SLCR #158: Video Games Live (April 21, 2011)

Ladies! You like romance, right? Flowers and poetry and jewelry and all that shit? How’s THIS for romance? Dinner for two, followed by a leisurely walk down by the water, and finally an evening out at the symphony. I’m pretty goddamn classy if I do say so myself. And it is because I took Mika out for all these things that I feel completely justified in sitting around all day today in my bathrobe and watching wrestling for three straight hours. I earned it.

Admittedly, dinner was McDonalds, but I got us pies for dessert so you know it was a special occasion. And by "leisurely walk down by the water," I mean that we drove to Wascana Lake (for non-locals, "Lake" should probably be in "quotation marks") to look at how high the water levels have become. Answer: quite high. But my point is that we did leave the car, so it counts as a walk. And the symphony is still the symphony, even if it’s playing video game themes.

I had seen billboards for Video Games Live for what seems like years – I know this wasn’t their first performance in Regina – but despite my love of video games, I’d never gone before now. The truth is, I’m not what one would call a hardcore gamer, despite owning every current game system, posting multiple weekly video game threads at The W, and visiting EB Games and/or HMV on nearly every coffee break. I’ve played many of the old classics, but these days, I’m most likely going to be found playing something like Bejeweled as anything. The Regina Symphony held a contest on Facebook, asking people to name games that they’ve played well into the wee hours of the night. I didn’t answer because I figured "I have to put in hours every week to build up a Facebook Wheel of Fortune score that my mom won’t likely have time to beat" would kill whatever geek cred I had left. But seriously, Halo? I don’t know from Halo, or Call of Duty, or Final Fantasy. Aside from the Katamari Damacy series, I don’t really play games with memorable themes anymore.

There are dozens of great/odd songs in the great/odd Katamari series. You can sample one of them here – I predict that most of you will shut it off within seconds, and a handful will jump from clip to clip for hours. I’ll be honest; I’d like to be doing that right now.

Anyway, the other reason I’d never gone to see Video Games Live is the price. It’s a symphony event with rock concert production values and, accordingly, rock concert pricing. I wasn’t sure if I’d really enjoy it enough. However, luckily, the fine folks at Brown Communications re-tweeted an offer from the Regina Symphony – if they got to 2,000 Facebook fans, they’d sell Video Games Live tickets for one day for only $10 each. And while they didn’t quite make the limit, they still put the discounted tickets on sale. You’d think it would be the worst seats in the house, but they were actually pretty good. I think they were $55 tickets marked down to $10. Social networking pays off!

Before the show, they brought out a bunch of folks for a costume contest judged by audience applause. There were some blocky dudes from Minecraft, six people dressed as Tetris blocks ("they’re lined up, so why won’t they disappear?" said the guy behind me), a few girls wearing not-much dressed up as does-it-matter, and your standard Link and Mario and whatnot, but the instant a very little kid announced himself as being "Storm Trooper! From… STAR WARS!" I knew the contest was over. And of course, during the intermission, I overheard some dork complain that a Storm Trooper isn’t technically a character from a Star Wars video game. I don’t think anyone kicked him in the taint, which was a shame.

The show opened with a medley of classic arcade game themes set to a video of the games being played. This led to one of the highlight of the shows for me, which not only featured the orchestra playing the music from Tetris (my all-time favourite game), but the crowd groaning every time there was a bad play made in the video.

The Regina Symphony Orchestra was joined by guest conductor Emmanuel Fratianni, the Halcyon Chamber Choir, and a few people that I would classify as internet-famous – game music composer Tommy Tallarico (who served as host), pianist Martin Leung who is famed for playing Super Mario themes while blindfolded, and vocalist and flautist Laura Intravia, best known for Flute Link. We got live renditions of both the Mario and Zelda songs, and both artists played and sang (respectively) on a few other songs. Tallarico played the electric guitar, introduced songs, and ran the show with polish of a seasoned rock star, including the rock star clichés and cheap pops. But in addition to saying the name of the city, he also got to say things like "some people say video games are just for kids!" (crowd boos) and "some people even say that video games are responsible for violence!" (crowd boos; guy next to me yells "KILL THOSE PEOPLE!" which made me laugh more than it probably should have). Also, any reference to any video game got a great reaction. There was a montage of dozens of games shown during the intermission, and I realized that I would be willing to sit there for hours thinking nothing but "hey, I know that one!" over and over.

As expected, there was lots of music from games I haven’t played (Assassin’s Creed, Halo, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft, Shadow of the Colossus, Metal Gear Solid), but there was lots of music I was familiar with too, including songs from Castlevania, Street Fighter II, and Mega Man. The winner of a pre-show Guitar Hero competition came out of the crowd to play Van Halen’s Jump on expert and did a masterful job of not choking under the pressure. The same can not be said of the two fans who were pulled from the audience to play Frogger against each other. My taste in games might betray my age, but man, I remember a time when all girls loved Frogger. It didn’t matter if they hated all other games, they loved Frogger. I guess that time has passed. Hop hop hop hop die. Hop hop hop hop die. The guy who won the competition wasn’t much better. I could have smoked either of them and just played 90 seconds of MAME to prove it.

There were lots of theme song medleys throughout the night. I would have liked to hear some longer, complete pieces, but I guess those would be hard to write for video games unless it’s for a cutscene of a specific length. The length of actual gameplay segments would vary based on how good you are (or, in my case, aren’t) so you wind up with lots of tunes that just wind up repeating and don’t actually end. I guess we might have to go to other symphony shows for that. I’d be fine with that.

Much like the 54-40 show, this night was highlight was a big ol’ singalong. The show closed with everyone joining in on the instant classic Still Alive from Portal (itself an instant classic). I don’t believe this was chosen because Portal 2 came out this week, but the timing did make it work that much more. This was a triumph. I’m making a note here: "HUGE SUCCESS!" It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction. Throw some Katamari Damacy into the next show, and add in some old school Toe Jam and Earl for good measure, and I’ll be back the next time they come through town.

I had brought my Nintendo 3DS to the show with me. It has local wireless functionality, so users can trade Miis or exchange game data just by walking past each other. This is a really neat idea, but in practice, I’ve received all of one Mii since getting the system a month ago. I figured there’d be more 3DS owners in attendance at the video game show, and I was right. I wound up with a total of:

  • 9 Miis from random passers-by
  • 4 Super Street Fighter IV figurine battles, in which my record was a dismal 1 and 3
  • 1 Lego Star Wars III notification, and I don’t even know what that means

Put yer words here:

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