Rethinking the Couch Gaming Experience with Tommy Tallarico

Tommy Tallarico is rethinking the couch gaming experience. He told us more about Intellivision Amico and shared how to get started in the music industry.

© Tommy Tallarico Studios, Inc.

Tommy Tallarico is a veritable video game industry icon. As one of the most successful video game composers in history, he has helped revolutionize the gaming world, creating unique audio landscapes that enhance the video gaming experience. He is considered the person most instrumental in changing the game industry from bleeps & bloops to real music now appreciated worldwide by billions of fans. As a well-recognized on-air television personality, live performer, show producer, creative director, game console CEO/President, sound designer and composer, Tommy brings his in-depth knowledge, years of experience, and love of cutting edge multimedia and pop culture to the masses. Tommy has worked in the gaming industry as a designer, product manager, producer, writer, hardware executive, games tester and heads of both music and video departments. 

 

He produced, co-created, wrote and co-hosted 3 internationally award-winning syndicated and network television shows as well as creating, producing and hosting the continuing worldwide touring sensation Video Games Live.  Since 2010 he has become a highly sought after live show creative director/producer. Clients include Disney, MGM, Blizzard/Activision, Capcom and artists such as Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin & EDM artist BT. In 2018 he was named CEO/President of legacy video game company Intellivision Entertainment to help launch a brand new home video game system called the Intellivision Amico.

An accomplished musician, Tallarico has been writing music for video games for over 30 years.  He has won over 50 industry awards and has worked on more than 320 game titles; to date, they total sales of more than 250 million units and over 10 billion dollars in revenue.  No one in the history of the video game industry has ever worked on more titles and projects.  In 2008, he was enshrined in the Guinness Book of World Records with a two page feature article and interview and currently holds 5 Guinness World Records including the person who has worked on the most commercially released video games and the largest symphony show ever seen live (over 752,000 people in China).  In 1994, he founded Tommy Tallarico Studios, the multimedia industry’s largest audio production house.  In video games, television, film, radio, soundtracks, toys and even on floats in the New Years Day Rose Parade in Pasadena CA, Tallarico’s music has been heard by hundreds of millions of people around the world.  Tommy is a cousin of rock star legend Steven Tyler (nee Tallarico) and in 2002 Tallarico’s music was used as the opening song for Aerosmiths’ “Girls of Summer” world tour. 

His top titles include Earthworm Jim, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Disney’s Aladdin, Spider-Man and Metroid Prime as well as top selling popular game franchises such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, Guitar Hero, Madden Football, Mortal Kombat, Time Crisis, Unreal, Lineage, James Bond, Blitz Football, The 7th Guest, Knockout Kings, Test Drive, Scooby Doo, WWE & Twisted Metal. His score for Advent Rising has been noted as „one of the greatest musical scores of all time“ by websites such as Yahoo, Gamespot and others.  Tallarico is the creator of the beloved Roblox „Oof“ sound which became a worldwide sensation and arguably the most famous pop culture sound of the 21st century garnishing billions of views from memes and YouTube videos around the world.

Let’s start with what is Amico? How did you start the project? What is the idea behind it?
 
