Gamers and non-gamers – let me introduce to you a little something called Video Games Live. Created in 2002 by Tommy Tallarico (a game industry veteran with a Guinness World Record for working on over 300 video games), VGL is ‘an immersive concert event featuring music from the greatest video games of all time’. Geeky? Oh yes, indeed. But it’s that which has brought it critical acclaim, and united closet gamers and soundtrack lovers, for over ten years.
Yesterday’s show at the Manchester Apollo (much to my friends’ excitement, the first time they’ve been to Manchester and their first UK show in six years) was no exception. For those who are easily offended by Manchester stereotypes, or simply can’t take 700 words of pure nerdgasm, look away in horror.
After the inevitably-long cueing, we took our seats (and various Snapchats, might I add), and waited in joyful anticipation. Before the show started, the audience (filled to the brim with 3DS clutchers and memorabilia sporters) was greeted with a rather humorous video of Miss Pac Man frantically running through New York to escape a set of determined Ghosts. It helped to put my pre-conceptions of this being a pretentious night at the theatre at ease.
Once the chuckles had ceased, the show was ready to begin. The host was none other than wise-cracking American, and founder of VGL, Tommy Tallarico. Supporting him was charismatic conductor Emmanuel Fratianni (who recently worked on The Amazing Spider Man 2 soundtrack), accompanied by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra.
In terms of the show content, it consisted of 20 famous videogame soundtracks, all of which were selected by audience members on the event’s Facebook page. That meant that, despite having not heard of some of the pieces, there was a little something for everyone – Halo, Sonic the Hedgehog, Castelvania and Uncharted 2, to name a few.
As wide-ranging as the catalogue was, there were certainly some standout choices. The Metal Gear Solid soundtrack, for example, was an incredibly moving collection of music, thanks to the combination of various elements: a combination of good sound and lighting, an impressivesound from the orchestra and a cleverly combined footage reel of all (possibly most) of the MGS games – not to mention a cheeky box cameo on stage from Mr Tallarico.
This setup was a popular choice for most of the night, using it to different degrees for the various soundtracks. Again, like the beginning, each song was separated using a range of delightfully nerdy videos, mostly the hilarious range of videogame crossover videos from Danoe Boe. Not only that, but there was room for some guest appearances in the form of singer Riva Taylor and YouTube sensation Random Encounters.
As big a fan as I was of this formula, it did bring with it a few disappointments. Uncharted, as wonderful as the orchestra was, only used footage from Uncharted 2 as the background display. Granted, most of the music played was from that game, but it would’ve been nice to incorporate footage from other titles, considering Mega Man’s entry showed footage from all of his games up to ten.
Another slight let down was in regards to some of the lighting and sound. During the iteration of Final Fantasy: VII’s final boss battle, there was a distorted noise coming through (it sounded rather like Velcro), which took away from the epic ambiance of the orchestra. Not only that, but some of the players of Random Encounters were blocked from view from lack of spotlighting.
And finally, without attempting to get the gaming community up in arms, I wasn’t completely won over by the cosplay Powerpoint montage during the background of Final Fantasy: VII. Now I’m all for encouraging gamers to cosplay, but when it stands out completely from the rest of the show and doesn’t quite compliment the music that was going on, it made me feel uncomfortable. Still, each to their own.
Despite my nitty-gritty comments, the night ended in, quite possibly, the most magical way possibly – a karaoke version of Still Alive. It’s an undisputed fact that nothing brings an entire venue full of gamers together quite like singing about Aperture Science and cake. Follow that with a series of encores (all of which contained suitably geeky in-jokes and gamers swaying their lit-up devices in the air like 21st century lighters) and a post-show panel, and you have this – an event put on solely for the dedication and celebration of musicians and gamers everywhere.
Tommy Tallarico pretty much summed this event, and any future Video Games Live events, in one sentence: ‘Some people think video game music is just bleeps and bloops… well, it’s not – it inspires people’.
For those who hold their stereotypes about these kind of events, or just video game music in general, might I suggest that you put that in your pipe and smoke it? Or listen to some of the listed gaming soundtracks, to be less rude.