Infendo interviews Tommy Tallarico

Tommy TallaricoAt Infendo we try to bring you the most positive and informative news we possibly can. When my review of Video Games Live was being plagued by some imposters who were pretending to be Tommy Tallarico, I took the initiative to get in contact with him and try to find out what exactly was going on. When we finally started talking we managed to have nice conversation about Video Games live and gaming in general and we talked about his view on my review. Hit the jump for the transcript of the interview.

This is the first interview for Infendo with an industry vet and I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to come and talk with me.

Oh, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

First, I would like to ask you how do you actually feel about my review on Infendo, since it has caused some outrage?

Well, I thought there were some parts that were inaccurate. One of the lines were, “every time I came out on stage I mentioned Razer,” and that’s not exactly true. I mean I only mentioned Razer once on stage during our Frogger competition and during the very-very end, thanking them for the sponsorship. Since without them we couldn’t exactly play some of these shows. However, in regards to the rest of your review, I feel from a hardcore gamers standpoint you felt disappointed from some of the selections of the songs. I would never say you would be wrong for believing that, but one thing that we tell people is that our goal isn’t to create a show for just hardcore gamers. The idea and concept of the entire show is to create a show to show the entire world outside the gaming industry how artistically creative and significant video games have become. However, what needs to be stated is that Halo and World of Warcraft and the music from those games are just as popular as any other Nintendo games but they appeal to a different audience. If we wanted to target hardcore gamers with our show I would agree with every one of your comments there. But for a show that is trying to target everyone in the world, I mean any band goes through this, I mean we can’t have everything in there for each show, we have over fifty segments, but we can’t play them all. You might have been disappointed that we couldn’t play songs from Chrono Cross or Myst, but we have those segments on our set list.

You started Video Games Live back in 2002, when you were going through the process making video games live how did you make the decision of what should be in the show and did you have any trouble acquiring any of the rights?

It took us about three years, since no one has really done this before to the level we were doing with Video Games Live. What I mean by that is that video game concerts have been going on in Japan for about fifteen ”“ twenty years. They get it over there; they’ve had it for a long time. What we were doing for the first time was taking the music and synchronizing it to video as well. I mean when we played our first show in 2005 it was the very first time ever in the world that games like Metal gear Solid, Castlevania, God of War, Halo, Myst, Sonic the Hedgehog, Kingdom Hearts, even though most of them are Japanese games it was the first time that any of those games had ever been played. Then when you synchronize to video and bring in another element, it brings in another whole new level of difficulty and licensing for the show. It took us about three years since no one had ever really done what we were trying to do with the video and music. The only things that we weren’t able to get were the video rights to any of the Final Fantasy games. They had no problem giving us the rights to playing any of the music, but Square’s position is that they have their own touring show for Final Fantasy music called Distant Worlds. Their idea is that they want to keep the video exclusive to their show, and so it’s kind of a bummer to most of the fans. However, our show is not all about video; it’s also about the energy and the interaction with the crowd, so some of those songs give us a chance to showcase some of the musicians playing the music.

I noticed that One Winged Angel was one of the only parts of the show that didn’t have any video, but there were a few segments that didn’t have any video game footage.

We also do a cool thing with Kingdom Hearts, since Square won’t allow us to use any of the video of their characters from Kingdom Hearts, so we got together a Disney. Now the funny thing about that is that Disney is probably the hardest company to license anything and get the rights from, yet they give us all the footage of all of the characters from the films to use with Kingdom Hearts, but not Square. However, that may change in the future. We have a great relationship with Square and we keep asking them. They keep going “not right now,” but keep asking us later down the road. Another segment where we don’t play any video game footage is the Medal of Honor segment. It’s a slow and sad piece of music. Micheal Giacchino’s score from Front Line is such a beautiful score, and to show first-person footage of army guys shooting Nazi’s wouldn’t go along nicely. So we got together with Steven Spielberg’s crew, with the History Channel, with EA, and the composer Micheal Giacchino. We wanted to create something that was emotional and something that is touching, and when you create a show it can’t always be the big thematic bombastic music for a straight two and a half hours, so you have to go down before you can go back up again. So it’s all about diversity and things which you kind of have to consider before putting a show together like that.

I really felt that the Medal of Honor part of the show was really emotional, and can upset some of the audience. I mean we are growing up in an age of war and fighting and we hear about it kind of daily. I was wondering if you had ever gotten complaints about it bothering your audience?

