JURASSIC EXPLORER - A Retrospective (Part I)
In this blog I've spoken about many of my projects but I've yet to talk about perhaps the most influential project I've worked on so far: JURASSIC EXPLORER. JURASSIC EXPLORER, in many ways, was the project I'd always wanted to do. Over the years I've carved out some outlines and breakdowns for what I imaged 'theme park' music for a 'Jurassic Park' would sound like and had tested the waters of rescoring JURASSIC WORLD. In spite of this, I had never actually produced music for these projects minus 2 or 3 sample tracks. With JURASSIC EXPLORER, I got to explore both of these ideas as well as a new area for me: video game scoring. After some initial conversations with Michael Pearce, the lead developer and 3D Modeler for the project, I began pulling together music that inspired me. I've noticed many composers don't speak of this step or process, but when I begin a project my first step is to create a sort of “tonal chart” to collect (and show) ideas and sounds to the director/lead dev. My goal in this is to build the 'space' where I think the music I'm going to write will exist. Being a video game, I needed to think of what sort of general purpose ambient / tonal music would be needed. In the JP franchise, 'Operation Genesis' was perhaps one of the PEAK scores ever produced and included a strong selection of both action cues and ambient 'in park' cues. These tracks, along with the amazing score to 'Trespasser,' helped inspire the musical language as well as the 'long play' music. Outside of these games, I also pulled from the SimCity3000 ambient score among other games. For the sound of 'Theme Park' music, I pulled from my favourite Theme Park 'Islands of Adventure' (home of the REAL Jurassic Park) where the Port of Entry area has so many marvelous music zones! From music that inspires you to keep walking, sounds to keep you looking around at the beautiful stores, and a triumphant fanfare as you enter into the main courtyard, this selection would inspire a sense of wonder and interest in the world you're exploring. On top of these, I also pulled some tracks from the underrated score to 'JAWS 3-D' which was filmed partially at and is set at SeaWorld Orlando. These tracks also added to the 'bright sunny day / walk in the park' tonal zone (with a hint of danger when needed). On top of these, I've been studying the scores to all the JURASSIC films for years, an obvious benchmark to attain.
I began writing some simple melodic ideas / sounds. Paramount of these ideas was the “Park Theme” which would also serve as the Games theme. The hope of this piece was to create an energetic, excitement building adventure sound replete with a grand opening, triumphant horns, and chimes.
The second study piece would later become known as “Walk in the Park” and features chimes and piano with light strings. This 'andante' piece serves as the general walking of the park sound, the chimes giving a crisp brightness, with a subtle bed of strings to create a sense of calm and peace. The third study piece was a quiet, introspective fantasia as I imagined a sort of “the park is closed” / “end of day” sound. The demo included lower piano with stronger strings, a harp lightly adding in a sort of 'clock chime' effect.
The final study piece added in more world sounds and tones different from the other studies to the score. A gamelan, tabla, mens choir, brushed gong, and ney flute move around an electronic pulsing rhythm. This piece was to introduce some new instruments and sounds and give the score a more natural world idea while still having a synthetic effect in the repeating / echoed tuned percussion. In the end, these ideas came together and grew into what has become known as JURASSIC EXPLORER (Season 1).
'Welcome to Jurassic Explorer'
This is the main theme and was built based on my work on the first study piece I wrote. As the piece began to grow, and both Michael and I found ourselves more in love with it, I expanded the piece, adding in a modulation to a higher key (Michael's smart suggestion actually). The piece comes to a quieter moment after all the excitement and modulates back to the original key to finish off the piece with a Trumpet solo then Horn restatement of the theme. There are some fun things going on in this track! A keen ear may hear a few nods to other pieces. 'The Building Blocks of Exploration'
Having an area in the opening of the game for the player to get use to the setup as well as learn about the 'story' of the game seems rather intuitive, but this fun intro proved to be just the beginning for what we would do with Mr. DNA and how important his—and the players story—would be to the game. The opening of this track is stylistically similar to the “Mr. DNA” music from the first film but then moves into an excitement building, bright sounding, general park track which loops until the player leaves to Main Street. 'Island Life' One of my more favourite tracks from this album, 'Island Life' would be something that echoed in my head during drives to work or being out by the beach/pool. The personality of the cue is like a melody you'd hum to yourself as you traveled around a tropical resort. Chimes, plucked strings, flutes playing in short staccato, harps, and a harpsichord help lend a light and airy tone to this piece which is just so enjoyable. 'A Walk Through the Park' Based on the second study piece I wrote for JE, this piece was a predominately piano piece with a pulsing ostinato in the bass while the right hand moves around and lingers from time to time. Strings give a soft pad except for the more “glorific” passages where the flutes and chimes begin to shine. A low flute plays the melody over the piano for the second statement handing it back to piano for the third statement. This piece was loopable and allowed for a long stretch of time to have calm, happy, walk music. The story of this track took an interesting path during Season 2 as well. 'Lagoon Show' One of the most exciting things we did with JE were the dinosaur experiences! Of course the goal was to allow the player to explore the park, but what was the park without dinosaurs? The Lagoon Show allowed the player to experience the Mosasaur jumping and grabbing a shark and splashing down! Musically, I wanted to create a sort of fanfare but also something that wouldn't be out of place playing as a ship launched to sea. That proud melody gliding over the sea. Of note in this track are the Taiko drums. I was first introduced to them in Bear McCreary's score to 'Battlestar Galactica' which I used in some of the trailers I made for a Jurassic Park fan story I was working on called “Jurassic Park: Emergence.” This sound would actually end up being used by Michael Giacchino in Jurassic World and thus felt appropriate to bring back here. 'To The Queen' Although a Rex has appeared in every JURASSIC film, she has never had a proper theme. The most commonly used theme would be the 'carnivore motif' which she shares with the raptors. For JE, I wanted to explore what a theme for the 'terrible lizard queen' would be. This track plays as source music in the game as you are in the viewing area for the Rex and thus serves as more 'in world/park' music.
