Independent horror game Outlast came on to the scene in spectacular fashion, making waves with critics, streamers and everyday gamers alike. Perhaps most noticeable was Outlast's eerie orchestral score that harkened back to famous horror movies such as The Shining, among many others.
That same composer, Samuel Laflamme, is back for Outlast. Laflamme's composition credits include the 2014 game The Amazing Spider-Man 2, puzzle game Tiny Brains, and other collaborations with Ubisoft and Activision. GameRevolution got a chance to speak with Laflamme about composing the score for Outlast 2 and his own experience playing the horror games.
GameRevolution: How did you become involved with Outlast in the first place?
Samuel Laflamme: Samuel Girardin of Game On years ago met introduced me to Red Barrels. We talked about music direction and how we could tell the story of the first Outlast, then before I knew it, we did Whistleblower, and now we’re on Outlast 2.
GR: Was it your first time scoring a horror piece? How is scoring in the horror genre different than other genres?
SL: Yes it was. The great quality about horror is that it allows for creativity. You have to go outside the boundaries if you want a great score. What makes a sound scary is that it’s out of human vocal range. Anything in low bass frequencies or higher frequencies are scary. It could be a scream-like sound. You have to know a bit of this scary language and incorporate it into the score.
GR: When talking about the score of the first game, a lot of people bring up the movie “The Shining.” Did you have any inspirations for Outlast 2?
SL: Yes. The Shining was one of my biggest inspirations. For the second game, I wanted to be more minimalist but bold, more modern, but not electronic. For my personal inspiration, I kept in mind Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral for Outlast 2. I get inspired by how you feel when you finish the album, it gets crazy at the end, and everything is falling apart. You feel like you’re in hell, and I want people to get that feeling at the end of Outlast 2.
GR: What sorts of instruments will be used for Outlast 2? Are you still working with an orchestra?
SL: It was important to both Red Barrels and myself for the score to be really different from the first game. I was challenged to make music that was more scary and invades the player's psyche. Outlast was a blank page to find scary textures and create an homage to classic horror genre and movies. With Outlast 2, the challenge was to not do that again. I wanted to create something more physical, brutal, and raw. We want to make people feel crazy by the end of the game, and the music helps achieve this goal.
I went away from the orchestra for Outlast 2. We did use guitars, banjos and percussion instruments, and then tweaked them through modular filtering to make them sound more eerie. It’s a way to extend my musical palate, starting from something accessible and make it inaccessible.
At one point, I thought I had done everything I could with guitar and bass and others, so I asked myself how could I go further. I explored the sounds of everyday objects like a piece of wood or metal, and that led my team and I to design an instrument with a metal string attached a to a piece of wood. Then we used a Contact mic, and played the instrument with an violin bow, and it really fit with the overall score. The goal was to create an instrument that would sound like a guitar but it isn’t, and sounds like a bass, but it isn’t.
GR: Are you trying to affect gamers in a different way with Outlast 2?
SL: Outlast 2 is more about affecting the player's state of mind. Instead of making them suffer, I want to make them crazy at the end, like they’re not in reality. Stopping the game should be like waking up from a bad dream. In the first Outlast, it was all about the agony. In Outlast 2, the most important thing was making you feel weird and disoriented. It was my goal to create these new sounds and textures and use them in different ways throughout the game to support the developers goal of inserting a vicious madness in the minds of the audience.
GR: In Outlast, you created a noise with a cymbal and a violin bow that sounded like a human scream. What sorts of unique sounds have you created for the score the second time around?
SL: This particular sound is so iconic for Outlast, so I reused it, but in a more subtle way. It’s what makes Outlast Outlast. It’s a signature sound, but it’s more important for me to be intelligent about how I use it. We all want the second game to be different, but I could say this technique of exploration was my starting point for the second one. I felt this let me be more creative, rather than if I used common techniques. I removed all the orchestral aspects of the score, but kept all the design elements. It’s new and fresh, but still bold and scary at the same time.
GR: Have you played either game yourself? How did you react?
SL: I don’t have a choice. I have to go to Red Barrels and watch the game. My first goal is about storytelling. I’m like a subconscious narrator who tells the player to run or hide or feel weird, etc. In order to do this effectively, I have to know what’s happening. They show me the map, they talk about the game, I get to see the art design, and, at the end, I play the game with my music team. We go into the studio, turn the lights off and the turn the volume up really loud.
I scared myself! I’m a bit ashamed of it, to be honest. I even had to tell my assistant to stop screaming so I could do my job and listen to and polish the music. When you work on a game like this for more than two years, you’re so close to the game that you don’t know if it works until you play it. But when you play it in its entirely and start screaming, it’s a good sign that it works.
GR: How much freedom did you have to compose the score?
SL: It’s still a small company, and the great thing about it is the freedom I have to create the score. The success of the first Outlast came from three people who really wanted to make a great game for gamers. Outlast 2 is the same way.
That’s the thing I really like about it. My point of view is really important to Red Barrels. I feel respected, and they encourage me to propose ideas, go further and try new things. We can choose together what works the best for the game. They have strong direction, but they want me to create something distinctive. The want to make something new, fresh, original, scary and bold, and that’s what I like about the process.
You can find more information about Laflamme and his work at his official website.