The day was Saturday the 25th of November 2006; the time was 17:25 pm. I had just finished speaking to Tommy Tallarico, co-writer and Executive Producer of Video Games Live and was making my way to the bar for a little pre-show drink. To my right, a solitary Wii unit was being set-up, surrounded by Journalists and staff hovering with intent. I edged forward to get a closer look, eager to get a first little glimpse at the console I’d waited so long to play. As I got within an inch of my target a drum roll rumbled from the main stage behind me. A soft, enticing choral sound stopped me in my tracks. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and shivers coursed their way down my spine; the title screen music from Halo had never sounded sweeter…
Tonight marked not only the first appearance of Video Games Live in the UK, but the first time any sort of event of this kind had been arranged full stop. The phenomenon that had already swept across the United States and made several stops around the world finally touched down in the Hammersmith Apollo in London. It wasn’t just a chance to hear fully orchestrated versions of classics that have followed us through so many digital adventures but a celebration of video game culture itself. People came in costume or in T-Shirts emblazoned with various video gaming icons, chatting unashamedly about the latest games with people they’d never met before. Several hundred crowded around the lonely Wii in the foyer hoping to get a chance to wave the controller like a Tennis racket or bowling ball. Those who had taken to their seats pulled out a DS or two and one by one the rows became lit by a thousand dual screens; Pictochat rooms were soon full and bursting with Wii jokes, drawing contests and requests for Tetris matches.
When the first segment, a retro medley (compiled by British musician Richard Jacques who worked on many Sega titles), appeared on the big screen above the stage, DS’ were snapped shut and the crowd erupted in applause as Pong played out before them. Other classics joined the fray, with Space invaders and Donkey Kong getting huge cheers. Classic NES and Sega titles Punch out and Outrun, along with Rastan and Ghouls & Ghosts following shortly after. Is was great to see some of these old titles again after so many years and even better to hear the old themes, previously limited by their respective hardware, performed by a full orchestra. One of the purposes of VG Live is to put older games back in the spotlight, delighting fans and introducing younger gamers to a wider history that most had missed out on.
As each segment played, beautifully orchestrated music was accompanied by video montages of some of each game’s most memorable scenes. The result was nothing short of amazing, gamers could relive favourite moments as they appeared or simply close their eyes and let the majestic score take them back through a sea of memories. Anyone doubting the validity of classing video games as art needs to visit this show. Indeed, the enthusiastic applause that greeted each and every game show just how much the music and the memories they conjure up means to so many.
There were so many highlights throughout the evening and the favourite moments for each attendee would probably be very different. The opening Metal Gear Solid piece started the night off with a powerful rendition of the series’ main theme, introduced by the creator Hideo Kojima via video. Not only was the video sequence, featuring clips from Solid Snake’s 3D adventures (and some clips from the upcoming fourth game) superbly put together but on the stage itself a skit involving a guard and a cardboard box brought huge cheers from knowing fans. The laughs grew when exclamation mark lit up above the guard’s head whenever the box moved around the stage.
The next musical number, Beyond Good & Evil brought with it a surprise appearance from Michel Ancel who confirmed that he was bringing his team together to discuss a sequel to the superb yet overlooked original. Medal of Honour displayed a poignant video of clips from WW2 as the orchestra played a sombre piece from the first game. This was followed by an uplifting African choral piece from Civilisation 4 and British-composed duo Headhunter (Richard Jacques) and Tomb Raider (Nathan McCree).
Fan favourites Zelda and Final Fantasy disappointed slightly; the Zelda piece was the exact same composition performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra on the Orchestrated Ocarina of Time CD and FF7’s classic ‘One Winged Angel’ was minus a video display. Both were still great pieces and delighted the audiences and the lack of video was down to SquareEnix’s reluctance to allow any in-game footage to be shown.
But this was a show with very little to really complain about and the second half performance was just as great, if not better than the first. After an amusing Frogger competition held on stage, complete with on-the-fly music from the orchestra, Kingdom Hearts’ main theme took the audience through a montage of the Disney characters featured in the game albeit through clips from their respective films. Tracks from Myst and Warcraft were well received by the crowd and the Sonic and Mario medleys whipped the Sega and Nintendo fan-boys into a frenzy. Both iconic characters were treated to lengthy renditions of their most familiar themes and were largely regarded as the show’s highlights. And if that wasn’t enough to please the crowd, the finale Halo piece sent them into the stratosphere. A final encore for the Halo 3 trailer music was the icing on the cake and capped a magnificent night of entertainment.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, and the one that garnered the most applause, was when Tommy brought out one of gaming’s biggest cult heroes, the Video Game Pianist, Martin Leung. He had shot to fame on Ebaumsworld when he posted a video of himself playing the Mario Bros tune blindfolded and had now been invited to take part in the world’s biggest celebration of video game music. His first set was a whistle stop tour through some of Nobuo Uematsu’s finest works from the Final Fantasy series including the main theme from FF7 and Kefka’s theme from FF6, although the brilliant Zanarkand from FFX was notable for its absence. When he was called back on stage after the Mario medley, Martin replayed the moment that had brought him into the public’s eye, performing the Mario Bros blindfolded. He followed that with tunes from Mario World and the GB version of Tetris played at an incredible speed.
VG Live has done so much in one night. It brought together four-thousand people in a celebration of music and video game culture; it made the general media sit up and take note of a form of entertainment all too easily passed off as ‘just for kids’; it introduced gamers of all ages to music and experiences that they’d perhaps missed out on; it rekindled the passion for games in a jaded gamer I know who’d all but forgotten just how powerful and memorable the medium could be. And I bet it’s inspired more than a few people to pick up an instrument and play a tune or two from their favourite game.
The true impact of VG Live will be seen years from now, when sell-out performances of the music of Zelda sit proudly alongside the latest Andrew Lloyd-Webber piece in the West-end or Broadway. Soon, Video game composers will be given the recognition and appreciation they’ve deserved for many years; music stores across the world will be full of the latest VG OSTs and Uematsu’s Greatest Hits album will storm the classical music chart.
We are on the cusp of a revolution, and VG Live is the drum roll that has started it all.
This post was originally posted on Eurofusion.