- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

LOS ANGELES — Songs written for the interactive gaming world are blasting out of consoles and into the mainstream.

With 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 collectively have sold more than 30 million copies, braves explosions unflinchingly 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, which promoters say will be performed by similarly top-flight orchestras in more than 15 cities in the coming months, is the latest sign that songs written for the interactive gaming world have arrived.

Orchestra concerts of music from “Final Fantasy” games, a long-running, role-playing series with a devoted following, have sold out venues nationwide.

Video games, with their rising budgets, are attracting serious composing talent. Scoring for traditional television might soon 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. Mr. Shore has completed work on the upcoming “Sun,” an online role-playing game set in a medieval world of emperors and monsters.

Hit singles such as Green Day’s “American Idiot” were heard on the popular “Madden NFL Football” games even before they got radio play. In fact, 14 of the 21 songs in the game’s latest version are unreleased. The new version features music from Foo Fighters, Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons of Run-DMC fame and others.

It’s all a sonic leap from the blips and beeps of “Pong” and “Asteroids” — so memorably annoying that they have 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, although 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 2003, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Video-game music’s growing popularity is being driven by budgets that can 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 Mr. Tallarico’s 13th-century Italian opera-inspired songs on a stage at the Paramount Pictures lot.

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, Mr. 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.

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