Carolyn VanEseltine is a web QA tester at Harmonix. When not searching for ways to break the website, she plays the harp and piano with varying degrees of skill. She can play “All You Need Is Love” on both instruments, but not simultaneously.
On September 9, 2009, The Beatles: Rock Band hit the streets and we breathed a collective sigh. It was fully out of our hands now and off to yours.
The internal Harmonix newsgroups are used for a lot of things. Some of them are very official, such as discussing project direction and soliciting design feedback, but other purposes include swapping TVs and DVDs, announcing free cookies in the break room, tracking down lost sweaters, pushing the volume on people’s concerts, and otherwise handling all the “water cooler” business you’d see at a different company. I spent most of September 9 glued to the newsgroups. I was looking for the reviews.
There are people who are all suave and calm and never read their reviews. (Jane Fonda, Sarah Jessica Parker, and k. d. lang, supposedly.) I’m not one of them. (Actually, I’m sort of an obsessive spaz on the subject.) I’d seen people meet The Beatles: Rock Band before - I was in the playtest department at the end of this spring - but that didn’t keep me from absorbing every sentence as news poured in that day. Some of the September 9 newsgroup posts were huge news, like the announcement from Gov. Deval Patrick’s office, but we also got a whole lot of mail. There were also small, personal notes like this one.
“I got off the train and was stumbling back home after the party. It was around 12:15am. I looked up and saw a bus coming toward me. Through the window, I could see a guy cradling a Beatles bundle in his lap.
I smiled the rest of the way home.” - Chuck Alessi, Senior QA Tester
But beyond the newsgroups, there was personal email as well. “HAPPY BEATLES DAY!” one friend exulted to me, while my family and I exchanged emails with the very silly subject line, “So, uh, The Beatles: Rock Band... heard of it?”
“HAPPY BEATLES DAY!” one friend exulted to me, while my family and I exchanged emails with the very silly subject line, “So, uh, The Beatles: Rock Band... heard of it?”
I wasn’t the only one receiving email - I think we all were. But I want to tell you about one email in particular.
On the morning of September 9, Kurt Davis, our office manager, received a note from his uncle congratulating him on the Beatles release. When Kurt wrote back, he posted his note in the Harmonix newsgroups. I asked his permission to share it with the RockBand.com community, and he agreed. Here’s what he wrote.
“The Beatles game coming out is a huge deal. It's weird, we've been working on it for a long time, but now, we release it and all of a sudden, it's starting to really sink in what a world class phenomenon it is. I mean, it’s worldwide headline news! It's very exciting and I'm getting swept up in it (emotionally, I mean). It seems fitting, somehow, that my life has led me here, my memories of The Beatles being, basically, the soundtrack to my life (and so many others... you included).
“And then there is that direct connection between you and me and The Beatles. I remember listening to them in your bedroom when I'd be at Grandma and Grandpa's house, growing up. I remember the pictures from the White Album being on your wall.... I remember seeing them on 'Ed Sullivan' and Grandpa saying he'd like to cut their hair.... I remember seeing a live taping of All You Need Is Love that was broadcast... was it on every network at the same time? Seems like it was. Anyway, that was a huge event. I remember seeing them as they were doing their last TV performance... Let It Be, I think, when they were breaking up. I remember you getting the first Paul McCartney solo album when it came out. I remember Jerry sitting in our dining room on Victory Ct. looking at the Sgt. Pepper album cover, combing it for clues about Paul being dead. Yeah, and so much more.
“So, this is strangely nostalgic for me, and seems right, somehow, that I'm here.” - Kurt Davis, Office Manager
I read his note late that afternoon, and it resonated with me. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way - an agreeing murmur of respectful, yet joyous replies came back to Kurt’s post.
I wasn’t there when Dhani Harrison, Van Toffler, and Alex Rigopolous first discussed the possibility of The Beatles: Rock Band. I wasn’t even at Harmonix yet when I first heard about the game from my friend Spatch. But I was already a Beatles fan - I have been my whole life - and the idea of celebrating their music through Rock Band delighted me.
I found myself straddling the line between outside and inside as The Beatles: Rock Band project reached fruition. I first walked through the doors of Harmonix as a playtester in the spring of 2009, where I gawked at the beautiful graphics, sang three-part harmonies under the preternaturally calm eye of Chris Canfield, and tried not to get all sniffly and melodramatic when George smiled during “Here Comes The Sun.” I found out shortly thereafter that Harmonix was hiring for a playtest assistant, and I leapt at the chance with an enthusiasm normally reserved for gray dragon scale mail.1 Toward the end of my interview, Jyllian Thibodeau asked me, “Do you like the Beatles?” and I laughed.
I credit my parents for my love of The Beatles - certainly my mother, but my father most of all. My father owned several books of Beatles music for easy piano, and he would play while I read before my bedtime. I was still too young to understand the sorrow in the music when I picked “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” as my lullabye. He played it every night before I would go to sleep. When I was a bit older, he taught me to find notes and chords myself. Then I spent long, careful hours butchering my way through the Hal Leonard renditions of “Across the Universe,” “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” and “Eleanor Rigby.”2
I lip synced “Yellow Submarine” at a third grade talent show.
Other Beatles moments: I lip synced “Yellow Submarine” at a third grade talent show. The first concert I ever went to was 1964: The Tribute. I got placed with my first college roommate because we both liked The Beatles. One boyfriend took me on an early date to Across the Universe and a later date to the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra, where I sang my heart out to the entire B-side of Abbey Road. I saw Cirque du Soleil’s Love in Vegas. Two of my first compositions were strange arrangements of “Julia” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face” for clarinet, flute, and harp. The list goes on, but fortunately, I didn’t give Jyllian the whole spiel, or we would have been there all night.
And it’s not just me! Next week, I’ll be back with part 2 of this article, where I’ll share some stories from my colleagues about how the Beatles affected them before The Beatles: Rock Band.
Until then, happy gaming!
1 This was not a Beatles reference.
2 Also, among many other songs, “Your Mother Should Know”. I’m afraid that one was eventually banned from the house, as my mother does not feel that she was born “a long, long time ago.”