The horns quietly mark time as the string section delicately forms the melody of the piece. The brass section crescendos and the music hints at a heroic story. Big video screens loom, showing the audience scenes from some of the greatest games of all time. Video Games Live has returned to Indianapolis.
"Video Games Live is an amazing music concert that has all of the greatest video game music of all time," co-creator and host of VGL Tommy Tallarico says in a promotional video. "[It's] played by a symphony orchestra combined with lasers, lights, stage show production and an interactive video game all going on at once," On Aug. 7, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra will perform a concert created by video game sound designer and composer Tallarico (Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Advent Rising). The spectacle takes place the third evening of GenCon, the four-day gaming convention that brings thousands of gamers to downtown Indy and will be played at Conseco Fieldhouse. [See our go & do section for more.]
Here's the premise: Video Games Live is a traveling concert that plays some of the most iconic scores in video game history, utilizing a full orchestra, big screens and interactive segments to create a visceral and eye-opening experience for gamers and non-gamers alike.
The concert plays with the biggest and the best symphony orchestra that its host city has to offer: the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
This is Video Games Live's third go around in Indianapolis with the ISO. With other host orchestras, the concert has played all over the states, including Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago — as well as London, Paris, Poland and China.
Discovering new worlds
Inspiration will take on an epic visage when VGL occupies the huge arena of Conseco Fieldhouse (last year the event was held at Hilbert Circle Theatre). Three huge screens dominate the space, along with special lighting and lasers. VGL makes video a major part of the concert experience, blending the cinematic side of video games with the warmth of live classical music. The show's rendition of the Halo theme is a great example. In one VGL production, the theme was played while the first-person-shooter's (as well as its first sequel's) cinematic scenes were shown on the big screen.
Halo fans will happy, but not every gamer invests hours into that particular game, let alone its genre, infamous for big guns, tons of violence and sometimes enough horror to make Charles Manson look like the dad from The Brady Bunch. For VGL variety is key, as well as a reach that spans the history of video games and the music that has become iconic — or is relatively obscure.
God of War, Civilization IV, Shadow of the Colossus, Chrono Trigger, Kingdom Hearts, Sonic and Myst help fill out the extensive list of music the ISO is getting its hands on. The enclave of Nintendo fans gets Mario, Zelda and Metroid out of the deal, plus an interactive segment starring everyone's favorite digital simian, Donkey Kong. On top of all that, the winner of a Guitar Hero competition during the pre-show festival will play a song onstage with Tallarico and the ISO during the show.
Each VGL concert goes through changes, keeping the music varied, according to Tallarico. He estimates the show is 80 percent different than either of its two previous iterations in Indianapolis.
Tallarico's driving force behind the show is to reach the people who may not see the entertainment genre of gaming as culturally significant. He maintains that video games are "just as significant as any form of art out there."
The music in VGL is different than its film countertype. Tallarico says music in film is more of a background feature, while music makes up the foreground in video games because it constantly drives the action: "We get the action scene every level."
Action aside, the music should resonate with the crowd. "They hear a sense of nostalgia and community," Tallarico says. The audience can become emotional, something Tallarico said is not something easily explained on a poster or in a commercial for the event.
Tallarico said playing with orchestras lends the concert a sense of legitimacy. "Not only does it help us, it helps them [orchestras] to usher in a whole new generation to see a symphony for the first time."
The successful merging of these two formidable genres has surprised even the people working directly with the concert series — and even to experienced musicians who have played music considered to be some of the best compositions of all time.
Geoffrey Lapin is a cellist with the ISO. He's played both previous VGL concerts, and also remembers hearing the clicks and clacks of old school video game music. He says he's been astounded by the music that comes with VGL and looks forward to the move from Hilbert to Conseco Fieldhouse.
"The music was just incredible because it is pretty much big symphonic music scores like you have for a big movie, except it's for this new form of entertainment to symphony audiences being that it is for gamers," Lapin says.
He adds that the music rivals scores composed by John Williams – stuff that Lapin will be quick to tell you is challenging to plenty of seasoned musicians.
"It was also very well written. The people who wrote the music knew what they were doing, which is also something that you don't expect," Lapin says. "You would think somebody is just coming in and putting stuff down on paper. No, this is well-crafted, this is well thought out by people who are real pros."
Lapin gets to work with one of those gaming industry professionals, too, as Tallarico conducted both shows with the ISO in their entirety.
"He [Tallarico] enjoys it. That in itself is better than having some pick-up conductor come in. He knows his stuff. He loves his stuff," Lapin says.
Conducting is more than just waving a stick around to keep the orchestra in sync, Lapin explains.
"They are showing us [the orchestra] or they have told us how they want things to be, and when they can glue it together and when they're committed and they love it as much as he does, it makes it more exciting."
All these pieces add up to make Video Games Live what it is: visuals from iconic games, audience interaction and a symphonic orchestra providing the key piece that everyone should enjoy, according to Lapin.
"Even if you don't know anything about gaming or you're not into the visuals, just sit there and bask in this great music."
Video Games Live
Aug. 7, 2010, 7:30 p.m.
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
For tickets:317.639.4300 or Ticketmaster.com
Tickets start at $15