Interview With

Tommy Tallarico

The sound of Metroid Prime
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We are delighted to be speaking with Tommy Tallarico, who was originally contracted to work on the sound effects for Metroid Prime. Outside of Metroid he is the host, Executive Producer and CEO of Video Games Live as well as a three times Guinness World Record holder! We chat with Tommy regarding his work on Metroid and his career.

SS: First of all Tommy, please introduce yourself to our members and tell us a little bit about what you do.

TT: My name is Tommy Tallarico and I’ve been a video game composer for over 21 years. I’ve worked on over 275 video games and the creator/producer/host of Video Games Live. You can read my full bio here:
http://www.tallarico.com/index.php?s=biography

SS: How were you and your team first approached to get involved with Metroid Prime?

TT: I was at a Nintendo party during E3. It must have been around 1998 or so. Miyamoto-san (who I knew for years before that) and another friend Jeff Spandenberg (president of Retro Studios) approached me and asked if I would be interested in working on a “top secret” project. I immediately said yes because of Miyamoto-san’s involvement. I didn’t care what it was. The fact that it was a remake of Metroid was the icing on the cake!

SS: You were the first person to be hired to work for Retro Studios on the first Metroid Prime. What was it like for you and the team during those early days of development?

TT: I was hired as an outside contractor to work on the sound effects so I never spent any time at Retro Studios. I would get lists of sounds that they needed and we would give them 5 or 6 different options per sound and they would pick their favorite one or give us feedback to make it perfect.

SS: You’ve had a huge influence in many games over a variety of different platforms over the years. How does working on Metroid compare with working on other video games?

TT: It’s right up there with the stuff I did for the Sonic series, Pac-Man, Earthworm Jim, Bond, Tony Hawk, Unreal franchise & Madden. It’s a great feeling when you’re working on an already established franchise and you know that the game is going to be super popular and heard by millions of people. There’s been a lot of times when I’ve poured my heart and soul into a project, but the game flops and you feel disappointed because you want people to hear what you’ve created. It’s not about the money… it’s about reaching people through your creativity and ideas. That’s the big pay-off for me. Metroid Prime definitely delivered that.

SS: The latest Metroid game in the series Other M composed by Kuniaki Haishima, provided an orchestrated score that was both eerie and atmospheric. Do you feel Metroid suits an orchestrated score or would you prefer to see it go back to its roots?

TT: For Metroid, I think the score can be one or the other… or a combination of both. I think that both ideas work equally as well and could also work together. The atmospheric synthy stuff really sets a tone and gives you that great haunting sci-fi feel. Whereas the orchestral stuff can really bring out power and emotion like nothing else.

SS: Metroid has given us some memorable themes throughout the years and some new additions with every game. Do you feel a good level of nostalgia is important in video games or do you feel games should move forward with new content?

TT: I’m a big one for nostalgia. Gotta remember the roots. Taking old memorable themes that people know and arranging them in different ways is a great way to keep everything fresh while providing the fans with what they want and are familiar with.

SS: Shigeru Miyamoto is such an iconic character who has given a great service to the video game industry over the years. What was it like to work with such an iconic character during the development of Metroid Prime?

TT: He’s the greatest game designer in the world for a reason. It’s not hype at all…. he’s the real deal! I’ll tell you a quick Miyamoto story to help explain. Normally when you create sound effects for a game (especially weapon sounds) you need to first see the visuals and animations so you can create the sound. When I was working on Metroid Prime as the sound designer, Miyamoto-san had requested me to create weapon sounds, but instead of giving me the visuals, he wanted me to just create interesting and amazing sounds which he would then give to the graphic artists and designers to inspire them to create the weapon. No one thinks like that except the great ones! He thinks outside the box and is willing to take chances and do things differently.

SS: Video Games Live has become a global success, with concerts worldwide and since 2005 has featured some incredible talent. Five years later, what has the whole experience been like for you and where do you see Video Games Live in the future?

TT: It’s been the greatest experience of my life. I feel so honored to be able to perform the greatest video game music around the world to millions of people. It’s a dream come true. The best part is showing non-gamers how culturally significant and artistic video games (and their music) are and have become. I’ll keep touring Video Games Live for the rest of my life if people are still interested in coming. I’ve created over 70 segments for Video Games Live over the years but we can only perform about 18 – 20 a night. So the show is ALWAYS different, always changing… always new. There is so much great material out there (both old and new) that I’ll never run out. So as long as people are still interested in seeing it… I’ll never stop performing it.

SS: Have you ever received any feedback from the gaming community regarding any of your works that have left a lasting impression on you?

TT: The folks over at Gamespot and Yahoo Games called my score for Advent Rising “the greatest video game soundtrack to date.” That was pretty special (although personally I don’t agree).  I still receive a lot of love for the stuff I did on Earthworm Jim 1 & 2. It’s amazing that almost 20 years later people still listen and appreciate it. It gives me chills just thinking about it. I’ve been very fortunate to have the career I do and to work on the projects I have.

SS: After working with video games for so many years, what inspires and drives you to continue making video game music and keep you coming back for more?

TT: Probably the challenge of doing something new and different that no one has heard before. The excitement of trying to do something so different that people enjoy it and talk about it. Knowing that music and sound can change a persons emotional state is a pretty powerful thing.

SS: It is fair to say that you’ve had quite a successful career so far, which is bound to continue. When it’s finally game over for you, what would you like to be remembered for?

TT: Helping to change the perception that video game music is a legitimate art form and that I was passionate in everything I did.

SS: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us Tommy, do you have any closing comments you’d like to make?

TT: I hope to meet everyone at a Video Games Live show someday! I really enjoy getting feedback about the show and it always helps to fuel new ideas. Our TOUR DATES page is located here:
http://www.videogameslive.com/index.php?s=dates

And please be my friend on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tommy-Tallarico-Fan-Page/176178855725782

Shinesparkers would like to give special thanks to Tommy for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us and wish him the very best of luck with Video Games Live.

© 2011 Darren Kerwin and Tommy Tallarico
Special thanks to Lee Garasich for his contribution
Interviewed 20th January 2011