Video Games Live

(Prederick attended Video Games Live and wrote this report. Enjoy! - Shawn)

On April 26th, Video Games Live made its first appearance in New York City. The brainchild of composer Tommy Tallarico, the show promises to bring music from various video games to life with a live orchestra and crowd participation. Given my track record of being an enormous nerd for video game music, it seemed only fitting to attend.

Video Games Live is predicated on the belief that the music in video games is worthy of recognition for its musical achievement. The notion may not make much weight in the mainstream, but to the crowd on attendance that night, it was true.

Tallarico has set up Video Games Live as a very interactive experience, with a large screen behind the orchestra showing gameplay clips from pre-selected titles, generally marquee titles past and present. As opposed to the experience at most orchestral concerts, Tallarico openly encourages the crowd to cheer and clap throughout the performance.

To promote the concept of audience participation, randomly selected individuals were invited on stage to enact arcade classics as the orchestra provided the accompanying music in real time. Admittedly, the two titles selected for the orchestra weren't all that difficult (Frogger and Space Invaders). In the case of the latter game, the selected contestant was outfitted with a T-Shirt with the player's ship on the back. The contestant would be able to run back and forth across the stage and have his movements represented on the screen. A roughly 50-year old man named Felix was selected as humanity's last hope against the Space Invaders. His introduction was a bit rough, admitting that he "knew nothing" about video games to a cacophony of boos. Still, he proved himself to be an entertaining, but admirable, failure.

The song selection is largely designed to make sure noone in the crowd will feel left out and still please the hardcore, both old and new. That night's selection was quite expansive, featuring medleys with music from Outrun, Sonic the Hedgehog, and the Super Mario series. The concert spends a fair amount of time reveling in yesteryear, although there are nods to more recent titles, such as God of War, Civilization IV and Call of Duty.

In the latter's case, a somewhat odd decision was made as far as the background video goes. A very somber video compilation from The History Channel depicted the horrors of World War II, which certainly fit the music but didn't seem to fit with the overall mood of the evening. Likewise, music from Kingdom Hearts was played with scenes from Disney's immense catalog of animated films. The familiar scenes were nice but omitted any actual gameplay footage, disappointing some of the crowd. Kingdom Hearts is loved as much for Square's characters as for Disney's, and omitting the former from the proceedings altogether did make the experience feel like it was missing something.

Of course, Final Fantasy makes an appearance, with piano virtuoso Martin Leung playing a medley of songs from the series history, albeit mostly focusing on Final Fantasy VII. Since the aim of the concert is broad accessibility, it was only logical that they heavily feature the JRPG that introduced a generation to the genre and was a landmark in the franchise.

It is one thing to hear much of this music in-game, but hearing it brought to life by a skilled orchestra gives it a new depth and sensation. Surely, players of the Final Fantasy VII have heard "One Winged Angel" numerous times already, but that night the crowd favorite was showcased in a new light. The theme to Metal Gear Solid never seemed quite as entertaining until that night, when hearing it live nearly sold me on Guns of the Patriots. The only song I remember being just a yard too far for Tallarico and the Orchestra was the theme to Halo II. The original track featured some admirable guitar work courtesy of rock legend Steve Vai. Tallarico, understandably, couldn't quite capture Vai's virtuoso technique.

Video Games Live is meant to be a celebration of the music from video games. That which we remember, enjoy and in some cases, connect to emotionally. If the attendance that night was any indication (seats were sold out a month in advance), Tallarico understands his audience, understands what he's providing, and does it in a way that entertains and shows some of the music in a new light. From a rocky start, the show seems to be growing into a resounding success.

- Prederick

Comments

I went to a VGL show locally when it was around town. It was great fun, well worth the cost of admission. It's satisfying and exciting to hear some of this music played by a full orchestra.

I think I read something about Square telling them they weren't allowed to in-game footage for the Square songs, which absolutely sucks. Oh well, Square are dicks like that.

