There was a time when the music of video games was little more than a bunch of bleeps and bloops.
But symphony orchestras don't bleep. Nor do they bloop.
As the technology behind video games has exploded over the past several decades, so too has the complexity and artistic merit of the musical scores that accompany them.
Whereas Frogger once hopped across a busy street accompanied by a tinkly synthesized jingle, the Master Chief now blasts his way though the vast Halo universe amid a lush symphonic soundtrack.
"People say to me, 'Oh my gosh, I never knew video game music could be so powerful,'" says Tommy Tallarico, co-creator of Video Games Live, a multimedia concert being performed by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony tonight and tomorrow.
"My goal with this show was to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become."
Tallarico knows what he's talking about. He holds the Guinness World Record for having composed music for more video games than any other person -- 275 of them at last count, including best-sellers like Metroid Prime, Time Crisis and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.
Most recently, he has been working on the music and sound effects for a game now being developed by Waterloo game design company Frozen North Productions.
"It's a dream come true for us," says Julian Spillane, co-founder and chief executive of Frozen North.
"Tommy is one of the most prolific composers in the medium, so it's a big thrill to be working with him."
At their office in Waterloo's Accelerator Centre, the designers and artists of Frozen North are feverishly working to complete their yet-unnamed debut game for the Nintendo Wii in time for its scheduled release date this autumn.
The game takes many conventions from popular adventure games of the past and literally flips them on their heads. The game's protagonist, an uber-cute apprentice wizard in an oversized hat, has the ability to rotate and flip the peculiar world that surrounds him.
"So what was once a wall is now a floor," explains 23-year-old Spillane (himself something of a wizard, having learned how to program video games by age six). "The character can manipulate his gravity and his environment in this world that's all topsy-turvy."
With its adorable characters and non-violent action, the game required a soundtrack that was as bright and whimsical as the storyline.
"Our goal with the score was to go back to an era when you would play a game and the music would stay stuck in your head for weeks afterward," says Spillane.
"We wanted bouncy, recognizable songs that you could hum along with."
Enter Tallarico, who after two decades of composing music for games has become very choosy about which projects he accepts -- and he accepted this one.
"What drew me to this project is that the Frozen North guys gave me the liberty to explore what I wanted to do musically," says the composer.
"They're the kind of people I want to work with these days -- the humble up-and-comers with great ideas."
Tallarico has become a celebrity in the multi-billion dollar gaming industry, not only for his musical contributions but also as longtime co-host of the TV shows Reviews on the Run and The Electric Playground.
He and fellow composer Jack Wall created Video Games Live -- a symphonic, multimedia tribute to the history of game music -- in 2005, to much critical and popular acclaim.
At first, the lavish show was only performed a handful of times a year, but the tour that is swinging through Centre in the Square this weekend has more than 60 scheduled dates with orchestras around the world.
Giant screens onstage will broadcast footage of games from Pong to Halo and beyond, which tends to inspire cheering whenever gamers in the audience spot their favourite titles.
Tallarico hosts the concert, plays guitar during many of the songs and hangs out for meet-and-greet sessions with fans after each show.
Many of those fans, he says, are new converts who have never even made Super Mario smoosh a goomba.
"You don't have to know a darn thing about video games to come to the show and really be entertained," he says.
"And it's also ushering in a whole new generation of young people to see a symphony. It's a place where all the non-gamers can come because they're into the symphony, and all the gamers can come to hear the music they love."
Naturally, the Waterloo game gurus of Frozen North Productions will take a break from programming their topsy-turvy universe to attend the concerts.
The shows could, after all, provide a glimpse into their not-too-distant future.
"Thanks to Tommy, we know we have a quality soundtrack," says Spillane. "So you might hear our music being played at Video Games Live concerts one day."
Video Games Live
A multimedia concert by the K-W Symphony at Centre in the Square
Tonight, tomorrow, 8 p.m. (6:30 p.m.: video game festival in Centre lobby) Tickets: $35 to $80 ($20 students/children); 519-578-1570; www.kwsymphony.on.ca; www.centre-square.com