Rock Band's Fourth Anniversary - Harmonix Stories, Part III

We conclude our celebration of Rock Band's fourth anniversary with some stories about Harmonixers' favorite moments playing Rock Band and some of the craziest moments in the game's history. Be sure to check out Part I and Part II.

What has been your favorite moment playing Rock Band?

"The first time Rock Band 3's Pro Guitar feature was playable was pretty amazing. It was a wildly ambitious idea, and to see it actually come to fruition was satisfying (and a big relief!). Once I started learning to play songs as a side effect of doing my job, I knew we had something special." - Dan Bruno, Senior QA Tester

I think my favorite moment playing Rock Band would be the onstage reveal of The Beatles: Rock Band at the Xbox briefing [at E3 2009]. We were hanging out backstage with Sir Paul, Ringo Starr, Olivia and Dhani Harrison, and Yoko Ono, getting ready to go onstage and belt out "Day Tripper" with 3-part Harmonies.

RobotKid, HMXJohnlok, Naoko Takamoto, and Pat Balthrop getting ready to take the stage.

We were nervous (I was playing guitar on EXPERT. In front of a huge crowd and people who WROTE THE SONG. AHHHH), excited to debut this great trailer for the game, and panicked that something would go horribly wrong.

Alex Rigopulos waiting to be cued to enter and speak.

The crowd reaction to the stars was overwhelming, the cinematic was emotional, and the cheering to our performance made the whole experience even more surreal. I walked off smiling and only then realized my hands were shaking uncontrollably. Thank god we put the big cheese on the drums!

Our own personal recreation of Abbey Road studios at E3.

When we finished, Sir Paul came over to Naoko and remarked that he thought our vocalists had done pretty well, but cheekily remarked that he was underwhelmed by our "90 something percent vocal performance." We went on to play on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel at a raucous Xbox party and then shacked up in our amazing recreation of Abbey Road studios for demo madness. The entire experience just felt like the zenith of Rock Band's cultural significance – we were really singing to people who loved this music as much as we did. - John Drake, Director of Communications & Brand Management

I have enjoyed some absolutely surreal RB moments. I got to sing harmonies on "Here Comes The Sun" in Abbey Road Studios, I’ve given Tom Hanks drum tips at a swanky hotel in LA, and I’ve played bass for Sting at the Sundance Film Festival. But when I think of my favorite RB moments, it’s just as likely I’ll think of the DIY booth our community built at PAX 2K10 or the down and dirty parties we have with locals at the Improv Boston comedy club right downstairs from our office. - HMXHenry, Manager of Community Development

At E3 08, there was a Rock Band “bash” that The Who played. Before the show started, I remember getting up on a stage in front of a huge crowd, hitting the drums on Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” with Sean Baptiste on vocals. That was a fun moment, and a cool opportunity to get a “real band” and “concert” feel from the game, versus playing in living room environment. - Nick Chester, Publicist

I've been working on the Rock Band Network for over two years, so it's not too surprising that many of my favorite Rock Band memories are tied up with RBN artists. I've interviewed bands and swapped notes with artists on Twitter, and I got to help RockGamer out at a major New York festival. And I get a guilty kick out of every time I beat Matt Rasmussen on a Rose of Jericho song.

The best one, though: RBN artist Single White Infidel performed in Jamspace at PAX East, and I got to sing backup vocals on his song "Inheritance". I never thought anything like that would happen in my entire life.

It was an absolutely terrible performance on my part - we thought of doing this about 30 minutes before showtime, and there was no rehearsal, and I was frantically reading the lyrics off on my cell phone. And I was *not* dressed to sing punk. If I ever have the chance to do something like this again, I want to be much better prepared! But I was so incredibly happy. It was an amazing experience, and for me, there was extra poignancy because Rock Band taught me to sing." - Carolyn VanEseltine, Associate Producer

"Playing The Beatles: Rock Band with my Dad was pretty special. He's been singing Beatles songs my whole life, so all I wanted to do when the game came out was play the game with him. And it was amazing. My Dad has a short attention span - he's what some might call hyperactive. But we played TB:RB for hours. Dad even got into the "one more song" habit that I do when I play RB3. Watching a hardcore Beatles fan enjoy the game so much reminded me of how special the work we do at Harmonix is." - Christine Jandreau, Web Editor

A lot of really crazy things have happened in the course of the Rock Band franchise’s life span. What is your favorite memory/story?

