Gameranx Interviews: Samuel Laflamme (Outlast 2)
Darkness, terror, and freakish cults make up the guts of Outlast 2. Composer Samuel Laflamme discusses the anatomy of fear.
There’s a saying – some things are best left unknown. But Outlast 2 is the kind of game that throws caution to the wind, sending you on a treacherous journey along with investigative journalists Blake and Lynn Langermann to unravel an impossible murder. Impossible on the surface, at least. Deep in the wilderness, beyond civilisation’s control lies a sadistic cult that practises dark rituals – a controversial talking point of Outlast 2 that almost saw the game banned in Australia. In Outlast 2, Red Barrels Studio turns the horror recipe on its head, ditching asylums for primitive isolation and a frightening new score. Composer Samuel Laflamme spoke to Gameranx about his background, the creative process, and using audio as a powerful form of subconscious narration.
Gameranx: Your musical talents have lent themselves to documentaries, commercials, games and movies – can you tell us how you became involved in the music industry? Was it always a passion?
Samuel Laflamme: Since my childhood, I’ve always been a huge movie soundtrack fan. Danny Elfman’s Batman was the first soundtrack that had a huge impact on me. Other soundtracks that made an impact on me include Star Wars (movies and music), and so many 80’s film and music soundtracks. When I was a teenager, I would play a game when watching movies where I would try and guess the composer in the main titles before seeing their name on the screen just by listening the style of the music. This helped me learn more about the composers signatures and their styles. I took piano lessons, but didn’t have any traditional classical training. I just wanted to just learn film and TV themes.
At age 15, I was inspired by John Williams, James Horner, Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman to being composing. Later, I went to the University of Montreal, where I took Electro-Acoustic composition classes. I discovered electronic music and fell in love with the music of Radiohead, NIN, Bjork, and Peter Gabriel. In the early 2000’s, for about 5-10 years, I started composing music for television in Montreal. I composed the music for documentaries, movies, TV shows, and even the circus and other live shows.
In 2012, I met some guys that were starting an indie video game company. I really liked the idea of working with orchestra for this project. I felt I had something to tell about this story… it became a huge success, known as Outlast. This project established myself as a composer for the video game industry.
Gameranx: As the composer for Outlast, your music helped create a terrifying atmosphere that awakened hundreds of thousands of horror fans. What was it like coming back to do the audio for Outlast 2?
Laflamme: Because we worked so hard on the first one to create something unique, it would have been weird to just copy that work a second time. The new challenge was to create something as novel and as unique as the first one was, but at the same time, from a completely different perspective. This allowed me to expand my horizons and create an uncomfortable and eerie score.
“Outlast 2 allowed me to expand my horizons and create an uncomfortable and eerie score…I used instruments to create new, strange, scary sounds that evoked disturbing feelings”
Set in Arizona, this new location allowed me to start searching for a new sound. I used instruments like guitars, banjos, basses etc. then tweaked them to create new, strange, scary sounds that evoked disturbing feelings. At key points in the score, I wanted to bring back some important elements of the original game’s score to remind you are still playing an Outlast game.
Gameranx: Scoring for a horror game is different in that you need to invoke a genuine sense of fear, one of man’s most primal emotions. How do you permeate through those psychological barriers with sound?
Laflamme: All the audio design was created by Francis Brus, the lead Audio Director at Red Barrels. He, Philippe Morin (Red Barrels co-founder) and I decided the placement of the score throughout the video. The main goal of the music was to act as a subconscious narrator, telling the player what to do. (hide, run, jump, etc) Some other “musical” and thematic cues were used to brand the game as Outlast as well.
To start the process, Francis would show me a level of the game and explain the type of experience he wanted the players to feel. We would discuss and share ideas on how to create that moment. Then we’ll try my music tracks in the game and test it. Philippe also helps out a lot. He might send me a game scene as a reference, or send me a piece of a documentary about the Jonestown Massacre, or something else that he think might inspire the composition for the level. Once we’ve completed our compositions, we come together to discuss and decide the final decisions on the sounds.
Gameranx: You’ve mentioned Red Barrels has given you a lot of compositional freedom, which sounds like a blessing for any musician. Were there any challenges you experienced as a result?
Laflamme: Yes it’s always wonderful to work with people who trust you, your talent, and let you express yourself and explore your craziest ideas. My biggest challenge was to created the best music score for the project. Because it was a process of 2 and a half years, I was able to continually go back and check my work, test the scores and correction. To be honest, I was completely out of my comfort zone not using the orchestra this time. I still wanted to create a visual score, but also I wanted to explore new sounds along the way. I tried to make sounds and music ideas that were as fear provoking the first Outlast, because I knew there will be a direct comparison.
Gameranx: After gaining a reputation as a horror composer, is this a genre you’d like to continue working in within games music? Why or why not? What other styles are you keen to explore?
Laflamme: Let me put it this way. It depends on the people I work with and the quality of the collaboration between us more-so than the genre of the project. Whatever the genre, if I feel trusted and can express my ideas, I’ll very excited and be able to produce the best music. Because at the end, what’s important to me is to make the music tell a story to the audience. When I have the ability to work with amazing collaborators, no matter the challenge that we have to face, we will be able to create the most amazing score.
Gameranx thanks Samuel Laflamme for his time and making this interview possible. Outlast 2 is out now. You can grab it on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for $29.99 USD. If you’re a fan of horror but aren’t sure about whether to purchase the game, make sure to check out Gameranx’s Before You Buy. We reviewed Outlast 2 and thought it was tense, suspenseful and adrenaline-fuelled but slightly repetitive.