08 Aug 2005 06:29:43
Patient Zero 2.0
(OT) Videogame soundtracks news

Enriched by rising stardom, video game tunes go mainstream

RYAN PEARSON

Associated Press


LOS ANGELES - Violinists playing sweetly beneath her, the video game heroine
Lara Croft has two guns blazing and the full attention of 10,000 people at
the Hollywood Bowl.

The animated star of "Tomb Raider" games, which have collectively sold more
than 30 million copies, unflinchingly braves explosions on a giant TV screen
that hangs, incongruously, above the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra.

At the bizarre yet beautiful debut performance of Video Games Live, the
sotto voce murmurs of the "Tomb Raider" theme give way to choir-assisted
crescendos then to more crowd-pleasing music and images from other games.

The spectacle last month, which promoters say will be performed by similarly
topflight orchestras in more than 15 cities in the coming months, is just
the latest sign that songs written for the interactive gaming world are
blasting out of consoles and into the mainstream.

Orchestra concerts of music from "Final Fantasy" games - a long-running
role-playing series with a cult-like following - have sold out venues
nationwide.

Video games with their rising budgets are now attracting serious composing
talent. Scoring for traditional television may soon enough be playing second
fiddle.

Award-winning film composers such as Danny Elfman of "Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory" and Howard Shore of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy have
written music for games. Shore recently completed work on the upcoming
"SUN," an online role-playing game set in a medieval world of emperors and
monsters.

And hit singles such as Green Day's "American Idiot" were heard on the
hugely popular "Madden NFL Football" games even before they got radio play.
In fact, 14 of the 21 songs in the game's latest version, to be released
Tuesday, are previously unreleased. The new version features music from Foo
Fighters, Rev. Run of Run-DMC fame and others.

It's all a sonic leap from the blips and beeps of "Pong" and "Asteroids" -
so memorably annoying they've come to define game audio for decades.

"The music in video games is basically maturing to the spot where it can
live outside" of home systems, said Chuck Doud, music director for Sony
Computer Entertainment.

Like movie scores, game soundtracks seldom top the charts, though a few have
been big sellers.

The score from "Halo 2," an Xbox game that pits players against alien
invaders, has sold about 100,000 copies since its release late last year.
Sales of the "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" soundtrack have reached
47,000 copies since being released in 2003, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Video game music's growing popularity is being driven by budgets that can
now reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, spending that has climbed along
with overall industry revenue.

In the United States, video game industry sales now exceed movie box office
receipts. "Halo 2" generated more than $125 million in sales on its first
day alone.

Composer Tommy Tallarico, co-creator of Video Games Live, says his music
budget was about $300,000 for "Advent Rising" - the first game in a planned
intergalactic trilogy with dialogue and stories by science fiction writer
Orson Scott Card.

Orchestras and choirs recorded Tallarico's 13th century Italian
opera-inspired songs on a stage at the Paramount Pictures lot.

"In movies, you write to picture, you write to the scene, and it's
considered background music," said Tallarico. "I consider us foreground
music."

Indeed, the audio component of games is becoming an increasingly interactive
part of the story. Games are programmed so scores react to virtual
environments and player choices. Multiple sound backdrops shift with
scenarios.

Instead of switching to entirely new music when a character, say, enters an
eerie courtyard, the emphasis subtly shifts to a previously soft-playing
track, using different instruments to ratchet up the tension.

The effect, Doud says, is that "all of a sudden it'll seem a lot more
intense, but you can't really tell how it got there."

Maybe, just maybe, it's enough to keep people listening after spending
dozens of hours playing a single game.

"That's what you're striving for, is to have the player hold off muting the
music," said Garry Schyman, who composed an hour of 1950s sci-fi movie-style
music for the alien invader game "Destroy All Humans!"

Schyman has also written scores for small films, documentaries and TV
movies. Now he's anxious for more video game work.

"I had a blast," he said. "Plus, it pays well. They have the money for
orchestras. Television these days rarely has money for orchestras."

A composer for video games is typically paid from $700 to $1,500 for each
minute of music - more if it's being produced for an orchestra, he said.

One fan of the music is Ben Krugliak, a 13-year-old who attended the Video
Games Live show. His favorite song at the concert came from the original
"Halo," and he still listens to the soundtrack on his iPod - even after
hearing the same "sad music" over and over while playing the game.

"Sometimes when I first got it, I listened to it before bed, because it just
relaxes me," he said.

Krugliak said he came to enjoy the bands Nine Inch Nails and Jimmy Eat World
while playing the racing game "Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition," which features
their songs "The Hand That Feeds" and "Pain," respectively. Krugliak later
paid to download both songs.

Such taste-making power has artists and promoters lining up to get spots on
new games.

Some games, however, demand original scores.

"You will never hear a licensed tune in 'Star Wars'" games, Tallarico said.
"The big epics are always going to have to have original music."

At the Video Games Live concert last month, Krugliak was selected to go
onstage in the most high-concept part of the show - a "Frogger" contest in
which the orchestra adjusted its play on-the-fly to fit game action.

Navigating a frog across traffic and other obstacles in the classic Atari
game, he outscored a middle-aged woman 1,970 to 170. The woman said she'd
never played a video game before - exactly the type of person Tallarico
hopes to attract to the concerts.

He says parents who don't play might be surprised at the quality of in-game
choirs and orchestras.

"Their eyes are going to be opened up to what an amazing art form video
games and their music have become," Tallarico said. "It's not a bunch of
bleeps and bloops."

ON THE NET

http://www.videogameslive.com




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