Starlight brings together experts from pediatric health care, technology and entertainment to create programs that educate, entertain and inspire seriously ill children. Whether it’s finding friends online, learning more about a disease, or just spending time together as a family, Starlight’s programs help children and families cope with the challenges they face daily. For more information, please visit starlight.org.
A few weeks ago, a group of children and their families arrived at Harmonix for a day of Rock Band, cookies, and a sneak peek at The Beatles: Rock Band. The kids from the Starlight Children’s Foundation were there as part of Starlight’s “Great Escapes” program which was created to provide families with a chance to spend recreational time together to relax, regroup and return home with a renewed sense of strength and hope (for more information on Great Escapes, click here).
Some of the kids showed up in Rock Band hats and t-shirts, others with guitars or The Beatles on their shirts. Administration director Kris Fell was responsible for escorting the families from the lobby up to our offices and had a nice moment early in the day. Kris says, “I walked into the lobby and there were three kids jumping up & down with glee. In the lobby. Nothing had happened yet. There they were, already so excited [to be here] that they were jumping up and down. So sweet!”
A family with rockin' shirts
The feeling was mutual. As Harmonix volunteers gathered juice boxes and arranged cookie platters and fruit trays, there was a natural buzz in the air. We were just as excited as the kids. After all, this was one of the first times non-Harmonix and non-press people were going to play The Beatles: Rock Band. We had been working on this game for many months, and this was a unique opportunity to observe players experiencing the joy and excitement of playing The Beatles: Rock Band that we had been experiencing.
The day began with an introduction to Harmonix and game development by design director Chris Foster. After introducing the Harmonix volunteers, Foster spoke about the development of Rock Band and The Beatles: Rock Band. He also talked to the kids about what they could do to get into game development. Step one? Play a lot of video games! The kids were thrilled to hear that, while the parents were happy with step two – study hard in school.
The families and the Harmonix volunteers split into five different play spaces – each set up with instruments, Rock Band 2, and lots of DLC. One play space had a 10-song playable demo of The Beatles: Rock Band complete with three microphones for everyone to try out vocal harmonies. Once in the play spaces, the kids jumped right into the game, some never having touched a plastic guitar before, others old pros. Some of the parents even joined in. One mom in particular was hesitant to sing, then belted out “Any Way You Want It,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and “Carry On Wayward Son,” getting great scores on all of them.
A group of little rockers
HMXHenry, associate manager for the community team, was struck by the fact that nearly everyone was willing to sing. He says, “There was one kid who couldn’t have been more than 12 years old who was cruising through Rush, No Doubt, Megadeth, Dixie Chicks… even songs from The Beatles: Rock Band that he had never heard before. I think it definitely made a difference getting up with two other singers so the kids could hide at first, but by the end of the day they were belting them out. They had no fear.”
QA tester Alex Gold watched one of the attendees show off some truly impressive Rock Band drum skills. He says, “At first, he chose “White Wedding” (a classic but low difficulty song) on Expert drums. After doing a commendable job, he immediately switched gears to an Avenged Sevenfold track, pulverizing the Expert drum chart and hitting nearly 100% of the gems. The passion these kids had for Rock Band was not only displayed within their Harmonix-themed attire, but also through the genuine enthusiasm they displayed while playing our game.”
While we were thrilled to play our games with a great group of kids and parents, the kids were even more excited than we were. One family wrote in to say, “My son loves Rock Band and had been looking forward to this for months. We had a wonderful time.” Jakob and Hannah, two of the kids who attended the event, send us a card that said, “Thank you for a rockin’ day. We can’t wait ‘til The Beatles game comes out!” Another family wrote to us to say, “We had an awesome time so now we’re hooked. The Beatles: Rock Band was awesome. Can’t wait for September!”
Timmy wrote to us to say, “Thank you for letting my Mom & I come have a tour at your building. We really enjoyed learning what goes into making the game, playing Rock Band 2, and most of all playing The Beatles: Rock Band.”
For the kids and parents the event was a welcome break from hospital visits. Eric, Brenda & Brian wrote to us to say, “Thank you for the wonderful day. With our son just coming out of the hospital after surgery, it was a great day for him to play guitars and sing his favorite Beatles songs.”
Another roomful of Rock Band 2 players
For the Harmonix employees, it was a humbling reminder that our games make people happy. We spend so many hours working on the games and playing with other people that work on the games that sometimes it’s easy to forget how much joy they bring people. As Kris Fell pointed out, “People kept thanking us for having them, but it was really beneficial for us and I was touched by all the good & kind feedback we got from people on the game. For me, it was so cool to see actual not-us-people playing & singing harmonies.”
At the end of the day, no one (including the employees) wanted to leave. Some of the families had a long drive ahead of them, having come down from Maine for the day. Another group was headed to a family cookout, but the daughter would rather have stayed to play some more. HMXHenry said, “I made a deal with her mom: we’d lock her in to play all the DLC overnight and I’d go to the cookout in her place. It was a really relaxed event and it was nice being able to bond with the families enough that you could joke about crashing their BBQ.”
Starlight kids & families with Harmonix volunteers