Tommy Tallarico Part 2

4 Dec 2008  by   Paul Younger
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The Video Games Live: Volume One album has already been released in the States and it’s now been picked up by EMI Classics. How does that feel?EMI is one of the biggest record companies in the world so it’s great to have that kind of power, budget and distribution behind the record. It shows that people are taking notice. This is the first video game compilation album to be released worldwide. There were some tracks we wish we could have put on there but that’s why we called it Volume One. Like with the live shows, we had to prove to people that it’s a good idea. You won’t see any Nintendo or Square Enix stuff on the album but it’s coming. You have to prove to some companies that it’s a good concept before you can do anything. But at the same time, the idea wasn’t to pick the most popular games – it’s about the music and maybe some of the music doesn’t get a lot of attention it deserves. There are 11 cuts on the album and we have a list of 50 for the shows so we have options. You’ve also composed an awful lot of video game music. How does it compare to playing live and which do you prefer?Wow, that’s a great question because I go through phases. I’ve been a composer in the games industry now for over 18 years and I’ve worked on over 272 games and I even got an award from the Guinness World Record people at one of our London shows. As composers, we sit in our little caves and we compose the stuff and I don’t think a lot of composers really understand that the music they create in their little corner of the world reaches the entire globe. So, when you travel around the world and perform it live, it really brings tears to my eyes. Every time I walk out on stage and see a full crowd it’s really emotional. For that reason I would say that I draw greater pleasure from the live performances. Here you are creating something live with people ten feet away from you, reacting in real time. It’s something very, very special.As music creation technology has changed dramatically since you began composing, have you changed the way you approach making music? I think it’s changed for some people, but I haven’t really changed. My approach has always been just to create a great piece of music. I think some composers and designers think more like “does it match the scene perfectly, does it do this, does it do that?” Some people would even say that if you don’t even hear the music, that means you’re doing a good job because it blends in so well. I’ve always wanted to give the person just a great piece of music and whether it fits the level exactly or not is kind of secondary to me. A lot of people might disagree with that and that’s fine. There are a number of different ways to do this successfully. But I’ve always been about writing a great piece of music that people will remember long after they finish playing the game. Take Earthworm Jim, for example. One level we’d do a techno/electronic thing and the next level would be banjo music. The next level would be polka and the one after that rock n’ roll. If you were to sit down with a designer and explain that to them they’d think you’re crazy.But it suited the game perfectly…We were just a group of guys trying to make each other laugh. That was the game design doc for Earthworm Jim – how can we make each other laugh today? And I think that shows in the game. Another example is a game I worked on a couple of years ago called Advent Rising. It was kind of a commercial failure but the music was interesting. I wrote it like an Italian opera. It was a space epic so, of course, the designers came to me and said “John Williams! Let’s make it sound like Star Wars.” But as I’m reading the story and going through it I’m thinking “there’s drama, there’s death and it sounds like an opera to me. Why not write the piece as an Italian opera? I did some demos for them and it changed the way they thought about the music for the game. Going back two decades, I was using the same approach back then as I do now.Obviously the technology has changed – going from bleeps and bloops and midi files and trying to get it all on a little chip to using live orchestras. The production values have changed, but my approach hasn’t.What is the one piece of game music that you are most proud of and why?It’s probably…oh man, there’s a couple. Are you gonna make me pick one?That’s how we roll.[Laughs] On a personal level then I’d have to say the opening to Advent Rising. There’s a song called ‘Muse’ and we play it in Video Games Live sometimes. It’s an Italian opera and that’s something I’ve wanted to do for my entire life. If I had some secondary picks I’d say the Earthworm Jim stuff as it’s a real favourite of mine because it was so fun to create and so many people heard it.{PAGE TITLE=Page 2}You’ve also been involved in game design too, with a credit on Knockout Kings for the N64. How did you become involved in that?That happened at a time when no-one was doing boxing games. When the Playstation first came out, on the very first console box, they had screenshots of upcoming games. And they showed a boxing game, but it never actually came out. And so the Playstation had blown up and the N64 was out, but no-one had done a boxing game.  I sat down and put together a game design document from of about 100 pages and we shopped it around to EA, Sony and a bunch of different place and EA picked it up eventually.  I was seeing all these things happening with Virtual Fighter and Tekken and there was this one game called K1 Fighter for the Playstation. It was a kickboxing game with broken controls and I thought “why are people playing kickboxing when boxing is arguably the biggest sport on the planet?” And so we set about making a 3D boxing game which was very fun to be involved with.So are you looking forward to the next Fight Night game?You know what: what was that last boxing game I just played from EA? It really sucked.That’ll be Facebreaker.Boy did that suck. Fight Night on the 360 and PS3 blew me away – the facial details and the sweat dripping off on the PS3 version. And that was early next-gen technology. Now they’ve had a couple of years to become familiar with the new hardware, I can only imagine what’s coming next. I’m really looking forward to the next iteration.
Do you have any plans to get back into game design? I just don’t have the time now. On the early games I worked on, the dev teams were small. Back then you almost had to be a game designer as there were only eight or so people on the team. So I used to help out whenever I could. I would sit down after the music was done and help design levels. I did that on Cool Spot. It’s always been something I’ve been interested in but these days things are very different. I have a couple of crazy ideas in my head but… maybe when I retire. But I don’t know if that will ever happen.
What do you make of the new breed of rhythm action games hitting the market recently? Do you think they’re good for both the music and games industries?Absolutely. We actually use Guitar Hero in the VGL show. I was hugely influenced by Steven (Tyler from Aerosmith, Tommy’s cousin) when I was growing up and we play a Guitar Hero segment with Sweet Emotion in the show. And, of course, there’s Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. I’d like to think I had a little influence in getting that made.The impact of rhythm action games has been phenomenal. About a month ago the music industry released a report which said 32% of all the money it has made so far in 2008 has come from games. Video games are not only becoming the entertainment medium of choice for the 21st century, they’re also becoming a distribution channel now. Look at Guitar hero: Metallica. The same day they released the new album in retail and on iTunes, they also released it through the game. If I’m a 17/18 year old kid which version am I going to choose? I want the one I can play along to. Also, a lot of new bands are getting their break from games – Good Charlotte got their start in an EA game, ask Avril Lavigne where she got her break too.One of the first examples of gaming’s impact on the music industry that I was part of was the original Tony Hawk pro-skater. I was doing all this sound design and music direction and they said “do you want to create a bunch of punk/ska/alternative songs for the game?”  And I said “no, why? People don’t want to hear me ripping off the bands, let’s license the actual bands.” When we picked the songs that appeared in the game, that was the first time the music industry turned its head because Tony Hawk went on to sell 11 million units on the Playstation alone. And the music industry reaped the benefits as people went out to buy albums after hearing bands in the game. The power of video games is increasing every day.  << Miss part 1 of the interview? Read it now! >>A Video Games Live CD is now available in shops and is called Video Games Live: Volume One.

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