Video Game Heroes and Game Music
I've settled into my chair, I've turned off my phone, I've cleaned my glasses and I've taken every other step I can think of to maximise my comfort before I listen to the London Philharmonic Orchestra play some of the best video game music ever made
All this, and yet the first feeling that hits me as the orchestra flares into action is disappointment. I find myself desperately wanting to have some emotional connection, but I'm held back by the fact that I don't know the first song - Tommy Tallarico's Muse, from 2005's Advent Rising. It's not that the music sounds bad
, just that it feels...incomplete.
I'm still trying to figure out what it is I'm missing when I hear a familiar tone and the shape of the entire evening suddenly changes. Conductor Andrew Skeet will go on to lead the audience over terrain as wide ranging as Mario and BioShock, but he hits an early high point with Jeremy Soule's opening theme for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Staccato strings lead into exultant trumpets and I'm thrown back in time five years, goosebumps coming up on my arms as I remember that feeling - the one when you come out of the sewers for the first time and you're blinded by the sunlight.
The moment washes over the audience like warm surf and, looking around, I can see almost everyone has the same thought; Oh, yeah - that's why Oblivion was awesome
The Video Game Heroes show was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra
The show continues, radio presenter Iain Lee playing host whenever the orchestra pauses to retune or catch a breath. The setlist feels like it lacks focus, with retro chiptune ditties bookended by modern thriller tunes, but Lee's narrative follows suit so maybe that's an intended effect. The orchestra is contrasting Angry Birds to BioShock, while Lee tells jokes about World of Warcraft and pines for Mass Effect - the result is that Video Game Heroes seems to offer something for everyone.
Or so I think.
Next to me, my companion starts to fidget, then stifles a yawn. I lean in to see if she, as possibly the only non-gamer in the audience, is having a good time. She nods, then later asks why the orchestra is playing a particular song. It's the Tetris theme tune, I explain. 'Oh,'
After the interval I try to give her a little context for each song, rambling from the story of Alexey Pajitnov right through to the closure of Bizarre Studios. I'm trying to give her enough information for her to be able to appreciate the songs more fully, the effort taking me through to the end of the concert. The last song is from another game I've never played, Enemy Zero, meaning that a night of beautiful music ends on a flat note for both of us.
Outside, in fresh air and silence, it's easy to realise what's wrong - the music just isn't suited to this type of arena. What was composed with a larger experience in mind is being presented solo, with the complex, interactive lightshow it was intended to accompany reduced to eight ratchet-adjusted spotlights, two of which keep creaking. Memories and nostalgia form an excellent stand-in for the games themselves, but that only works if you've played and loved every game on the list. This is why Video Games Live
works so well; it is its own spectacle, facilitating fun even if you don't know your pings from your Pong.
Video Game Heroes, on the other hand, requires the audience to fill in the gaps; which hardcore gamers, in our clamouring for games to be taken seriously, seem all too willing to do. To me this seems to be the most telling thing fault of the entire show - that the audience is so primed for approval that they'll even applaud individual ingredients as equal to the gestalt.
An album of the Video Game Heroes show is set for release later this year and will be available via the official London Philharmonic Orchestra website.