Concert? Symphony orchestra? Video games? Combine these together, and you get Video Games Live which I had finally managed to attend a show of after hearing so much about it. Hearing some of gaming’s most famous themes backed by a full orchestra, choir, and stand out vocalists in a vast music hall is definitely an experience to remember.
If you’re not sure what it is, Video Games Live is the branchild of renowned musicians, Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall. Tommy Tallarico is known among gamers and within the industry as one of the most prolific in his art whose self-made success has enabled him to score hundreds of titles throughout his twenty year history in the industry (the score to Advent Rising is something that you just have to hear). Jack Wall is also known in the industry for his work with famous titles such as Myst, Splinter Cell, and Bioware’s Mass Effect (and its upcoming sequel) as well as being the director and co-founder of the non-profit group, The Game Audio Network Guild.
Between the two of them, Video Games Live has gone from being an occasional concert to hosting world tours in bringing its show to fans around the world since its debut in 2005.
I first heard about the show when it made news on the web years ago, but it wasn’t until later on Allgames Interactive (AGI) that I actually heard more of what it was about along with a few musical pieces to come out from the show. Since then, I’ve wanted to see one of their shows, but at the time, I wasn’t sure just how I was going to do that until they had announced their world tour for this year and would be swinging in close by. So, with my aunt and nephew who is also into games, we made plans to head out to Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall and sample some of the excitement ourselves, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Mendelssohn Choir whose performances were incredible to watch.
The show led off with the submissions for best costume with a row of eager enthusiasts standing up on stage showing off their Sunday best. By cheers, the winner was a very impressive Arthas cosplay complete with detailed armor and what appeared to be a replica of Frostmourne, a 47″ sword seen in the game.
After that, the concert started off with a funny video showing off a live action version of Ms. Pac Man and ghosts chasing her through the city and eventually segued into a few old school titles as Jack Wall took up the conductor’s baton. The orchestra kept up with Frogger, Tempest, and Donkey Kong, before breaking out into the more “modern” stuff.
A taped greeting from David Jaffe led into the next segment. Hearing the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and Cindy, the operatic lead, sing their way through the theme for God of War was incredible. Later, Civilization IV’s theme was performed with Ron’s vocal performance leading the way. I don’t have his last name, but I also spoke with him after the show and surprsingly, despite his incredible performance on stage, singing isn’t his bag. He’s actually a jazz musician.
At the start of the show, it was also emphasized that if the crowd loves what their hearing, to cheer as much as they can. Keeping your applause until the end wasn’t part of the plan. Tommy wanted to bring the audience as much into the experience as possible and the audience fed off of that energy, especially the kids, as the concert crowd cut through several generations of gamers gathered under one roof to celebrate the moment. And don’t worry, the footage shown in God of War at the show was skillfully cut together so as to not give those same kids or their parents something to worry about later. This was an event that lived up to its approach in making itself as open as possible to everyone with a love of music and games.
Martin Leung, the classically trained pianist made famous by his Youtube debut in playing the Super Mario Bros. theme while blindfolded, also took the stage and his mastery of the craft was again apparent with his streaming rendition of Final Fantasy themes. When he began playing “From Zanarkand”, the crowd went wild before a quiet hush descended back on them as they listened to him play. As one of the best known themes from the series and a fan favorite, it made the afternoon for many of us.
Hideo Kojima’s videotaped greetings were played to the crowd just before the orchestra began their performance of the theme for the Metal Gear Solid series. A hapless soldier also made his way onstage while an all too familiar box followed closely behind without him noticing. Snake would also break in occasionally on his codec to give his greetings out to the crowd.
And a guest was invited up onstage to play a “live” version of Space Invaders while the orchestra kept up with the game. The prize was a tabletop arcade unit loaded with thousands of classics and all that the player had to do was survive one round which was easier said than done. But even though she didn’t make it to the end, she still got something out of it thanks to Tommy.
After the intermission, the winner of the Guitar Hero contest held earlier before the show was brought up onstage to play Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” on Hard and break 200K in order to win a bag of goodies. But the fan wanted “Extreme” instead and they obliged with the audience caught up in the rush of the moment as he came close to…and then shattered…the winning limit. Even Tommy got into the act with his own guitar, giving a helpful “nudge” to the player when he had already won.
Kingdom Hearts was also up as famiilar themes were played against a backdrop of Disney clips and Martin Leung once again took up the stage. Another video greeting, this time from Super Mario composer, Koji Kondo, would introduce the next series of themes from the Super Mario series. This time, however, Tommy brought in the Terrible Towel and blindfolded Martin with it as he went on to perform Super Mario Bros. live onstage while mixing in a few sound effects on the ivory keys at the same time.
Halo was also performed complete with its own Master Chief who came up onstage in the final movement, and themes from the Metroid series were also played against a backdrop taking us from the original NES version to the current generation.
Capping it all off was an orchestral tribute to one of my favorite series: Castlevania. Castlevania already has a stunning library of music, especially from titles such as Symphony of the Night, and hearing several of these performed at the end capped off what I thought to be a fantastic afternoon of entertainment.