The Beatles: Rock Band

Harmonix on The Beatles: Rock Band

We had the chance to ask Josh Randall, creative director at Harmonix, a bunch of questions about the soon to be released The Beatles: Rock Band.

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With the "Dreamcast-esque" release date of 09.09.09 we will soon get to enjoy playing the music of The Beatles in a video game for the first time.

The Beatles: Rock Band
Josh Randall, creative director on The Beatles: Rock Band at Harmonix.

How did the idea for The Beatles: Rock Band come about, and what were the biggest hurdles that had to be overcome in order to actually get it done?

The concept actually came about because of a chance meeting during the family vacations of Van Toffler, President of MTV Networks Music Group and the Harrison family, Olivia and Dhani. Dhani Harrison is a huge fan of Harmonix and its history and reputation for developing music games. From that conversation, MTV Games' Paul DeGooyer and Harmonix's Alex Rigopulos worked with Apple Corps to make this dream a reality.

One of the challenges was how to adapt these original master recordings for the game. In addition to the songs being "unedited" to remove fade-outs, we've gone back to the multi-track masters of each song, so that we can isolate the sound of each instrument and use that sound as feedback during gameplay. We use this multi-track audio to let you know when you've played correctly: either you hear your instrument, or you don't. In some cases Giles Martin at Abbey Road had to develop ways to tease apart instruments that were recorded to a single audio track - effectively constructing multi-track audio where there was none.

One of the biggest graphical challenges was representing John, Paul, George and Ringo ... four of the most recognizable faces in the world. Everyone knows how they look, how they move, etc., so it was tricky to find the right balance of realistic versus stylization 3D models. We studied hours of footage and countless photos to recreate them.

Another daunting challenge was what to do with the band once they stopped touring. We came up with the idea for this part of their career to have the band travel to imagined "Dreamscapes"- fantastic landscapes based on their music. This was something new for the team, but we were up for the challenge. It was basically like making 20+ fully realized music videos for The Beatles...no small feat.

The Beatles: Rock Band

Many play Rock Band as a challenge, how will the relatively easy pop songs from the Beatles challenge these players?

With every Harmonix title we try to bring innovation and challenge for the player. The original Rock Band was the first band game to allow players to rock out on bass, guitar, drums or vocals. Rock Band 2 perfected that experience and introduced disc export. The innovation of The Beatles: Rock Band is the three-part harmonies, which is harder than you might think, and dreamscapes.

The Guitar Hero-band games seems to focus a lot on delivering rewards in the form of videoclips, interviews, concert clips, etc. Your AC/DC-game had none of this, will we see any extra content like this with the Beatles game? Why/Why not?

When playing in "Story" mode, players are able to unlock memorabilia in the game, like never-before-seen photographs, for example. The better you play, the more cool stuff you can unlock. Apple Corps and Harmonix agreed that this game shouldn't feel like a history lesson. That being said, we wanted to inject some of cool historical tidbits along your journey through the game. There are some pretty cool unlocks in there!

Did you have any idea when working on Frequency that you would be making pretty much the same game with original Beatles master recordings, instruments and millions of fans a few years later? How does it feel to have turned what was a cult game into one of the biggest mainstream titles on the market?

Well, I do remember joking with Alex (our CEO) that someday we'd make a Beatles game...I just laughed because I thought it would never happen. I think he laughed because he knew it WOULD happen.

We've learned a lot of valuable lessons since FreQuency. We've spent years honing our craft, polishing our ideas. It took us many years of hard work to get where we are today. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to work on The Beatles: Rock Band. It's a dream come true for the entire company.

The Beatles are pretty much the top of the mountain when it comes to famous bands. How will you be able to top this with future Rock Band-band specific titles?

We're a company full of ideas. You'll just have to wait and see!

And what is your greatest memory from the process?

It was fantastic working with the shareholders, hearing them share stories and giving behind-the-scenes accounts. It was really fascinating to realize these were real people, who worked incredibly hard to create these amazing works. I think it all hit home recently when I saw Paul McCartney in concert, and he projected footage of the game behind him while he performed "The End." I nearly lost my mind.

Are you still able to listen to The Beatles after stripping their songs down and probably hearing them a million times during the production?

Ha ha...yes. I still love listening to them...which is good, because their music tends to turn up everywhere you go! That was one of my early concerns on this project..."Is this going to ruin The Beatles' music for me forever?" The answer is, NO! After hearing the separated multi-track versions of these songs, I have a deeper understanding and appreciation of this music now...it's more fascinating than ever.

The Beatles: Rock Band

What is your favourite Beatles-song?

My personal favorite is probably "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". I've loved that song (and album) since I was a kid.

Have Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr been directly involved in the process of making the game?

We've been overwhelmed by the access Harmonix has been given to resource material throughout the development of this title, and we are unendingly grateful for the support, enthusiasm, input and vision that Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as Yoko Ono Lennon, Olivia Harrison and the entire Apple Corps team have shown.

Which Beatle are you and why?

Hmmm...I can't even compare myself to those guys, so I can't answer!

A lot of young people complain whenever you put out DLC with 70s rock or country, do you feel the younger Rock Band-players in your community want to play songs by The Beatles, or are they only interested in contemporary emo and nu-metal?

We recently surpassed a whopping 800 tracks on disc and DLC for Rock Band, with more than 55 million paid downloads! With that many tracks, along with packs spanning country, metal and classic rock, and now The Beatles: Rock Band, the Rock Band platform really offers something for almost everyone.

If you want even more on The Beatles: Rock Band check out the video interview with Harmonix co-founder Alex Rigopulos from Gamescom below.

The Beatles: Rock Band
The Beatles: Rock Band
The Beatles: Rock Band

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