It’s the fourth anniversary of Rock Band, and Harmonix employees are sharing some of their stories and memories of the game. Stay tuned throughout the week for more videos and stories from behind the scenes.
What was it like the first time you played Rock Band?
“Like most people, I spent the first few minutes playing Rock Band frantically asking questions about the drums. (What's going on with the orange line?) But SINCE I WAS PLAYTESTING, our lovely playtest process meant my questions fell on deaf ears. [Ed. note: Our playtest department is trained to let players work their way through questions – it allows them to fully understand how the player sees the game, which results in better data. It can be incredibly frustrating as a tester.] But once it clicked, it was a blast to play along with tracks. But when I finally got to play with folks in a 4-player band, it took things to a whole new level. Turning to a producer who didn't play in bands and seeing an insane and sincere look of pure rocking out on his face changed my mind about what this game could accomplish. It was then that I knew we were shifting from a cool video game about music into a true musical cultural phenomenon.” – John Drake, Director of Communications and Brand Management
“In November of 2007 I was still a junior in college. One of my music professors was friends with Mike Verrette, the Director of Production at Harmonix, so I got to visit the office and play Rock Band a week or so before it came out.
Right away I was channeling my inner rock star. I'm usually pretty shy, can't really sing, and have never done karaoke in my life, but somehow I was inspired to sing "Won't Get Fooled Again" in front of a room full of strangers. I knew then where I would aim my sights once I graduated!” – Dan Bruno, Senior QA Tester
“When I returned to work at Harmonix a few years ago, Rock Band 1 & 2 had already been released. So I didn’t get to play Rock Band until we were developing the Beatles game. I was on the vocal team (we’re the people who put the lyrics and their note gems in the game so players can sing along) and on my first day back we had a play-through to see how the new multi-vocalist design was coming along. Being a fan of the Beatles since I was a wee lad, seeing that game for the first time was really moving. I couldn’t actually play the game because I was so immersed in the experience.” – Peter Moore, Composer/Sound Designer
“My magical moment with Rock Band happened when I played the shipping version for the first time. Ironically it wasn’t with other players.
I was playing drums in the single-player campaign and came across a song I didn’t recognize but immediately loved (“Time We Had”). Three things came together that gave me shivers: the music, the drum note authoring, and the beautiful venue which had a moody blue equalizer background and white falling particles.” - Eric Malafew, Engineering Director
“I was terrible – I hopped on stage and took a crack at Nirvana’s “In Bloom” on drums at E3, when Rock Band first made its public debut. I made a complete fool of myself. I’m pretty sure it was on “Easy” or “Medium.” I’m much better now. Promise.” – Nick Chester, Publicist
“First time I ever played Rock Band was in November of 2007 when my roommate brought home the bundle the weekend on release. I hadn’t heard anything about Rock Band and hadn’t really gotten into Guitar Hero before. From the start I was very much interested in trying out the drums. From then on, I was addicted, bought my own bundle, and my love affair with RB began. Came in to playtest for RB2 prior to release and tricked HMX into giving me a job.” – Ben Currier, Financial Planning Manager
“I talked about my first time playing RB on the podcast, but the first time I played Rock Band out in the real world was at the Nintendo World Store in New York City. I had only played with other HMXers, so this was my first real event and it blew my mind. There were bundles stacked all over the store and there was a line of people around the block waiting to come in and play "Dani California" over and over and over. I thought that was about as crazy as an RB event could get. Little did I know what the next few years would hold…” – HMXHenry, Manager of Community Development
“In late 2007, my friends were readying to move halfway across the country. They were saving money for the move, and I was just dead broke. We gathered old games and game systems we didn’t play anymore, (PS2 games, some Wii games, a GameCube, games and controllers, etc.), and loaded up the trunk of my friend’s car. For the total trade-in value, a local game shop gave us the original Rock Band bundle, an extra guitar controller, and a receipt about four feet long. That setup fueled some raging, late-night Rock Band parties - a spirited sendoff, and more, awesome memories. Thanks, Rock Band!” - Ben Remingnanti, Senior QA Tester
Can you share a story from the development of any of the Rock Band games that people might not have heard before?
