GDC 06: Music makes games go 'round

Video Game Live concert misses a few beats, but catches the essence of what games are supposed to be--fun.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Friday marked the end of the 2006 Game Developers Conference, but some attendees had one more treat in store before the GDC closed its doors on 2006. Developers and fans alike gathered at the San Jose Civic Auditorium that night for an event filled with music from several games, in a special concert titled Video Games Live played by Symphony Silicon Valley.

Video game music is no stranger to the GDC, which devotes an entire lecture track to audio and hosts several panels and roundtables discussing the impact of music in games. Last year's GDC saw the "Dear Friends" concert kick off the conference, featuring music from the Final Fantasy franchise and in part conducted by Nobuo Uematsu, who composed much of the music from the series.

This year's concert was once again played before a sold-out audience, but it had an even more diverse focus on games. Hosted by game composer and event organizer Tommy Tallarico and conducted by co-organizer Jack Wall, the concert gathered together some of the most memorable game themes since the birth of the video game industry. Old classics like the main themes of Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda were played right alongside newer pieces like a medley from the Myst series and the Halo theme song.

Tallarico opened the event with an acknowledgment of the impact of the conference. "Tonight is a very special show, because across the street is the GDC, and I think half the video game industry is sitting right here in these seats." Then as the audience cheered, he jokingly added, "And barely any of them paid for the tickets."

The focus on games was evident even before the orchestra started playing. Concertgoers walked in through the auditorium's swinging front doors and were greeted by mascots Frogger and Sonic the Hedgehog in the lobby, posing for pictures with excited fans.

On either side of the costumed creatures were two separate competitions. One was for playing the rock-god rhythm game Guitar Heroes, where participants tried to get the highest score of the night in the game's most difficult mode. The winner of the rock-off received a limited-edition guitar for the game, signed by members of the Harmonix development team. The other was for best costume of the night, with an award given just before the concert began.

The performance got under way with a medley of classic themes, ranging the entire spectrum from arcade games like Frogger, Galaga, Outrun, Dragon's Lair, and Space Age, to old console games like Duck Hunt, Mike Tyson's Punch Out! and Ghosts 'n' Goblins. The audience applauded for the games it recognized, with the loudest showing of appreciation for classics like Tetris.

From there, the concert transitioned into different segments, sometimes showing a pretaped video clip from the composer or designer introducing his piece and at other times using the actual voice talents used to sing the original piece.

Even industry giants like Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid) and Koji Kondo (Zelda and Super Mario Brothers) contributed segments, with Kondo expressing amazement for the longevity of some of his music. "When I originally wrote the music for Super Mario Brothers, I never would have imagined that people would still want to hear it 20 years later."

The effort to include games in all aspects of the concert was visible throughout the performance, with many songs performed with cutscenes from the games projected onto a screen behind the orchestra and with a coordinated laser light show.

The organizers also chose to focus on what makes games unique--their interactive nature. After the intermission, two people randomly chosen from the audience played Frogger with the orchestra adjusting the music according to how well they were doing. "This is how really rich people play their video games, I guess," joked Tallarico, drawing a laugh from the audience, and a burst of applause.

The night had many other noteworthy moments, which covered several emotions. Here, in no particular order, are some of the highlights.

• Tallarico prefaced the Medal of Honor piece, saying, "Instead of showing actual game footage, we thought it would be cool and unique to play actual World War II footage." This choice led to a very somber mood throughout the piece, as news flashes documented the beginning of the war up to the final celebratory parades after victory and then ended with rows upon row of crosses in cemeteries. In the background, a haunting trumpet solo rose above the orchestra.

• The same idea was used with Kingdom Hearts, where instead of videos from the game, assorted clips from Disney movies were used, displaying each character that was used in Kingdom Hearts. The montage concluded with a shot from Steamboat Willy, the first cartoon starring Mickey Mouse.

• During the Metal Gear Solid performance, Solid Snake came on stage in costume, seen in silhouette. After he sneaked around on stage, search lights similar to the ones in the game caught him in their glare, and the audience laughed appreciatively as an exclamation mark appeared above his head, a clear reference to an in-game feature.

• Martin Leung, better known as the Video Game Pianist, performed a Final Fantasy medley, blending songs from many of the games in the Final Fantasy series. Selections included "To Zanarkand" from Final Fantasy X, "Aeris' Theme" and "One Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII, "Eyes on Me" from Final Fantasy VIII, "Terra's Theme" from Final Fantasy VI, and "Melodies of Life" from Final Fantasy IX. Though his performance wasn't flawless, he drew a standing ovation from the audience for his live solo performance.

In the end, the main strength of the concert was its entertainment, not its professional quality. The relaxed performance didn't go perfectly, with the orchestra badly missing the beginning of the Sonic segment, forcing the conductor to go back, something that is almost unheard of in professional symphonies. Various solos had mistakes, and some of the transitions were spotty at best. But these problems were only minor nuisances--the concert was fun.

Tallarico concluded the night with a look to the future. "The video game industry is growing massively right now, and we're always looking for talented people. Hopefully next year I'll see some of you over at the GDC. You can learn more in four days at GDC than four years of college." As the audience chuckled, he added, "I probably shouldn't have said that."

