Marvel Heroes Are Game To Assemble!
December 22, 2022
Marvel’s MIDNIGHT SUNS: Scoring the Video Game With Composers Tim Wynn & Phill Boucher
Interview by Randall D. Larson
Launched on Dec. 2nd 2002, Marvel’s MIDNIGHT SUNS is a tactical role-playing game developed by Firaxis Games in collaboration with Marvel Games. It features comic book characters from multiple Marvel Comics properties, such as Midnight Sons, Avengers, X-Men, and Runaways. Players will be able to create their own superhero named “The Hunter” with a choice of over 40 different powers. The game’s music has been composed by Tim Wynn and Phill Boucher. The game was announced at the virtual Gamescom 2021 in August, and was released on December 2, 2022 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. Versions for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch will launch at a later date.
Watch the Midnight Suns game trailer:
1: Tim Wynn
“Marvel has had some amazing scores for their movies so I wanted it to feel like it came from the same universe.”
Tim Wynn is a Los Angeles-based composer for film, television, and video games. He studied film music at USC under Elmer Bernstein, Christopher Young, Buddy Baker, and Jerry Goldsmith. Wynn began writing music for media in 2004, starting with THE PUNISHER video game. In 2007, he teamed up with Christopher Lennertz, beginning with the WARHAWK videogame score, and they have been working together on various projects since then. Wynn’s recent credits include SUPERNATURAL (CW), XCOM2 (2K Games), MECH-X4 (Disney XD) and TOTAL WAR (Creative Assembly). He’s also scored films such as the genre-bending psychological science fiction thriller FREAKS (2019 – read my interview with Tim about this score at MusiqueFantastique https://musiquefantastique.com/further-examinations/there-might-be-abnormals/), the arthouse drama THE EXPERIENCE (2019), and 2022’s THE LEGEND OF LA LLORONA.
Q: How did you become involved in this game?
Tim Wynn: I was approached by Chad Rocco and Chris D’Ambrosio from Firaxis. I have worked with them on XCOM and I was grateful they reached out to me on Midnight Suns.
Q: What were your initial discussions with the producers in deciding on the game’s musical design and palette?
Tim Wynn: The first discussions were about how the Midnight Suns story is based on a Marvel comic book from the 1990s. We asked ourselves what would a heroic score sound like from that era. We ended up deciding that the music should be mainly orchestral with the guitar adding color.
Q: Your main theme is wonderfully fluent and powerful. What was your process in coming up with that theme and how have you treated it throughout the game?
Tim Wynn: Thank you! Honestly, I was a bit nervous at first. Marvel has had some amazing scores for their movies so I wanted it to feel like it came from the same universe. I sat down on the piano and started playing with a few different ideas. After a few hours, one idea stood out above the rest. I wasn’t too concerned about how the theme was going to be used throughout the game at that time; I felt if the theme was good and heroic it can be molded to fit any part of the game.
Listen to Tim Wynn’s “Origins” from Marvel’s Midnight Suns soundtrack:
Q: What other themes/motifs have you come up with for the game and how have they been used?
Tim Wynn: I ended up writing at least 20 themes. In the beginning, we weren’t sure how we were going to treat all of the characters. It started with the Midnight Suns theme and Lilith’s theme. After that, we were going to let the decision on themes happen organically. It wasn’t too long into the process that I was asked to write a theme for Bruce Banner. And with that request, I knew that we were going to need lots of themes. Once that was decided, I couldn’t wait to write new themes for these iconic characters. In the end, there are too many themes to list but themes that are used the most are Midnight Suns, Lilith, Bruce Banner/Hulk, Venom, and Ghost Rider.
Q: How did you and Phill Boucher work together on creating music for the gameplay, and have you shared each other’s thematic material?
Tim Wynn: As the process unfolded, we were able to hear what we were each doing and check our progress. We matched instrumentation and direction. But for the most part, we forged our own paths. I was working on the cutscenes and the themes and Phill was handling the interactive parts. It actually worked out great.
Q: How did the design of the game effect how much music you were writing?
Tim Wynn: The story is massive! I nearly did three hours of music for this. I kind of felt like Howard Shore did with writing all of THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies except I had to do it all at once. It’s only one game but it feels like a trilogy.
Q: On this project, what was your technique for accommodating music in the game’s various regions and characters according to the players’ direction?
Tim Wynn: The regions didn’t play too much of a role in the game. My score was character-driven so there are certain characters in the regions but the setting wasn’t as important as the themes for the characters.
Q: Was your score recorded with a live orchestra, or…?
Tim Wynn: In the beginning, we had grandiose plans to record much of the score but Covid and the schedule would not allow it. The guitars are live though.