Well you know Medal of Honor happens to be one of our most popular parts of our show with the older audience ”“ if you talk to people over thirty for example ”“ that’s one of their most popular parts in the whole show. So is it controversial? Yeah, maybe. You know a lot of people go to a video game concert and don’t want to be reminded, but we certainly don’t show any violence on screen we just show the emotion of war. Plus, we are not just showing it from an American side but from a world view. We show Japan and Germany, just as much as we show the US. I’ll give you a perfect example as why that it is important to have things like that in there. As you know the President of Capcom was in the audience and he is an older Asian gentleman, and people after the show, including his assistants, said he was crying during that part of the performance. When that finished and I came back out on stage and looked out to the audience I saw him from the stage and he gave me a thumbs up, with tears running from his eyes. So everyone might not like that part of the show, but I can tell you a lot of people might find it to be their favorite. It also gives something for people to talk about after the show as well, so it opens a discussion.

Have you ever polled the fans of the show on the website as to what segments should appear at the show, and react to what they felt should be changed and how to organize the arrangements?

Absolutely. I think I mentioned that in the show before I introduced Metroid, but on the Video Games Live website there is a thing on the right side, where you can sign up for our mailing list and put in your zip code, and write in what games you most want to hear. So when we go to those areas we can geo-target that city and the surrounding areas. I can tell you what five games are always at the top of the list, and that is Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Halo, and Warcraft, and those are always at the top without a shadow of doubt. I mean we also have so many different arrangements of all those games. So when someone comes back to see the show they are definitely going to get a different arrangement. We actually have a spread sheet that tells us exactly what songs we have ever played and when we go back to Houston, Texas, which we played two times there before, we can check that to see what we have played. However, we always have our staples of our show, we always do our interactive segments and Martin Leung is one of those as well. However, Metroid was one of those things that people in New York wanted to hear due to the voting on the website. You could say the show is almost an interactive show because of that.

Since you started video games live have there been any real changes to the way you presented the show itself visually?

Every time we do a show we are adding something, or changing something. We have never done the same show twice, ever. Even when we come back we are always changing certain of the special effects, and during the Warcraft segment in New York we have added this snow machine and actually rains snow down upon people during the show. I mean that’s a little something we have added. The Castlevania encore we played ”“ that’s extremely new. We have only been playing that one for about three ”“ four weeks now. I mean we also have a symphonic version, it’s just that since we went to New York we wanted to rock it out a little more. We’ve also added new games to the selection, just this year alone we’ve added Mass Effect, Bioshock, Metroid, Lair, and we are working on an Earthworm Jim segment. It’s always changing and it’s always going to continue to change. I’ve always wanted to add a Mega Man segment to the show. I would have to say Mega Man is the biggest one we haven’t done yet. And the President of Capcom ”“ he was in the audience and we are already arranging and talking about it. The difficult part is trying to figure out what to put in since there are a lot of titles in the series. So how do you pick or put together a montage of the Mega Man history in the three and four minute to do so? And for the most part, most of the music in the series is mostly rock and roll. So how do you do that with the symphony, without making it sound wimpy? So it’s always a challenge.

How exactly did you get your start in the video game industry?

I moved out of my home in Massachusetts, and moved out to California when I was twenty-one years old. I left my family ”“ my mom, my dad, and my brother, literally crying on the doorstep, and I just drove out to California. I went there with no job, no place to stay, no money, no friends ”“ nothing. In my whole life, my two greatest loves were always video games and music, so when I turned twenty-one I left to peruse a career in music. I wasn’t even thinking video games at all at that point. You know back then there was no such thing as a video game composer, you were a programmer composing the music. Anyway, my first day there in California the only two things I knew were Disneyland, and Hollywood, so I picked up a newspaper in Orange County, California and I saw a job for selling keyboards at Guitar Center. I was actually homeless at that point and living under a pier at Huntington Beach for the first two to three weeks I was there. Anyway, I had that newspaper with the ad for the job, so I went down there and I got the job, and they said “you start tomorrow.” So the first day I show up for work, I was actually wearing a TurboGrafx-16 T-shirt. Back then in 1990, no one really had video game shirts at all, it’s not like today where you could go into a Hot Topic, Walmart, and Target and buy one. They just didn’t exist back then. The way I had gotten the shirt, was the previous summer I waited in line at the county fair for hours to play test the TurboGrafx. So after you played it, you told them what you thought about it, and they gave you this T-shirt, and it was almost the proudest moment of my life back then. So I wore this T-shirt at my job and the very first customer who walked in, who I ever waited on was a producer at Virgin, and they were starting a video game company right down the street, and he saw my shirt and was pretty much amazed. He was like “do you play video games?” and I was like “Aw, what do you wanna’ know, I’ve played them all.” And he pretty much hired me on the spot as a game tester. So I was in California three days, and I was already in the video game industry. That was over 18 years ago, but I was hired as a game tester. So every day at work I would bug the vice president of the company, “Hey, when you need music let me know, I’ll learn how to do it. Let me know if you don’t like it. You don’t even have to pay me at all, but if you don’t like it you just don’t have to use it. You’re not losing anything, I just want a shot.” and a few months later they were working on the original Prince of Persia game. They needed music, so they gave me a shot, and they haven’t looked back since.