Intellivision has been a brand that started in the late 1970s. It came out first in 1979, the first console kind of gave Atari a run for its money by the early 80s and Intellivision owned about 20% of the entire video game market for home consoles. So, it’s kind of like Microsoft Xbox is today.
I’ve been in the video game industry for over 32 years and working on some of the biggest games out there like Tony Hawk Pro Skater, Earthworm Jim, Disney’s Aladdin, Guitar Hero, Metroid Prime, the Sonic franchise, James Bond, Spider-Man – a lot of big games. And About four years ago the president of Intellivision passed away. And I was a big fan of Intellivision. I had an Intellivision when I was growing up. When I think of Intellivision, I get very emotional because it reminds me of my childhood and playing games with my mother and father, and my younger brother and things like that. But I’ve seen this huge gaping hole in the video game industry over the last 10 years, which is that a lot of the games I can’t play with my mom and dad anymore or even my wife. That the games are too complicated for them. They’re too complex, controllers are too complex and menu screens too. Learning abilities like getting up to speed, to be able to fairly compete, even against me, is kind of crazy for them. A lot of games out there that are so photorealistic, there is violence, sexual content, bad language. It’s not really great for kids. Most of the games are a very solitary experience even when you think of multiplayer these days you think of a kid in a dark room with their headphones. Where I was growing up gaming was very different. Then you think about where all of the casual and hyper casual gamers are and they’re playing on mobile. But the problem with mobile gaming is microtransactions, in app purchases, loot boxes, those games are designed around trying to suck as much money out of you as possible. And the other problem though, once again, it’s very solitary, right? All of the video games that are made on mobile, it’s just one person staring at it.
© Intellivision Entertainment, LLC.
Usually, they are very static.
 
Yeah, exactly! And this is something that we looked at. And something that I feel very strongly about because I couldn’t play games with my mom and dad anymore. I couldn’t play games and they say, “well, what about the Switch? They have some casual games, but it’s very different giving my wife a little tiny thing and trying to play a casual game to a hardcore gamer, something like Overcooked for example, right? That’s not casual to her. For her there are too many things moving around and she likes Candy Crush. Just match the things or pop the bubbles. Even the complexity of dual analog sticks, shoulder buttons, multiple controls, it’s very confusing for a non-player. If you think back 15 years ago, you remember the Nintendo Wii. My mom bought a Nintendo Wii. She just wants to go bowling. It’s just throwing using the motion controls… That’s really kind of where this was born from. All of the home consoles now have gotten so complicated and expensive. A lot of the titles are mature rated, etc.
I assembled this amazing team of game makers. We’re actually game developers with over 600 years of experience in the industry, making some of the biggest selling and most popular award-winning games of all time. And then we hired amazing Engineers from NASA Space Program to the US Military and all this brought all these hardware people and both from the gaming side and the military industrial complex side as well. And we started creating this machine called Amico, which is the Italian word for ‘friend’. Our main pillars are simple – affordable, family, and fun. And like I mentioned in my presentation at E3, we’re not trying to compete with Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, PC games, not even mobile. We’re just trying to do our own little thing. Think of us as something between mobile and the Switch. There’s 200 million hardcore gamers in the world. There’s 3.1 billion people that play mobile every single day. We’re trying to capture a lot of those people as well. Or to bring an equality even to a hardcore gamer. Maybe one of their friends comes over, who doesn’t play video games, or maybe they have a wife or a girlfriend or husband, whatever, who doesn’t play video games. This would be the system to bring out so that they can enjoy and play with you. You’re all on the same level. That’s really what we’re about and the controller is really cool and unique. It’s not like anything else. No, you’re not going to play Call of Duty on this or Fortnite. But what you can do is on a colorized touchscreen, it has accelerometer motion controls, a gyroscope and it’s a screen just like on your phone – same quality, same speed.
Yeah, it should be very useful in some cases in the gameplay. Depends on the game.

Exactly, if you’re playing cards or if you want to shake the dice and then throw them on screen, you want to have secret hints to people who are maybe behind or not winning and give them a little boost. And here’s something that’s really cool that a lot of gamers actually appreciated when we presented it. I can take my controller, I can go over to your house, I dock it in your machine and now we can play all of my games on your system as long as I’m there with my controller. That’s pretty cool. We’re trying to do things very differently.
© Tommy Tallarico Studios, Inc.
Let’s talk about the gamer’s behavior. Can you share your experience? What kind of games do you prefer and why?

