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The Beatles: Rock Band Third Anniversary

Three years ago today, Harmonix released a videogame dedicated to the work of one of the greatest rock and roll groups of all time, The Beatles. The New York Times called it "the most important video game yet made". Fans around the world were able to immerse themselves in the music of The Beatles in a completely new way.

To celebrate this anniversary, we gathered stories from the Harmonix employees closest to the development of the game. Read on for an inside look at The Beatles: Rock Band.


Alex Rigopulos, CEO

I still play the game every year on 9/9.

One of my favorite memories from the development process was when we were pitching an early design doc and prototype to Sir Paul. As you might imagine, it was a bit stressful (presenting our creative work to a Beatle…). I think Paul sensed that, and at the end of the meeting, as we were wrapping up, he pulled out a sprig of fresh lavender and handed it to me; he said that he had just cut it from his garden that morning, and that he often kept fresh lavender on hand, because the scent helped him stay relaxed at stressful times. It was a really warm gesture and helped set the tone for the rest of the project.

Another favorite memory was when I saw the final cut scene for the first time, and my eyes watered up. It was literally the first time I’d ever had that reaction to a video game, so at that moment I finally started to exhale and feel really proud of what the team had accomplished on the project.

John Drake, Director of Communications and Brand Management

The Stress of Stepping into the Biggest Shoes

As we closed on the launch date of 9/9/09, the folks at Apple Records and their affiliates gathered a group of journalists, reviewers, families and friends in the famed Abbey Road Studio 2 to hear the first sounds from the soon to be released "Beatles Remasters." They screened some never before seen footage, played some brilliant sounding audio, and blew the audience away. Then, they brought up a band to perform some great Beatles classics in the very studio that those songs were recorded in.

Of course, that band wasn't carrying real instruments – it was a group of Harmonix employees carrying prototype instruments and frantically resyncing controllers to an Xbox 360, eager to show off a new look at The Beatles: Rock Band. Alongside a few of our developers and colleagues at MTV, I strapped on a Gretsch DuoJet, stepped in front of a crowd of hardcore Beatles fans, and selected the previously agreed upon tracks in the menus.

Backed by a towering screen that stretched to the ceiling of Studio 2, and facing a room filled with cameras, lights, and dubious eyes, I depressed my green button and waited for the clicking intro to "Something" to roll on screen. In a rare moment of panic, visions of disconnecting batteries, hard to hear vocal feedback and uncalibrated drums rushed to the front of my mind. My hands got clammy, and I froze.

Everything seemed to stop for a second. What the hell was I doing here? Over the course of the project, I'd played this game in front of huge crowds of people, met and laughed with members of The Beatles, their confidants, families and partners, and had the opportunity to repeatedly HANG OUT AROUND THE GEAR THAT MADE THE MOST IMPORTANT RECORDS OF ALL TIME. I'm a huge fan of plastic instruments and have always thought their transformative powers are incredibly meaningful – but in that moment, in that hallowed venue, I felt a little too much like a pretender. Why should I, some 20-something kid with a plastic guitar, be trusted to interpret these iconic recordings by my heroes?

But then the music dropped in. Deafened by my flash of stage fright, I pressed down the buttons on my guitar's neck cued only by the screens at the foot of the stage. I felt the give of the keys, flicked my strum bar and heard the familiar and beautiful notes ring out over huge speakers in this perfect sounding room. I saw my coworkers step to microphones and begin idyllically singing in pitch-perfect three-part harmony. I saw the corners of eyes of people in the crowd flicker, and smiles slowly wash over their faces.

Our enjoyment of playing this game – this music - was palpable to these most lofty of Beatles fans, and they were enjoying it right along with us. We were bringing the live performance aspect to this amazing studio song, and it was infectious! I was suddenly at ease. Any fear that had held me back was lost as the genius of these compositions, the power of the sounds and the heart of the music rang out in Studio 2. I looked at the piano that "Lady Madonna" was played on, the control room where George Martin sat, and the staircase that John, Paul, George and Ringo walked up and down to hear the takes they'd recorded, and it all just felt right. This music was at home in this space. A moment of pure fear and worry washed away by a moment of pure musical joy.

