‘Fuse’ Composer Boris Salchow On Composing Music For Action Games

Fuse hits stores today amid high anticipation for Insomniac Games’ latest game. It’s a little more serious, and a bit of a departure. But for the game’s composer, Boris Salchow, it’s actually a return to his roots. We got a chance to speak to Salchow about the game’s music and his process as a composer.

Gamma Squad: Fuse is primarily scored using electronic instruments. What are some of the challenges using these to compose a score?

Boris Salchow: It was a very enjoyable journey for me to create this electronic score for FUSE. My previous projects were all heavily orchestral scores, all with live orchestra recordings in the US and Europe, including a fantastic experience at Abbey Road Studios in London and an amazing live performance of my own music in Germany at the premiere of a movie I just scored.

But electronic music is one of the original pillars of my artistic background and I was more than happy to dive right into it. When writing music for a shooter game you are usually dealing with heavy sound design to immerse the player into all the action. Orchestral music uses a completely different sound palette and still stands out when mixed with all the gunfire and explosions. To find the right sound ingredients for electronic music so the music separates itself from the sound design is definitely more challenging.

Gamma Squad: Why did you choose to use vintage synths and equipment for ‘Fuse’?

Salchow: I used analogue and early digital equipment because in a certain way they add more ‘schmutz’ in the sounds they produce – the pitch is not 100% perfect and there is some white noise or digital artifacts in the sound and all of this helps to make the music sound more alive – in a sense it is comparable with an orchestra recording, where it is the slight imperfection and the subtle noises of players breathing and moving that gives the music it’s organic feel.

Gamma Squad: What’s your approach to scoring such an action-heavy game?

Salchow: I try to work very theme oriented. In this game it is more of a key-sound-palette rather than a theme, but I always need to define something that keeps everything together throughout the arc of the game.

This part of the process usually takes place away from my equipment. It is about finding out what emotions I want to create or amplify in the game and how I think this can be delivered in the best way. Once I have an idea I do have to sit down in the studio and try those ideas against some game footage. With an action-heavy game you will have to experiment and alter your ideas a lot until you find the right approach to cater to the overall narrative and also make it work every second that you are in combat.

And then there is the task to keep the adrenaline pumping for very long stretches of time without becoming repetitive. For this I have a whole toolset of tricks that I have learned with similar games in the past.

Gamma Squad: What materials do you generally use when composing for a game? Do you get a build to play, do you use footage?

Salchow: If the client is in the same city and time allows, then we usually do a spotting session at the client’s office with a game designer actually playing through the areas that need to be scored. Then I usually ask for a video capture of a play-through, which I use when I am back at my studio as a reference. That way it is almost like scoring a movie.

We tried to run these games on a dev kit at the studio for a while but everything is still in development and usually it takes too much time to just get the game going so we kind of abandoned that idea.

Gamma Squad: Any piece of music in particular that’s your favorite?

Salchow: My favorite is the cue called ‘Nucleus Removal’:

It is probably the most epic sounding cue for one of the most epic moments in the game.

Fuse is out today, and you can listen to three tracks from the game’s score on SoundCloud right now.