It seems like the last year has been a really exciting one for VGL,
with PBS and the BluRay release. Do you think VGL has reached it's
biggest audience so far?
2010 was definitely our biggest year in terms of exposure, but each year it keeps growing and getting bigger and better. For example, over the next 4 months we have more shows scheduled (over 30) than we’ve ever had in that time frame. So until it’s a household name (like a Cirque) I still think we have a long way to go.
I’d love to continue doing more DVD’s, Blu-Ray’s, albums, etc. There is definitely enough content. At this point we’ve created over 70 segments for Video Games Live but we can only perform about 18 – 20 per night. And there will always be an endless amount of new and amazing material on the horizon. Just over the past year we’ve added Halo: Reach, Assassin’s Creed II, Uncharted II, Portal, Heroes of Might & Magic, End of Nations, Afrika, etc. Then there are the older games like Street Fighter II and Earthworm Jim that get added as well. I have a list of about 30 game franchises that I still haven’t got to yet. Things like Katamari Damacy, Pac-Man, Monster Hunter, Dragon Quest, and we even get a ton of requests for games like Pokemon and Phoenix Wright. The well to draw from is massive.
Video Games have become the entertainment of choice for a new generation… the entertainment of choice for the 21st century! As the new generations of people start to become older, video games and their music will evolve 100% into our culture and be considered just as culturally significant and artistic as any film or piece of classical music. Video Games Live will continue to grow with the industry. We did 3 shows in 2005, 11 shows in 2006, 29 shows in 2007 and 48 shows in 2008, 55 in 2009. We have over 70 shows planned for 2011 and don’t plan to stop there. Our goal is to continue to make Video Games Live an international sensation and a show to be enjoyed by all walks of life, gamer or non-gamer, young or old, male or female.
How often does the program for VGL change, and how do you decide
which music to use for each new program?
It changes for every single show. After almost 6 years of touring, we’ve never done the same show twice. I get a lot of feedback from the fans from our mailing list, our website forums and now through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Are you witnessing an increased interest in orchestral music
because of younger fans who are excited about the 'video game' part of
the show, and get to experience a live orchestra?
Absolutely! My goal in creating Video Games Live was that I wanted to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become. I didn’t want to just put on a show for hardcore gamers, I wanted to do a show for everyone. Not necessarily even a concert, but a celebration of the video game industry and so the way we designed the show was with everyone in mind.
Video Games Live is all of the greatest video game music of all time played by a full symphony and choir onstage. What makes it really unique is that everything is completely synchronized with big video screens, rock n’ roll lighting, stage show production and interactive crowd elements. It’s all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy and excitement of a rock concert mixed together with interactivity, cutting edge visuals, technology and the fun that video games provide.
You don’t have to know a thing about video games in order to come out to the show and be blown away and have a greater appreciation for video games in general and specifically game music. Most of the letters and emails we get after a performance are from non-gamers. Parallel to that, it’s also ushering in a whole new generation to come and appreciate a symphony which wasn’t our goal and plan from the beginning. We’ll get letters from parents after the show telling us that they took their 8 year old daughter to the show and she wants to start taking violin lessons so she can learn and play the music in our show. The same thing happened to me over 30 years ago when I saw the Rocky & Star Wars movies. For the first time I really paid attention to symphonic music which in turn got me hooked on the masters like Beethoven & Mozart. I believe pop culture can have very positive influences on other (and more classic) forms of art. Video games are one of them. They have evolved into our culture.
I think that if Beethoven were alive today… he would be a video game composer! He wouldn’t be a film composer… he wouldn’t want people talking over most of his music.
There must be some funny stories about working with all of the
different orchestras you get to work with...any flautists get inspired
to breath fire? Any headbanging bassoonists?
I get at least one symphony member to head bang with me during the show. Usually during Final Fantasy VII “One Winged Angel”. They love hearing the crowd roar… especially when it’s a young crowd. They don’t get to experience that kind of reaction too often and they are really appreciative of us and the new audiences we’re attracting to see them perform.
Some of my most memorable moments doing Video Games Live was putting on the very first show at the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic. That was really special. Most people didn’t think a lot of folks would even show up. But over 11,000 people attended that first show and I remember crying in my dressing room before going on stage from being both happy and a little scared because of the intense pressure of making sure it was great and the industry was represented in a positive way.
