It was more than two years ago that a casual conversation between two like-minded Beatles fans led to the development of what has now become one of the most anticipated rhythm games to date. Upon its release on September 9 this year, The Beatles: Rock Band will aim to cross generational gaps and bring together both music lovers and gamers in a celebration of the four boys from Liverpool who changed the face of rock and roll forever. In a testament to the growing power and influence of rhythm games, The Beatles: Rock Band marks the first time the music of the Beatles will be available in a widely distributed interactive format. We caught up with Harmonix creative director Josh Randall to ask him about developing The Beatles: Rock Band and the hard task of handpicking the finest Beatles tracks.
GameSpot AU: We’ve heard a lot of rumours about how the Beatles: Rock Band project began. Can you set the record straight for us? How did it all start?
Josh Randall: 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.
GS AU: How do you even go about selecting a tracklist that encompasses the essence of The Beatles?
JR: We began by brainstorming with Giles Martin on a list of songs that would be fun to play in our game, which we felt was an important place to start. We wanted the game to span the entire performing and recording history of The Beatles, so we tried to select songs, outfits, eras, and venues that would represent key milestones in their amazing career. I think in the end we came up with a great selection of popular favourites and deep cuts. There should be something in this game for everyone!
GS AU: How did the remaining Beatles and Giles Martin’s involvement in the project shape the way it turned out?
JR: 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.
GS AU: Obviously a lot of Beatles fans out there will want to play this game, but they may not necessarily be familiar with rhythm games. How have you taken this into account?
JR: We recognised that from the start of this project. There are a lot more Beatles fans than rhythm game fans out there, so we knew we needed to support first-time players but also give hardcore Rock Band players a challenge. We made a few improvements to the Rock Band difficulty settings.
In The Beatles: Rock Band, "easy" difficulty is automatically set so you can’t fail out. If you want to turn on the "no fail" mode for other difficulties, it’s now a lot easier to do so. We also have practice modes for people that really want to perfect their "fab" scores.
GS AU: Will there be a possibility of including Beatles tracks that don’t feature the standard guitar/bass/drums instrument setup? For example, excluding one or more instruments or charting piano/strings to the guitar?
JR: There are songs included that aren’t limited to just guitar, bass, and drum tracks. If you are familiar with their music, you know the Beatles experimented with lots of different instruments. In the game, you’ll still use your guitar, bass, and drum controllers to play these instruments.
GS AU: In the creation of this game, how did you deal with the early Beatles music? For example, "I Saw Her Standing There" exists only as a two-track recording (the band on one track, the vocals on the other). How did you separate this out given that the session tapes for the first two albums have been destroyed?
JR: Working with The Beatles' master recordings was amazing and truly a privilege. Some of the songs that were recorded as two-track or four-track posed some technical problems. Giles Martin at Abbey Road was able to create the playable tracks our game needs (separated guitar, bass, drum, and vocals) the hard way, using advanced audio filtering techniques to filter out instrument frequencies one second at a time.
In some cases Giles had to develop ways to tease apart instruments that were recorded to a single audio track--effectively constructing multitrack audio where there was none.
GS AU: What is the scope of future DLC like? Will it be very difficult to include the band's later solo work, given the very specific dreamscapes and live venues that are tied to specific songs? And are there plans to release most of the Beatles catalogue eventually? Or indeed, all?
JR: I can tell you that other studio recordings released on DLC will have their own custom dreamscapes. As far as what else we’ll release for DLC, you’ll have to wait and see!
GS AU: Given that this game follows the story and career of The Beatles, will you also be exploring the tension between the members and the music that came out of that?
JR: We really focused on the music rather than anything that happened between members of the band. We knew we didn’t want to make the game feel like a history lesson, but I’m really happy with the amount of historical detail we were able to fit into the game to tell their story.
GS AU: Where to from here? You've set the bar pretty high. Is it likely we’ll see Pink Floyd: Rock Band or Led Zeppelin: Rock Band anytime soon?
JR: We’ve got a few ideas. We’re always up for working with creative artists that like what we do. We’ll see what happens!
GS AU: Josh Randall, thanks for your time.