Unlike the East Coast vs. West Coast rap wars, the competition between Video Games Live and Play! probably won’t result in gunfire, but the two shows are definitely competing. They’re each working the same side of the musical street: Performing orchestral versions of well-known videogame music before appreciative audiences of gamers. Both shows have managed to merge the beauty of classical music with the pop culture phenomenon of videogame music, but each takes a different stylistic approach toward its presentation. The question is, is there room enough for both, or can there be only one?
If you ask most gamers to name a touring live videogame show, their answer will probably be Video Games Live. The show’s creator, 18 year veteran videogame composer Tommy Tallarico, is the main driving force behind making the VGL show such a success.
“Video Games Live works hand in hand with videogame developers and their composers to deliver the best possible show,” Tallarico said. He explained that part of Video Games Live’s process involves collaborating with the likes of Sid Meier from Civilization, Metal Gear father Hideo Kojima, Bungie, and Blizzard’s composers of the music for Warcraft and Starcraft II.
VGL’s show, for Tallarico, is all about legitimizing the artform of videogame music and the addition of the symphony orchestra adds to that legitimacy. "The symphonies bring another level of talent to the show," Tallarico said.
For Tallarico, spectacle is crucial. Lasers, fog, costumes, synchronized video, and incorporated rock arrangements are all part of the VGL experience. Not so for Play! Jason Paul, the creator of Play! A Video Game Symphony, keeps the pyrotechnics to a minimum. “Some people want a laser and lights show using videogame music. We let the music do the talking because we feel that the music can stand on its own," Paul Said. "We have never used an orchestra smaller than 66 musicians and 24 choir members."
And what about the music? Don't you have to pay to use someone else's tunes in your own artistic and money-making ventures? Jason Paul says he cannot disclose the answer to that question, while Tallaricoart form proudly touts that the publishers and developers pay him.
"What better way to market your new game than to have it featured in a show revering the best in games?" Tallarico said. "We're not just some concert promoters trying to make a buck off the industry, we're vested in this because we are the industry, which is why it is so important that we show our work and the work of our contemporaries in such a positive way.”
A quick glance at both show's tour schedules seems to reveal a drop-off in activity for Play! and a strengthening for VGL, so maybe the lasers are working, but Paul says, "The future is now. We are currently booking shows throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia through 2010… We are different in many respects but please keep in mind that we both appeal to different audiences and presenters." Future Play! shows will feature new sections from Guild Wars, Oblivion and Super Mario Galaxies.
Tallarico is equally optimistic about the future of Video Games Live, and with an upcoming schedule including a sold-out Broadway debut, opening festivities for Comic Con '08 and The Leipzig Games Conference in Germany, along with 60 shows in 2008 and 100 projected shows in 2009, it's easy to see why.
In addition, Video Games Live is set to release an album on the EMI label in Spring or early Summer 2008. They'll also be soon releasing a DVD and are hoping it will coincide with a potential one-off television special on what Tallarico calls "a major network."
After what seems to be an ongoing feud of sorts between the two camps for the last few years of their show's existence, Jason Paul says he "applauds them [VGL] for the work that they have done and feels that there is a tremendous amount of value in Play!" while Tommy Tallarico said, "there is plenty of room for multiple shows" but that it appears as though "the people have spoken."
Both shows are touring and booking on ongoing basis. You can track news from their web sites and see how their tours come together. If either show is playing in your town, we suggest you check it out.