The Art of the Game: A Profile of Video Games Live with Tommy Tallarico

A new era of entertainment was spawned with the invention of Pong, the now world-renowned "tennis simulation" game that featured not only an absolutely breath-taking monochrome color palette, but also a staggering array of two unique sounds. Sure, Pong may not have captured the world by storm like newer games such as Halo and World of Warcraft, but it began a trend that has been ballooning out of control for over 35 years: a completely new way of immersing oneself in other worlds, beyond what many movies, television shows and even books could ever dream of accomplishing. It wasn't just a way of entertaining oneself—it was a revolution.

Since Pong, all aspects of video games have become increasingly more sophisticated. Titles like Crysis, Mass Effect and hundreds of others create amazingly life-like soundscapes that accompany photo realistic visuals, human-like artificial intelligence and constantly increasing complexities of gameplay. Some games take upwards of six years to create, and almost all high-profile games of today have teams of a hundred or more working day and night to get a finalized product to the eagerly awaiting fans. Professional voice actors and writers complement special effects that rival the best in the movie industry. And when all of the pieces finally come together, the final product is often a legendary game or franchise that is adored by people all over the world.

And yet, with all of the artistic efforts and cutting edge technological advancements being dedicated to these video games, the mainstream media has managed to resist recognizing video games as a true art form for decades. News channels, lawyers and most everyone else have a tendency to seek out possibly controversial content while avoiding altogether the immense artistic values found in games. For years, gamers have quietly accepted this fact, but a new event has surfaced recently that aims to change all that: Video Games Live.

Starting in 2005, Video Games Live introduced the mainstream world to the immense artistic talent involved in video game creation. In a nutshell, local orchestras and choirs play game music from Pong to Starcraft 2. On top of that, light shows and video game footage synchronized with the live music to create a full visual and aural experience. Attendees are also treated to dozens of unique sideshows and activities that happen not only during the concert, but before and after as well. Gamers and non-gamers worldwide have gone into the show not knowing what to expect and have left awe-struck. It's truly an event that needs to be seen to be believed.

Tommy Tallarico, co-founder of Video Games Live and an industry professional for over 18 years, shed some light on this phenomenon. His portfolio includes creating the music and sounds for titles such as Advent Rising, Metroid Prime, Earthworm Jim and Unreal Tournament 2004, among over a hundred other titles. He is also the host of G4's "Electric Playground." Tallarico said that their whole goal with VGL was, "To really prove to the world, not just hardcore gamers, how culturally significant and artistic video games have become. That's why we designed the show the way we did." Straying away from just having a symphony play live video game music, Video Games Live features synchronized video on gigantic screens with light shows, special effects, costume contests and interactivity. Modestly, Tallarico summarized the whole event as "...exciting, fun, and in-your-face."

Tallarico and Jack Wall, another industry icon with over 12 years of experience under his belt, started working on VGL in 2002 with a simple goal in mind: " create a celebration of the whole video game industry. Not just for gamers, but for everyone else." Three years after its inception, their first show was performed in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. "We wanted to come out with a splash," said Tallarico, and it seemed to have worked wonders. The show sold out and was a huge hit with attendees, marking the start of an incredibly unique dedication to the industry of video games. Many different kinds of people attended the show, ranging anywhere from aging grandmas to hardcore gaming nerds and little munchkins tagging along with their families, yet each and every one left the event with a grin from ear to ear.

Of course, it's difficult to really understand the vast scope of Video Games Live without experiencing it firsthand. "I like to sometimes compare us to Cirque Du Soleil and The Blue Man Group," said Tallarico. "Maybe you were like me, the first time you heard of Cirque Du Soleil you had been like, 'What the hell is it? Is it animals? Is it clowns?' It was only after you saw it with your own two eyes...that it started to click in your head what its all about." Tallarico went on to say how, even though live video game concerts have been going on in Japan for over 20 years, nothing has come close to rivaling the scope of Video Games Live. "With [Video Games Live], it was the first time ever that games like Metal Gear Solid, Kingdom Hearts, Sonic, Warcraft, Halo and Myst had ever been performed live anywhere in the world." On top of that, Tallarico added that, "Just within the last couple shows we've added Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Halo 3. We're playing Starcraft 2 right now and that game isn't out for another year or year and a half!" Take those live performances, mix them "with the cutting edge visuals, interactivity, technology, and fun that video games provide," and nothing short of a true memorable, unique, and entertaining festival-like experience could be attained.

Tallarico also addressed the concerns that some of the video games performed may be too violent for the younger audience members to handle. "Mature"-rated games such as God of War, Metal Gear Solid and Halo are featured throughout the event, but no violence is ever shown. "We don't need to show that "M"-rated element. We want to keep the show for everybody. These are all beautiful games, and you don't need to show all the blood and guts in order to get the point across." He emphasized that, "[Video Games Live] puts a lot of pride and effort into maintaining high focus and quality for everyone, whether you're an 8-year-old girl or an 80-year-old grandma." Even the pre- and post-show events, such as the costume contest, celebrity meet-and-greet, and game competitions, are accessible to anyone attending the show. "We don't want to shut it out to just hardcore or modern-day gamers, we want everybody. You'll see 45-year-old moms schooling kids in Space Invaders. It's hilarious."

On top of the live music, light shows and festival activities, Video Games Live takes it a step further by bringing local aspects to each performance. Every effort is taken to obtain the top orchestra in a particular area for the live performance. "We wanted to bring legitimacy to the video game industry," said Tallarico. "What better way, if we're going to Salt Lake City for example, to show the people and community of Salt Lake and Utah that we're using the top freakin' orchestra in the entire state." Video Games Live performances have featured such orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Houston Symphony, and even The National Symphony. "I think that is very important to build legitimacy," Tallarico added, "not only for our project, but for the whole entire video game industry. The other reason of course is that these are the top musicians in the world. You're not playing with the Utah Symphony unless you were the best in your class, all the way from when you were a kid. They are the best people to play this music in that region." Additionally, Tallarico said that the electronic percussion part of the performance is often found locally. "The other thing we do is if there is a local video game cover band, we'll actually invite them to be a part of our show as well." All of these aspects make every performance unique and add a great local touch that can't be said for most all internationally touring performances or shows.

"I would just really drive the point home that this is not just for hardcore gamers," summed up Tallarico's intent. "It's a really fun and exciting show and you don't have to know a darn thing about video games to come out and really be blown away. In fact, this is your opportunity to really open your eyes to what are all about, and to really open your eyes to the 21st century."

Video Games Live will be in Utah for three days and will be performed with the Utah Symphony. Additionally, there will be a slew of high-profile guests from the video game industry (all of which you will be able to meet after the show). The first show will be on March 27 at the Browning Fine Arts Center in Ogden, with ticket prices ranging from $18 to $34. The other two shows will be on March 28 and 29 at Abravanel Hall, with prices ranging from $40 to $82. Bring the whole family, get tickets early (as shows often sell out) and make sure to arrive well before the event actually starts so you can kick some ass in Missile Command and participate in other pre-show activities. Don't miss out on this unique opportunity to participate in video game history, and be sure to check out for more info.