Features// Video Games Live

Posted 27 Nov 2009 17:14 by
One element of computer games that always seems to be undersold is music. People discuss graphics, gameplay, longevity and even storytelling for a game, but a good soundtrack is just as important to add depth and excitement. It seems I'm not alone in thinking so.

On Wednesday night, gamers and game music lovers alike all journeyed to the Sage arena in Gateshead to see a live orchestra play classic themes against a backdrop of strobe lighting, video footage and buzzing atmosphere. The event was Video Games Live.

Led by famed composer and Video Games Live presenter Tommy Tallarico (who we have interviewed in the past) and Jack Wall conducting the Northern Sinfonia, the event was a huge aural display of game music from the past, present and future. The opening song consisted of a medley of classic arcade games from the 1970s and 1980s, including Space Invaders, Centipede and Ghouls and Ghosts.

For many people in the audience, it was the first time they had heard these games updated, let alone presented in such a rich and vibrant orchestral sound. Tommy Tallarico, who himself has been composing music to games such as Earthworm Jim, Cool Spot and more recently Metroid Prime, took to the stage and warmed up the crowd with his infectious personality.

As Tommy spoke to the crowd as if they were mates sitting on his living room couch, he spoke of the work that goes into the live performance. This year, Video Games Live has had over 60 shows around the world, and has had plenty of ties with studios that allow them to play their game music on a live platform.

Before the orchestra played the theme to StarCraft II, it was announced that Tommy and Jack travelled to Korea for Blizzard’s announcement party and played the upcoming sequel’s theme as the studio revealed its existence. In the space of four years, the event has proven to become a very important celebration of the industry in general, not just music.

The organisers admit that they practice and line up around 60 game themes to play at each performance, but can only fit 18 each night, which means some games stick while others chop and change. Themes from Metal Gear Solid, World of Warcraft, Kingdom Hearts and Nintendo favourites Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda are generally a guarantee year on, year out, but this year’s performance at the Sage also introduced a medley of Mega Man music, along with the main theme for the Metroid series.

As a Sonic the Hedgehog fan myself, I was quite disappointed when the blue blur became one of the casualties of last year’s Video Games Live in London’s South Bank. Tommy revealed to me after the show that so many people asked him about the hedgehog’s disappearance, that this year he was made much more prominent. I cheered quite loudly when I saw a video of Yuji Naka introduce the game’s medley.

Besides my fangasm though, there was room for more entertainment. A Guitar Hero contest that took place in the venue foyer before the performance led to the winner getting on stage to play a track from Guitar Hero: Aerosmith (fun fact, Tommy Tallarico is related to Steven Tyler, so the Aerosmith appearance was quite expected) with Tommy on support guitar, while the orchestra filled in the rest of the instruments and vocals.

One of the star performances, besides the orchestra itself of course, was from one Martin Leung - also known as the ‘Video Game Pianist’. Famous for getting on Youtube and playing the Super Mario theme blindfolded several years ago, Martin took to the stage at VGL and played ten tracks from classic Final Fantasy games, before again performing the blindfold trick that made him an Internet star. He even took requests after that, nailing Monkey Island and Mario Bros. 3 tunes before leaving to rabid applause.

While the first half of the performance was very orchestral-heavy and featured music from many classics, Tommy brought on his electric guitar for the second half and jammed with the Sinfonia to the themes of Halo and Final Fantasy 7's One Winged Angel, before giving the audience an intense encore with a rendition of Castlevania. All in all it provided an entertaining evening for plenty of audience groups - those who are into games casually, those into orchestral music, and hardcore gamers alike.

After the night’s passionate performance, a meet and greet was held where attendees could chat to Tommy, Jack and Martin and get merchandise signed. In speaking to Martin, I learned that he was a huge Sonic the Hedgehog fan too (I’ve made a friend!), and had a good catch-up with Tommy as he signed my new VGL CD.

‘What’s next for the World Tour?’, I asked him - well, those who are looking for some new material will be in luck come 2010, as Tommy confirmed the appearance of music from Silent Hill, Shadow of the Colossus and something I've personally asked for ages - Earthworm Jim. No mention was made of a venue, be it London or ‘oop North’ again, but if you’re kicking yourself for missing one hell of an evening, you can track the progress of the Video Games Live tour at its official website.

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