Also, when you mention Steve Vai it's hard for me not to go on a rant about how much I hate him. Seriously, slow the f*ck down. You aren't proving anything by playing that fast, you're just hurting my ears. And why did they think it was a good idea to have him do guitar in Halo 2? Even though it's supposed to be set like 500 years in the future electric guitar doesn't suit it and they should of just stuck with the orchestral sound which worked a lot better. Steve Vai needs to learn how to make music that sucks less.

Anyways, VGL sounds really cool and I wish I could go, unfortunately they're playing in Norway and Scotland instead of New Zealand.

I saw VGL last year in San Jose. They were good except they spent half a freaking hour doing music from Lair. Lair people! Mind you Lair wasn't even out at that point and the only visual we got was some dragon flying around while "epic" music played. I loved the retro stuff and the fan favorites like World of Warcraft were great, but half an hour to hype a game none of us have even played pissed me off to no end.

I'd love to hear some stuff from Beyond Good and Evil done in a live and perhaps orchestral setting.
I wanna hear a little reggae trio do Mammago's Garage!

For some reason, every time video game music comes up, BG&E is the first game I think of.
Maybe it's because BG&E music was just so chock full of WIN.

I'm taking my daughter to Comic-Con then to the show here in San Diego. We're looking forward to it.

Purple_Haze wrote:

Also, when you mention Steve Vai it's hard for me not to go on a rant about how much I hate him. Seriously, slow the f*ck down. You aren't proving anything by playing that fast, you're just hurting my ears. And why did they think it was a good idea to have him do guitar in Halo 2? Even though it's supposed to be set like 500 years in the future electric guitar doesn't suit it and they should of just stuck with the orchestral sound which worked a lot better. Steve Vai needs to learn how to make music that sucks less.

Meh, the dude is just writing music he enjoys. He's not trying to please mainstream audiences, he's not trying to fit into genre conventions, and he is utterly unconcerned with what's musically fashionable. He's simply putting his energy into creating music that makes him happy. You obviously don't like the same stuff he likes. That's cool, right?

bnpederson wrote:

I saw VGL last year in San Jose. They were good except they spent half a freaking hour doing music from Lair. Lair people! Mind you Lair wasn't even out at that point and the only visual we got was some dragon flying around while "epic" music played. I loved the retro stuff and the fan favorites like World of Warcraft were great, but half an hour to hype a game none of us have even played pissed me off to no end.

Actually, you're getting us mixed up with the concert Play! which came out a few years after us and only does a few shows a year. They present their show very differently than we do. I was at that performance as well and like you thought the Lair segment was way too long. We created a Lair segment for our show with our good friend (and the actual composer John Debney) who is known mostly for film scores (Passion of the Christ, Sin City, etc.). We even had John guest conduct his segment for our San Francisco/GDC show. Here's John conducting our piece (although you can't see him in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FD-v9...). Ours is about 3 1/2 minutes long.

As a game composer I think it's fantastic that there are other game concerts popping up all over the world! It further helps to legitimize our industry and to show how culturally significant and artist video games (and their music) have become.

Thanks to everyone who has seen the show and thanks for the cool NY write-up.

Tommy

Hey Tommy, the GANG overhaul looks really cool. Might be time to re-up my membership.

Podunk wrote:

Hey Tommy, the GANG overhaul looks really cool. Might be time to re-up my membership. :)

Yeah... we spent a lot of time and money on that over the past two years. It has some really amazing features!

www.audiogang.org

Tommy

Tommy Tallarico wrote:

Yeah... we spent a lot of time and money on that over the past two years. It has some really amazing features!

Looks that way. It's definitely a big improvement over the previous iteration.

Podunk wrote:
Tommy Tallarico wrote:

Yeah... we spent a lot of time and money on that over the past two years. It has some really amazing features!

Looks that way. It's definitely a big improvement over the previous iteration.

