The Game Awards 2023: How orchestra chief makes the famous medley

A man with medium-length grey hair, brushed back, wears a tuxedo with black jacket, white shirt and black bow tie as he poses on a red carpet. He's in front of a white hoarding with logos for The Game Awards and YouTube Gaming printed across it in a repeating pattern. He casts a faint shadow on the board as a result of light from the photographers' flash bulbs hitting himGetty Images

Red carpets, acceptance speeches and upset wins are usually the highlights of awards shows. But there’s one where the orchestra often steals the show.

The Game Awards, which takes place later, and is a celebration of the year’s best titles.

Music and sound is a central experience to any game, so it makes sense that it also features heavily during the so-called “Oscars of gaming”.

And the man in charge of making it happen is musical director and conductor Lorne Balfe.

He trained under legendary movie composer Hans Zimmer, and has worked on blockbuster films including Top Gun: Maverick and Mission: Impossible.

But it was his gaming music – from the Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed franchises – that caught the eyes and ears of Game Awards organiser Geoff Keighley.

Lorne says his comfort zone is “hiding in the studio 23 hours of the day”, but he agreed to do the show.

The main event of the night is a medley incorporating all the theme tunes from the six Game of the Year nominees.

An orchestra performs on a large stage with "Game of the Year" projected on to a screen at the rear in colourful block capital letters. An image of the awards statue - a winged figure leaning backwards as if about to take flight - is superimposed on top. There are between 30 and 40 members of the orchestra, most of them seated and playing a range of stringed and woodwind instruments. To the far right, an electric guitarist stands facing the crowd, and a large cylindrical Japanese Taiko drum is on a plinth in the centre of the group.

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And this year, Lorne has to weave Alan Wake 2, Resident Evil 4 Remake, Baldur’s Gate 3, Spider-Man 2, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Super Mario Wonder into one coherent piece.

That’s two horror games, two epic RPGs, a superhero blockbuster and the world’s favourite plumber.

Is that a challenge when the nominations are revealed just a few weeks before the show?

“It’s blooming difficult, is the answer,” Lorne tells BBC Newsbeat.

“You’re constantly trying to make sure that it’s just a flowing piece and that the audience are going to sit and just really feel that this year has been summed up.

“I just try to think ‘what would I like to actually listen to if I was the audience, and how would I like to see it?'”

A man with curly, afro-style hair plays a modified woodwind instrument that resembles a flute. He's holding one end up to his mouth, and both arms are supporting the other end of the long instrument at chin height. He appears to be standing up, and exerting himself as he plays. He's bathed in a stage light that illuminates the front of his body and face but quickly fades off into blackness behind him.

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Obviously, Lorne doesn’t get much choice over the material he gets to work with, but confesses he keeps an eye on what’s doing well with game critics.

“I’m always very conscious of what’s being liked,” he says.

“So you kind of start feeling happy… and then there’s always a kind of a shock, a curveball where you kind of think: ‘Well… I didn’t know that was gonna make it,'” he says.

“And then you get it and you’re just left scratching your head.”

But most fans would agree Lorne manages to pull it off, and the medley is often one of the highlights of the night.


Why the 2023 Game Awards will be different

The Game Awards’ organiser Geoff Keighley, who’s led the event for nine years, describes it as a “celebration” of gaming.

And with this year having so many critically acclaimed titles, there’s certainly a lot to be happy about.

But the games industry’s also been hit by a huge number of layoffs – and people have been asking whether the show will address this.

Like many awards shows, there has also been chat about whether the ceremony will acknowledge world events like the Israel-Gaza war.

The Game Awards, and its sister event Summer Game Fest, have also been criticised for being too commercial and a lack of females on-stage.

BBC Newsbeat sent questions about these and other issues to the organisers – but didn’t receive answers to all of them.

However, Geoff’s co-producer Kimmie Kim, told Newsbeat: “Our focus was always and still is to remain faithful to what we think makes good content for the viewer and participants on the show.

“Also, as the gaming industry becomes more inclusive, we want to be more welcoming to those new to the industry.”

And Geoff himself has said: “Every year we try to improve and refine our approach.”


And last year, it made an unlikely star of musician Pedro Eustache, when his passionate woodwind solo went viral, earning him the nickname “Flute Guy”.

“I’ve known him for about 15 years,” says Lorne.

“And I think I call him the Flute Guy now, even in emails.

“But he’s definitely coming back. And he will be having another solo again, and rightly so.

“Music is his passion and his life. And when you see him performing, that is who he is. It’s just oozing out of him. So it was great after last year to see the amount of people falling in love with him.”

Lorne says that the prominence of the orchestra at the awards has helped to switch more people on to orchestral music, and in some cases even pick up an instrument themselves.

“I think what game music is really doing is showing that it’s not the stuffy old-school classical world,” he says.

“It’s a whole world that attracts different ages. And I think that that’s what the orchestra is doing. It’s getting a new audience and a younger audience into this sonic experience they normally wouldn’t have.

“I think if you can’t get young people into it, then the concept of live music will just vanish one day – we have to keep making sure that audiences want to witness these things and listen to them.”

The Game Awards takes place in Los Angeles from 00:30 GMT on Friday.


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