I have always liked simple, easy, pick-up-to-play games. But some of my favorite modern games are Red Dead Redemption and Metal Gear. I even find myself in Red Dead 2 when you pick up the game and you really have to set aside half a day in order to play these games these days. Because they are so complex, you must be so involved and they are so vast and big. And I have started to feel guilty like “Oh man, I have to spend half a day”. My wife wants to go out for dinner, my dog wants to go for a walk and here I am in the ‘man cave’ playing Red Dead for 6 hours. When I find this I play that and I come back after a few days and I completely forgot what all the controls are. And again, I love those games, but really the more simple the controls and the interface are the more people you are inviting in to play. When you think back of your favorite video game moment in your life, I guarantee it was probably when you are with other people in the room playing together, right? For me growing up it was the original Intellivision, playing baseball with my dad or hockey with my brother, or skiing with my mom, Utopia or Astrosmash with friends… Later in the early 90s, we were playing GoldenEye 007 on N64 or Mario Kart on Super Nintendo. Or the Halo LAN parties, when everyone hooks up in a different room. Can you say the same, are your favorite moments when you are playing with other people? Is that a fair statement?
Absolutely, back in the days I loved to play Valve games or Halo which involve multiplayer. And maybe this is a follow up question. What kind of games do you prefer, multiplayer or single player? This is part of our research Gaming in Numbers and I am seeing the facts that many game studios are investing in multiplayer right now. But what’s happened? What would be the future of single player mode?
 
You heard some of the announcements like Battlefield. They take out the single player mode. I love them both. I love games that have both, but again the multiplayer I like is when the people are in the same room – not the online multiplayer. I like to communicate with people. It’s fun when your friends are on the couch together and you can punch him in the arm when you beat him, or they punch you and joke about it. It’s a different feeling. That real co-op is the feel I am starting to miss in the game industry, especially for hyper casual gamers. There are Call of Duty and Battlefield, and all these online games. But what about the people who don’t play those? What’s available for them to play with me? When they are the same level as I am. That’s where we want to live and breathe.

I like both [multiplayer and single player modes]. I love single player, because I love platform games, but I also like co-op. If I have to choose, I will probably choose the couch co-op – being in the room together playing with people.
We talked about children and playing games with your family. Can you say which is the exact age that you can start playing games? Or if you have a child, for example, what would be the recommended age?
 
One of our biggest licenses is Sesame Street. And they are the number one children edutainment over the last 50 years in television. I grew up watching Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch and the Cookie Monster. Is that big in Bulgaria?
Yes, definitely. It was big when I was a kid.
 
Even in Bulgaria! They were telling me that the games we were developing with them start from 3-year-olds. And they can start to understand and this is why the controller is too important – moving a disk, the touchscreen or touching a button – that’s something that starts at an early age. Some of our Sesame Street software is for learning for 3 to 5-year-olds. You are learning colors, you are learning shades, words, etc.
© Tommy Tallarico Studios, Inc.
I have an off-topic question. How to start a career in music in the video game industry?
 
That’s a great question! There is a non-profit organization that I started over 20 years ago. It’s called Game Audio Network Guild, where the letters spell out GANG. It is an amazing place to start. But you got to put together a demo reel with some of your best music. It’s about 4-5 songs which are about 1:00-1:30 min. long. You have to show the people what you are capable of doing. And I have always told people to put their favorite songs. Don’t put songs that you think other people would like. It’s all about passion. You have to be the most passionate about what you’re doing. You will succeed when you are doing something you love. That will pour out of your art and craft, and your music. If you are passionate about it, it will shine through. And if someone says “Write me a country song” and you are like “I don’t like country music, but it’s OK, I will try”. It will be very different if someone who loves country music does it. Put your best out there.

But the biggest thing I can tell people is that you got to network. Networking is just as important as talent. But a lot of people don’t like to hear that it’s not all about the talent. It’s about networking as well and being able to sell yourself. Being able to get in front of the right people. Don’t rely on luck! Don’t rely on the ocean opening up with a path to the other side! You have to work at it every single day. You never give up! Meet as many people as possible that are doing what you are doing. Just go to video game expos or creative conferences. You can also reach out to game developers in your area and ask them to do music for free or for a low price. And they can give you the chance to start and get some credits. It’s a lot of hustle. A lot of passion and hard work. And never giving up!