We’ve done a lot of crazy things in the interest of promoting RB. It’s been a bit like being a rock star, only the instruments are a bit smaller. I’ve been to a lot of great places, from rooftops of LA to Abbey Road Studios, to German beer halls to center field at Fenway Park during a McCartney soundcheck. Regardless of the place, meeting the RB fans has always been my favorite part of the job. Making friends through the forums, meeting kids that ask for my autograph, helping couples propose to each other through RB… that’s been the best stuff." - HMXHenry, Manager of Community Development

"My craziest memory of Rock Band was probably the time I was at GDC in San Francisco. I was at the G.A.N.G. awards, and RB3 was up for an award. I was the only employee from Harmonix at this ceremony, so if it won I would have had to get up in front of hundreds of people to give a speech, which I am not a fan of. We lost to Bioshock 2, but my heart was in my throat for a good few minutes leading up to that envelope opening." - Greg Capolino, Composer/Sound Designer

"I think that GamesCom 2010 is one of my favorite shows in the history of Rock Band. It was the first time we were showing off PRO instruments to the EU press and our time was split hilariously between a pitch black demo room where Daniel Sussman was trying to explain PRO HUD to journalists who didn't speak English, and a constantly swarmed 7 player stage where HMXHenry, DropSlash and our local crew were trying to corral unruly Germans who only wanted to play Avenged Sevenfold, Rammstein, and "Bohemian Rhapsody." You can see photographic evidence of Aaron's trauma from the marathon sprint they endured.

HMXHenry, Road Warrior.

That was also the week that we "leaked" the entire tracklist of Rock Band 3, which I think is probably my favorite moment in community video history." - John Drake, Director of Communication and Brand Management [See the video on Harmonix's YouTube Channel.]

"The one I always remember is the first time we demo'ed to Microsoft: About a year before release, Greg, Jon Hayes, and I flew to Microsoft to pitch them on Rock Band, show them what we're making, and get a whole bunch of support for things that weren't being done yet on the console.

We were running hot on everything, but nothing more so than hardware. Our first drum prototype was being shipped directly from China to our hotel in Redmond for the meeting. It was so "prototype" that it didn't actually have real electronics - instead, it had two Xbox 360 gamepads that were gutted and wired into the various sensors.

The drum kit arrives, and naturally it doesn't work. It's behaving weirdly, notes are mismapped, it looks busted. Our meeting is at 11am, and I'm frantically IMing with [Software Developer] Dan Schmidt at 10:20am to try and figure out what the hell is going on. Greg has given up, and he's trying to get me to pack up and leave the room so we can at least demo guitars and singing. Like a bomb defuser, I'm yelling for more time for the other room.

I take one last look at the kit and the controllers hanging from it, and notice that the RB button on one of the controllers is slightly jammed in. I ask Dan Schmidt about it. He yells over IM "RIP OUT THE BUTTON!". Literally minutes before we leave, I am breaking off electronics from a $10,000 drum prototype with a hotel butter knife to get it to work.

And it works. We show the demo. They love it, and give us the support we need to make drums work, microphones pick up, and all the other things that the Xbox 360 couldn't do at the time.

I'd feel bad about breaking stuff, but after the meeting we went to a camera shop to buy a Pelican case for our newly delivered drum kit. Jon Hayes picks up the drum head, pushes it into a case, and - *SNAP* - this loud cracking sound breaks the silence in the store. The drumstick holders had snapped off our expensive prototype. In the next prototype, we made them retratable so that this never happened again." - Dan Teasdale, HMX Alum, former Lead Designer on RB2 and RB3 and Senior Designer on the original Rock Band

Harmonix Composers/Sound Designers Bill Whitney & Peter Moore have some interesting stories to share about their work on Rock Band songs:

"Since the early days of RB3 development, and continuing now through RB3 DLC, I have been responsible for pretty much all things related to Pro Bass in our game. I’ve been both a professional bassist and a music teacher for a long time, so it’s a great fit for me. Of course, given my musical background, when I’m listening to the bass stems that I have to transcribe for songs that go in our game, I sometimes have some pretty strong opinions about what I’m listening to. Here are a couple of those:

Krist Novoselic (Nirvana) is a far better bassist than I think he ever gets credit for. I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to those stems.

