10 March, 2007

Video Games Live: The Pictures

lobby entrance

more lobby

setup before the show

Koji Kondo waves to the fans as they wave back with cell phones and DSses (click to enlarge although it will still be super blurry :)

CD for Koji (hope he got it)

world's blurriest picture of Shigeru Miyamoto

me with kain cosplayer

me with the reaver

Video Games Live: The Meet and Greet

As I mentioned in my last post, the meet and greet didn't take place before the show. It took place afterwards. This was somewhat unfortunate as Koji Kondo had to go before I could give him the CD I burned of Jason Cox's Super Mario World tribute album. Tommy Tallarico was nice enough to say he would forward it to Nintendo PR though, so hopefully Koji will still get it.

Alex Brandon wasn't available. I loved his Deus Ex soundtrack, even going so far as to use "The Illuminati" as the background for a Toastmasters speech. Also, he did an interview in 2001 where he said it would take him at least 5 years to reach legendary status. I was curious to know if he thought he'd made it.

Also, John Romero wasn't there. I took some of my undergrad at Sierra College, near where he grew up in Rocklin, and played boatloads of DooM 2 deathmatch back in the day. My friend Chris and I even authored a full 32 level deathmatch megawad. Regardless of what you might say about his subsequent output, he gave us deathmatch. I would have liked to shake his hand.

I'm guessing they may have been told the meet and greet was at 7pm too and couldn't just hang out until 11pm.

Regardless, there were a lot of people to talk to.

There were four composers from Sony, all currently working on God of War 2. Sony tends to shuffle people around a lot. That seems to give the creative types a lot of variety in their work, and they seemed to enjoy that.

Not to be outdone, the LucasArts four were there as well. I didn't get to ask Michael Land his feelings about the new Sam & Max games, but Clint Bajakian and Larry Oppenheimer were personable and informative. Perter McConnell also had stories about band wrangling for Full Throttle that were entertaining (if mildly disconcerting).

In contrast to these "in house" teams there were freelance teams like Rob Abernathy and Jason Graves. There were a couple teams like this there. They usually featured composers of disparate ages, which makes sense if you want to be able to market yourself broadly. I'm probably just a sentimental chump, but I like to think the old guys are sharing a lot of wisdom and experience with the newer generation as well.

I didn't say too much to Spencer Nilsen, composer for Ecco the Dolphin, but I saw that a fan brought an Ecco CD for him to sign. I suppose I could have brought my Ecco and Ecco 2 carts, but I'm not much of a signature collector.

Tom Salta, composer for the GRAW series also turned me onto Game Music Radio, which should make my work days go by a little faster.

Richard Jaques hadn't heard of the Sega poll to bring back an old franchise. Even though he composed for Samba de Amigo, he was thrilled to hear that NiGHTS into Dreams was winning the race.

I got to ask Sasha Dikiciyan about the Faith No More influence on the Quake II soundtrack. He was completely candid in saying that Faith No More and Metallica were the sounds he was asked to go after. He even went a step further and admitted that the "nothing but metal" approach probably overstayed its welcome in that game. Thinking back on it now, I think I understand what was happening. After the industrial ambiance of Quake, id was probably trying to get back to the rockin' out style of DooM. Of course, even DooM didn't use 100% rock, and that was probably Quake II's problem. In more recent (and relevant) news, he and his partner Cris Velasco are working on Hellgate: London, which I'm looking forward to.

Lennie Moore, who scored the only voxel rendered game I ever loved, Outcast, was a joy to talk to. I assume orchestras in eastern Europe are less expensive than orchestras here because Lennie and many others had trips to Moscow or Prague to discuss. The composer for Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30, Stephen Harwood Jr. may even have spent time in the same internet cafe where I very first played the game, in Prague. :O

I got to talk with voice over artist Dee Baker about how much training it takes to stay employed in his line of work. I'm still amazed at the technique involved in making those sounds. My largely untrained voice would tear itself up trying to make those sounds.

Russel Brower, audio director and composer for The Burning Crusade, was cheerful and fun, although he could neither confirm nor deny that the Barrens music contains a phrase from "Do You Really Want My Love" by the Pointer Sisters. :)

One of the most lively conversationalists on the panel had to be Ken Lobb from Microsoft. He's a studio manager there. My understanding is that his job title could also be "Microsoft's liaison to Rare", which is funny because that's exactly the same job he did for Nintendo back in the day.
We talked a bit about Viva Piñata. I thought someone had said there wasn't new content being released for the game, but Ken seemed to imply that it was a steady stream that would not be dying down in the near future. He was also jazzed about the franchise getting more traction in Europe. I think he said the cartoon, which is doing well in the states, was about to begin its run in Europe. Regardless, he's a booster and looking forward to sequels to Viva Piñata down the road.

He also had some interesting things to say about Crackdown. I haven't played the game, but being a big fan of Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, I was keen to hear his thoughts on the similarities between the two. He freely admitted that inspiration was drawn from the game and then turned around and said that he felt Mario was a bigger influence. He went into more than a little detail talking about how the architecture in the game was always built with the 5 possible levels of jumping in mind to try and make simply moving through the game world enjoyable in and of itself. I believe he even called Crackdown a platformer once or twice. I'm sure he wasn't trying to take anything away from the driving and blowing stuff up elements, though. :)

Finally, I got to talk to meet the organizers, Jack Wall and Tommy Tallarico. I blanked on what to say to Jack. He did fine work conducting and I at least said that much. But I forgot to thank him for telling me when to clap with the way he held his baton. :)

Listening to the young man after me in the line (Chris), I heard Tommy say that he's got a new review show which is playing in Europe and should be coming to an internet near you, so look out for that.

