Friday, July 6, 2007

Video Games Live: Detroit Review

As an avid video gamer, I have spent countless hours listening to the music from my favorite games. While many people would consider that to be rather odd, I feel that in today's video game environment, listening to that music is akin to listening to a piece of classical music or a composer's newest symphony.

Many games today are embarking on the trend of using fully orchestrated scores with renowned orchestras in an attempt to bring the player further into the game. An advantage of this revolution is that often times the music is wonderful on its own merits, outside the realm of video games. Which is precisely what Video Games Live attempts and is successful at accomplishing. This was my third video game concert in the last three years and I would unhesitatingly consider this to be the best one.

Prior to the show, an area of Orchestra Hall was sectioned off where people could play Guitar Hero II, enter a costume contest, or play some Halo 2 or Madden sponsored by GameCrazy. This really allowed a sense of fun and enjoyment to overwhelm you prior to the start of the actual concert. There was also some souvenirs that one could purchase in preparation for the meet and greet with the creators after the show. So I picked up a program and a poster.

We went to go sit down and saw people from all walks of life showing up for the event. It was quite interesting to see. The show began with a wonderful medley of classic games from Pong to Donkey Kong to Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts all set to perfectly choreographed video and brand new orchestrations, the likes of which raised the quality of much of the music to realms I had never expected it to. Even the games with which I had no personal connection were wonderful to hear live and knowing the humble beginnings from whence the music came was astounding, especially seeing how far the music has come.

After the medley, Tommy Tallarico came out to pump up the crowd and introduced a video of Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear Solid, talking about the music to his game. This was immediately followed by one of my favorite performances of the evening, a Metal Gear Solid suite. Most of the music came from Metal Gear Solid 2 and if I am not mistaken a little from 3 as well. Hearing this live was truly remarkable. Video from Metal Gear Solid 1, 2, 3, and even 4 was shown to help emphasize the intensity of the music. A man dressed as a Genome Soldier (complete with exclamation point above his head!) ran around searching for Solid Snake. Of course, who could find Snake when he was hiding in a cardboard box just behind the soldier?

Yuji Naka, creator of Sonic the Hedgehog appeared on screen following the MGS Suite and introduced his music. Music from the original Sonic the Hedgehog was played in orchestral form as video from every Sonic game shown above. An excellent piece overall, although I would have liked to hear more from other Sonic games.

The box was still on stage after the piece and out popped Tommy Tallarico to bring a new twist to the evening. A person was pulled out of the crowd to play Space Invaders to the music and he had two minutes to beat the level to win some cash. Unfortunately, this guy was all over the place and won nothing, but it was fun to watch nonetheless.

In another interesting move, the next piece was from Medal of Honor, written by one of my favorite current composers, Michael Giacchino (Lost, Alias, The Incredibles). Instead of playing video from the game, video on loan from the History Channel displayed images of World War II. While never playing the game, I was fond of this music and found the footage to be absolutely moving when compounded with the orchestra.

Next up was a piece from Sid Meier's Civilization IV. Another game I am not familiar with, this was an excellent piece that was punctuated by a young male vocalist singing in a language with which I am not familiar but sounded right at home with the video playing above him.

Of course, what would a video game concert be without some classic Nintendo music? Mr. Tallarico introduced a video from Koji Kondo who introduced a piece from Zelda. The only complaint I have about this piece is that any rabid video game music fan would be familiar with this exact same orchestration, since it has been around for years. While I have never heard the piece live, I knew precisely what to expect because I had heard it before. This is not much of a complaint though, since it was beautiful to hear being played by the DSO and having video from every Zelda game played brought back some wonderful memories.

Coming back from intermission, Kingdom Hearts was next. Since Square would not authorize the use of their video in the concert, VGL went to Disney and used video from all the Disney movies represented in the Kingdom Hearts series. The video was astounding and beautifully choreographed to the music. This was only the "Simple and Clean Orchestration" from the first game, but after hearing the ineffective mash up that was attempted at last year's "Play! Symphony", this version was WHOLLY appreciated.

World of Warcraft came next and in my opinion this was the weakest piece of the night. I have never played WOW so there is no emotional attachment to the music, but hearing it on its own, I was not particularly impressed.

