Only a few games at this year’s E3 gave me goosebumps. Two of those games you’re yet to read the previews on (because I haven’t wrote them yet), and a third ... well, the third was The Beatles: Rock Band. After Harmonix had given us a 30 minute presentation of the title; demonstrating some of the game’s tracks, its 6 player co-op mode, the atmosphere they attempt to recreate in the stadiums and the visual orgasms that are the dreamscapes; we got chance to sit down with Creative Director, Josh Randall to talk about the upcoming Beatles experience.
So you guys must be pretty stoked to work with such an influential band with a great catalogue?
Oh my god man, it’s been a dream come true for everyone at Harmonix. We just love these guys so much and we really wanted to get it right. We sunk a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this and we’re just really excited to be here today and see it sort of come together.
How long has the whole title been in motion, say from the initial talks to where we are now?
It’s been, I think, close to 2 years actually. We’ve been working on developing the game for like a year and a half. It originally started from a meeting with Dhani Harrison [ed: George’s son who apparently was influential in the game’s fruition] and Alex Rigopulos, our CEO, cause Dhani’s a real big fan of our previous music games, so he wanted to just talk to Alex, and they got scheming and it sort of came together from there.
Was it quite hard to persuade them initially as they may not have been that aware of the whole Rock Band culture?
Yeah, I think it was like a new thing for them, but once they understood, they were like “wow, this is encouraging kids to play music together,” and then they were in.
So we have 45 original, master Beatles recordings. Can we expect any support songs from other bands?
Oh no, it’s all Beatles.
You’ve got the Abbey Road album and DLC track already planned for after launch (All you Need is Love), are there any plans to make the whole collection available some point down the line?
That would be awesome. We’ll see, but right now we’re starting with Abbey Road, but we’ll see where we go from there.
How does the difficulty stand up because a lot of people have been concerned about whether it could be hardcore enough to satisfy their “expert” Rock Band needs?
Well the thing about The Beatles is that ... I was talking with Giles Martin [ed: Sir George Martin’s son, The Beatles’ producer] and he’s like “they kind of wrote tunes ... they don’t really shred that much.” I mean sometimes they do, and there are some songs that are super challenging, but I think the real challenge in this game, is going to be playing and singing vocal harmony at the same time. Which is what The Beatles did, can you do it? It’s really hard.
What we tried to do, was realise that this game was going to have to appeal to such a broad spectrum of people cause the music is so universal, right? So you have to really let people who have rarely ever played a video game before have fun. So we have something for those folks, but we also have stuff for the hardcore player as well.
What sort of new features can we expect to see in the title because we saw the new vocal features on display just?
Well “vocal harmony,” that’s the big one. You can plug in up to three microphones and you can either, well you can choose, everyone can either sing the main line, but if you want, you can go off and sing the other harmony lines. The thing we found is that people are trying to work towards getting “double fabs” and “triple fabs,” so I don’t know if you notice ... In Rock Band when you get scored on your vocals, you get like “ok,” “good,” “great,” “awesome,” but you can’t say awesome in a Beatles game, right? So when you’re doing really well, you get “fab” and if you get a “triple fab,” it’s like a perfect three part harmony.
If you really want to get deeper into the harmonies, we have a training mode, like in Rock Band, where you can go in and listen to the notes behind each individual vocal line. So if you wanted it to be like, “oh, I want to be the high harmony,” you can go and practice that and come back and sing it. It’s pretty cool ... I was thinking about it today, my job is pretty awesome that I’m encouraging the world to sing a harmony. It’s pretty cool.
So the harmony thing sounds great, but how does it stack up for a player that just wants to jump in on his own? I presume it’s like normal, right?
Yeah. So there’s a couple of different ways to play it. There’s quickplay which is like Rock Band ... play any song. Then there is also story mode which is a campaign throughout the history of the band. So you go through all the different eras; you start in the Cavern Club, you work your way up to the Ed Sullivan Show. Shea Stadium for 50,000 people ... the Budokan. And then, The Beatles, their career was pretty interesting, they just got really huge, really fast ... and then they were like ... “we’re not touring anymore, we’re done. We’re just going to lock ourselves in the studio.”
That’s when you go to Abbey Road Studio Two and that’s when we were thinking, oh, it’d be really cool when you’re there to have the walls kind of melt away and you go into these trippy dreamscapes as we call them.
It seems you’ve got the art style spot on with the dreamscapes and opening cinematic and such ... How did you even start about trying to tackle that beast?
Yeah, I mean we met with Apple Corps constantly and we’re constantly showing them sketches and talking through ideas and they would like point us in the right direction. Like, “oh, that’s cool,” and “no, no, no, don’t do that.” And finally, just by having them as our active creative partner, it kind of just came together.
So did everything have to be passed off by Apple Corps then? Was it quite a stringent process?
Since they are like our partner, it was like we wanted to make sure they were cool with where we were heading. We just made sure everyone was synchronised on where we were going the whole time.
Is the game nearly finished then?
Yep, almost done. Getting ready for the 9th.
The Beatles: Rock Band will be available on the 9th September worldwide on the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii.