Deathloop composer Tom Stalta details a unique approach to branding Blackreef

Arkane Lyon’s award-winning multi-genre shooter Death Loop has the makings of a modern classic. From its sharp, multi-layered story to its supernatural spy shooter, not to mention its Game Award-winning art direction, Death Loop calls at several levels. A considerable part of the game’s appeal is composer Tom Stalta’s original score which bears the groundhog day-esque adventures on the Isle of Blackreef.

Death Loop had one of the best gaming soundtracks of 2021, featuring a collision of 1960s jazz and 70s rock in creative, contemporary arrangements. Game Rant spoke with Stalta about his approach to composing music for Island Out of Time.


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Play by proxy of Deathloop score

One of the things that defines Death LoopThe soundtracks of are apart of how perfectly they blend with the gameplay. Given Death LoopThe sheer range of weapons, powers, and stealth options of, managing all those threads is quite the feat. Still, Stalta couldn’t play the game while composing because the title was still in development, meaning his final product required a lot of back and forth.

“As I was composing music for various areas, the audio team would put my music into the game and send back video captures to me, so I could see and hear how everything worked in context. It was invaluable because I been able to make adjustments and improvements to everything as we went.”

To start Stalta, Arkane provided him with a wealth of information to conceptualize the time period, including level design art, background documentation, and character profiles. These strengths allowed Stalta to compose music that was both period-appropriate and original and refreshing, much like Blackreef’s time loop setting. The approach is no different from composition for Hollywood blockbusters, and Death LoopThe soundtrack is suitably cinematic. However, player agency over the flow of scenes, as opposed to a director’s authoritative pace, presents a unique challenge for video game scoring.

Stalta had to design tracks for the mid-length combat encounter, and longer, slower tracks for the stealth sections, while allowing the game to dynamically transition between the two without thematic dissonance. The answer to this challenge, as with most aspects of game development, was aggressive iteration. Aided by Arkane’s video captures, Stalta was able to fine-tune its tracks based on the player’s current in-game circumstances. Composing music is often seen as a lonely endeavor, but collaboration is at the heart of a game’s success. .

Mark visionary targets

Death Looplike Arkane’s first titles in the Dishonored universe, is a character-rich shooter. The environment may have the starring role as a constant presence throughout the game, but the variety of Cole’s mission hinges on his eight distinctly quirky assassination targets:

“Each target, or visionary, in Deathloop has a distinct personality and backstory. Arkane did an amazing job showing me each character. It allowed us to have conversations about what kind of musical instruments, sounds and style that would best communicate their unique and colorful personalities to the player.”

It’s a subtle detail that every player will subconsciously appreciate, but only musically minded players will likely notice that each visionary is paired with unique instrumentation. Some share the same instruments – drums and jazzy sax feature prominently in most fight tracks – but Charlie Montague, Blackreef’s brilliant game designer, has a distinct sci-fi vibe. Chilling bass characterizes the stealthy music, while explosive horn sections light up the level once filming begins. In Karl’s Bay, taut strings typify stealth, while keyboards and guitars take center stage when the going gets tough.

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Meanwhile, Aleksis Dorsey, the fox-faced backer of Blackreef, has a dash of jazz piano for his quiet sections. A character as dramatic and lavish as Aleksis could easily be crude and garish, but the piano of his theme hints at a deeper refinement. The ability of the soundtrack to develop the personality of the characters is crucial to Death Loopthe story. Aside from Cole and Juliana, the characters’ screen times are relatively limited, as confrontations usually involve a desperate “kill or be killed” struggle. But as players explore the visionaries’ environments and rummage through their belongings, the music helps clarify their true nature.

In Deathloop, collaboration is key

Stalta’s process, which involved in-depth study, generous access to Arkane’s assets, and near-constant communication, is a prime example of the composer’s guidance to young creatives. Relationships are the “most important thing to understand about this industry,” Stalta said. Those looking to break into the industry should start making connections and nurturing them.

It’s hard to argue against Stalta’s results. He has scored many games with different developers in a wide variety of genres. Tellingly, his work on Death Loop is now eligible for the Grammy Awards brand new category “Video Game Soundtrack”.

Death Loop is now available for PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S.

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