LastNight: Video Games Live at Nob Hill Masonic Center

Categories: Music

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(Photos by Paul Quitoriano)
By Oscar Pascual

Video games have come a long way, baby. Back in the day video games were flat and simple, and so was its music. But somehow developers made due with what they had and delivered classic titles with memorable tunes from Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and the list goes on. Fast forward some 30 years later and video games have risen to cinematic heights, and as evident by the Video Games Live performance last Friday, so has the music.

A pet project of video game music composers Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall, Video Games Live is their annual tour that recognizes the validity and pertinence of game scores by giving symphony orchestra treatments to the best throughout history. Since video games have steadily gained similar production values that extravagant Hollywood projects receive, it was no surprise that Wall and Tallarico conducted no less than John Williams' Skywalker Symphony Orchestra (sans Williams, of course). The two led the impressive collection of strings, brass and a choir to recreate some of the best game scores that have sent gamers that tingly sensation every time they face Bowser, Sephiroth, or the Covenant. And although they've felt that sensation a million times over, it never ceases to inspire goosebumps.

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That's no mistake. The most stunning video game music pieces play heavily on emotion, and have done so as effectively as their movie counterparts. The show's rendition of BioShock's eerie original music showcased a string section that built a heavy tension that makes a hesistant gamer's heart pound before opening that door. In contrast, the tone of Super Mario Bros., played by the precise fingers of pianist Martin Leung, suggested a lighthearted and playful vibe that's just as iconic, if not more, than the Mario franchise itself. Heroic pieces like the music of Metroid, Halo 3, and The Legend of Zelda captured the exact march rhythms that inspire joystick warriors to charge valiantly into battle. In fact, the gap between cinema and video game music was bridged when film composer John Debney, who scored films like Passion of the Christ and Sin City, took the stage to conduct his work from PlayStation 3's dragon adventure Lair.

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However, the heart of video games will always be fun. Tallarico took time out from all the music appreciation to insert some actual gameplay. Audience members were invited on stage to play classic titles like Space Invaders and Frogger on a big-screen projector while the orchestra played the game music in real time. As time counted down, the orchestra would speed up the tempo just like the classic soundtracks as an alert for the player to hurry.

The evening provided for a triumphant night of appreciation of games and music. If the objective of Video Games Live was to push video games as a serious art while leaving all the fun intact, then I'd say, "Mission accomplished."

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