What is it like being a composer for video games?

Ah! To me it’s the greatest job in the world! I love video games, it’s one of my passions and music; they’re my two favorite things in life next to my family. So for me to be able to wake up everyday and do the two things I’m most passionate about every day of my life for the past 18 years, it’s the greatest reward in the world. To be in the industry for so long and to see it evolve and see change in the industry. We were working with a bunch of bleeps and blops and trying to fit music into tiny chips using rudimentary sound drivers and audio blips and bleeps. So to kind of see it evolve into what it has become today is so exciting. You know, I like to compare it to the film industry, because in the 1910s and 20s when films first came out, you know it took film 30 to 40 years for it to evolve into our culture. You know, when films came out everyone was into Vaudeville. The reason for that is because when film first came out, all the people who grew up on Vaudeville ”“ that’s what they liked ”“ and they were like “moving picture, black and white, and no sound?” They were like “ugh, what is this garbage?” However, the young people who were all into films, they grew up on films and that’s what they liked. So we’re starting to see that now with video games. Where, you know Pong came out in 1972, I was 4 years old at that time, so I was really part of the first generation of people to grow up playing video games. So I would say anyone 40 or under has now grown up on video games and somwehere in the next 15 to 20 years, those people will be 50-60 years old and still be playing video games. We will have a President in the United States in the next few years who grew up playing video games. It’s just going to take time to evolve into our culture, but it’s just very exciting to be a part of it and to see the revolution happen. Not only to see the change from two decades ago when I entered the industry, but to see the future in the next few decades it’s very exciting.

As a composer and “Hard Core” gamer has anyone really inspired you in the game world or outside the game world music wise?

Oh yeah, you know”¦ I wouldn’t exactly say inspired. When you say inspired it is almost like you’re saying “is there stuff you listen too and then kind of copy yourself,” but there are people in this industry who I look up to … And who I think are fantastic. They are both in the game industry and outside the industry. I would say my favorite composer of all time is Beethoven. He’s my favorite of all time, and I would put John Williams right behind him, and I would also put Jerry Goldsmith and Mozart in the top five. However, in terms of the video game industry… I mean there is no denying it that Nobuo Uematsu is the greatest composer of all time. Koji Kondo, the composer of Mario and Zelda… I think for what he did back when he did it was absolutely stunning. I mean he was also the music audio director on Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and look how incredible all that music is. We’ve also had the pleasure of having Koji Kondo perform at one of my shows last year with Miyamoto there. I had the pleasure of working with Miyamoto on the Metroid Prime games. Those are my two favorite Japanese composers, but over here in the U.S… I mean Michael Giacchino is just un-freakin’-believable and I’ve known Micheal for 15 or 16 years. He’s a guy who came from the video game industry, and then jumped into television, winning Emmy Awards. Working on Lost, and Alias, and from there jumped into film. He’s the Pixar guy, and worked on movies like Mission Impossible 3. He’s also still doing video games as well, and worked on the last Medal of Honor game. My partner from Video Games Live, Jack Wall, is a fantastic composer. Listen to the stuff from Myst III and IV, and Mass Effect. Over in Europe, Richard Jacques is a fantastic composer. He did a lot of the Sega stuff, including Head Hunter, and Jet Set Radio”¦ His stuff is out of this world. Marty O’Donnell and Mike Salvatori, the composers from Halo ”“ I thought Halo 3 had the best music out of all of them. Jason Hayes and Russell Brower, over at Blizzard ”“ amazing, amazing composers. I could probably go on and on, those are my top 10 guys, though.

