind of mean, kick you in the rear feeling with that tongue-in-cheek nature, which is also in the game.”
Finding that balance resulted in a memorable soundtrack that sticks with gamers.
“I think the music settles into that nicely, kind of like the ‘Pink Panther’ movies,” Salta said. “A lot of that music isn’t funny, but when you hear it in the context of the movie, it becomes something special. I hope that it’s the same in Deathloop.”
If the multiple award nominations are any indication, Salta has hit the mark in a big way and left gamers with a unique musical experience.
“It’s a fusion of a lot of things that are done in a very unique way,” Salta said. “If you close your eyes and you listen to any piece of music from the soundtrack, I think you’ll know that it’s Deathloop.”
Deathloop represented another chance for Salta to tackle a new and challenging project. Whatever comes next, he’s ready to continue finding new ways to push himself.
“What lights me up is something different,” Salta said. “Deathloop scared me because it was out of my comfort zone. I have a lot of fun when I get to use my entire toy box and not just one part of it.”