As we switched over to a live venue [in the game] and began a revved up track in the Cavern Club, all of a sudden the room came alive. Our stewards from Apple Records and Abbey Road were clapping along enthusiastically. Journalists were tapping their feet and laughing as we grooved on this stage, throwing ourselves into the music of our idols. Everyone could tell in that moment that we weren't kids pretending to be The Beatles – this wasn't a simple imitation or impression – this was an homage with deep respect, admiration and love. And, as the wise men said, "All You Need Is Love".

Helen McWilliams, Senior Writer

I loved researching the exact instruments/amplifiers/microphones/etc. that The Beatles used on each song, because it was the one time in my history of researching instruments for HMX that I knew there was an audience that would actually care if we got anything wrong.

Chris Foster, Design Director

One of the most intense parts of developing The Beatles game was working out the Vocal Harmonies feature. Even having solo vocals from Rock Band as a basis, there were still so many unknowns about how to make harmony singing fun without being intimidating or confusing. Each morning, a small group of us would get together, take the current version of the Harmonies system for a spin, and figure out what each person should do for the day to improve it. Then we’d repeat the process the next morning, and every day after that for at least three months. (And that room was occupied by other coders too – sorry for the months of morning off-key choral singing, guys.) Maybe the biggest sign that we did something right is that we exceeded our own expectations. We were suspicious that Harmonies could ever be more than a power-user feature for experienced singers; but instead of making vocals more intimidating, we ending up giving shy singers a way to hide in the mix while they built up their skills and confidence level. Singing together is really fun and it was great to introduce that experience to so many people.

There were so many once-in-a-lifetime moments for me in 2008 and 2009: getting to tour Studio 2 during my first meeting at Abbey Road Studios; riding in the back of a van through February snow to help demo the latest build of the game for Olivia Harrison at Friar Park; sharing a loupe with Teddy Dibble of MK12 as we spent a day-and-a-half racing through every photo in the Apple Corps archives to find material for our photo essays and story mode cinematics; listening to Sir Paul McCartney speak of himself in the third person, while reading our historical mini-essays aloud as part of a fact-checking session; watching Paul and Ringo step onto the stage during our E3 press event. Even more importantly, my son was born while the game was being developed, and though the project took me away from him a few too many times, I’m glad to have those two sets of joyful memories entwined in my head.

The Beatles: Rock Band was an opportunity for Harmonix to participate in something greater than us, to reflect a light that shone brightly well before we started the game, and will keep shining long after the last plastic Höfner rolls off the assembly line. As we move forward and tackle new (and in some ways even more exciting) challenges, I’ll cherish those memories and always be grateful for how the project changed my life.

(P.S. My son’s three now, and his favorite Beatles song is “A Hard Day’s Night.” What’s yours?)

Eran Egozy, CTO

Last year, I was asked to be a speaker at some fancy entrepreneurial conference, but the whole thing started with a crazy musical introduction: A bunch of super-talented young musicians played a medley of rock and classical tunes, including Charles Yang - like this video. The stunt was to weave in “The End” from The Beatles: Rock Band into the live musical performance. I was on guitar. [Community Manager Eric] Pope was on drums. At just the right moment, we switched from real-band to fake band. And then, during the guitar solo section of "The End," the real musicians joined in and played their own solos, trading 4s with me playing the Beatles guitar solos. It was awesome. The crowd went nuts at the end and we all took a bow, Beatles-style.


We'd love it if you'd share your memories of The Beatles: Rock Band in the comments!


Comments

I'd never play a music game without the pro modes that Rock Band 3 has. Except THIS game. It is an amazing game and will remain so long after the vast majority of games from 2009 are long forgotten. But what a shame and missed opportunity that pro features didn't make it in. There will be no 2.0, tragically....

Un juego tan grato y bien construido, el ejemplo de como se deben construir la antología de un grupo. Disfrute mucho del juego, ahora lo juego de vez en cuando. Me pondría muy feliz si nos permitieran transferir toda esa música al Rock Band 3 y ademas de eso también nos permitieran descargar el DLC exclusivo del juego.