Yep. It worked for the first 7 years of the organization... but it was time to move on. It's very challenging to run a non-profit and keep everything technically current. It costs a lot of money that a lot of non-profits don't always have available. Our new staff has been really incredible over the past year and has really put a lot of passion and energy into making G.A.N.G. a fantastic resource for everyone.

Tommy

I remember hearing about how rough it was in the beginning. I tried to see VGL about two years ago and that's around the time they had to cancel a lot of shows for various reasons. But at least I was sent a free t-shirt and a signed booklet as a consolation.

I'm glad to see VGL has been doing so well now. Looks like the San Diego show in July will be the one for me.

Mystic Violet wrote:

I remember hearing about how rough it was in the beginning. I tried to see VGL about two years ago and that's around the time they had to cancel a lot of shows for various reasons. But at least I was sent a free t-shirt and a signed booklet as a consolation.

I'm glad to see VGL has been doing so well now. Looks like the San Diego show in July will be the one for me. :D

Yeah... that was actually 3 years ago (2005) when the promoter (Clear Channel) didn't believe enough in our vision and ended up canceling most of our tour. Since then (and being on our own) we haven't had to cancel a single show.

San Diego Comic Con show with the San Diego Symphony is going to be an awesome show! Lots of surprises and special guests. Show will be selling out so please get your tix soon.

Thanks for the support. Hope you enjoy the show.

Tommy

VGL is definately an enjoyable experience. Especially the thousand lit up DS tribute. That was a fun time. Always looking forward to what's new in the next show.

VGL is actually playing in Austin the night before our next big slap and tickle, so all the goodjers who are flying in from around the country are going together. How f*cking awesome is that?

souldaddy wrote:

VGL is actually playing in Austin the night before our next big slap and tickle, so all the goodjers who are flying in from around the country are going together. How f*cking awesome is that?

Pretty f*cking awesome! That's how f*cking awesome.

I saw on the VGL site a video of the original Halo theme, sans guitar masturbation antics. I'm hoping we get that version. Better yet, the Silent Cartographer variant. That's you how guitar it up!

I'm totally amped (yeah, that's right amped!) for the upcoming show in Vegas on Saturday. I had never heard of the show until I listened to the Podcast, so thanks GWJ and Tommy for showing me the light.

I'll be dragging my girlfriend to it, so I'm sure we'll be getting the perspective of someone who's pretty casual about games. Sshe looked at the list of games covered, said "cool" to Zelda and Mario and "wtf is that" to everything else.

I am hopeful for some Shaq Fu scores...

Tommy Tallarico wrote:

Actually, you're getting us mixed up with the concert Play! which came out a few years after us and only does a few shows a year.

Ah, well amend my comments to be towards them then. Grr, Lair! In my defense... yeah, I got nothin'.

Podunk wrote:

Meh, the dude is just writing music he enjoys. He's not trying to please mainstream audiences, he's not trying to fit into genre conventions, and he is utterly unconcerned with what's musically fashionable. He's simply putting his energy into creating music that makes him happy. You obviously don't like the same stuff he likes. That's cool, right? :)

Yeah, I guess I was mostly going off on was when the article called him a "rock legend". I guess on that point I just have to say I completely disagree and say that Randy Rhoads, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton are more what I would call rock legends.

Uberstein wrote:

I'd love to hear some stuff from Beyond Good and Evil done in a live and perhaps orchestral setting.
I wanna hear a little reggae trio do Mammago's Garage!

For some reason, every time video game music comes up, BG&E is the first game I think of.
Maybe it's because BG&E music was just so chock full of WIN. ;-)

The variation in style would make BG&E a great choice. I just hope this idea makes it in time for the Toronto show next weekend

Purple_Haze wrote:

Yeah, I guess I was mostly going off on was when the article called him a "rock legend". I guess on that point I just have to say I completely disagree and say that Randy Rhoads, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton are more what I would call rock legends.

True, but you also have a group that considers Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Yngwie Malmsteen to be worthy additions to the Rock pantheon for their ability to shred a virtuous line.

