Have you ever sat in front of your television screen or computer monitor and zoned out to the music of the game you were playing? Are you able to hum out a game tune after hearing a few corresponding notes? Does hearing a song from an old game conjure up special memories that are forever interwoven into your childhood?
Two of my greatest hobbies in life are playing video games and remastering or occasionally remixing their music. Ever since I was first introduced to vgmusic and ocremix nine years ago I’ve been listening to game music on a daily basis. As far back as I can remember I’ve always had a fondness for game music. Heck, when I was ten I’d enter the menu cheat in order to access the music test section of Donkey Kong Country 2 so I could listen to the music while I did my homework.
Thus, it was to my surprise and embarrassment when I checked my twitter one morning and found out that Tommy Tallarico was in town for Video Games Live. A surge of adrenaline went through my veins as I read it… “Holy #%@$, it’s HERE?! How on earth did someone like me miss this?!” I rushed to videogameslive.com to see when the show was playing and my stomach initially twisted when I realized it had played the previous night. Luckily, before I could put my palm to my face, I saw there was a second showing… and it started in two hours on the opposite side of the city.
At this point there was absolutely no way to verify if the show was sold out; and buying a ticket online or on the phone were no longer options. So I was left with two choices: Take a forty-five minute trip and hope for a ticket, or forget about it and look forward to a future show in a nearby city. After a short deliberation I came to the conclusion that this present opportunity was a risk worth taking. I hastily prepared to go to the show… however a thought crept into my mind, “What about my parents?”
My family has always known of my passion for game music. I’ve shown them a few of the arrangements I’ve composed over the years, and even made them a CD of my own redone game songs as a holiday gift this past December. This show would be an excellent opportunity to expose them to the world of game music for a few hours! Knowing the clock was ticking I asked them if they would be interested in joining me and to my astonishment my father already knew about the concert. That’s right, my dad knew about Video Games Live being in town quite a while before I did. Unfortunately, the answer I heard was simply no. Who could blame them? This was awfully short notice. However, as grabbed my car keys and was about to leave I was completely surprised by none other than my parents. It seems the “no” was just to mess with my mind. I knew I got that prankster side of me from somewhere.
The forty-five minute drive over to the music hall felt like an eternity. What if there were no tickets? I couldn’t have allowed myself to miss the fabled Video Games Live in my own backyard, could I? After finding a parking spot and taking an extensive walk to the hall, my eyes focused on a horde of people. Some of whom were even dressed up in costumes. There had apparently been a cosplay and Guitar Hero contest prior to the show, which at this point was beginning in about twenty minutes… but were there any tickets left?
As I made the long walk of ambiguity with my parents over to the ticket kiosk I felt like Arthas ascending the Frozen Throne. Not to become the ruler of the undead or anything like that. Rather, my mind was flowing with thoughts of game music and if it was too late to experience the show.
“Do you have any tickets left?” I asked.
“We have some on the balcony,” replied the kiosk worker.
“We’ll take three,” I responded trying to mask my utter jubilation.
Into the belly of this soon to be temple of game music we went. As we traversed through the crowd towards the stairs to get to the balcony area I noticed my mother and father weren’t with me anymore. Where were they? I made my way back to see what they were doing and found my mom holding a Video Games Live shirt in her hand. What an awesome gift… and something I will no doubt treasure forever. However, the true gift was going to be the experience that I would soon share with my parents on the top balcony.
As we took our seats I heard what seemed to be a clarinet player performing a few notes from very familiar melody while he warmed-up for the show. Metal Gear Solid?! Not even a few minutes passed by and the lights began to dim. Anticipation was flooding the room like a rollercoaster rising to the top of the track… what would this ride be like?
A violin began to play a single note. The first chair violinist led the rest of the symphony to make sure every instrument was in perfect tune. Any second now Video Games Live was going to start. Then suddenly, Jack Wall walked out onto the stage; the co-founder and conductor of Video Games Live, not to mention celebrated game music composer in his own right. He immediately made his way to his rostrum and *BOOM* the image of two paddles with a ball pinging between them appeared on the massive screen behind the orchestra.