Never played a a Rock Band game before. Never played any other music game before "The Beatles Rock Band". To be honest, I used to despise this type of games.Today I am a huge Rock Band franchise fan and collected all the Beatles Rock Band Instruments. The Hofner is still the coolest plastic instruments ever made. Still playng. Still finding people on line willing to play. Still hoping someday to see new DLC with the remaining albums or "The Beatles Rock Band 2 with PRO support and the remaining songs. Hope.

One of my favourite memories from the last few years is of my Dad playing Beatles Rock Band. He was sitting on the horrible, ratty old green chair in my new living room after driving for 3 days to help me move. He was singing Octopus' Garden with a HUGE smile on his face... and he actually has a very pleasant voice! I had no idea! From then on, every time I've heard that song, I've thought of that moment and how it cheered me up at a time when I needed it. Plus, it gives me a bit more proof that my Dad does not in fact hate Ringo even though he claims to. :)

:) This is the one game my whole family never gets tired of playing. All my relatives love the Beatles (some even thanks to this game), but there are not many 'Beatle' things to do together as regularly as we would want. Then this game came into our lives only a year ago (and the special edition to boot :D, so happy about that) and gave us something that's still to this day very special for everyone. (And contagious! As some friends and family have also gotten it in response.) Being young, I'm very thankful to this game for giving me at least a glimpse of what Beatlemania was like. I love the venues, I love the history, and the love behind the details that make my many relatives revive noticeably fond memories at their notice. Thank you Harmonix, for this joyful and incomparable experience. It's irreplaceable :)

I don't work at HMX, but as an edtor for the german gaming press. Still, I spent a lot of time researching stuff about that game even before it was released. I was on the phone following that MTV press conference when it was announced for the first time and instantly got excited for it. I got to play it at E3 2009 and spent more time at the Harmonix booth than at any other. And I remember haviing trouble with the guys at Activision because i wore a Rock Band cap all the time (and a Final Fantasy T-Shirt, but that didn't help. They were really mad at me :D ) Then i got to play it at a presentation im Munich and at gamescom in cologne(see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0S6iNzHxgU ) which made my patience decrease... I just could't wait any longer. I got that game almost a week before the official release for reviewing purposes and couldn't stop playing. THis game was so beautifully crafted and full with lovely music. ANd it helped my wife singing in Harmony withme du to the simple but effective vocal trainer. That alone was worth the money. Well, I still miss songs like Hey Jude, Rain and other famous hits, but alltogether, i really liked what I got. A pity though that TBRB was not very good for Rock Band Parties due to the necessary disc change and the fact that you couldn't mute the origional singers so well. We quit doing beatles rock band at parties in our karaoke bar since the vocal engine produced a lot of unwanted feedback and karaoke singers didn't like that they still heard the beatles sing all the time. So TBRB was more of a personal experience for me. But one that was goofd enough to buy three more copies (which I gave to close relatives and friends.)

I just want more DLC, i´ll buy it please, put more =D, i have Rock band blitz and rock band 3 with 200 songs, i just want more DLC about Beatles Rock Band

I will always remember when I pre-ordered the game at Best Buy.. I bought only the game yet when I went to the store with my dad and sister, they gave me the Special $250 edition for xbox. I told my dad my situation and made me take it back. Today I learned that something bad would have happened if I took that home. It wasn't mine. Yet, just the game was mine. I appreciated what I got and played the game. I had actually NEVER really listened to The Beatles before this game. My parents had a Anthology CD but I never cared. Only when HMX announced this game was when I sunk into their music. It was something so new, so fresh, yet felt classic. I listened to ONLY The Beatles for about a year after that. The music made me feel happy and safe during my horrible times as a middle schooler. Now, whenever I see or play The Beatles RB I am astounded at their level of hard work. It's not a game. It's an experience to relive the greatest band of all time throughout their career. The end cinematic brings a tear to my eye everytime. I know it's The End. The song. The career. And the life of two of The Beatles. Thank you Harmonix for this life changing game.

So good! Drake's story sounds so awesome!

One time, towards the end of development, Dhani Harrison was hanging out at the office, and complimented my guitar. Not my guitar *playing*, mind you. Although I like to think he would have, if I'd been playing it...

love it!