Blizzard Hits Houston During Summer


August 17, 2009

Blizzard Hits Houston During Summer
Alex Van

In advance to BlizzCon,
Video Games Live’s recent stop in Houston played a special concert of Blizzard
favorites with their largest orchestra and choir yet.  Take a look at the show
and get the scoop on where Starcraft II’s music was recently recorded.

For just over four years now,
Video Games Live has been known for performing music from video games in concert
with live orchestras and choirs around the world.  Captivating audiences with
synchronized lights and video accompanying the music of everything from Sonic
the Hedgehog
to God of War, the show has become a phenomenon that has
staged well over a hundred concerts across five continents and even launched an
album that made it to the top 10 on the Billboard charts.

Not content to rest on their
laurels, however, the creators of the show have added new segments and updated
old ones since the beginning in an attempt to make each stop on the tour a unique
experience.  The biggest innovation has been to design a sort of spin-off
concert of nothing but music from the Warcraft, Starcraft, and
franchises, the result of which has become a staple at Blizzard’s
worldwide invitational events and BlizzCon since 2007.

For the past two years these
Blizzard concerts have been a treat reserved for convention attendees, but that
all changed this past weekend when the tour arrived in Houston, Texas for an
extraordinary double feature dubbed Gamer MusiCON ’09.

Did Anyone Feel a Chill Just

The show started mid-afternoon
on Saturday the 18th with a collection of Blizzard favorites ranging
from a piano medley of Warcraft II themes to music from the upcoming
Starcraft II
featuring the full might of the Houston Symphony and Chorus. 
Despite the distance from the company’s base in Anaheim, there were a few
Blizzard representatives to introduce some of the pieces, including Audio
Director and Composer Russell Brower.  Cinematics Lead Producer Scott Abeyta
even joined the orchestra on guitar for the Diablo and Diablo II

Composer Neal Acree was also on
hand to say a few words before the concert premiere of his music from the
opening cinematic of Wrath of the Lich King.  And though they weren’t
able to attend in person, composer Jason Hayes and his wife Tiffany (whose voice
work is heard throughout Starcraft and other titles) did a live video
interview much to the delight of the audience.

After the rousing finale of
tavern music from World of Warcraft and a brief intermission, host Tommy
Tallarico moderated an insightful onstage Q&A with the three guests, getting
them to talk about their backgrounds and work, and eventually opening the
discussion to the audience.   Interestingly, during the course of the talk it
was revealed that with the “imminent” release of update 3.2 for World of
, the total amount of music will soon reach a staggering 27 hours
thanks to the latest contributions by composer David Arkenstone.  Perhaps more
exciting was news that key themes from Starcraft II were recently
recorded by the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra for the upcoming game.  The
ensemble was chosen in particular to lend the game a strong cinematic flavor
and, according to Brower, it succeeded wonderfully.

With time to spare before the
next leg of the concert, the Video Games Live crew – host Tommy Tallarico,
conductor Jack Wall, and “Video Game Pianist” Martin Leung – held their own Q&A
with the audience.  Among the interesting bits of information – you probably
didn’t know the VGL logo started life as a possible design for the Game Audio
Network Guild – came news that the show has a number of new segments in the
works including music from fan favorite Shadow of the Colossus and
Silent Hill
, among others.  Also revealed was the latest interactive segment
that will let the audience play Donkey Kong while the orchestra matches
the music to the action.  Details were scarce on how that would work, but it
sounds intriguing.

No Business Like Show

 From there, the evening
proceeded much like any other Video Games Live concert with the audience milling
about the lobby playing console games provided by Game Crazy or chatting with
friends before the inevitable costume contest followed by the opening music of
the “Arcade Medley” that cleverly starts each VGL concert off with a collection
of classics from Pong to Frogger.   Next came the always brilliant
Metal Gear Solid theme, a collection of Final Fantasy themes
arranged for piano, and the comic Space Invaders segment that features a
member of the audience running back and forth on stage to control the ship while
the orchestra matches the action.

Taking a break from the music
for a moment, there was a short 1960s film of Ralph Baer demonstrating his
Ping Pong
game in all its primitive glory.  And then before the audience
knew what was happening, Tallarico connected to the present-day Ralph Baer
through Skype video and conducted a brief interview with the father of video
games himself.  Though rather unexpected for a concert, it was a fascinating
connection with living history.  And quickly enough it was back to the music
with tributes to Mass Effect, Metroid, and the Legend of Zelda
to finish out the first half of the show.

Coming back from the
intermission, things started back up again with Kingdom Hearts, and then
music from Super Mario Bros., followed by Martin Leung doing his
trademark medley from the franchise on piano while blindfolded – for the first
time in concert including the blisteringly fast Super Mario World music
while still blindfolded.   After the deservedly thunderous applause, the
audience was given the chance to shout out requests, to which Leung responded with
spirited excerpts of the ever-popular Monkey Island theme and Tetris.

Next came one of the newest
additions to the show with music from Mega Man, followed by a Guitar
Hero: Aerosmith
segment that featured an audience member accompanied by the
orchestra and choir blowing away “Sweet Emotion” on Expert difficulty in order
to win a laptop.  Entering the home stretch, Halo 3: ODST made its
appearance followed by a suite from the Halo franchise, with “One-Winged
Angel” from Final Fantasy VII finally closing out an incredible day of

And the Beat Goes On

Of course it wouldn’t be Video
Games Live without at least one encore, and the wild enthusiasm from the
audience earned two more pieces in this case.  The first was the Castlevania
segment featuring Tallarico on electric guitar and Leung handling the pipe organ
parts on keyboard.  And then at long last came the new Chrono Cross/Chrono
segment that had been the show’s most requested music since the
early days of the tour.  With Wall and Tallarico both on acoustic guitar backed
by the orchestra, it made a fitting end to the show.

And what a remarkable show it
was too.  With over 140 world-class musicians in the orchestra and choir –
Tallarico stated this to be the largest game concert ever – and over three and a
half hours of some of the best game music ever written, it would be impossible
to go wrong.  Add to that the fascinating onstage interviews with the people
behind the music, not to mention the excitement of a world premiere for the
Wrath of the Lich King
, and you have an event that’s going to be remembered
for a long time.  Now just let’s see them top this one.