“At PAX 2007, we had a fun time with our guitars – the early run of RB1 guitars didn't do well with the abusive hands-ons that conventions deliver. ADDITIONALLY, the guitars didn't fit back into their boxes once assembled, and their headstocks could not be detached without unscrewing 6 screws, prying out some metal hooks, and reassembling them.
We went through 20 guitars in 3 days. At then end of the show, we spent 2.5 hours painstakingly removing screws, stripping the headstocks, and replacing them.
When we got back, I told our folks in hardware our sob story. They told me that they already had a new detachable design – which we finally got for Rock Band 2.” – John Drake, Director of Communications & Brand Management
"About halfway through Rock Band development, we realized that the then new and fancy High Definition TVs could have drastically different audio and video latencies, messing up our attempts to play the game, since the beat didn’t match the gem track. To fix the problem, we needed to measure those latencies, so we could compensate for them. So I bought an oscilloscope over at “U do it Electronics” and spent the whole weekend soldering up little microphones and light sensors so I could hold them up to the TVs and directly measure the difference in timings between the audio and video signals. I raced around the house taping this tangle of wires and sensors to every TV in the house, staring at the oscilloscope. My wife thought I had gone crazy. I had a total blast. This concept eventually turned into our calibrating guitars.” - James Fleming, Software Developer
“In The Beatles: Rock Band, there's one camera shot in Shea Stadium of a girl who's run out onto the field and is being chased by a police officer. For a while we had one bug where if that shot came up, the camera would stay on them for the rest of the song. They would go around and around in circles, eventually diverging so that they weren't even running in the right direction. That cracked me up for some reason.” – Dan Bruno, Senior QA Tester
“My job, along with Chris Wilson, for The Beatles: Rock Band (and all of The Beatles DLC) was to author all the hand animations for the characters. If you watch the hands of The Beatles in-game as they play guitar or bass, they are playing all the right notes (well, ok, about 90% to 95% of the right notes… we had some technical limitations to deal with). Chris and I did that, one note at a time, one finger at a time, for John, Paul and George for every song. While tedious, I learned literally every note of every Beatles song that is available for our game, and that’s pretty awesome. Picking all those tunes apart was a really killer lesson in song writing as well. We were pretty insane about accuracy when we made that. I have no idea how many people (if any) out there noticed the accuracy of the hand animations, but I’m pretty proud of them all the same. I hope some people did though, given the crazy amount of effort Chris and I (as well as Riseon, who made the animations we used, and Jess Scott, who wrote the code for the hand animation system) put into it all.” – Bill Whitney, Composer/Sound Designer
“One of my favorite bits of RB trivia, and this is something we’ve mentioned once or twice before but I don’t know how many people know this, at one point in time we were the number one manufacturer of drum sticks in the world. THAT IS NUTS. I remember this moment when everyone was kind of scrambling and there was all this excitement because so many of the RB bundles were selling, and we were running down the names of drum stick vendors we could go through to meet the demand and we realized that we had inadvertently cornered the market on drum sticks. That was one of those early moments when I had to step back and look at what we were doing and say “Whoa, this is huge”.” – HMXHenry, Manager of Community Development
During development of RB3, Pro Guitar was a BIG SECRET. I had the amazing opportunity to interview Ben Burnley, the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Breaking Benjamin, since they had some DLC in the game. In the middle of the interview, Ben asks me about a rumor he heard that we were developing a way to play a real guitar in the game. I was already terribly nervous because A) this was my first interview for RockBand.com, and B) I loved this band, and now he's asking me about a SUPER SECRET project. I channeled my inner John Drake and said, "Well, we'd love to make playing the game more like playing real instruments. I mean, drums and vocals are pretty close already, right? So tell us about your new album..." I had to lie to the singer of one of my favorite bands, and edit it out of the final interview. But I kept our secret." - Christine Jandreau, Web Editor
Stay tuned for Harmonixers' craziest Rock Band memories, their favorite Rock Band songs, and more. And share your memories on the forums or on our Facebook page.