I’ve read about this guild that you created called G.A.N.G. What exactly is it all about and what exactly does it have to offer to everyone making games?

The “Game Audio Network Guild” is a non-profit organization that I founded about seven years ago in 2002. What it is is that it’s an organization to help educate not only audio people around the world, but also to help educate the developers and publishers about how important video game audio is. Because before, audio was always thought of as a post production. It’s like “Oh the games over now, we have no space left on the cartridge or disc. We have no money left, and we have no time. Oh, but here figure out how to do audio.” To date we have over two thousand members of professional game audio professionals. We have an amazing board of directors that consists of every single major publisher and developer doing audio around the world. The website is, and it’s really just a network as well. In this industry, you know for people who are looking to get in this industry, it’s not really about talent. Talent is only fifty percent of it, the other half of it is networking and to know who to ask for in a job. So we have everything right on there, you can even download contracts. There are three main things that G.A.N.G. focuses on to be a successful audio person. There are the creative aspects, the technical aspects, since we’re very different from television, and then there is the business aspect as well. So those three things: audio, creative, and business. So the organization offers education and information on that stuff. We have stuff for people also looking to get into game audio we have mentor ship programs, we have student and apprenticeship programs, we even have a twenty thousand dollar scholarship fund. Some of the things that G.A.N.G. does for example is creating game audio curriculum in high school and college levels, so that people can actually graduate and take credited courses and we’ve worked with a lot of schools. For example, we were working right now with Berkley College of Music in Boston, and it is something that is growing so, so much. It’s so great, because when I was growing up there wasn’t a school to go to that was doing video game music. So when I go to some of these school and give speeches at some of these universities you see some 16, 17, 18 year old kids raise there hand and stand up and say “All my life all I wanted to do was become a video game composer” and that’s pretty amazing. That’s something that couldn’t happen 15 years ago, and that’s a great organization to get into if you wanted to do game audio as a career.

So I heard that there were plans to bring back Earthworm Jim with a whole slew of cartoons and games. Are you working on any of these projects?

Well… I can’t really say anything right now… But the only thing I can really confirm is what’s out there in the press. Which is that Doug TenNapel, one of the creators and designers of the game, is involved with Interplay, and they are looking at different developers to come on board. Who knows what is going to happen with that. We are just excited that there is once again interest. All of the original members of the Earthworm team got together; I think this is on the internet too… But we got together last year or the year before, and we got together because we are all friends, and we talked about “Hey, lets get back together and do an Earthworm Jim game.” I think you can read about that on Doug TenNapel’s website. So uh… I don’t know what’s going to happen, but there is certainly interest from everyone who was a part of Earthworm Jim. So it’s in the works right now… But I don’t mean to seem like I know information that I just can’t say… It’s not even that, it’s just the news release that came out last week that Doug was involved… So that could be the first steps in good stuff happening.

Last Question… How do you respond to how people view you as your television persona?

Yeah… You know thats just it. It’s… I mean you know it’s good cop bad cop… It’s entertainment it is television. For those people I would also say this Darth Vader probably isn’t necessarily a bad guy in real life. Some people understand the humor and understand what happens on the TV show, people who play bad guys on television doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad guys in real life. If we created a TV show were two people all they did was agree about every single thing it would be boring and no one would watch that. They would say we were ass kissers suck ups. You know conflict and controversy causes good ratings… and we were one of the top rated shows on the network when we left… People were also like oh you got canceled, and that isn’t true we left the network. We just weren’t a hundred percent satisfied with where G4 was going with it. However, what I found is when you put yourself out in the public… and I don’t care who you are an Artist, a Musician, a politician… whatever… No matter what some people are going to love you… some are going to hate you.

Alright that pretty much wraps up the interview, Thanks again for taking the time out for this.

No problem, it was my pleasure.

Note: Mr. Tallarico has decided to not post a comment on the website due to the fact that people have impersonated him on here. So if anyone does posts under his name, It wasn’t really him.

An artist from New York. Will has been writing, designing, and loving video games since he was young. He has traveled across the United States, and parts of Canada in order to learn more about the world of gaming. After visiting E3 for the first time in 2009, he has vowed to return there and show off a game of his own. In his spare time he tinkers with electronics, programming, and of course collecting video games.