Q: In addition to scoring the game, you’ve also scored the prequel shorts using the same main theme(s). How did you configure your music for these short animated films?
Tim Wynn: I love what 2K and Firaxis did with those prequels. Great idea. 2K wanted the prequels to feel like an extension of the game and the music tied it all together. Really fun to score.
Q: What has been most challenging, and more rewarding, about scoring this game?
Tim Wynn: I think the most challenging part was making all of the themes work together. Unlike a movie, I didn’t watch all three hours of the in-game movies at once. I had to adjust the themes so they would work with each narrative beat. I guess that could be my most rewarding part as well. I have done many projects with a handful of themes that need to be integrated but never 20! That was fun.
Q: You also recently scored THE LEGEND OF LA LLORONA for Patricia Harris Seeley. This legend has been popular in films in the US as well as in Mexico (as far back as the 1930s). How did you approach scoring this movie and give it a flavor all your own?
Tim Wynn: Patricia was a dream to work with. I think she had a unique take on the character. We both wanted to put emphasis on the humanity of La Llorona. She is a scary, demon entity but the circumstances aren’t her fault. I tried to bring out the emotion in the character. Love and loss.
Q: You were also one of the composers for the Total War: Warhammer III Video Game – having been on the previous Warhammer videos (and other Total War titles), what was your role on this project and how did the various composers create music for this game?
Tim Wynn: I have been working on this series since Total War: Warhammer in 2015. Richard Beddow and Creative Assembly were looking for another composer to chip in. It’s been fantastic to be a part of such a cool franchise. I love strategic games and this project was a great fit. Richard, Jack Melham, and their team do a herculean job of keeping the composers on the straight and narrow. As a composer, the fantasy genre may be my favorite to write for.
Q: How did the music for Total War/Warhammer progress and develop across the many iterations of the game that you were involved in?
Tim Wynn: There have been so many new aspects of the game from Warhammer 1 to Warhammer 3. I think the main thing would be all of the new factions that have come about. That’s probably been the most fun for me. Each faction gets unique music, so trying to find creative ways to express that has been a huge challenge but amazing all at the same time.
Q: What’s coming up for you next, that you would be able to talk about?
Tim Wynn: There’s still more Midnight Suns story to tell along with a few movies that are rumored to take place.
2. Phill Boucher
“It helps to be a gamer. While I didn’t have a build of the game that I could play, I saw some gameplay footage and immediately understood what this should feel like, what I’d want it to feel like if I were the player.”
Phill Boucher has lent his cinematic sensibilities to numerous video games, films and television series throughout his decade-long career. He worked at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions where he was mentored by composer Geoff Zanelli; during that time, he worked on a range of projects. He’s also collaborated with several major game creators including Epic Games, Robot Entertainment, Firaxis Games, and Daybreak Games; in addition to composing additional music for blockbuster franchises like Disney’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and MALEFICENT. Best known for his work scoring Epic Games’ Fortnite and Firaxis’ Civilization VI. His most recent work includes composing 60 minutes of original score for Sunblink’s new castle-defense multiplayer game, HEROish, now available on Apple Arcade. Phill’s other credits include writing additional music for Disney’s DUCKTALES and INVISIBLE SISTER; the TBS sitcom WRECKED, and ABC’s THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB.
Q: How did you become involved in scoring games?
Phill Boucher: I had done a bit of additional writing on some things, but I think my first real opportunity to write for games was on Civilization VI. I knew a couple of people on the audio team at Firaxis and my name was brought up to help with the Atomic Era arrangements for Geoff Knorr and Roland Rizzo. After that, it really happened pretty organically. I started to meet more and more people that worked in game audio and they started giving me opportunities to demo for projects. Rodney Gates and Gary Miranda were two of those people who took a chance on me early on.
Listen to Phill Boucher’s “Sanctum Siege” from Marvel’s Midnight Suns soundtrack:
Q: What brought you into MARVEL’S MIDNIGHT SUNS?
Phill Boucher: I had just finished scoring XCOM: Chimera Squad, which was the first project with Firaxis that I was the lead composer on. Between that and Civ, I had a pretty strong relationship with Firaxis by that point. Chris D’Ambrosio was the audio director on the project at the time and he reached out to get me involved. I jumped at the chance to work with him again, and having it be something as ambitious as Midnight Suns was the icing on the cake.
Q: What is your starting point when you first come onto a new game score project?
Phill Boucher: It’s never the same twice. Sometimes it’s a conversation with a creative director. Other times I get sent documentation with music direction already decided, which may include some art or footage of the game, depending on how early I’m brought on. No matter what though, I want to have conversations with the audio team and creative director to see what their vision for the experience is, on a more macro level than just talking about the music.
Q: How was Midnight Sun’s musical design and palette decided on?
