Your favorite video-game soundtrack may well be terrible. And there's nothing wrong with that! Music is so intrinsically linked to our memories that the tracks we hold dearest are almost impossible to view objectively. But what about those whose job is to build, break, and even remake video-game scores? In Composer’s Choice, we put the question to the minds behind your most beloved gaming beats. In this installment, composer, producer, and recording artist Tom Salta joins us to discuss his favorite video-game soundtracks and the repeated impressions they’ve made on his career.
Composer’s Choice: Tom Salta’s favorite video-game soundtracks
Salta is nothing if not a prolific artist. Deathloop, Halo, Ghost Recon, and Prince of Persia comprise but a single shelf in his discography drawer. Most recently, his creative efforts have been terrorizing and tormenting players in the multiplayer horror game, The Outlast Trials (check out the full soundtrack here). The genre lies close to Salta’s heart, but intriguingly, horror only grazes his two favorite video-game soundtracks. Both are timeless classics, and one ended up entwining directly with his own work.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Released in 1998 and a permanent fixture on lists of gaming’s greatest hits ever since, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is Salta’s first pick.
“It's my favorite game of all time,” Salta admits. “For when it came out, for the effect it had, for so many reasons, it’s arguably the best game ever.”
In the decades since, Koji Kondo’s score has inspired innumerable covers, even including official orchestral revamps for the series’ 25th anniversary. Introducing iconic tracks such as Gerudo Valley and Zelda’s Lullaby, Ocarina of Time’s soundtrack carved an eternal spot in the hearts of late ‘90s gamers. Composers like Salta were no exception to its allure.
“The soundtrack, the music, and the melodies – the way that they even used melodies as gameplay functionality, [asking you] to remember the Song of Storms,” Salta reminisces. “But the songs themselves are just charming. The melodies are just timeless. In that way, Ocarina of Time really just stands out as one of my favorites.”
2. Halo: Combat Evolved
Ask a gamer for their core memory of the Halo series, and you’re almost guaranteed to receive a rendition of Combat Evolved’s menu theme. Progressing from a solemn chorus to courage-rousing strings and drums, the track – simply titled Halo – has become almost as synonymous with the series as Master Chief himself. But while the title piece alone may have lodged itself inextricably into most player’s minds, the rest of the soundtrack proved no less compelling to Salta.
“It was the kind of score that inspired me, as a music creator, to actually consider making a living creating music for video games,” Salta says. “The way that [composers Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori] created that score just raised the bar in so many different ways. As did the game itself; it defined first person shooters on console.
“[O’Donnell] used music in ways that didn't normally get used in video games. Having a battle and then music that was almost peaceful sounding. The juxtaposition created this rich experience which left a lasting impression on me.”
Many video-game composers can claim to have been inspired by particular game score. Few, however, then get the chance to work with that music directly. But 10 years after Combat Evolved’s release, Microsoft unveiled the Anniversary edition, a full remaster including updated graphics and, crucially, audio too. For Salta, being hired to work on the soundtrack’s reproduction was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“Having the chance to recreate it was a dream come true, quite literally,” Salta says. “I had to dissect it and it gave me a chance to do a deep dive and study of it….I would pick every single little note in every layer in there, which was a daunting task, but it was a labor of love.”
Among Combat Evolved’s expansive score, Salta believes that one tracks stands out from the rest – and it isn’t the game’s main theme. In fact, it doesn’t even feature in the original’s official soundtrack. Appearing in just a single room in the game, and part of composer O’Donnell’s own list of musical outtakes, the minute-long Lost Song created an unforgettably thick and eerie atmosphere for its brief post-battle appearance. Thankfully, Salta’s own work on Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary offered the track a revival, adding it to the game’s OST under the new name, Arborea Above.
Our thanks to Tom Salta for taking the time to chat with us. You can discover more of his work (and perhaps your own favorite soundtrack) on his website. We have another interview with him regarding horror and his work on The Outlast Trials available to read here.
Check out more of our Composer’s Choice interviews here, including chats with Darren Korb, Grant Kirkhope, Austin Wintory, Megan McDuffee, and more.