Rock Band: The Beatles Interview (Xbox360)
Strategy Informer: Rock Band 1 and 2 were great mixes of lots of rock music, and the DLC has something for everyone. The Beatles Rock Band is really quite a step out of that mixture phase. Is that something you were going for, or is it something that just fell into your lap?
Chris Foster: It’s kind of a special case. With the Beatles, you have a band with an incredible legacy of over 20 songs. Almost everyone knows every single one of them, can sing along with every single one of them. They also have an incredible visual legacy. So just putting them in as DLC would have been a missed opportunity. I think the opportunity to tell their story, to perform as the Beatles in all the venues they’ve played, it made sense to make it its own game. But once again, it is a special case.
Strategy Informer: So do you feel that The Beatles Rock Band is similar to what Activision did and is doing with Guitar Hero Aerosmith, Metallica, and now Van Halen?
Chris Foster: All of the games you’re talking about are games focusing on a single artist. What was important for us was that we were doing justice to the band, and not just taking their songs, putting it on our engine and just calling it a day. One of the big things we added was three-part vocal harmonies, because the Beatles were all about harmonies, and if we couldn’t represent that in our game, we really weren’t doing justice to the music. So we developed a new set of rules, and in my mind it’s like a new instrument to play, and a very fun, social thing to get into. We replaced World Tour with a totally new campaign, we used Beatles rare photos and little stories, behind the scenes things about their careers, their lives, their music, and you can collect those things while playing. And in the case of when the Beatles stopped touring, we replace the typical go into a venue visuals with going to a recording session, where you actually hear never-before-heard audio chatter from the actual tapes, and then you actually see them on Abbey Road, and then you see the walls melt away and you see the psychedelic interpretation of each song. Those experiences are things that weren’t in Rock Band, and we busted our butts to get those into our game. That’s the sort of thing where you have to go the extra mile to make it something that the Beatles themselves, or the shareholders as we call them (Paul and Ringo, Yoko and Olivia), can stand behind. And that, we think, is really special.
Strategy Informer: Do you feel that some of the userbase of people who bought Rock Band 1 & 2, weren’t around when the Beatles were, and that they might not get it?
Chris Foster: No, I don’t think that. In some cases, I was wondering who was going to play this game. Who was listening to Beatles music these days, and who’d be willing to listen more to the music. The music is like the air we breathe. Our job is not to introduce the Beatles to the people. The Beatles do a pretty damn good job of taking care of that for themselves. Our goal is to give people the opportunity to get closer to the music, to own it and understand it in a way they can’t necessarily just by listening. To tell their story, to learn a little more about their career as well. I have a twitter search saved for “beatles” rock band, and I’ve seen things like “My mom preordered The Beatles Rock Band for me, as long as I keep my room clean for a month”, and “I just preordered it for my kid, but I can’t wait to play it for myself.” There’s enough Beatles fans of all ages, and enough Rock Band fans that have used Rock Band to learn about new types of music, that we really feel like we’ve got a good opportunity to get people into this game, and into the music, in a new type of way.
Strategy Informer: Is The Beatles Rock Band supposed to be a completely standalone game, or are we going to see additional content for it in the future?
Chris Foster: Well, it’s a walled garden in terms of verses the other Rock Band music. You won’t see The Beatles playing Avenged Sevenfold DLC or anything like that.
Strategy Informer: Hopefully not.
Chris Foster: Yeah, hopefully, as awesome as it would be. But we will be doing a lot of DLC. On October 20th, you’ll be able to complete the Abbey Road album and play through all the songs of that album, including the 16 minute medley at the end of side b. You’ll be able to play that as individual components, or as one 16 minute song. And in November, Sgt. Pepper’s Only Heart’s Band will be releasing the rest of that album, and in December we’ll be releasing the remainder of Rubber Soles. You’ll be able to play both of those albums in their entirety.
Strategy Informer: Let’s switch tracks a bit. After Guitar Hero, you guys went and did Rock Band. Activision just put out Guitar Hero 5, they’re doing DJ Hero, Band Hero and Van Halen. We know that currently, Harmonix is focusing on The Beatles, DLC, and that you just put out Rock Band Unplugged for the PSP, and finally Lego Rock Band coming soon. Even so, does it feel like Activision is trying to take over everything? Is it frightening what they’re doing?
Chris Foster: I wouldn’t say it’s frightening. [pause] They definitely have a different strategy than we do, like they want to get as many discs out there as possible, they want to expand the franchise as far as they can. It’s not like we’re only releasing one game this year as you said, we’ve got Lego Rock Band which is a fun spin on things. And we have Rock Band Network, which is our big initiative inside of Rock Band 2 to let thousands of artists and musicians to get their music to people to listen to it, and play with it, without us even being involved. To create a new community of music makers, music listeners and music players all together. For us, what’s important is to find opportunities that really expand what Rock Band is in a meaningful way.
For the Beatles, we have the opportunity to tell the story of an amazing historic set of artists, in a way nobody else has done. With Lego Rock Band, we’re combining, the chocolate and peanut butter of interesting gameplay franchises. And there’s a sense of humor to it. With Rock Band PSP, that was an opportunity for us to go back to our roots with frequency and amplitude, and take that gameplay and show it to people, thanks to the Rock Band name, are going to take the chance and try it out, and we’ve been really pleased with the response to that. This is our first successful franchise at Harmonix. We did Amplitude and Frequency; they were critical successes, but not big sales successes. What’s important for us now is to nurture the franchise.
You can exhaust a franchise by doing too much of the same thing, repeat yourself until familiarity breeds contempt. Our goal here is to make people excited by the next thing we do, and that’s the challenge we’ve set out for ourselves.
Strategy Informer: Does that mean Harmonix is looking to put out more DLC as opposed to new iterations of Rock Band?
Chris Foster: Like I said, we have games coming out, but we’re not putting out a Rock Band 3. By the end of the year, we’ll have over 1,000 tracks downloadable. With Rock Band Network, we think, depending on how it takes since it’s a social experiment as much as a technological process. Potentially thousands of songs from musicians, labels like Sub-Hop, and any number of people giving their music for people to play on Rock Band. DLC is a huge part of it, but we have our games as well.
Strategy Informer: Last question. Harmonix has really defined the music genre, and as far as many people are concerned, created it altogether. What do you think is the future of the music genre?
Chris Foster: The future is finding those interesting aspects of music gaming that haven’t been done. For Rock Band, how can we do something that’s new enough that it’s exciting to play it, but not so different that it isn’t Rock Band? It’s almost a philosophical dilemma that we’re wrestling with. We have ideas, and we’re doing our skunkworks and research on it. There’s a number of ways to interact with music, and there haven’t been many successful games about the making of music. That’s something we’ve always talked about going after. That’s a mountain that we’re taking our first steps on…the whole industry is. To find a way, to make both the music making experience and a game that’s fun for people of all levels of interest. It’s one of those holy grails that we’re going to keep looking at, to see what we can do there.Check out our review of The Beatles Rock Band, and look forward to new DLC for both The Beatles in October, November and December, and for Rock Band 2 weekly!
Rock Band: The Beatles E3 2009: Cinematic Trailer
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