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E3 2009: The Beatles: Rock Band Interview

June 8, 2009 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook E3 2009: The Beatles: Rock Band Interviewon Twitter

During E3, Patrick and I had the opportunity to check out the latest installments of the Rock Band series. We arrived on scene, being ushered into a line outside of a makeshift Abbey Road. Soon enough, we found oursevles seated in front of a stage where we were treated to several performances of MTV Games’ latest title, The Beatles: Rock Band.

After the performance, we were given the opportunity to interview Harmonix Creative Director, Josh Randall. Some of you may remember Randall for his involvement in the mid-90’s synthcore scene as a member of Institute of Technology. His music has also been featured in games such as Frequency. He’s since been working at Harmonix on many of their recent titles.

Check out our interview with Josh Randall after the jump.

OSV: We’d imagine licensing would be rather difficult for this title. How did you guys pull it off?

Randall: Well I mean, it all started with Dhani Harrison, George Harrison’s son, who was a big fan of our earlier games. So, he wanted to meet someone from Harmonix, so he met with Alex, our CEO. They got to talking, along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be cool, we should totally do a Beatles game.” So the idea got peculating, and they talked with Apple Core, so eventually the key shareholders all came to an agreement.

OSV: Aren’t you guys happy you didn’t have to deal with Michael Jackson?

Randall: Yeah, I’m not sure what happened with that, but I guess he had the Publishing rights, and then he sold them back.

OSV: Yeah, he went broke and sold all of his stuff recently.

Randall: We’ve been working with Giles Martin, who is the son of George Martin, who was a producer for the Beatles. He had just done the soundtrack to The Love Project, which is basically a bunch of mash ups of Beatles songs for Cirque du Soleil. So we’d go to Abbey Road studios and work with him to mix the songs, and see what would be good for the game sonically as well as in regards to game play.

OSV: Awesome, it’s really exciting since people know that licensing for the Beatles is incredibly difficult. We’re really impressed that you have all the details.

Randall: Well yeah, we’re thrilled that they were really excited about what we came up with and they’ve been really helpful.

OSV: So you met with Paul McCartney and the others?

Randall: We’re making the game with them, so they’ve had quite a bit of say. We’re working closely, and the scheduling is tricky, so it’s been hard to get a lot of time with them, but we’ve met multiple times.

OSV: Now I understand there is a track that will be exclusive to Xbox Live, which is being released for charity?

Randall: “All you need is love,” yeah, it’ll be an Xbox 360 exclusive for a while.

OSV: Timed exclusive? That’s what I’d assume eventually they’d want to put it up for sale on the PSN.

Randall: Yeah, I’m not really sure what the deal is on that, but our first full album for DLC will be Abbey Road.

OSV: Nice, it’s good to see a full album. So why Doctors Without Borders? Any reason why that specific organization was chosen?

Randall: I’m not really sure, I’m just psyched we’re doing that for charity.

OSV: Shifting to game play, the harmonization. That’s something new, right? Are you planning on implementing that in future products? It’s an interesting mechanic.

Randall: Well, I don’t know, but it made a lot of sense for The Beatles because their music had so many beautiful harmonies in it. So with all of our advances with each game, we really have to see if it’ll apply to the next title, but I’m not sure.

OSV: We could always hope for Rock Band: Queen, but you know–

Randall: Right, oh my god, wouldn’t that be cool, huh? Isn’t there a Queen Sing star?

OSV: Yeah, well I’m sure you guys could work something out. So we saw one of the things they had in the demo was the implementation of the no fail mode for the easy difficulty level. So what about the people who are looking for a challenge? With some of the later songs, I see you guys really stepped up the difficulty level.

Randall: Well I think the main challenge is trying to perform like The Beatles. Playing the lines and singing the harmonies. The Beatles could do it, but can you? Sure it’s not a heavy metal band, but there are parts in there that–especially with McCartney’s bass–where I’ve listened my entire life to these songs, but I’ve never noticed these crazy extra riffs. Tax Man for example, you guys should play it. Play the bassline. For a few bars he goes off on this crazy thing then pulls it back.

Also, what we’ve got in this game is a lot of unreleased material. Giles went through a lot of these tapes and found little snippets of these guys making noises in the studio. You might hear Paul humming “Back in the USSR” before playing it. Or, if you fail out, you’ll hear them say like “OHHH, you screwed it up.” or something.

OSV: Oh wow, so you got like the real recordings.

Randall: Yeah, it actually says the date it was recorded on, and you’ll hear them talking.

OSV: So let’s talk about importing and exporting tracks. In a lot of the other games, you can import music back and forth, would you be able to import any of this music into those games?

Randall: No, it’ll just be the standalone experience.

OSV: So about these dream sequences that take place during some of the studio two recordings, are you concerned that the imagery might raise concerns about drug culture?

Randall: Well that really wasn’t our intention. It’s like, if you wanted to just see some visuals for some guys sitting in a studio, well you could do that or you could take the player on some new adventure. This was our opportunity to take the player, and be inspired by the music, to another place. This is something that we felt was really unique and different than what you find in Rock Band 1 and 2.

OSV: So Paul and Ringo were cool with it?

Randall: They loved it. This was something early on that we said “Hey we want to do this thing.” and they were like “Oh yeah, right on.”

OSV: So song selection, you have to leave room for DLC, but how did you decide on the songs you did?

Randall: So Giles Martin, who isn’t really a gamer, but has played Rock Band–he was like, we have to pick songs that are really fun to play. That’s as important, if not more important, than what is everyone’s favorite tune. I think in the end, we have a really good balance, since the Beatles have so many great ones, of songs that are just really great to play.

OSV: Did you guys have a hard time dealing with some of the weirder songs from the later albums where they experimented a bit more?

Randall: Well we had to do some tweaking, but as you can see from Rock Band, there were some other weird instruments in those songs so we just sort of applied our experience from that.

OSV: Finally, the game was broken into two segments, there’s the touring stage and the studio stage. For the touring stage, did you guys actually go out and visit the physical locations, or did you just use photos?

Randall: Well a lot of them aren’t here anymore. The Cavern Club, and Shay Stadium don’t exist anymore. We went to Abbey Road a lot, and hung out there, and we hung out on the outside of Savile Row, where the rooftop venue is.

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