The Outlast game franchise, developed by Red Barrels Studios, redefined the meaning of fear and horror in video games. We had a chance to interview Samuel Laflamme, the composer of score for both installments of the series.
gamemusic.net: Do you see any difference between composing for film or TV, and composing for video games? Which aspects depend on the medium the most?
Samuel Laflamme: There is some difference, first the scale is not the same. For a film, you need to create a world for a story told in 2 hours. TV shows give you much more time of storytelling to let you present your ideas, and developing them. Video games need you to understand the interactivity of the nature of this medium. But at the end of the day, I still compose music! I mean in those three kinds of format, I still need to think about creating music for something. I need to think about the characters, the story, the right emotion I need to reach and explore.
gamemusic.net: What is important for you while choosing the project you would like to work on? Is it the uniqueness of the project, some brilliant idea of the makers?
Samuel Laflamme: I have a law for myself. I need to get at least 2 of the 3 elements:
1. Will it be fun and pleasant to do?
2. Will this project bring me to a new place, something new to my career, experience, new contacts etc. Is it a way to become a better artist/composer?
3. Because I still need to work to live, is it paid well enough?
Every time I did not reach at least 2 of the 3 elements, it was a really disappointing experience.
Video games need you to understand the interactivity of the nature of this medium. – Samuel Laflamme
gamemusic.net: In Outlast and Outlast 2, which was more influential to the end result of the combination of the sound design and music?
Samuel Laflamme: To me it is always about music. Story and music! Music to me is (it may be a sound) audio used to reveal emotion. When I think of creating a sound or recording an instrument, it has to be used to create an audio imagery that tells something that resonates with an emotion. This leads you to feel the story I want you to experience.
gamemusic.net: How should good cooperation between a composer and a sound designer look like, according to you?
Samuel Laflamme: A lot of meetings! I am a strong believer of communication between the whole creative team on a project. Not only the audio director, but all the people involved in the story line. On a movie, I have to understand what is the vision of the director, and then speak with the audio designer how we will communicate this vision with audio/music. On a video game, I will try to talk with the artistic director, game developer, audio director, producer to understand the main vision of the project. Then I will be able to conceptualise the music I will create.
If there is a technique overused in both Outlast games, it is the bow articulation on whatever we could try! – Samuel Laflamme
gamemusic.net: For the first Outlast, you used chamber music ensemble to make the player scared and let him suffer. For the second installment, you changed the concept entirely and used completely different instruments and composing techniques. What was the main reason for that?
Samuel Laflamme: It was another story with other characters, the only real same element in both games was the gameplay. Of course there are small parts of the plot that join both games, but they weren’t the central elements. And people from Red Barrels and myself wanted to try something else. I thought I was gone far enough in the first one, and did not want to do a parody of myself. I needed to go away to avoid that.
gamemusic.net: What was the weirdest instrument you used for the Outlast 2 score?
Samuel Laflamme: We gently call it “The Redneck Bass”. It is a grotesque piece of wood with bass strings attached to it. We recorded it with contact microphone. It was a homemade instrument designed to create extended strings textures that would fit within all the guitars and electric bass textures recorded in the studio.
On a movie, I have to understand what is the vision of the director. – Samuel Laflamme
gamemusic.net: You once mentioned that you like using a violin bow against different surfaces. What are your other favourite forms of creating unique and unobvious sounds?
Samuel Laflamme: Yes I love doing it! If there is a technique overused in both Outlast games, it is the bow articulation on whatever we could try! I would say that in Outlast 2, the new ingredient was to tweak the original sounds with a lot of effects on them. Reverb, delays, distortions, phasing, pitch shifting, bit crushing, time stretching… I think we used all kind of effects possible in a studio!
gamemusic.net: In one of your earlier interviews, you mentioned you got scared of your own music while playing Outlast 2. Do you remember which scene or part of the game it was?
Samuel Laflamme: It was at the beginning of 2017, at the end of the process. Red Barrels sent us an “almost” final version of the game, and although I saw all the different parts while creating the score, I did not play it. So we installed it at the studio, and with my musicians and assistants, we played it in a pitch black environment. At the beginning we were really excited by playing the game we worked on for 2 years, but maybe after 10-15 minutes of gaming, we’ve been kept into the intensity of it and been really into it like on a roller coaster. I think one Marta chase was one of the scariest moments for us.
I’m not a hardcore gamer neither a horror fan, but Outlast franchise was a real laboratory for me. – Samuel Laflamme
gamemusic.net: As a composer, what is more exciting: experimenting with sound matter like in one of my favorite parts of Outlast soundtrack, Swarm Ambience, or making something funnier and simpler, like your score for Tiny Brains?
Samuel Laflamme: The more exciting? Definitely trying to invent something new. Strangely, I’m not a hardcore gamer neither a horror fan, but Outlast franchise was a real laboratory for me and we still talk about the fun we had to create all those textures. It was such fresh air for me having this liberty of artistic expression. Tiny Brains was more like a pure fun ride. The main idea was to merge Danny Elfman/Tim Burton musical universe with dubstep coolness. It was not as demanding as Outlast, and having done Tiny Brains in the same moment of the first Outlast, was a way for me to keep a psychologic healthy balance.
gamemusic.net: Which composers inspire you and why?
Samuel Laflamme: I do music because I am a fan of cinema. I come from that art form, and the music is the most natural way to me to express a story. If I see an image, I instantly hear music. So, all the best film composers were my first influences. When I was young, I had great time to compose music in the style of John Williams, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman. My first love story with a film score was Batman (scored by Danny Elfman). It was a true revelation of the power of merging music with images.
I think the line between movies and video games will be so thin at one point that this will create a new art form.
gamemusic.net: Do you look for inspiration in other disciplines of art?
Samuel Laflamme: Absolutely! Architecture and photography are both my favourite kind of art. My godfather is an architect and we both love speaking about differences and links between art forms. The rhythm is an interesting element, in music and in architecture. Also, I see all the music I do in my head, like colours, forms, spaces, depth of field etc. I do photography to give me ideas about how to transpose all those notions into musical concepts.
gamemusic.net: How do you see the progress in the gaming industry? Do you think that modern video games can equal movies in terms of storytelling and scoring?
Samuel Laflamme: I think so. For a while, the issue in video game was the technology. Nowadays, companies like Oats Studio use video game technologies (Unity) to create short movies. I feel that technologies will merge the different media soon. At the end, people will always want to live an experience. And I think the line between movies and video games will be so thin at one point that this will create a new art form. Think about cinema, it was probably created at the beginning to shoot a theatre play, and then the editing came after so it became a different art form.