You Say You Want a Revolution: Chris Foster on The Beatles: Rock Band
The Beatles created a revolution in rock music. Rock Band created a revolution in music videogames. Combine the two, and the revolutionary power is enough to topple every government on Earth!
Well, maybe not, but it's still a pretty big deal. I sat down for a quick chat with Lead Designer Chris Foster about the development of The Beatles: Rock Band, his favorite bands and what's next...
Crispy Gamer: When Harmonix's Beatles game was first announced, Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos promised, "This game is not just a Rock Band song expansion pack." How exactly is this not a Rock Band expansion pack?
Chris Foster: It's interesting; at the time, we knew ... the decision to acknowledge that it was a Rock Band game was one that came from both [the Beatles'] Apple [Corp.] and MTV. For the core gameplay, clearly there are significant changes, most notably the vocal harmony. But what's key is that it's a game really about the Beatles and telling their story. We don't have the World Tour in there from Rock Band. It's not about cash and stars and fans; they kind of had all the cash and fans they needed from the get-go. It's not just about going through a bunch of live venues. It's not the exact same game mechanics, like, again, with vocal harmony, so there was a real interest to make it its own thing and give it the care and attention it needed. That's what was intended by the original statement.
Crispy Gamer: So Alex's statement was misconstrued a little bit?
Foster: I think so... I think maybe it was a mixed message but, you know, it's Rock Band.
Crispy Gamer: How does the game let you "tell the story" of the Beatles? You play in different locations from their career ... is that all there is to it?
Foster: There's more to it than that, although at E3 we're not talking too much about the story, that one secret corner of the game. But if you look at the venues you'll see we take you from the Cavern Club to the Apple Corp. rooftop and all the iconic live venues in-between -- Ed Sullivan Theater, Shea Stadium, Budokan. Then, one of the key differences is that middle section in the studio years, where we take them to Abbey Road Studio Two and we use the dreamscapes to give you the psychedelic interpretation of all these different songs.
Crispy Gamer: Is the whole Beatles catalog going to be available as downloadable content eventually?
Foster: All that we've announced at this point is our first DLC album, which is "Abbey Road," and the Xbox Live exclusive "All You Need is Love" for Doctors Without Borders.
Crispy Gamer: Is the goal eventually to have it all available?
Foster: It would certainly be awesome to have it all out there, but we haven't announced any specific plans.
Crispy Gamer: It's been reported that the songs from The Beatles: Rock Band aren't going to integrate with the other Rock Band games...
Foster: Yeah, there are a few reasons for that. One is that we've got new gameplay, with vocal harmony, which doesn't exist in Rock Band 2 and couldn't be easily put into it. And then we've got the way that we're treating a lot of the venues and environments. Dreamscapes don't have an analogue in Rock Band 2. Although we did music videos in Rock Band 2, these are going significantly further.
This is sort of a special case for us -- the idea that the Beatles have the material, the weight, the impact to support their own game -- so we decided to go for that. There's something about the fact that this game shows the band, and shows the performance, your performance, with the band, in these places -- there's a real power to that. I think this music is so iconic, this band is so iconic, that it's uniquely suited to keep them together and sort of give that experience at all times.
Crispy Gamer: Can you think of any other bands that would be able to support their own game outside of Rock Band's DLC like this?
Foster: I could probably think of a few. [Laughs] It's something that, if the right opportunity arose, we might go for it...
Crispy Gamer: Of the top of your head, who would your dream band be -- besides the Beatles, of course...
Foster: The Beatles is absolutely a dream come true. Personally, this is the nerdiest answer of all, but I would love to play some Yes music in Rock Band.
Crispy Gamer: Could they support their own game? Yes: Rock Band?
Foster: [Laughs] I think Rock Band's the perfect place for a band like Yes. There's some prog in there already and it would fit in really well.
Crispy Gamer: What was the actual involvement of the remaining Beatles and the Beatle widows in the game? Did they just lend their name, or...?
Foster: No. The shareholders, as we call them -- Paul and Ringo, Olivia and Yoko -- were really creative partners throughout the project. They were involved in picking and approving the song list, the venues we went into. With the dreamscapes, they saw storyboards of all of the material, and gave feedback on whether or not they felt like those interpretations supported the songs in the way they wanted.
They looked over all the characters, the animations ... they really kept us honest on whether we were capturing the spirit of the band as they were performing, which was a huge challenge for us. With Rock Band, you've got these avatars that are, you know, anyone, so it's pretty easy for you to believe in them. But when you know who the Beatles are, and you know the joy in their faces when they play, you have to capture that on-screen; you have to be true to that, and they were really good about keeping the standard high.
At every milestone they improved it. I think Sir Paul McCartney heckled our project lead's bass-playing when he saw one of the game demos. So yeah, they were involved. I'm not going to put words in their mouth, but seeing all four of them at the Microsoft press event is about as validating as everything. They don't get together for almost anything ... it has to be something important, something they believe in.
Crispy Gamer: Is there any chance any of the Beatles' solo projects will be included in the game or as DLC?
Foster: There's been no announcements about that, but the game is about the Beatles; it goes from '62 to '69; it covers that iconic music. [The solo projects are] definitely not the focus of the game.
Crispy Gamer: The new Guitar Hero game allows for any combination of drums, guitars, anything ... are there any plans to replicate that in Rock Band?
Foster: We haven't really ... I don't know. It's an interesting development. It sort of makes it more of a party. Personally, it's interesting, because it's one of these things that makes it fun more as a game, but less of a band, so I don't know how that would fit in.
Crispy Gamer: Where do you go from here? Once you have the Beatles...
Foster: I'm probably going to take a nap. [Laughs] I'm probably going to take a vacation. We just had a kid who's about seven and a half months old. I've seen him enough, because Harmonix is actually a really good place as far as quality of life and working...
But after this, I feel like, gameplay-wise, there's a lot of room for expression and creativity in music games that we haven't cracked into yet. The design challenges are very real, but in terms of doing something this big that's going to get this much attention that's going to make this many people happy, yeah ... I don't know where you go from here.
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