*Ping* *Ping* the violinists plucked their strings to symbolize the ball hitting each paddle. There was even a white light that flashed on the corresponding side to where the ball hit. This was the best instance of Pong ever! Then Space Invaders showed up on the screen and I heard my father whisper to my mother… “I used to play that game.” My dad was connecting with a game made years before I was born.
Then unexpectedly, tremolo strings and woodwinds started playing a familiar sound. It was Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries! Thus began a seven minute long escapism into a ton of classic games from Donkey Kong, and Dragon’s Lair to Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Tetris. The entirety of the segment featured various short arrangements of a multitude of games all seamlessly integrated together musically and visually on the screen behind the performers. Everything down to the flute falls and cymbal crashes were timed to perfection with what was projected on screen. What made this even better was the crowd’s involvement. Everyone was cheering at the parts they held dear to their hearts.
When this classic games segment ended, Jack Walk took a brief timeout to talk a little bit about the show. Where was his other half? As Jack ended his talk he answered that question by introducing all of us to Tommy Tallarico, the other co-founder, not to mention host of Video Games Live. Tommy, just like Jack, is a well renowned composer in his own right. In fact, Tommy has worked on more video games than anyone else in history. Yes, I’m talking about the entire history of video games here. When Tommy came out he reminded us that this was not an ordinary concert. That our enthusiasm for what we’re listening to and watching translated over to the entire orchestra, and if we wanted to cheer to go for it! Oh yeah, there was also a full choir. I probably should have mentioned that earlier… and yes it was as epic as you’d think it would be when they began complementing the symphony.
The show was now coming into full swing. The audience and I were already salivating over what we just experienced during the segment filled with classic game music.
*SNAKE!* blasted the speakers in the hall.
“This will be a day to remember,” I mumbled incoherently to myself.
Now, I could go into every single arrangement that was played and dissect my feelings about them. Such as how the Legend of Zelda piece had a neat John Williams feel to it and so forth, but I think I can better explain the Video Games Live experience with a summary of high points and special moments that encapsulate what I observed.
Listed below are just SOME of the arrangements from the show.
Baba Yetu from Civilization IV
Metal Gear Solid
The Legend of Zelda
Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros.
One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII
Imagine all this music pumping into your ears over a period of around two and a half hours. If you’re reading this article I can guarantee that you’ve played a game from one of the series above. You’ve also probably heard at least one of the songs that have been incorporated into the various arrangements.
You’d think this entire show would be a bunch of back to back songs, but that wasn’t the case. There were multitudes of fun deviations in the show that helped break it up and keep the audience excited. Video Games Live is just as much an interactive experience as it is a concert of reorchestrated game music.
For instance, three times during various parts of the show we were introduced to Martin Leung, a brilliant pianist. Martin is famous for playing a completely memorized Super Mario Bros. melody for over 10 minutes. All of us were privileged to see him perform some music from Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, and Castlevania. He even did part of his solo Super Mario Bros. segment blindfolded which got the audience extremely pumped up. I can still visually remember everyone clapping in unison when Martin began playing the Athletic theme from Super Mario World as fast as he could.
Audience participation didn’t end with getting everyone involved in the show from an emotional aspect. One person was selected out of the audience to play Space Invaders with the opportunity to win a custom Video Games Live $3,000 MAME arcade cabinet! Easy right? Not if you don’t remember to shoot the sides. To be fair though, it was a far more challenging than a normal game of Space Invaders because the contestant was the actual ship. That’s right! The left and right movement of the lucky dude on the stage controlled how the ship moved on the screen via motion tracking. In fact all the guy had was a one button pad that he pressed to fire. Unfortunately he failed, but everyone was cheering for him the whole way through, Tommy included. It worked out fine in the end because the lucky guy got a bag of goodies which included… yes, Space Invaders.
Remember the Guitar Hero contest I mentioned earlier? Another fan oriented segment occurred when the winner of the contest came out to play Jump by Van Halen. He wasn’t alone either! Tommy had his guitar and played the entire song with the contest winner. To the amazement of the crowd when the contestant was told he was to play the song on hard mode, he laughed and asked for the difficulty to be put on expert. Tommy was surprised, but happy to oblige. Needless to say, everyone in the music hall was cheering wildly throughout the performance. Also, just like the Space Invaders guy, this contestant also received a bag of gifts.
