The Beatles: Rock Band -- A New Revolution in Gaming
The Beatles: Rock Band videogame finally arrives today (from MTV Games), allowing you to pick up the guitar, bass, mic or drums and experience 45 songs from the Fab Four's renowned music catalog through gameplay that takes you on a journey through the legacy and evolution of their legendary career. From the early touring days in 1963 Liverpool at The Cavern Club to The Ed Sullivan Theater to various, psychedelic "dreamscapes," to the immortal, final concert on the Apple Corps rooftop, you can now get closer to The Beatles.
Meanwhile, the Beatles catalog is also being reissued today (from Apple Corps Ltd. and EMI Music): carefully re-mastered in stereo and mono (available only in a collectible box set) using the original analog master tapes. De-noising technology was kept to a minimum, as was overall limiting to boost volume, and only on the stereo recordings.
Josh Randall, Harmonix's game lead, explained how song selection was decided for Rock Band: "We began by brainstorming with Giles Martin [music producer and son of Beatles producer George Martin] from Abbey Road Studios on a list of songs that would be fun to play in our game, which we felt was an important place to start. We wanted the game to span the entire performing and recording history of The Beatles, so we tried to select songs, outfits, eras and venues that would represent key milestones in their amazing career. I think in the end we came up with a great selection of popular favorites, and deep cuts...there should be something in this game for everyone!"
The Beatles: Rock Band was developed by MTV Games' Cambridge, Mass.-based game producer Harmonix (Rock Band, Guitar Hero), and I spoke with Art Director Ryan Lesser about the thrill and challenge of raising the franchise bar for more emotive character animation and sophisticated visuals.
Bill Desowitz: So this was no ordinary Rock Band project, was it?
Ryan Lesser: Yeah, it was a pretty crazy project this time around.
BD: So, talk about wrapping yourself around The Beatles visually -- the character animation as well as the various environments.
RL: One of the first things that we started working on was their likenesses. Very early on we did a demo for the sake of the shareholders and Apple to make sure everyone was onboard with the project, and the concept was non-realistic, iconic imagery for The Beatles. We didn't want to find ourselves in the typical area of the Uncanny Valley in depicting humans realistically -- and probably not doing them justice. So, we were looking for a style that was very endearing and charming in the way that those guys were and yet was still functional and fully animatable and did everything we needed it to do. So we actually didn't do a ton of early drawing -- we did some. We really started working with ZBrush as a sketching tool and we went in very wild directions: cartoony, less cartoony, in squares, more organic and smooth. And what we wound up with is in the same universe as the other Rock Band character stylization, but not the same. You can see differences.
And this demo, which is just the guys frozen in time, has a little of a bullet-time thing around them in the stadium. They had all the right gear, the lighting was appropriate, the outfits were right, their hair was right. It was the first time that anyone saw these characters in this style. And when we showed it, it was received pretty warmly. Of course, it wasn't perfect -- it wasn't presented as perfect. But it was a lot easier to show how the game was going to look like.