Phill Boucher: The team had a pretty clear idea of what they wanted by the time I was involved. There was a heavy emphasis on wanting a metal influence in addition to a cinematic orchestral palette. We also knew that the different areas of the game all deserved a unique sound, so there’s some variety as we travel from New York to the Southwest to Transia.
Q: What themes/motifs have you come up with for the game and how have they been used?
Phill Boucher: There are a lot! I wrote a theme for Midnight Suns that’s featured in a lot of the combat music when the heroes are in control. The Abbey also has a dedicated theme, and several of the different rooms inside have specific instrumentation changes. There’s also a theme for Lilith and the Fallen, as well as several motifs for Hydra and other villains.
Q: How did you and Tim Wynn work together on creating shared music for the gameplay?
Phill Boucher: Tim and I worked on separate parts of the game. Tim handled all of the cinematics and I wrote the in-game score. We had some conversations early on to make sure we were on the same page regarding the direction and tone of the music.
Q: How did you treat the characters, heroes, villains, and their interactions, battles, etc. in this score?
Phill Boucher: Combat is divided into hero and enemy turns, and the music changes to reflect that. Depending on the location and whether or not you’re fighting a boss, different themes or instrumentation will come in and out. I had more of an opportunity to write music for characters outside of combat, in the Abbey. We used a layered approach, where instrumentation would change based on which room the player is in. The forge has lots of metals and synths, the war room is more percussive and orchestral, and the training ground is more guitar and bass driven. It was a fun challenge to write pieces of music that could support the ebb and flow of all of these elements.
Q: What were the needs of crafting music for the game’s environments?
Phill Boucher: Most important was that they had to be distinct. New York’s score relies heavily on a traditional orchestral palette, though the enemies get some darker synths and drums in addition. For the Southwest, I got to play some mandolin and slide guitar to incorporate some more Americana flavor. And Transia was where I got to go back to my metalhead roots and really go for it. Some of those tracks are full-on symphonic metal.
Q: In scoring a game such as this, how do you put yourself in the gamer’s place and imagine your music stimulating game play, creating tension, etc.?
Phill Boucher: It helps to be a gamer. While I didn’t have a build of the game that I could play, I saw some gameplay footage and immediately understood what this should feel like, what I’d want it to feel like if I were the player. Scoring XCOM: Chimera Squad, with a similar turn-based strategy design, taught me a lot about what works and what doesn’t in this type of gameplay.
Q: What has been most challenging, and most rewarding, for you about scoring this game?
Phill Boucher: The sheer scope of Midnight Suns was by far the most challenging aspect. I’ve never co-written a score before, but there was simply too much music needed for one person to write. Tim’s a great composer and he also has a history with Firaxis, so we both understood the aesthetic and workflow. I think the most rewarding thing is seeing it released. I started working on Midnight Suns back in 2018, so to finally see it out in the world has been a long time coming!
Q: You were also one of the composers for the first FORTNITE game series, then scored volumes 2 and 3 on your own – what can you tell me about creating and maintaining the music for this game and its iterations?
Phill Boucher: Well, to say I’ve scored it on my own is an overstatement. There is a big team responsible for the music at Epic, and they also work with a lot of bands and artists in addition to other composers. I’ve written the music for most of the cinematics and in-game events since Chapter 1 Season 8, as well as a lot of boss music and several other things. It’s a huge thing to be a part of and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to write for something that is constantly changing. It certainly never gets old!
Q: You also scored the 2018 TV documentary, REMASTERED: THE LION’S SHARE, about the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” – what was this project like for you and how did you treat it musically?
Phill Boucher: It’s nice when I get the chance to work in linear media. I was renting a room at Bleeding Fingers Music at the time and they asked me to help out when schedules shifted and the original composer couldn’t do it anymore. It was actually a very quick project, I think I was only on it for a couple of weeks. As far as how I treated it, I’m keenly aware when writing music for a documentary that I’m scoring real people. I don’t think it’s my place to impose too much emotional finger pointing. I want to support what’s being presented, but never want to turn someone into a caricature.
Q: What’s coming up for you next, that you would be able to talk about?
Phill Boucher: I’m looking forward to 2023. I have a few things lined up that I can’t talk about yet, but will be a departure from what I’ve been doing lately. Now that most of the pandemic restrictions around film and TV production are easing up, I’m looking forward to pursuing more work in those areas as well.
Thanks to you both for taking the time to share your thoughts and recollections about these projects with me!
For more information on the composers, see their websites at:
For information about the MIDNIGHT SUNS game, see https://midnightsuns.2k.com/
Special thanks to Greg O’Connor-Read, Tim Wynn, and Phill Boucher for facilitating these interviews.