Primal Music Ops
September 24, 2022
Winifred Phillips: Scoring JURASSIC WORLD PRIMAL OPS
Interview by Randall D. Larson
Winifred Phillips is a BAFTA nominated composer whose credits include titles in six of the biggest and best franchises in gaming: Lineage, Assassin’s Creed, Total War, God of War, LittleBigPlanet, and The Sims. Her music from the Assassin’s Creed Liberation game was featured in the performance repertoire of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, which debuted in Paris with an 80-piece orchestra and choir. Phillips’ other projects include the popular game Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and numerous virtual reality games, including Shattered State, Scraper: First Strike, The Haunted Graveyard, Fail Factory, Dragon Front, and many more. Phillips has received numerous awards, including an Interactive Achievement Award / D.I.C.E. Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, and six Game Audio Network Guild Awards. Phillips is the author of the bestselling book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
Q: How did you become involved in scoring music for PRIMAL OPS?
Winifred Phillips: The journey to scoring JURASSIC WORLD PRIMAL OPS was actually pretty long. Behaviour Interactive developed PRIMAL OPS. They’re located in Montreal, and they’re one of the biggest indie game studios in North America. I first met the audio director for Behaviour Interactive at the Montreal International Game Summit (MIGS). I made the trip to Montreal to take a meeting with some of Ubisoft’s creative team at their Montreal studios, and then give a speech at MIGS about composing the musical score for ASSASSIN’S CREED LIBERATION, a game in Ubisoft’s ASSASSIN’S CREED franchise. While I was at MIGS, I had a really great meeting with Behaviour Interactive’s audio director. Over the years that followed, we kept looking for an opportunity to work together. When Behaviour Interactive started working with Universal and Amblin Entertainment on a JURASSIC WORLD game, I was brought in as the composer for the project. It was such an amazing experience composing music for JURASSIC WORLD PRIMAL OPS! I’m very glad that Behaviour and I kept in touch until the right project came along.
Q: How did you begin establishing your themes and the kind of music treatment the gameplay would need?
Winifred Phillips: When I started working on the music for PRIMAL OPS, I studied the way music had been used in other JURASSIC projects, including the TV series and the films. All these projects have a big, bold sound, so I knew I’d need to reflect that in the score for PRIMAL OPS. However, I also noticed a fundamental difference. In the films and the TV series, action sequences were very intense, but relatively short. If the characters didn’t get away quickly, they’d meet a grisly end, so that necessitated concisely written bursts of intense music in the films and TV series. These music bursts were effective in supporting the frenzy of life-or-death moments. In sharp contrast, the PRIMAL OPS video game was structured as one long action sequence. I’d need to approach the score with the same beefy action-driven sound that typifies the rest of the franchise, but also find a way to sustain this energy level for much longer than had been attempted in the TV and film projects. As a result, the music I composed for PRIMAL OPS is very complex, using lots of compositional techniques designed to keep the score feeling chaotic and unnerving over long periods of time. I employed atonality, polytonality, 12 tone techniques, chromaticism, exotic scales, rapidly-shifting time signatures, and other unconventional approaches to keep the music feeling on-edge and disturbing as gameplay progressed.
Q: How would you describe your use of themes throughout the game?
Winifred Phillips: I knew that having a distinctive central theme was going to be especially important for this project, because of the thunderously chaotic nature of the overall score. Without a thematic center, the music would feel immensely tumultuous throughout, and that could be wearing on listeners over time. With that in mind, I composed a very warm, uplifting, traditional musical theme for the opening of the game. This theme became incredibly important to the rest of the score, as I constantly quoted it in numerous variations and fragments. The main theme melody recurs in nearly every combat track in the game. Sometimes it isn’t overtly noticeable because the instrumental treatment and harmonic support are significantly altered. Other times, the theme sings out over the combat music as an instantly recognizable motif.
Q: Did you include any of Michael Giacchino’s JURASSIC WORLD or John Williams’ JURASSIC PARK theme in your score? If not, would you have liked to?
Winifred Phillips: My creative direction for this project was to compose a completely original score, in keeping with the spirit of the musical style that has characterized the entire franchise. Between the TV series, films, and previous game projects, there have been a lot of approaches to this musical style! My job was to interpret the JURASSIC musical vocabulary for the purely action-driven game mechanic of PRIMAL OPS. In a lot of ways, the music from previous iterations in the franchise wouldn’t have necessarily worked for this game, because its gameplay construction lent it a unique energy and tone. I really appreciated the opportunity to explore creative options while staying true to the rest of the franchise. (interview continues below)
Listen to Winifred Phillips’ main theme from JURASSIC WORLD: PRIMAL OPS, via YouTube:
Q: What was your instrumental palette for this score – and were there live instruments or digital or a mix?
Winifred Phillips: Early on in the composition process for this score, I decided to employ both live and digital instruments. I kept the sound focused on the orchestral and choral palette, driven at times by a few sound design elements and percussive textures that helped maintain the propulsive impact of the score.
Q: How did you configure your musical conception to fit potential game elements that players will experience?
Winifred Phillips: JURASSIC WORLD PRIMAL OPS is structured around the adventures of dinosaur handlers working for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The game takes place directly after the events of JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, during which dinosaurs were released from captivity. In PRIMAL OPS, these dinosaurs are now roaming wild across North America. The various locations are the primary driving influence that differentiates musical compositions within the larger score for this game. Players track and capture dinosaurs from the heights of snowy mountains, across arid deserts, through mist-enshrouded forests, and within centers of human habitation. Each of these environments needed musical acknowledgement, either with subtle colors (such as through the use of chimes for the snowy environments) or by virtue of more overt musical choices (such as the rhythmic western guitars for the desert locations). The tone and pacing of the music also changed depending on the gameplay mechanic. During tracking missions and more exploratory parts of the game, the music would emphasize suspense and anxiety, while maintaining a steady and focused momentum. Then, when engaging in combat, the music would punch forward with inexorable aggression and blunt force. This is where the atonality and unconventional techniques came in especially handy.
Q: What did you think about being part of this franchise? What was most challenging, and most rewarding?
Winifred Phillips: It was such an honor to compose music for the JURASSIC franchise! Certainly, the bar was set very high by the musical scores from other entries in the franchise, and I think that was the most challenging aspect of composing the score for JURASSIC WORLD PRIMAL OPS. I knew I had to be ambitious with my composition choices. This pushed me to infuse layers of tonal and rhythmic complexity into every track, and the whole process of exploring those techniques became an amazing journey of growth and learning for me. In the end, it was such a rewarding experience, allowing me to push myself in new directions and expand my toolset as a media composer.
Q: What’s next for you that you would be able to talk about?
Winifred Phillips: I have a few projects in various stages of development, but unfortunately I can’t talk about them just yet (as is often the case when it comes to video game projects). I’ll be looking forward to sharing more info when I’m able! In the meantime, I really appreciate the ongoing encouragement of the video game music fan community! They’ve really supported my work over the years, and that has meant a lot to me!
For more music samples, watch this 8-minute highlight video of her score with gameplay images (and some game fx):
Special thanks to Winifred Phillips for taking time out to discuss her score for PRIMAL OPS with me. For more information on the composer, see her website http://www.winifredphillips.com/home.html
FYI Jurassic World Primal Ops, the game, is being discontinued. Interactive is discontinuing development support for the game and there will be no further content or functionality updates. On October 31, 2022, the game’s servers will be shut down completely. Music samples from the film can be listened to on Winifred Phillips’ website (link above).