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INTERVIEW
Tommy Tallarico


The founder of Tommy Tallarico Studios, and host of TV's The Electric Playground. Tommy has created more videogame music and sound effects than any other individual in the industry!

MT> I first met you at the '91 Summer CES many years ago when Virgin was unveiling their fine Mick and Mack Global Gladiators game. Was this your first videogame soundtrack?
TT> Officially my first ever video game I worked on was Prince of Persia for the Gameboy. That was mostly converting and updating previously written music and creating new sound fx. As far as writing music and producing the entire thing from scratch, Global Gladiators would be my first.

MT> You worked closely with Dave Perry at Shiny Studios creating the audio for Earthworm Jim. This title was a landmark title that had more frames of animation than any game created before its time. Did they give the sound design the same amount of attention as they did the video elements?
TT> Dave and I have been great friends since he moved to the U.S. nearly 10 years ago. By the time we worked on Earthworm Jim together we had already completed Global Gladiators, Cool Spot and Disney's Aladdin. (All of which won awards for audio). So Dave and the team were pretty confident to kinda let me do my own thing. Doug TenNaple & Mike Dietz gave me direction as far as "keeping it goofy & funny". From there they pretty much let me did whatever I wanted. Creating the dialogue with both Doug & Mike was the most fun! I still have the recordings of the three of us together doing it. You can barely understand anything because we were all laughing so hard.

MT> How does the sound chip within a console affect the audio creating and utilization process?
TT> Every console you deal with is a little different. Mostly, there are always space constraints no matter what. Even though with the PlayStation 2 we have 4 times more room than the original PlayStation, we still find ourselves running out of space quickly. Only because now instead of sacrificing sampling quality, we try to keep everything at an extremely high quality level and have even started doing lots of static type sounds and ambiences in stereo. All of this of course takes up more space. Another issue is what the programmer is doing with any given level. A lot of times a game may need to "hit the disk" to load in level or graphic information. When this happens the sound designer or composer needs to figure out how the music playing will be affected, or how he can try to hide the loading. There are many different ways to do audio even within the same machine. It's the biggest challenge that the audio guy has to face.

MT> What are some technical hurdles that you encounter being a sound designer for video games, which other composers in other mediums do not have to meet.
TT> Well of course there is the "loading on the fly" issue which I was just talking about. Aside from that, there are things such as interactive music which noone but video game composers would really ever run into. If your playing a level and you have a certain song playing, but you as the composer know that when the time comes to turn the corner and get attcked you will need the music to almost seemlessely change to the action happening on screen. Movies and television are linear. You know exactly what is going to happen when and how. With video games you have no idea when the player is going to do anything. That's the beauty of it.

MT> The Bond films have always been recognized for their theme music. What was it like scoring the videogame soundtrack to 'Tomorrow Never Dies?'
TT> For me Tomorrow Never Dies was a dream come true! It's funny because two of my favorite icons growing up were Spider-Man and James Bond. Last year I did the audio for both games! It was also a great honor for me when the music I had written for Tomorrow Never Dies made it all the way to the head music guy at MGM studios. He called me personally to come in for a meeting. He told me he really loved the stuff and thought it was some of the best Bond music he's ever heard. He got me a record contract that same day and we released the Tomorrow Never Dies video game soundtrack world-wide. At the same time that was happening the next Bond movie "The World Is Not Enough" was also coming out. They ended up using the music we had wrote for the video game in some of the theatrical and television movie trailers for the new movie. My team and I found it quite easy to take such a greatly recoginized theme and turn it into something special. It's such a great theme that you could do anything with those notes and it would sound cool.

MT> You are the first game musician to have music distributed worldwide by a major label. It is obvious that you had ties with Virgin Records since you managed their gaming audio department for over three years. Did you approach them with the idea, or did they recognize the opportunity?
TT> At the time I was going to go directly to Virgin Records for a record deal. Richard Branson had personally given me the names and numbers of the people at Virgin who I should talk to about releasing my music. At the time I had been talking to another company, Capitol Records about doing an album. Capitol jumped on the idea right away so I didn't really even need to call anyone else. I was estatic and honored to be dealing with the same record company that released people like the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Frank Sinatra (to name a small few).

MT> You were the first to use 3D audio in a videogame. Please tell us about your involvement with Q-Sound, and others.
TT> I had been contacted by a marketing guy over at Q-Sound who put me in touch with their creative people. I had made friends with their creative team and they were really interested in what I was doing and the video game industry as a whole. They mixed my first CD game for me in Q-Sound. It was The Terminator for the Sega-CD. The funny part about the story is that the guy who mixed The Terminator for me (and also my first album on Capitol Records) is Buzz Burrowes who is now the head of Sony's internal sound team. The marketing guy was Bernie Stollar who of course went on to head up Sony 3rd party before becoming president of Sega. I think he's heading up Mattel right now. Small industry!


