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Been There, Made That: Rock Band Venues

We’ve covered the last venue in Rock Band 2 – the gorgeous Shanghai Arena – but before players reach the final stage they have to play a lot of smaller spots. Harmonix artist Matt Moore designed some of those venues and spoke with us about his inspirations for the design concepts. When the art team first began work on venues for Rock Band 2, they considered the most popular of the venues 40 from Rock Band. Then they started thinking about places where they’d seen shows – beat up bars, New York City clubs, and other “typical” venues. They were also encouraged to “go a little crazy” with other ideas; this likely lead to the creation of Echo Hangar.

The Austin, Texas venue Echo Hangar features giant airplanes behind and above the band, appearing to take off right from the stage. The venue has planes with spinning propellers and World War II fighter plane-style shark teeth painted on the noses. This hangar is just one example of how artists are encouraged to “go overboard” with their venue designs. The team liked the look of the venue so much that it’s even featured on the back of the box for Rock Band 2.

Alice’s Free Love Café is a venue in both Rock Band and Rock Band 2 located in San Francisco, was a completely different concept. Rather than design a crazy, unrealistic venue, Moore chose to create an intimate performance space that might actually exist somewhere. He envisioned a room with massive amounts of fabric curtains and lights creeping in from the ceiling, enveloping the crowd and making a small room seem even smaller. Moore wanted the various hanging fabrics to create interesting silhouettes and to give the room a less boxy feel.

Due to camera angle issues – you don’t want dangling fabric blocking the view of the band - the final version of the venue is vastly different from the concept art. The hanging curtains morphed into a fabric-draped ceiling, and butterflies were added to the walls to give it a cozy feel. Steve Kimura (the artist behind the Beast of Burden outfit) helped open the room up by adding a window behind the band.

Seattle is the home of grunge, yet Moore helped design a very un-grunge-y venue in the Stealth Theater with the venue team. Rather than go the predictable route and cover the venue in flannel, Venue lead Pete Macdonald & Moore chose to celebrate the northwest’s Native American heritage. The venue was designed with Native American art in mind – animal images, totems and very natural-looking artwork.

Moore didn’t want the theme to come across as kitsch and wisely avoided a drift into casino-style decorations like animatronic wolves. In the final design, the natural-looking totems were revised into sleek glass columns etched with the totem art to give it a more ambient and modern feel.

Part of the artists’ game venues design process is being prepared for drastic revisions. As you can see in the concept art and final versions of the venues, a lot changes occur between the first ideas to the final game version. The animators have to consider various factors - camera angles, character motions, what players will conceivably see while trying to concentrate on the notes, etc. All these considerations cause heavy revisions on the initial concepts before the final version is reached. 

In the case of the San Francisco venue, the fabrics had to be relocated to avoid blocking any of the camera angles. In Shanghai Arena, the highly detailed press boxes Moore designed were cut from the final design because players wouldn’t see them in the course of play. However, our next venue vision basically remained the same design from start to finish.

Moore designed a unique venue set in Montreal. Having just visited the city, he had a sense & vibe of the place. He designed it to have a loft-like feel and insisted that it have an unpolished look because, “polished is not rock n’ roll.” A second-floor record store that has a performance stage, however, is very rock n’ roll. Thus, Cheap Shot Records came to be. He added a window behind the band with a view of the neon sign casting light on the falling snow to increase the Montreal-ness.

The venue changed only a little bit before the final version was reached. The room was shortened and widened to make room for a screaming crowd, with more record shelves added up on the stage. As you can see in the two images, this is one of the few venues that remained more or less the same from the beginning of the process to the end.

As with everything else in Rock Band, we wanted the venues to feel authentic. Matt Moore and the other artists that worked on these designs created performance spaces that are unique and each also feel like someplace one might actually see a rock show. Okay, maybe the Echo Hangar isn’t where you’ll see your next show, but World War II fighter planes aren’t so far off from dancing skeletons or giant inflatable lips, are they?