Next up was the Video Game Pianist, Martin Leung who played a suite from Final Fantasy, starting with my personal favorite "To Zanarkand". Running the gamut from a number of different Final Fantasies, I was mind boggled as to how a human being was able to move his hands so fast. Absolutely incredible. He would come out again a few minutes later to play some music from Super Mario World and Tetris. This was completely unexpected and an incredible surprise.

Somewhere around this time, two 8-year-olds were given the opportunity to play Frogger against each other in an attempt to win a $2500 laptop. No 8-year-old needs that kind of laptop, so yes, I'm a little bitter I didn't get the opportunity. Each child claimed he never played Frogger before, but one of them seemed like he may have been lying since the first kid never got to the logs and the second kid was kicking the crap out of the first one. A hilarious and fun moment which was presented with the Frogger music in real time by the orchestra.

Then, Koji Kondo came back on screen to present the Super Mario Bros. piece. This, again, was the same orchestration that has been around for nearly a decade. Despite this, it was still incredible to hear and was glad I got the opportunity to hear it while watching video from numerous Mario games.

The night was coming to an end and Michael Salvatori was brought on stage to introduce what was to be the final music of the night, music from one of my favorite games, Halo. This piece was so awesome and phenomenal to hear. Yet, once it ended, the music from Halo was not over yet, as Tommy Tallarico came out with his Pong-flavored guitar and started rocking out to the Halo 3 announcement teaser. This may have been my favorite piece of the night since I am a Halo nut and hearing all of that put together was almost something out of a dream.

Then, the night ended...wait, not exactly. How could ANY video game concert be complete without a rendition of one of the most overplayed video game tracks of all time? Nobuo Uematsu's "One Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII. While I thought I would be annoyed at hearing the song once again, having Tommy Tallarico on guitar injected a MUCH needed sense of fun that was missing at all other performances of the piece I have ever heard.

This being the third video game concert I have attended, I expected it to be on par with the other two. It wasn't. Bar none, this concert blew "Play! Symphony" right out of the water. Looking back, "Play!" seemed to be a concert put on almost to exploit those who like video game music. Nothing more than another revenue flow. The video was out of sync, sometimes the video did not work at all, and there seemed to be little to no care for the actual compositions. Every piece that "Play!" did that "Video Games Live" did, Video Games Live did better. No question. The music in VGL was more natural and did not attempt to cram entire soundtracks from a game into a 4-minute suite. Sure, there may have been disappointments in that this piece of music was not heard or I wished they played this instead of that, but these are all minor complaints overall. I would rather hear that which is played WELL and works as an individual work than a piece I prefer that is played shoddily.

The VGL production is top-notch. Despite the fact that I paid more than twice as much last year for my "Play!" ticket, I certainly did not get any more than I got here at VGL. The little touches such as yellow, ringed lights being shown during the Sonic suite really gave off an atmosphere of fun that made me smile like I was a little kid again. Prior to the show, I thought the lights were going to be gaudy and overwhelming, but I was incredibly wrong. All it did was add to the atmosphere in ways I did not expect.

The only real complaint I can offer is that it was too short. I wanted more. I wanted more Final Fantasy orchestrations, I wanted Beyond Good and Evil, I wanted Splinter Cell and God of War. Yet, at the same time, they probably were not able to be there all night. I suppose when your worst complaint is that it was not enough, then you came out all right.

After the show, there was a meet and greet with Tommy Tallarico, Jack Wall, Martin Leung, Michael Salvatori, and another composer whose name escapes me at the moment. All of these guys seemed genuinely excited to be there and talk to the fans. There was a passion there that was missing at the prior concerts I attended. These guys are fans like I am and truly wanted to share that love with us. And it makes all the difference in the world.

I leave you with one final note. If you go to one video game concert ever, go to Video Games Live. And if you're debating on whether or not to go to "Play! Symphony" or VGL, if you have the money, go to both. But if you only have enough for one, then pick Video Games Live. Trust me, you'll thank me later.


-Sean Diroff


Unknown said...

Cool to read your review. I know the kid who won the laptop. He's never played the original Frogger, but he is very dedicated to video games (for good or bad). The laptop is his & he uses it, but so does his whole family.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion you have deceived, as child.

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