MT> You have revolutionized the gaming music industry many times over. What are some of the audio 'firsts' that you have introduced into games?
TT> I think mostly what I did early on was give the players the kind of music they wanted to hear. I remember playing games and thinking& "This music sucks!" It sounds like a merry-go-round tune or some childish bleeps and blips. Why weren't people doing rock, pop, blues, orchestral, dance, techno, etc.??? No one had ever really heard a real guitar in a video game until the early 90's. I was lucky because I entered the industry when we were on the verge of using midi files, software and technology for creating music. Before the only way to create music was to program it by hand. I don't know too much about programming at all. Another thing I started doing was to introduce lots of musical samples right into the cartridge midi files. Back in the old days on the Sega Genesis, people would use the sample chip to play a scratchy voice sample ("FIGHT") or use it to intro the company name ("SE-GA") I decided why not have that sample channel be playing as much as possible. I had convinced programmers that if they gave me enough space I would make the Genesis sound like noone has ever heard. So I used kick drum and snare drum samples, guitar and horn hits, singing voices, etc. right in the music. On top of that I would use as many real sampled sound fx as I could, by prioritizing every sound in the game I was able to constantly have the sample chip playing without any recognizable drop out when other things took priority. If you go back and listen to a game like Earthworm Jim or Aladdin you'll hear samples going off all the time. No one ever really did that.

MT> What are your current videogame projects?
TT> There's a lot in the pipeline right now. Last year we worked on over 30 games, including Spider-Man, Evil Dead, the Blitz games, Knockout Kings, Sacrifice and March Madness just to name a few. We just finished up the next Time Crisis game for Namco, and we're working on an internally created and produced PS2 game over at the US division of Capcom which is really exciting. We've also been working on Unreal 2. Over the last couple of years I've really enjoyed working on Spider-Man, Tomorrow Never Dies, Pac-Man and Tony Hawk Skateboarding. There's a lot of talk right now of doing a lot of follow ups to games I worked on last year. Without giving away anything (because I haven't officially signed any of the contracts yet) I think it's going to be a pretty exciting year!

MT> Many of our viewers are not familiar with The Electric Playground due to their geographical location and viewing limitations. For those individuals, please describe The Electric Playground.
TT> The Electric Playground is a half-hour weekly television show all about video games which I host, co-produce and write for (oh yeah... I do the music too!). We talk to everyone who makes games from all over the world. We give up to the minute information and we also review all the lastest games at the end of the show. We also talk to lots of celebrities and sports stars who are into games. We cover all sorts of video game functions, parties and events. We talk about video game related toys, comic books, movies, cartoons, etc. Anything to do with video games, we cover it. We like showing people how the games are created and how; if someone wanted to, could get into the video game industry. We've been doing this for 5 years nationally in Canada (we play twice a week up there). You can also stream all of our episodes off the internet at www.elecplay.com But the really exciting news is that we just signed a national deal in the United States with the Discovery Channel. So people everywhere will be able to see the show starting this April!!!

MT> How did you become the host of EP? Were you involved from the beginning?"
TT> It's a funny story actually, Vicor Lucas who is the creater and Executive Producer of the show came up to me at the first E3 and asked to interview me for the pilot episode. I said sure and we did such a great interview together that later that day when I was throwing a party at my house, he asked me to be the host of the show. Vic & I have transformed his initial concept into a living breathing weekly show all about video games. It's not a show for little kids, we didn't want that. Our vision was to make a show for 18-35 year olds. Something that was exciting, funny and entertaining to watch, cause hey let's face it& the kids are going to watch it anyway! Vic & I still work very closely together in all of the concepts, stories, writing and filming of each episode. We have an amazing team of people up in Vancouver that put the show and the website together. The visual effects and cutting of the show are really amazing! Now that Discovery is involved the production has gone up immensely for Season 6. We've also added 3 gorgeous female correspondants to the mix this year. Including Julie from MTV's the Real World who is a total video gameaholic!

MT> You seem to be a 'target' of sorts within the show. What are some of the wackier things that you have been subjected to at The Electric Playground?
TT> Um, let's see I've fallen off a 30 foot ski-lift, parachuted out of airplanes, been thrown out of cars, thrown down steep hills, thrown in the ocean a few times, been blasted close range by paint balls and almost attacked by grizzly bears to name just a few. I love doing all my own stunts. Vic thinks I'm crazy half the time and I scare him constantly but I think he's starting to get used to it. Even all the developers we go and see now are like "Uh-oh& what trouble are you going to get into this time&" It's really fun!!



Good Deal Games would like to thank Tommy for his major contributions in
evolving the part music and sound plays within our favorite industry.



Visit Tommy's websites to learn more:
Tommy Tallarico Studios
The Electric Playground


E-Mail
Tommy Tallarico


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