Now, when it comes to the heavily orchestral scores that make up the bulk of the show, the highlights for me were the Metroid, Warcraft, and Chrono Series segments. I am profoundly attached to the music of Super Metroid. As such, when I heard part of the ending theme from that game it choked me up a little. I likewise found myself in a similar emotional state when the choir broke out during the final minute of the World of Warcraft theme. I played World of Warcraft for three years at every aspect possible in the game, and while I don’t play it anymore… just hearing the song played live flooded back memories of the joyous times I had in the game along with all the great people I met during my adventures in Azeroth and the Outlands.
As emotionally attached as I was to the other two segments, the Chrono Series arrangement took it to the house for me. Aside from the superb score, this song featured something very special with the co-creators of Video Games Live, Tommy and Jack. It began slowly with Tommy playing along with an acoustic sounding electric guitar to Yearnings of the Wind from Chrono Trigger. Eventually the score reached Frog’s theme, also from Chrono Trigger, and Tommy started playing faster to keep up with the march… then Jack got off his podium, picked up an acoustic guitar and joined Tommy to play Scars Left by Time from Chrono Cross to finish off the Chrono Series arrangement. Seeing a conductor actually cease conducting to play an instrument was so unexpected… and as cool as that was, what really made it special was seeing how much Tommy and Jack were into the song.
Now, all good things must come to an end. In the case of my show it was the Castlevania segment. I say my show because every showing of Video Games Live is different. In fact they can only fit about eighteen arrangements of the over sixty and growing for their tour. Absolutely no showing of Video Games Live is the same, which only adds to the benefit of seeing the show again, and again.
Just because the show is over doesn’t mean it’s time to leave. After each show there’s a meet and greet line where you can obtain autographs from the likes of Tommy Tallarico, Jack Wall, and others. Feel free to voice your opinions about the show, because if you don’t odds are you’ll be asked what you thought about it.
Now some would probably say… “Hey! Where are all the negatives for Video Games Live?! Nothing is perfect!”
I suppose that’s a true statement. Nothing is perfect, so I guess I do have a complaint to make… and since I have a feeling Tommy will be reading this, here it is.
Add Earthbound or Secret of Mana next!
Ok, so that wasn’t a complaint. It’s more of a request. I really can’t think of anything I could truly rail on. Maybe the show I was at could have ended with One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII over Castlevania? Perhaps that would have been a more epic song to conclude the concert with? Still, that’s nitpicking at best.
You’d think this would be the end of chronicling the experience I had with of Video Games Live. I mean… the show ended and the meet and greet is over right?
To my amazement, in less than five minutes I had a response from Tommy saying, “Count me in!”
This interview was recorded March 19th, and encompasses details about Tommy himself, Video Games Live, new arrangements they’re working on, and their upcoming PBS special.
I highly recommend clicking this link and listening to the interview contained within. The PBS special segment is especially fascinating due to the impact that it is going to have on game music and the gaming industry in general.
For those who are wondering about this PBS special for Video Games Live? It’s going to be performed in New Orleans with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra on April 1st at the Pontchartrain Center at 8 p.m. The official release date of the special (and the DVD/Blu-Ray & album) are July 31, 2010.
I can tell you right now that I wish I could go to this special. It’s going to be a once in a lifetime event that will be remembered as a staple in game music history as the years go by. Multiple big name game composers, celebrities and even game designers are going to be in attendance, and you’ll get to meet them after the show too. I wish I could tell you the names of everyone who will be there, but not even I am privy to that information. I do have ideas though.
Even if you can’t make it to this show, I highly recommend you seeing Video Games Live at least once in your life. Bring the whole family along too! It’s a trip to the past and present, an interactive experience, and something people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy. I think Tommy says it best, “Video Games Live is all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra, but combined with the energy and excitement of a rock concert, mixed together with all the cutting edge visuals, technology, interactivity, and fun that video games provide.” I agree! It’s truly is a unique experience unlike any concert you’ve ever been to before!