Left - Video Games Unplugged: Symphony of Legends 2. Cover - Conductor Philip Chu. Photos - Lucas Dawson Photography
Ask the ordinary man on the street what's one word that comes to mind when they think of a video gamer and the response is invariably the same: passionate and dedicated. Perhaps it's thanks to the sweeping stories envisioned in the game, or perhaps part of the claim must be given to the enthralling soundtracks that score the games. The relationship is a symbiotic one and it's thanks to their loyal fan base that the video games industry has been a consistent top performer. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra banks upon this dedication with their staging of Video Games Unplugged: Symphony of Legends, presenting an opportunity for old and young to take delight in the music.
The performance is housed within the Melbourne Exhibition Centre's spacious Plenary Hall. The audience is quick to arrive, some of them determined to stand out in costumes reflecting their game of choice. The music's not the only attraction of the night. Popular culture figures and MCs provide quick interludes and form a rapport with the eager audience. Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub of Penny Arcade TV's Blaminations are joined by third host of the night and well-known science fiction face Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And other special guests join them on stage; names known worldwide by the diehard fans, including Hiroki Yura from Blizzard Entertainment, scorer of Diablo 3 and Nobuo Uemtasu of enduring Final Fantasy fame, only further cementing the night in gamer history.
At times the quick-paced banter of the MCs falls flat or elicits only slight laughs, a result of how very niche the humour is. It is clearly tailored specifically for the gamers and, for want of a better word 'nerds', in the audience, with its references from popular culture; jokes on the milieu of a particular game or the levelling of character; or even talk of powers used in games, all spun out at breakneck speed.
Drawing the audience immediately into the heart of the performance, vocalist Jillian Aversa from Soul Calibur V fame amongst other titles opens the night against a selection of game cutscenes. In addition, the 40 member-strong Concordis Choir add the ethereal harmonies and vocals that many a game score would be naked without. Dimunitive conductor Philip Chu is revealed to be yet another prestigious name, having conducted music for Blizzard Entertainment from titles such as World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft.
The hall must be lauded for it's acoustic potential; the audience is effectively surrounded by music Three great screens mounted at the front of the stage allow anyone in the audience to witness close-ups of the orchestra playing, although mostly it's gameplay that's screened, providing a beautiful narrative for the sweeping sounds. Spiralling smoke and dancing patterns of lights matching the colour of the projections lend the otherwise austere and bare bones appearance of the orchestra a mythical element. The technical detail is well-researched. Flashing lights that mimic the appearance of lights within the main environment of a spaceship on screen, while the related music from Starcraft is played, stands out as a particular example.
The mounted screens are also used for a particularly thrilling, first-of-it's kind event. Discussed by the hosts in mock sombre tones as particularly challenging, the MSO provide the live scoring of a Soul Calibur V battle fought on the spot by players selected from a series of tournaments, and brought out on stage to show off their finest moves. Decisions of the players trigger different parts of the score: an heroic move may necessitate a switch to a different, heroic tune, with the orchestra effectively needing to be able to switch in the blink of an eye. However the idea is ingenious and well-received, the crowd roaring at the screen as a united body and cheering on opposing forces.
For all the famous names and witty banter though, it's the MSO that's the star of the night, and the main reason for the presence of the thousand-strong audience. Many a song is a first, with Kohei Takano's Gravity Rush Suite premiered, along with songs from Starcraft and World of Warcraft. Other mentions of game, such as the famous Skyrim and Secret of Mana receive raucous applause and cheers from the audience, the hosts acknowledging the support. Final Fantasy 7's 'One Winged Angel' is greeted with perhaps the most reverence of the night, closing off the first half of the performance as a show-stopping rendition. Skyrim receives it's own legion of supporters as well, the 'Dragonborn Theme' premiered with great gusto.
Merging effortlessly with the impression of music from the game, the MSO shine in yet another riveting performance. Unequivocally heartbreaking at times, switching sublimely from mood to mood, it's the performers and the thrilling rendition of beloved songs they give that the audience will carry away with them.
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra presents
Video Games Unplugged: Symphony of Legends
Conductor Philip Chu
Venue: Plenary Hall, MCEC
Date/Time: Thursday 12 April 2012 at 7:00 PM
Tickets: $139.00 -$29.00