On the RB3 disc, we had a song called “Viva La Resistance” from an Iranian band called Hypernova. That song has some of the cleanest and tightest bass playing I’ve heard during my time here at HMX. It’s not a complicated part, but the consistency of tone and articulation and the rhythmic accuracy is really very impressive. That guy can play. That was really nice to work on." - Bill Whitney, Composer/Sound Designer

"One of the first songs I worked on for Rock Band was Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star.” As an audio & music nerd it was a treat to listen to all the different instruments and vocals separately. I spent some time soloing each track, and was stupefied at how solid and satisfying each players’ feel was. Each instrument was so inherently funky that it could’ve been the only instrument in the song and you still would’ve wanted to dance." - Peter Moore, Composer/Sound Designer

Try to put yourself back where you were 4 years ago before releasing Rock Band. What was Harmonix like then? Did you expect Rock Band to be the success it was, and that people would still be playing 4 years later?

"Man, things were changing REALLY fast. We had a ton of amazing opportunities based on how ambitious the project was, but many of them landed in our laps in weird ways. It meant that we spent a lot of time saying things like "show off the game on TV? Sure. I'm sure we can do that! Whispers: AHHH WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO???". Whether it was how to make millions of guitars in only a few months, how to build a weekly release cycle for downloadable content, or how to corral the cross-section of music fans and video game fans into a community that could actually be supportive and constructive (still working on that one!) - we were guessing a lot of the time.

But with how palpable the reaction was from anyone who touched the game, I was sure it would all pay off. Lucky for us, it seems like we guessed right most of the time!" - John Drake, Director of Communications and Brand Management

"As someone looking in from the outside, I knew it would be a hit. When I first got my hands on the original Guitar Hero prior to its retail release, I went home and told all of my friends about it: “Wait until you play this game, it’s going to be huge.” No one believed me. I did the same with Rock Band; it seemed like a natural extension, and I was right. Months later, when the game was released, we were planning Rock Band evenings and hopping on any chance we got." - Nick Chester, Publicist

"It probably sounds weird, but we had no idea if Rock Band would be successful or not right up until we launched. I remember going to our first PAX during the last weeks of Rock Band development being really dejected - I wasn't happy with how the Band World Tour was shaking out, we hadn't seen final drums yet, matchmaking was still incredibly buggy, we had to cut some big things like Online World Tour, we didn't know if anyone would buy a $170 game, just a whole bunch of small things that only someone too close to the game would be worried about.

Earlier in the year, [Community Manager] Sean [Baptiste] and I had campaigned really hard to [former COO Mike] Dornbrook to get booth space for PAX, since it was still pretty small. So, our booth was just a small space with some black curtains, some printed out instrument icons, and the game. We didn't think we'd get too much attention, so it was just Sean, [Producer] Matt Kelly, a newly hired John Drake, and myself from Harmonix manning the booth, and some extra dudes from Reverb and Shaimus who were in town.

As soon as the doors open, the thing exploded. There were lines stretching the entire length of the convention hall. Our prototype kits would break, and even though they'd been waiting for hours, they were totally cool with waiting some more. I got thrown into the press thing with zero experience, and ended up talking to so many people that I ran out of business cards. It was this "holy s**t" moment, in that we had this amazing game right under our noses, and all the detail stuff we thought would tank us didn't matter as much as we thought it did." - Dan Teasdale, HMX Alum, former Lead Designer on RB2 and RB3 and Senior Designer on the original Rock Band

I joined Harmonix right after the launch of RB1, so I’ve only heard stories of what things were like prior to the music genre explosion. Things have definitely changed in the last few years though. We made a lot of stuff up as we went along. So much of the stuff we were doing had never been done before! We’re a lot smarter now, a lot more confident. A lot of the things we struggled with during the RB1 days are almost second nature now. I’m sure there are a lot of clever people here that knew even four years ago that RB would still be going strong, but there’s probably just as many people that had no idea what they were getting into. Some of the Audio testers probably would have cried if they knew 200 weeks ago that they were committing to consistent weekly DLC. - HMXHenry, Manager of Community Development

Thank you for celebrating Rock Band's fourth anniversary with us over the past week and a half, and thank you for continuing to support us by playing the game and buying DLC. We love our fans, and we're so glad we've been able to share this crazy ride with you.


Thank you Harmonix for the music gaming revolution. From a PC gamer that changed his keyboard for a guitar controller; that never thought of buying a console just because a game was not available for the PC. Four years after its release I found myself playing the game as a daily basis, looking forward for next week's DLC and learning to play the electric guitar. Thank you for transition my music passion from listener to performer. Rock Band Rocks!.

So awesome! Thanks, HMX!