Since my first childhood experiences with arcade machines and old cassettes, there's an aspect that I haven't paid much attention to, but has shaped the way I enjoy video games: music. The product of sound designers, music in video games is often overlooked as an important part of the gaming experience. In turn, sound designers can be overlooked as well.
This is a bit of a shame because sound designers really do make a large contribution to video games. Everybody remembers the musical themes to their favorite video games. In a world of constant graphic innovation, new gameplay mechanics and elaborate stories, the thing that remains with me are those soundtracks that bring to life those video game universes.
Last Friday I had the chance to pay a tribute to the forgotten heroes. Paying respects to the sound designers and composers that lifted certain titles to world-known tunes. What a better way to bring back joystick memories than with other geeks and gamers at the Royal Festival Hall in the SouthBank Centre in London? Such a great initiative deserved a post here.
The talented composer Andrew Skeet had the privilege of conducting none other than the London Philharmonic Orchestra, interpreting 25 songs from the video game world that have marked history. Presented by the witty Iain Lee, who writes for Retro Gamer, the show included some short introduction about the tracks played, little known facts about the game creator or how a particular piece was chosen for the video game.
The concert started with full orchestra interpretations of Advent Rising: Muse and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, which accompanied by chorus, delighted the audience from the first minute. These were followed by the epic Legend of Zelda main theme, Super Mario Bros (with a Koopa joke included), Little Big Planet and Final Fantasy, demonstrating the taste for retro titles in the crowd present, who cheered and laughed.
The rest of the tribute to video game heroes took a serious note after the interval, which showed that first person shooters are also the games with a bigger budget these days. If the work of Jason Graves set you in the psycho-horror mood playing Dead Space, you should have listened to that “Welcome Aboard the U.S.G. Ishimura” specially re-written for the concert. Songs from Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, World of Warcraft, Halo, 007 Blood Stone and Bioshock demonstrated that sound design in video games has nothing to envy big Hollywood productions - see COD Modern Warfare 2 theme with Hans Zimmer, for instance.
And for the end of the show, the orchestra went back to the more modest soundtracks that have managed to stay in our heads. The version of Alexey Pajitov's song for Tetris (I recall the game only came with three songs for the Gameboy!) was an spectacular metamorphosis of the chiptune melody to orchestral standards, giving the opportunity of every musician to show their best. And right after that, another interpretation of the omnipresent (and rather repetitive) Angry Birds tune.
I hate to admit it, but transforming that mobile game melody into a piece with enough dignity to be played by the London Philharmonic, must have been a fun job. The result was impressive and definitely made me worried about the prospects of an Angry Birds movie - it was proven there’s enough substance to play with there.
Unfortunately I don't have any recording or video of the event - I suspect my neighbour was kicked out after filming Final Fantasy’s with an iPhone. You can find some clips on YouTube, but I'm not sure they'll remain there too long. There will be, however, an actual album with all the performances of the night.
I'd like to thank the organisers of the event for trying such a daring concept at such a high profile level. It was clear to me that although the auditorium was full of geeks and gamers, the appeal of popular culture themes have a al future in classic environments such as this. Even if it was a one-day-only thing, I wouldn't mind attending the show again. If you want to find more information about the composers and games performed, there's also a full list with links.