Video Games Live: Leveling Up With Tommy Tallarico

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tommy Tallarico is no novice in the video game industry. He has been a composer of video game music for over 23 years, and has worked on over 300 video games (a Guinness World Record). His prolific catalogue of works includes titles like Earthworm Jim, Disney’s Aladdin, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and franchises like Madden, Mortal Combat, Metroid Prime, and many more (thus the Guinness Record).

11 years ago, Tallarico (and Jack Wall) began a labor of love called Video Games Live, a tremendous symphonic and visual spectacle with a focus on audience interactivity. The whole point of this undertaking for Mr. Tallarico was to “prove to the world how culturally significant video games have become.”

Tallarico describes Video Games Live as “all of the greatest video game music of all time, played by a full symphony and choir. But what makes it really special and unique is that everything is completely synchronized to massive video screens, rock and roll lighting, special effects, a stage show production, and interactive elements with the crowd. So, I kind of like to describe it as having all the power and emotion of the symphony orchestra, but combined with an energetic excitement of a rock concert mixed together with the cutting edge visuals, and interactivity, and technology, and fun that video games provide. I wanted to create a show for everyone whether you are into video games or not; you will come to this show and have a great appreciation and understanding about the video game industry.”

From the outset Tallarico was intent on creating a unique experience based on the above mentioned video game qualities. Far from a classical symphonic concert experience, Tallarico encourages audience members of VGL shows to show their appreciation for the performance by cheering and yelling as they see fit. According to him, “the musicians on stage appreciate it too. When that audience is going crazy I don't care if you’re a violin player or guitar player; when you feel that energy coming off the audience you tend to raise it up a notch. I never understood why everyone had to be so quiet during classical concerts. It makes it boring.”

The audience interaction of a VGL concert actually begins well before the performance. Tallarico has 120 segments prepared for VGL shows but can only use about 18 a night. Feedback is pulled from Facebook, Twitter, and the mailing list survey from to determine what the set list should be. This means ultimately that VGL has never been the same show twice. The novel way it is constructed makes each show a unique snapshot of the attendees’ interests in their region at that particular time.

Video Games Live has seen great popularity and success with it’s ongoing international tour and 2 albums, Video Games Live and Video Games Live: Level 2. Currently, Tallarico is campaigning hard on Kickstarter to fund the next iteration of VGL. The music of Shadow of the Colossus, Monkey Island, Beyond Good and Evil, Journey, and Skyrim are already among the offerings.

The funding rewards on Kickstarter project tiers are traditionally modest, as not to overwhelm too much of a proposed project’s schedule or budget. Tallarico bucks this trend in the grand fashion that his VGL shows would lead you to expect, promising funders a value nearly quadrupling what is pledged. In his words, “It is not only a way for funding an album, our idea is that we want to give back to our supporters as much as possible, we are not making any money off it. We are just putting out the content, oh and by the way, you give us 10 bucks and here is a whole bunch of video game music that we want you to promote and spread around for us too. So it's not just the album, we are giving you everything that we have ever done, so it's pretty cool.”

Tallarico’s generosity and connection with his audience is clear not just from the awesome Kickstarter rewards, but also from two experiences that we touched on in interview. When asked about his favorite way to interact with an audience, “The Guitar Hero segment is something incredible, [  ] We have a competition before the show and whoever scores the most points before the show gets to come up on stage and play. They have to score a certain amount of points and if they win, they win a big prize. [  ] While they are playing on screen, the game, I am actually playing real guitar along with them and the symphony is playing along with us. You have 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 people cheering this person from the audience and he or she is doing amazing incredible things, they won the completion so clearly they are very good. And that just brings the house down, you know? Because, it's like they actually do become a Guitar Hero for like 5 minutes, right?”

And in regards to one of his most memorable moments touring with VGL, “In 2008 we played in Taiwan and it was the year that China had the Olympics. China, as you may or may not know owns Taiwan, [Referring to the complicated political relationship between Taiwan and mainland China] […] So during the Olympics and the opening ceremony, China didn't allow Taiwan to bring their flag. When they had to march they had to have the Chinese flag, and it was a depressing time for people in Taiwan. They were really upset and we played in Taiwan the night after the opening ceremony. We played right in front of 15,000 people. And for the encore, I brought out the Taiwan flag. So I am like the American that is in their country [  ] they were kind of in this funk and then I ran across the stage with the Taiwan flag. We've played to 100,000 people; I have never heard it as loud as that. It was hurting my ears; people were screaming and cheering for like 2 or 3 minutes straight. And people were like crying in the aisles, they were falling over and stuff. It was amazing; it was really emotional for everyone there. To say like, this person who is not even from our country recognizes the hurt that we are feeling. So that was like the best moment ever.”

Tallarico’s Kickstarter of Video Games Live: Level 3 is a natural step for a project so centered on audience inclusion. VGL actively emphasizes and celebrates an important component of gaming culture. This is an effort worthy of continued support. Take the time to check out the incredible backing rewards on the Video Games Live Kickstarter. It is currently underway with only 7 days to go, ending on Friday September 13th. Help bring this worthy project to fruition; we will all reap the rewards.

Update: If you are hungry for more information about Video Games Live and Tommy Tallarico, take a look at the Reddit AMA he is scheduled to do at 8pm (Eastern Daylight Time) on September 8th