Overall the meet and greet was a wonderful experience. I got to talk with more people who enjoy their work than I have ever spoken to before. :)

I also talked to Vertexguy and was not the first to tell him that the guitar volume was too low. :)

Video Games Live: The Concert

Oy gevalt! Where to begin?

I'll try to take it chronologically, just to stay sane. But first, have some bare bones context.

Video Games Live is a concert of video game music. The performance I attended was Friday, March 9th, 2007. It was held at the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco. And it followed directly on the heels of the Game Developers Conference. And, it being San Francisco, I got somewhat lost on the way. But that's also partly because Google mistook Nob Hill Masonic Center for Masonic Avenue, and I didn't double check it's work.

Regardless, I arrived on time. Actually, I arrived really early. The web site said there would be a pre-show meet and greet from 7-8, but there wasn't. On the plus side, I got to thank Robert Khoo for all the hard work he puts in on PAX, which I hope to attend again this year.

The show proper kicked off with a montage of arcade game history. From the stacatto clarinet hits of pong through the symphonic arrangement of Donkey Kong, they covered games from 1970 through 1988. There were a couple games I didn't recognize, but by and large it was a great trip down memory lane.

I don't remember all the games and all the songs we heard, so I'll just tell you the parts that stood out.

Tommy introduced Hideo Kojima. The fans were breathless. Were we going to see Kojima and Kondo on the same night!? No. Kojima was pre-recorded. They played the theme to MGS2 while scenes from all the MGS games played on the screen and a guy dressed up as a guard wandered around. He had a rig on his back to pop an exclamation point up over his head. The crowd enjoyed it. Also we had "Snake" in a cardboard box sneaking around. The box stayed on stage through the whole next number, after which Tommy Tallarico popped out. Props to the man in the box. :)

And serious props to the orchestra. I downloaded an mp3 of that song back in the day and listened to it on a loop at work. Their performance sounded exactly the same. I had to remind myself to keep looking at the orchestra just to let the feeling of live performance settle in. In some ways I would have preferred not having the video screen to look at.

Speaking of the video screen, Square Enix sucks. They have the most rabid fanbase going by cosplay accounting. But they won't let VGL use any of their footage. In most cases VGL was only using footage from the attract mode of these games anyway. It's not like it would be any work on Sqeenix's part. I mean Disney coughed up scads of footage for the Kingdom Hearts song. Is Sqeenix more worried about its IP than Disney? Not bloody likely.

At one point Tommy introduced Koji Kondo. The crowd went nuts, but then Koji came up on the screen. Fear. Disbelief. But luckily they stopped the clip and brought Koji out. He announced the Zelda montage and walked off. That was pretty disappointing, but we hadn't seen the last of him yet.

Also in the first half of the show we had a costume contest (The guy with the acrobatics won, though I would have liked to have been able to vote for Serious Sam and was happy to see Kain and his Soul Reaver onstage.) and a game of space invaders where Kain moved back and forth while somebody in the booth kinda sorta moved the ship in response to his movements.

At some point (I think it was in the first act), Vertexguy (Chris Kline) came out and played the jungle theme from Contra while an NES Contra montage played in the background. It was fun. There was much throwing up of horns, even by the characters onscreen at one point. There was also a good deal of yelling. I think that's partly because Vertexguy had friends in the audience and partly because gamers are an... interactive bunch. I enjoy that about us, but I'm not sure it sends the right impression to the straights. Oh well.

Another segment who's location in the show I'm not sure of was a song from Medal of Honor. It was accompanied by newsreel footage from WWII. After Zelda and Donkey Kong, it seemed a little too real.

The intermission is awesome. There's a loading screen to let you know how long it will be. :)

Just before the second act, a small dream of mine came true. Shigeru Miyamoto and a small group who I can only assume were Nintendo folk came in and sat across the aisle. It was fabulous to be able to look over once in a while and see him laughing and smiling. I knew I wouldn't have a chance to speak to him afterwards. He wouldn't want to take the spotlight from Koji. And that's exactly how it went down. Class. Act. :)

We saw a clip of Yuji Naka and heard the end credit medly from Sonic 1, while scenes from most of the Sonic games were displayed. Yes, even Sonic Spinball.

We got to have a nice focus on the choir with a performance of the Civ IV theme song. I think the male lead fell off the pace a bit during his solo, but it was still great to hear.

The World of Warcraft theme also gave the choir some work and was accompanied by Blizzard's immaculate cinematics.

We had a number from Tallarico's own Advent Rising. I'll have to check that game out. It looks like one of those where the gameplay doesn't match the production values, but the production values (story, music, and acting) are super nifty.

Martin Leung dazzled us throughout the second half. I hope he gets some money for the ridiculous amount of time he puts into his work. I mean, the guy freaking played the death sound from Pac-Man... ON A PIANO! And I got to shake that hand. How cool is that?

Koji played some piano too. He's not a virtuoso like Martin, but it was heartwarming to watch him play, and his downtempo jazz versions of the Mario tunes were nice.

For the encore the orchestra played some Halo music. I loved the opening choir section and watching the cellists dig into to the main theme.

For the finale we heard One-Winged Angel for the second time. (Martin Leung also played it as part of a Final Fantasy montage.) The volume was way too low, especially on the guitars. I was ten rows back and I could hear Tallarico's string noise, but not his actual notes.

Tech glitch aside, it was a fabulous concert, and I felt priveleged to attend it. I'm a cheap bastard (and a CAG), but I felt the ticket was worth every nickel.