Hendrix sure as hell wasn't wasn't making beautiful ditties during Monterey.

Different strokes for different generations and all that jazz, eh?

Looks like VGL is putting on a [url=http://arstechnica.com/journals/thum... concert in Toronto[/url]:

Though the show's Canadian performances are few and far between, a new partnership with Future Shop in Canada will see a massive free show in downtown Toronto later this month. On Saturday, June 21 at the Yonge-Dundas Future Shop, Video Games Live will be putting on a show alongside a day of gaming in the Yonge-Dundas square. The likes of Tommy Tallarico, Jack Wall, and Martin Leung (better known as the Video Game Pianist) will join thousands of attendees in enjoying various Xbox and Nintendo offerings as well as a huge Guitar Hero tournament.
Danjo Olivaw wrote:
souldaddy wrote:

VGL is actually playing in Austin the night before our next big slap and tickle, so all the goodjers who are flying in from around the country are going together. How f*cking awesome is that?

Pretty f*cking awesome! That's how f*cking awesome.

I saw on the VGL site a video of the original Halo theme, sans guitar masturbation antics. I'm hoping we get that version. Better yet, the Silent Cartographer variant. That's you how guitar it up! :D

I hope they play the Metal Gear Solid theme.

Spaz wrote:

Different strokes for different generations and all that jazz, eh?

Get out of my head!

And from my perspective, Vai and Rhodes are/were very much the same sort of player, or at least they were when Vai was younger. It's easy to look at a guy like Steve Vai and think, "he thinks he's so f*cking awesome" but it's really not the case. He's a nice guy, a very smart musician, and he most definitely does not take himself seriously. All the guitar god posturing and silly stage theatrics are meant to be over-the-top fun, nothing more.

Who knows, though. As Spaz suggests, If I'd started listening to rock music in the 70's instead of the 80's I'd likely have a different perspective.

I was fortunate enough to attend the initial run of Video Games Live here in Seattle. I wrote a review of it over on CDM (http://createdigitalmusic.com/2005/1...) - you'll have to forgive the ill formatting of the article.

It was a fantastic experience - Northwest Sinfonia is a real PNW gem, and I'm proud to live in the same city with these talented folks. I got to meet a host of the composers, including Tommy T, Jack Wall, Tim Larkin, and Marty O'Donnell. About 6 months after the show I got my first full-time gig in the industry, and I'm now proud to call these guys my peers.

This show has done a lot to raise visibility and awareness for audio in games and it is great to see that the show has had continued success after its initial difficulties back in 2005.

Do they play Toe Jam & Earl?

Podunk wrote:
Spaz wrote:

Different strokes for different generations and all that jazz, eh?

Get out of my head!

And from my perspective, Vai and Rhodes are/were very much the same sort of player, or at least they were when Vai was younger. It's easy to look at a guy like Steve Vai and think, "he thinks he's so f*cking awesome" but it's really not the case. He's a nice guy, a very smart musician, and he most definitely does not take himself seriously. All the guitar god posturing and silly stage theatrics are meant to be over-the-top fun, nothing more.

Who knows, though. As Spaz suggests, If I'd started listening to rock music in the 70's instead of the 80's I'd likely have a different perspective. :)

I'll point out at this point that I am only 15, but I don't think one of my favorite bands started after the seventies. Maybe I should give Vai another listen if he's anything like Randy, who I would say is slightly above people like Hendrix and Clapton to be my favorite guitarist. But I haven't heard anything from Vai that is in the class of Sato or Goodbye to Romance though there may be something he's done that is. All I know is that from playing Halo 2 and watching a couple of youtube videos after I can not understand how much praise he gets.

Hey Tommy! Welcome to the forum. I don't really have anything to say about VGL, but I just wanted to say I really miss seeing you (and Vic) on TV down here in the US. Glad to know the tour is going so well.

[/fanboy mode]

I'll definitely be going to the San Diego show as well as the Comic Con.

spam