And then the audience filed out, with the notes of the main theme of Halo still echoing in their heads.

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Discussion

82 comments
ForlornHope
ForlornHope

man that woudl have been wonderful just awesome

IgnatiusX
IgnatiusX

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

KamaKase
KamaKase

I wish it would tour the UK. The closest any game music concert has come was Germany......I would've gone too if it weren't for the date. Grrrrr.....

DarkHero1
DarkHero1

I love video games music, it's superb.

rasds
rasds

Some music on the games are cool

3xperienced
3xperienced

Music should be more concentrated, as it makes games feel better

Skylock00
Skylock00

It really upsets me that the orchestra made some of the mistakes that it did during the performance on Friday. The problem was that the same symphony had a performance of Mozart's Requim towards the beginning of the week, and had to turn around and perform this concert in less than a week. Chances are they had minimal, if any, rehersal time, which lead to some of the mistakes (namely missed melodic lines, and timing issues). If I was Jack Wall or Tommy Tallarico, I would have been mighty upset with this orchestra for their performance on Friday night...

SunnySimantov
SunnySimantov

There should've been Sims songs! God, I loved those Sims1 AND Sim2 songs.. they rocked (of course, once I put in my songs it rocked far much more)

cloudstrife815
cloudstrife815

whoa. what ar the odds? I was litening to One WInged Angel, from Final Fantasy VII, just as i read teh article.

satlan69
satlan69

I dig the MGS music ....

guardianlegend7
guardianlegend7

Ya, I was there too. Great fun. Didn't enjoy half the music, but ehh I knew that was gonna happen going in ;) I saw a girl dressed up as Samus Aran. She looked great. Samus, call me! You can scan me with your visor any day of the week! Hubba hubba. Eh... heh.

Fleet3000
Fleet3000

i want a recording of this....SO BADLY!!!!!!!

Jackrm
Jackrm

Minibosses should play, they rule over all the other garage-videogame bands.

AngelOfDeath08
AngelOfDeath08

If i could go i would...... but im stuck here in texas.. o well sounds kool anyway!

h2887
h2887

the exact reason i want to get into the industry!!!! i wish that was filmed

ericcartman3722
ericcartman3722

I hate video game music. Accept the mexican chocobo theme song :P

Suffere
Suffere

Nice the Mario Brothers Tune Rulez!!!!!!

christianrrf
christianrrf

Max Payne 1 and 2 soundtracks are among the best video games music

Unassigned
Unassigned

No RAP (HIP-HOP) please. It's sooooo 90's...even then not alot of people liked it. .

sabru8
sabru8

cool, wish i were there.

RealWreckless
RealWreckless

Wow! After reading this story I wanna go now! The next show here in SoCal is September 21'st at the Hollywood Bowl. I just bought my tickets!!! Can't wait!

Jonny_Waffle
Jonny_Waffle

The concert was loads of fun, and uberly nostalgic. They're right, though, there were some flaws and hitches, but you really don't care. The Metal Gear portion was by far the best segment, and the Medal of Honor was rather touching. I'd suggest anyone who can go to this concert does so, it's a blast.

juvinwo1
juvinwo1

been to one of these, it was fantastic, really is another world to hear all those songs in a live orchestra.

remmbermytitans
remmbermytitans

yeah someone needs to make a live, video game tv show so that we can see stuff like this, this looks AWESOME......

mantismathew
mantismathew

Hey Gamespot, Please post the music and\or video for this concert. It would be awesome to hear. As a musician and a freak gamer, I love the old school music, plus it would be cool to hear the choir sing the seeeeeeegaaaaaaaa line.

aka_hal
aka_hal

Ouch! An orchestra missed an entrance and had to go back? You NEVER hear about things like that. I suppose it's a good thing none of them had to pay to see it.

gojira_x
gojira_x

I saw it in Seattle. They flashed lights in my face. It was annoying.

janco15
janco15

i wish i could have gone

mat016
mat016

I like the music from halo 2 and the classic stuff like mario and zelda it just brings back memories oh yeah and chrisdojo SWITCHFOOT IS GAY!!!

jonnyjd
jonnyjd

This sounded like a fun time. Too bad I couldn't be there.

RenegadeZero
RenegadeZero

Whilst this is good news, I personally would rather attend the Play! Symphony run by professionas who also did More Friends. Fantastic Orchestration and composer guests as well!

cal_hooper
cal_hooper

Man, if I had known... That would have been tight to see! Keep on rockin'!

Wulfei
Wulfei

I wish I had a car >.

KiLLer_ba
KiLLer_ba

Awesome, I wish i was there to here the fantastic music.

gibb1
gibb1

cool, I think Fifa Street 2 has the best soundtracks that ever been made for a game.

BenderUnit22
BenderUnit22

Wish I could've heard that FF medley, I'm listening to those very songs almost every day.

umaque
umaque

sometimes music games such as halo and Final Fantasy give me chills man cause they can convert feelings into songs man

umaque
umaque

Without music the game would just be ........................... nothing.................. no feeling..................

PureWhite
PureWhite

though i attended that GDC i was not able to stay for the concert, my plane flew out early on firday. i wish i could have went.

Night_Frost
Night_Frost

I envy those who went to see the VGM Concert, man, I wish I was there to hear the Halo theme live