Earlier this week, our colleague ArchangelUK posted the first part of an interview with Tommy Tallarico on the Sonic Blognik. Here’s part of the interview, and you can read the rest on the Sonic Blognik. We’ll also post some of part 2 when it’s ready.
Tommy Tallarico is a busy man, you only need to see his email signature to get a bit of an idea as to how busy. Host/writer/co-producer, The Electric Playground & Reviews on the Run television shows. Founder, CEO and Chairman of Game Audio Network Guild [G.A.N.G.]. Executive Producer and CEO of the legendary Video Games Live show – oh, and he’s also the President of Tommy Tallarico Studios, Inc. let’s not forget that.
He’s also an absolute pleasure to talk to incidentally.
Last month we asked you to provide us with some questions to pass on to Tommy, a long time Sonic fan, who was invited to produce some music for Sonic & The Black Knight. You sent the questions in your droves, asking this composing superstar everything from the technical to the personal and then there were the others… is Tails playable in the multiplayer of SBK and would Sonic ever marry Amy. Riiight…. Anyway after making some choices and sending Tommy a slew of them he’s come back with some very full answers to your questions, so big in fact that I’m having to split these up.
So let’s start shall we?
ArchangelUK: First up a question that was discussed on the forums a fair bit actually…
Alex Tomalty: How did you become a Sonic fan and what Sonic games to you own?
Tommy Tallarico: I’ve been a Sonic fan from the very beginning. The Genesis/Mega Drive was always one of my favoite platforms… both to play games on and to write music for. The first time that drew me to Sonic was the amazing music. Hearing Green Hill Zone for the first time just blew me away. It’s one of those songs that you just instantly like the first time you hear it. I was also drawn in by the amazing speed of the character. I remember just being in awe that a character, level and graphics could move that fast. What were they calling it at the time?? Blast processing or something? Whatever it was… it was damn cool.
I had the privilege to work on a lot of really fun games for the Genesis/Mega Drive back then. Games like Global Gladiators, Cool Spot, Aladdin, Earthworm Jim 1 & 2… and that first Sonic was always our standard for excellence. We all adored and worshiped that game.
That being said, I’d be lying if I said I’ve been happy with where the Sonic games and franchise have gone. Maybe I’m just more of an old school type of guy, but I always thought the 2-D Sonic games had more playability and fun factor than the 3-D stuff. I hope that statement doesn’t offend anyone, it’s all just personal opinion and taste I suppose. But I really have a fond place in my heart for the 2-D Sonic stuff.
Stomp224, Urtheart, Leslie Wai: What made you want to compose for games, and how do you think it differs from composition for other media such as film?
TT: My whole life, my two greatest loves and passions were music & video games. But growing up, I never thought to ever put the two together. Of course, when I was growing up in the late 70’s, early 80’s… there was no such thing as a video game composer! Music had always been around my family – my cousin is Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. His real name is Steven Tallarico, so I always kind of grew up idolizing him and the work that he did. So, I never thought it would be out of my reach to do something similar. My parents were products of the 1950s so I started playing piano when I was three years old, to Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis), Elvis Presley and stuff like that – but I always played by ear. It wasn’t until the late 70s, when I started to hear these amazing film scores from things like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Rocky that I felt like I wanted to be a composer. That’s when I started getting into classical music – my favourite being Beethoven – and that’s how I learned to write scores for symphonies and orchestras, by listening to the masters such as John Williams and Beethoven.
When I turned 21, I left my parents to go out to California. I was looking for a career in the music industry. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have a job, no place to stay, no money, no friends, nothing. I just drove out there, showed up in Hollywood, and—let’s just say it doesn’t look like it looks like on television. The only other thing I knew was Disneyland, so I stopped a homeless person on the street, asked him where Mickey Mouse lived, figuring that must be a pretty cool place to be, and he pointed me down to Orange County. So I drove into Orange County and I picked up a newspaper and saw a job at Guitar Center. I was homeless. I was actually sleeping under a pier at Huntington Beach for the first three weeks I was out in California. But the first day I picked up a newspaper, saw the job, went down there the next day, and they said, “You’re hired, you start tomorrow.”
The first day I showed up for work, I was wearing a video game t-shirt and one of the first people who walked in the store that day was a producer from Virgin. They were starting a video game company right down the street, and he saw my shirt and he was like, “Whoa, you’re into video games?” I’m like, “Yeah, are you kidding me?”—I started reeling off everything I knew. And he says, “Do you want a job? You start tomorrow.” I was hired as a games tester, and I would literally bug the vice president of the company every day, saying, “Whenever you need music, just let me know. I’ll learn how to do it, and do it for free, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it.” So about three or four months later, one of the first games that I was actually a producer and tester on was [the 1992 GameBoy] Prince Of Persia. And I asked him to do the music. They made me the full-time music guy after that.
In regards to how game composing differs from any other media, I think we’re always going to be different from film and television just because of how the medium is presented. Television is a very linear medium for example; you may only get a few seconds where your piece is used in the foreground. The reality is that film and television are by nature… stories, and that story is told through dialogue – because of that music is very much considered as background material to push the dialogue forward. With video games, the action drives the story, concept or main goal, so we get to create music that 80-90% of the time is the big action sequence.
Even great composers like John Williams are restricted in how he creates music, because he still has to sit down with George Lucas who tells him what music to create at which time frame. Because of the linear nature of the medium, the direction will very much be… “At 1:51 the music changes to dark and
moody as Darth Vader just walked into the room, and at 3:42 the music needs to do this because the Death Star blows up”.
In game development, a designer will come to me and say, “Here’s the deal. There are a hundred guys on horseback with swords coming at you, and they’ve all come to kick your butt. Write me a three minute piece of music!”. From there my mind can go wild, as I don’t have the restrictions of a film or TV
composer, and even then the interactivity can send me in different directions. For example, I’ll have this theme for 100 guys kicking my butt, but I may have to do a different interactive branching theme for 10 guys kicking my butt, and another if everyone was gone.
It’s this kind of diverse appeal and approach that we have that I feel that if Beethoven were alive today, he’d be a video game composer.