One of my favorite memories from the road so far is when we were in Taiwan and I carried out the Taiwan flag during our encore. We were playing in Taipei back in 2008 when the Olympics were going on next door in China. China (who owns Taiwan) wouldn’t allow them to fly their flag at the Olympic games and it was a very sad time for the country and people of Taiwan. So when we came out with the Taiwan flag it was a very emotional and uplifting gesture to the audience. We heard roars and applause like never before. People were literally crying in the aisles.
Another great moment is anytime that we play in Brazil. The audiences down there are so appreciative and excited about our shows that they clap, holler, applaud, scream and hum along during virtually every segment in the show.
With your crazy touring schedule are you still finding time to keep
a hand in composing these days?
It’s pretty rare. I’m literally on the road over 300 days a year and the times that I am home I’m always working on something VGL related.
But doing the different arrangements for VGL and editing the videos definitely keeps the creative juices flowing, so I don’t really feel as if I’m missing that kind of element in my life. It’s just intensified because I get to do it in front of thousands of people a night.
This may have been documented elsewhere, but could you briefly describe what led you to
start GANG and why you think it's important?
Clint Bajakian from Sony wrote up a really great history of the beginnings of G.A.N.G. He was there from the start and really did a great job. It’s posted on the G.A.N.G. site here
You got started in the game industry at an early time, and
obviously things have changed a lot since then. Do you have any
personal/professional advice to give to anyone who is looking to
attempt a career in game audio?
For sure! Whenever I speak at schools/universities/conferences, etc, I always talk about how passion and networking is just as important as talent! Believing in your dream and working/doing whatever it takes to get there, never giving up, etc is most of the battle.
As gigantic as the game industry seems, it's also a pretty tight industry and very easy to get into (unlike film/television, etc) especially if you know and meet the right people.
Networking and keeping a positive mindset will allow you to achieve anything you set your mind to!
You'll want to prepare some kind of demo CD (or easily e-mailed links) of your work so that you'll be able to let people hear what you are capable of.
In regards to game audio specifically, there are a few things you can do to put you ahead.
1. Join G.A.N.G. of course… and get involved! Over 2000 game audio professionals from around the world have signed up for G.A.N.G. over the years. It’s an amazing resource for anyone looking to get into the industry and the website has a ton of info and it's like the Facebook for Game Audio folks!
2. Get the book "The Complete Guide to Game Audio" by Aaron Marks and "Audio for Games: Planning, Process, and Production" by Alexander Brandon (amazon.com has them both). Incredible resources, advice and insight!
3. Join the IGDA (if there is a local chapter in your area). www.igda.org. They also have some great resources on their website such as: http://www.igda.org/breakingin/resources.htm
A great place to meet up and coming game developers and like minded people in your area.
4. Check out the website www.gamasutra.com. There is a TON of game audio information and they do a monthly magazine called Game Developer Magazine.
5. Aside from joining G.A.N.G., the BEST advice I could give you is to definitely attend the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. www.gdconf.com. This is the networking mecca of the entire game industry! Over 15,000 game developers from around the world and nearly 1,000 game audio composers, sound designers, etc. are there. An absolutely fantastic place to meet and network with people. And you'll learn more in 3 days than you'll ever imagine! There is special Game Audio Pass and as a member of G.A.N.G. there is a $50 discount as well.
Talent is important, but just as important is "networking". The above mentioned things will really help you to increase your profile among the people who you need to be in front of.
Top 5 favorite games? Favorite gaming moments?
Super Mario World (SNES)
MLB Baseball (Intellivision)
Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation)
ICO & Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
Some memorable gaming moments in my life that stick out for me were…
1. Playing Asteroids and Space Invaders for the first time with my dad. We would play for hours and hours.
2. Watching/playing Dragon’s Lair for the first time.
3. Seeing the cinematics and story unfold in Metal Gear Solid.
4. Using the sniper rifle for the first time in GoldenEye.
5. Playing my first real online game with a friend (Warcraft II).
Interview written/edited by Dren McDonald exclusively for audiogang.org