'Bigger, Louder' For the Indominus Rex, nothing would work better than atonal music. Having toyed around with some atonal sounds and ideas for when I worked on 'Prime Survival,' I was able to comfortably explore atonality and incorporate some instruments I'd used before. In 'Prime Survival' I'd used gamelan for the Dilophosaurus, heightening its strange and other-worldliness. 'Jurassic World' would later use the gamelan for the Indominus Rex. Interestingly enough, some of the sounds from 'Dilo Dance' in Prime Survival seemed to have been referenced in the opening of Jurassic World as well! Utilizing string harmonics, brushed gongs, taiko drums, and the gamelan, I built a tonal ambiance for the area. Ironically though, the Indom was not ready for our initial release which meant the only thing in this area was my music and the paddock model (and one particularly terrifying Mr. DNA tucked in the corner). Several of the play-throughs had people TERRIFIED in this area because the music was so unsettling BUT because the animal was not present, we replaced the music in the first patch to be less indicative of the animals unseen presence. (We also moved Mr. DNA so he'd stop scaring people... for now) Either way, I still take it all as a win! 'Magic & Miracles' This track plays in the labs of the Innovation Center. Purposely evocative of the 'Hatching Baby Raptor' and the abandoned labs music from the films, this track includes a semi-religious choir sound against persistent harp, chimes, and sustained strings all to create a sense of elegance, beauty, wonder, and mystery. 'Main Street' This track pulls the little musical intro for when you arrive on mainstreet and the ambient loop for when you view the trophies gained while exploring the game. The trophy music includes chimes and oscillating harp against sparse piano. The main melody plays quietly at times but is otherwise absent, showing only the backbone / chord structure of the main theme but lacking the melody (a nod perhaps to the trophies being the backbone of the game play?) 'Technological Wonderlands' This was, ironically, the last track written for the game. I had written pretty much all the music for the game excluding the Innovation Center ambient track and had hit a rut. I could NOT for the life of me think of anything and was hitting this wall. Michael came to the rescue with a little seed of an idea which I then developed into a full track. It was an example of the wonderful collaboration we have together and how, under the right conditions, the right team working together openly can create so much more than one alone can imagine. 'Mysteries of the Island' Based on the fourth study piece I wrote for the game, this track never actually managed to be used in game. Despite this, I felt it was important to balance the clean, piano / orchestral pieces representing the humanized part of the park with the more world / natural sounds of the jungle and animals. This piece includes sustained men's choir, repeating tuned gongs, tabla, and the ney flute in a very similar configuration to the original study piece. 'The Park is Closed' Based on the third study idea, this piece would musically represent the end of ones day adventuring through Jurassic World as a short, musical goodbye. I imagined the sun setting on main street as the player exhales, ready to sit down from a long day at the park. This image would become more important in Season 2. 'The Journey Continues...' A concert suite of the main melodies of the game, this piece serves as the end credits for Season 1. The main melody opens the track quietly in horns eventually handing over the piano with “A Walk in the Park.” The jovial sound of “Technological Wonderlands” (technically written before the standalone piece so the credits could be built) perks up the track until it hands off “To the Queen” for a small moment referencing purely her arrival and eating the goat. “Lagoon Show” begins and plays slightly slower and more elegantly, allowing the winds and horns to play with the idea until the piece comes to a quiet stop. Harmonic strings, ethnic percussion and the Duduk take over, rebuilding the orchestra as the flute references the main melody on its own. Horns begin to play a diminished form the melody again, handing off to clarinet. Snare, timpani, and tremolo strings build back into the main melody of the game. The finale builds with choir, new horns, and taiko drums until the final orchestral swell.
You can listen to the full album here!
It blows my mind to this day how amazing the fan response was to this! We didn't even really call it a “game” yet. We, rather, called it 'explorable fan art' as it was mostly just 3D models of the park build for fans to explore and enjoy. The Dinosaurs were only partially present and besides collecting trophies—a somewhat last minute decision to be added—there really weren't any typical 'game' mechanics. With how amazing the fan response was, however, we all quickly knew we wanted to do a second season and after a short break, began preparing for that. One of the most exciting thing is there were many musical ideas not utilized in this release that Michael was able to find inventive ways to be used in Season 2. More of that next time...