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August 2, 2010

Video game music that makes you shiver

Music has always been a vital part of the gaming experience, from the "bleeps" and "bloops" of the old arcade games to the midi soundtracks of the original console generations, to the sweeping orchestral scores of today.  Much of it is iconic, at least to the point where you recognize the game as soon as you hear it (sometimes I still can't get the most addicting song from Dr. Mario out of my head).

The other day, I was happy that I was catching up on the Game Informer news page, because I discovered this gem: Air Dates for Video Games Live on PBS. After checking out the link for scheduled air times, I discovered that in Washington it was going to be on last night.  I quickly set the recording for the HD version of it.  KCTS in Seattle (and probably all of the other PBS stations as well) are using it as part of their annual pledge drive.  For those of you who don't know, Video Games Live takes video game music and has it played by a large orchestra as well as a choir and other performers.  Images from the video games are projected on a huge screen at the back of the stage, perfectly timed to go with the music being played.

When we started watching it last night, I just sat enthralled.  Creator and video game composer Tommy Tallarico has created something truly brilliant.  My hats off to him.  Watching some of my favourite music (as well as a lot of music I've never heard before but which was riveting all the same) being performed live on stage by an actual orchestra is something almost epic.

Yet I found myself disappointed, too.

Why is that?

The show itself was awesome.  But I wanted more.  I wanted a 90-minute special that was actually a 90-minute special.  Not a 75-minute special with three pledge drive breaks in it to pad it out to 90.  Granted, the PBS guy was interviewing Tallarico in studio, so they were still talking about the concert and its genesis.  I don't know how other PBS stations did it, since apparently Tallarico was live in studio (either that, or they taped it and added the images of "operators standing by to take your call" afterward).  But I want my 90 minutes!!!!!

Secondly, I could have done without hearing the same thing said multiple times all in the span of a few minutes.  Tallarico kept emphasizing how cool it was that KIDS ARE ACTUALLY ASKING THEIR PARENTS TO TAKE THEM TO A SYMPHONY!  And that is a cool thing, but I didn't need to hear it four times in 10 minutes.  Tallarico said it multiple times while he was being interviewed, one time being moments before they went back to the PBS special and he said it on the special itself.  My eyes were beginning to roll so hard they almost fell out of their sockets. Yes, we get it, Tommy!  It's very cool that kids are wanting to go to a symphony for this.  Can we please move on?

I don't want to de-value that point, though.  It does look like a wonderful symphonic experience that kids and their parents (and even grandparents) can enjoy together.  Everybody seemed to be having a blast (though I guess they wouldn't be broadcasting it if they weren't, would they?). It was very cool to see the kid get up on stage and play Guitar Hero to Aerosmith's Sweet Emotion" and watching his friends and family as he was doing it.  Everybody was getting into it, and I can only imagine what was going through the kid's head as he was doing it.  "Don't screw up, don't screw up, don't screw up..."

A lot of great music is included in the special.  There's a Mario Piano medley, an ode to old video games, Halo, a couple of wonderful World of Warcraft pieces, Castlevania, an utterly gorgeous presentation of music from Civilization IV, and so much more.

But yet I was left wanting more.  I guess you have to buy a ticket for that.

The video also has a couple of horrible editing spots, though I don't know if that's because of the cuts back to the pledge drive or not.  There's no sense that the concert is winding down, but suddenly everybody's taking a bow?  And performers are out there taking a bow that we haven't seen?

Colour me annoyed.

Still, the special is a wonderful taste of the show itself.  It definitely makes you want to go see the show yourself, in person.  I missed my chance when it came to Vancouver back in May.

In that sense, I guess the video has done its job.


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