Mac Quayle, is the composer behind numerous soundtracks for TV, film & game. Winning him countless awards and nominations for his music on titles such as, Mr. Robot, American Horror Story & The People v O.J Simpson. But It's not just for moving image that Mac has been involved in, he's also worked with an extensive list of artists producing some major records which saw him collaborate with Madonna, Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Depeche Mode & Britney Spears to name a few...

Most recently (and just before his incredible score for Netflix's, Ratched), Mac was asked to join the team for Playstation & Naughty Dog's hit game, The Last of Us Part II. The additional music Mac composed, was the driving force behind many intense gameplay moments that you might have experienced. Mac shares with us how he approached composing music for combat scenes, as well as, how he came to work on the game in the first place.

Mac Quayle Bw2

Hey Mac! Thanks for taking this interview with us to talk about your work on The Last of Us II. Firstly, It would be great to know how and when you were brought onto the project? 

I was brought onto the project in the spring of 2018. The people at Sony and Playstation were familiar with my work and were fans of Mr. Robot, and they were looking to bring in another composer to work on the music for the gameplay sections. Since I'm not really a gamer, when I got that call to come meet about The Last of Us II, I had never even heard of the first game. I immediately went out and bought a Playstation 4 and TLOU so I could play the game, get a feel for the story and characters and be prepared to have a discussion about what they were looking for in Part 2.

In the early days of the project, what sort of conversations were you having with the game developer, Naughty Dog and co-composer, Gustavo Santaolalla?

We spoke about what my role would be on the game. For TLOU Part I, Gustavo had done an amazing job of writing music that told the story of the game and they had also used some in-house Playstation composers to make most of the music for the gameplay. For Part II, they wanted to bring in another composer from outside to work on the gameplay sections, which is why they were speaking with me. They talked about the relentless tension that the player should feel during the gameplay sections. Having just played the game, I knew exactly what they meant. We talked about possible overlap between Gustavo's music and the gameplay music, how that might happen - possibly passing stems or sessions back and forth and incorporate a way to cross-pollinate between the two musical sections of the game. We weren't really sure at the beginning. There were a lot of ideas that we talked about experimenting with.

The Last of Us II covers a lot of the action and combat scenes. What was the inspiration behind your choice of sounds?

The music I created for the game was almost exclusively for the action and combat scenes. The choice of sounds was really about tension and aggression - moving the action forward, keeping the player in suspense, and heightening anxiety. These sounds ranged from deep, dark distorted drones to hard-hitting percussion, as well as guitars, scraped cellos, and bowed basses. The team at Sony was looking for something that was kind of a hybrid sound - they didn't want it to sound too electronic or too organic and natural. As we refined the music, this was something we were constantly adjusting - trying to find this place where you couldn't really tell whether the sound was being created electronically or if it was organic. 

When listening to the soundtrack as a whole, a listener/ player may not realise the soundtrack is composed by two different people. How did you make sure your pieces of music worked alongside Gustavo’s?

Gustavo and I didn't collaborate too much on the game so the fact that the music fits together well....hmmm, it's a good question! I don't know how that happened. I think it really comes down to the creators of the game really knowing what they wanted in terms of both music for the story and music for the combat sections. Through their guidance, we both created music that works well together. 


Videos of rough gameplay were used to assist in composing the music. Since gameplay is constantly changing depending on how the player plays the game, I wasn't scoring directly to picture but rather using it as inspiration.

What instruments and/or software did you use to create the music for the game?

I work in Logic Pro as my digital audio workstation. Acoustic instruments that were used include guitars, bass, cello, hammer dulcimer and percussion. Most of those were recorded and heavily manipulated. There's also an assortment of plugins and processing software.

Were there any additional effects that you added to the instruments to warp the sounds further?

All the acoustic recordings were certainly warped quite a bit. It's hard to say exactly which plugins. I use a lot of different things, whatever I feel is going to give me the sound I'm looking for. So each instrument was processed in a different way. 

How did you approach creating the percussive elements in some of the tracks? The Island is one to note, the industrial sound is amazing and really amplifies the tension whilst playing!

In October of 2018, we did a recording session up at the Playstation offices just outside of San Francisco. Gustavo, myself, plus this fabulous percussionist called Brian, got to play in their studio for three days banging on all kinds of percussion instruments, found objects - really just doing whatever we felt like. And out of that session, many many grooves and textures were created. A lot of that got chopped up and processed further to be used in the game. There was also other percussion recorded in my studio and some sounds pulled from various sample libraries. It's really just a collage of various sources that ended up being the final rhythm tracks for the cues. 

Where do you like to start when building a track? For example, do you begin mapping out the percussion firstly or build layers of instruments and textures?

A track can really start from various places for me. Yes, a rhythm track can be the beginning, but sometimes I may have found a sound that I'm inspired by. It could be a particular way of bowing the guitar or a synth patch. Whatever it is, that sound will be the starting point. I'll record something I like and then start to add more tracks on top of it until finally, the direction is found for the track. But it can really start anywhere. 

What DAW do you like to work in? Did you also create a specific template for this game?

I work in Logic Pro, and I always start without a template. The template grows with the project. So the first piece of music starts from a blank page and after that piece of music is finished, now there is a small template from the sounds created for it. And the next piece starts from that template, more sounds get added, and so on and so forth until there is a template that can be quite substantial and used to start new pieces.


I had a really interesting cellist come in and do some sessions. He just recorded some sounds that were really amazing, aggressive, and interesting.

Were you able to follow any visuals when composing the music?

Videos of rough gameplay captures were used to assist in composing the music. Since gameplay is constantly changing depending on how the player plays the game, I wasn't scoring directly to picture but rather using it as inspiration to see what this particular area of the game looked like, felt like - and that would inspire the particular composition. There were a few pieces - cutscenes or cinematics - that I did get to score directly to picture, but mostly I was looking at gameplay and combat sections as inspiration to compose. 

What was your favourite piece of kit to use when working on this game?

I think my two favourite instruments in this game were the bass guitar (bowing it, plucking it, playing it), and the cello. I'm not a cellist - I had a really interesting cellist come in and do some sessions. He just recorded some sounds that were really amazing, aggressive, and interesting. Those were probably my two favourite.  

Mr Robot
Scream Queens

From the moment you were brought onto this game, how long did it take for you to compose all of the music? Were you competing with any tight deadlines?

I started writing ideas in May of 2018 and I delivered the final music in January of 2020. So it was quite a long time. Mostly the deadlines weren't that tight, but as we got into the final months of the game at the end of 2019, it did get a little tighter trying to get everything finished. But compared to other film/TV projects, the schedule was actually pretty relaxed. 

What do you like most about composing music for games?

I like the collaborative nature of composing for games. The team of Playstation is so great at taking the music that's been written and editing it, remixing it, and getting it into the game in a way that works - it feels like a score to a movie! It's really amazing to watch that process, to give them something that feels like a complete piece of music, and then they just take it apart, reconstruct it, and put it into the game in a way that's really remarkable. I never got tired of watching that happen.

For any aspiring game composers out there who can only dream of working on a game like The Last of Us II, can you share any useful insights that you have learned so far?

Be open to collaboration and trust in your collaborators. Be open to ideas coming from anywhere. Be willing to allow your music to be transformed into the game soundtrack rather than being used exactly as written.