Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter Q&A

Composer and producer Tom Salta discusses his involvement with Ubisoft's upcoming tactical shooter.

Earlier today, Ubisoft announced that Tom Salta, whose previous credits include Cold Fear and Ghost Recon 2, has composed and produced the live orchestral soundtrack for its upcoming tactical shooter, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. Salta's original score was recorded with the Northwest Sinfonia Orchestra at Seattle's Bastyr Chapel, and it incorporates contemporary electronic sounds in an effort to keep with the game's hi-tech, near-futuristic setting. You can check out samples from the game's main theme and menu theme on our Advanced Warfighter downloads page. But before you do that, check out what Salta had to say about his involvement with the game in a recent interview.

GameSpot: How did you become involved with the game?

Tom Salta: Ubisoft asked me and several other composers to submit a main theme for the game. Ubisoft disclosed a bit of the storyline and offered some creative direction. About one month later, I was notified that Ubisoft had chosen me to create the score for GRAW. In fact, the original demo I submitted to Ubisoft ended up becoming the final theme for the game.

GS: What attracted you to the project? Were you familiar with the series?

TS: I played the original Ghost Recon, which I loved. Coincidentally, the previous composer for the games, Bill Brown, asked me to collaborate on the main theme of Ghost Recon 2. Bill is a great guy, and I was very happy to help out. So it was a bit uncanny that Ubisoft wanted a change in direction and asked other composers to submit music. I don't think Ubisoft even realized I had worked on Ghost Recon 2.

GS: How did you approach your work on GRAW? Did you look at the other games in the series?

Salta's score combines a live orchestra with contemporary electronic sounds.

TS: I didn't need to go back to other games in the series, since I was already intimately familiar with Ghost Recon 2. For me, it's very important to make sure the client is happy. In this case, Ubisoft was the client and they described exactly what they were looking for. This really helped me get off to a running start, since we didn't have to waste time experimenting. The other asset I wanted to bring to GRAW was to incorporate a live orchestra into the score. I knew the soundtrack would really benefit from the collective, unique sound of live players. Ubisoft is thrilled with the results.

GS: What theme or feeling did you see as being central to the music you crafted for the game?

TS: From the very beginning of the process, Ubisoft made it clear that it was looking for a theme matching the overall feeling of previous Ghost Recon games, with a more high-speed, action-oriented mood. But this time, the action takes place in the year 2015, and ghosts are fully equipped with hi-tech gear, weapons, and video communication devices. So the company wanted not only the big Hollywood orchestral score, but also a modern, hi-tech element.

GS: Where did you look for inspiration for the music?

TS: Fortunately, I did not have to look too far. Manu Bachet, the artistic director, initially provided me with a couple of examples pointing out the kind of hi-tech stuff they liked; the rest they left to me. I didn't want to spend time listening to other influences. Instead, I wanted to absorb all the info they gave me and see what would happen.

GS: How challenging was it to create music for this type of game?

TS: I found the process of scoring GRAW incredibly enjoyable. I love figuring out the puzzle of how to create strong musical themes in pieces that need to be reassembled in different ways. Ubisoft needed various intensities of both "winning" and "losing" music. Ubisoft calls it "jubilation" and "panic." The music had to be composed in a way so that any of these six to eight pieces of music can switch at any time to any other piece and sound like it was meant to happen that way. So let's say you're in a battle and you are suppressing the enemy, but all of a sudden, things go wrong and you are overwhelmed. The music needs to support this change, which can occur at any time, depending on the situation. This is one of the main (and challenging) differences between scoring games versus scoring film and television.

GS: How closely did you collaborate with the developers?

TS: It is crucial to have great communication and understanding with your director, so we worked very closely. Manu and his team would send me documents, and I would FTP the music right back to them in France. Toward the end of the project, I flew over to Ubisoft in Paris prior to finalizing the mixes.

GS: Did you play the game while you were working on the music?

TS: Unfortunately, I did not get the opportunity to play the game, which can sometimes make the process more challenging, since you don't have the luxury of trying different things out to see if they work. That's why it's so important to have great communication with the development team.

That being said, Ubisoft's producer did allow me to try out an early level of the game when I visited Ubisoft. That was the first time I heard my music used in the game. It was also a relief to see lots of smiling faces from Ubisoft.

GS: What was it like working with the 360 hardware again?

Advanced Warfighter isn't the first game to Salta's music.

TS: Actually GRAW was the first game I've scored on the 360. My previous 360 credit was Project Gotham Racing 3, which licensed music from my solo album 2 Days or Die, recording as the artist Atlas Plug. You know, an amazing coincidence occurred at E3 last year at the GRAW booth. I scored the trailer on the big screen, but in addition, Ubisoft licensed another song off the Atlas Plug album as the background music for the demo. They didn't realize that I was the artist, Atlas Plug!

GS: What did you learn from your last 360 project that helped your work on GRAW?

TS: It wasn't my first time working with this particular Ubisoft audio team. I feel that having this established working relationship really made a critical difference in the creative process running more smoothly. This is crucial to the process, especially since I couldn't play the game while I was composing the music. We also made sure that GRAW's producer, Pauline Jacquey, got exactly what she wanted, and that's the ultimate goal, since the music serves the vision of the developer.

GS: Do you have any preferences for what media you work in? Film? TV? Games?

TS: I love all music-to-picture, but I have a particular affection for games, since I'm a big gamer myself. As I mentioned earlier, I love the additional challenge that I am often faced with in game music, that being how to make all the pieces fit together. In film and TV, the music is always the same.

GS: Where do you think games and game music are headed in the future?

TS: In many ways, I think games are evolving into interactive movies. Game music has, in my opinion, surpassed most TV music and even surpassed the quality of many movie scores. I find it exciting that game companies are taking the music component very seriously. The proof is in seeing how developers are willing to spend more of their budget on live musicians to make the music sound that much better. When people play GRAW and hear the music, I think they will agree that Ubisoft spared no expense in creating the best gaming experience possible.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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