Q&A

Josh Randall

EDGE - - THE MAKING OF... -

What was it like recre­at­ing places such as The Cav­ern and Shea Sta­dium?

We were used to designing venues, so things like Shea Sta­dium and The Cav­ern were pretty easy. More dif­fi­cult was Abbey Road. We wanted to spark it up with psy­che­delic se­quences where the walls would melt away. But that left me hav­ing to ba­si­cally di­rect 30 Bea­tles mu­sic videos. I’d say to Paul McCart­ney, ‘Vis­ually, this is what this song stirred in me.’ He was al­ways sup­port­ive.

Aside from se­cu­rity, what else did you have to ne­go­ti­ate when it came to li­cens­ing tracks?

Well, The Bea­tles’ mu­sic is the hard­est to li­cence. I wasn’t on the front line of con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions, but the pub­lish­ing rights were owned by Sony and the masters were owned by EMI, so I had meet­ings with both. Spe­cific prices, I don’t know, but peo­ple com­plained the orig­i­nal Rock Band game had 65 songs while The Bea­tles had 45. That was be­cause the tracks were so ex­pen­sive to li­cence – about twice as ex­pen­sive as other big bands.

How did you know what di­rec­tion to go in when it came to de­sign and an­i­ma­tion?

We got good feed­back early on, be­cause one of the first songs we fin­ished was Here Comes The Sun, where the vi­su­als had Ge­orge and the gang up on a hill, do­ing the song. And we had Bea­tles fans come in and play it, and they would cry. It was like their he­roes were alive again. Af­ter that, we di­alled in on how to get the kind of re­sponse we wanted and had a much bet­ter idea of what to do. John Len­non would look in the game. I only got to meet her briefly, but later I heard that, at one of the an­i­ma­tion meet­ings, she’d looked at John and said, ‘He looks like he’s brain dead; he looks like my friend who had part of his brain re­moved.’ That summed up the chal­lenge we had.”

Along­side Flury and his team, Randall was also wrestling with the an­i­ma­tion sys­tem. Har­monx had mas­tered au­dio map­ping – the team could take a song and get it playable within about three days – but get­ting The Bea­tles to look right was a new chal­lenge. “The peo­ple ar­rang­ing the au­dio tracks for the game could put all this in­for­ma­tion in, say­ing things like, ‘He should look at his hands here,’ or ‘He should smile at the au­di­ence at this point,’” Randall ex­plains. “We thought it would be easy, since we’d used that sys­tem with a few Gui­tar Hero and Rock Band games. But since ev­ery­one in the world knows how The Bea­tles look when they play, we had to re­ally get it right. For ex­am­ple, they’d of­ten lean into the mi­cro­phone when they played on­stage, so we’d put th­ese notes in say­ing that when Paul, for ex­am­ple, is about to do vo­cals, he would lean in. But of course, when we first tried it, it went wrong – they ended up with th­ese weird, ex­tended gi­raffe necks while the bod­ies just stayed still.

“Also, The Bea­tles just looked so alive when they were play­ing. You could see there were th­ese in­side jokes go­ing on, so we had to de­velop this smile tech­nol­ogy, and get the eyes re­ally right. I worked a long time with our en­gi­neers try­ing to get it so you’d get a real sense of them look­ing right at you. That level of de­tail meant cre­at­ing a lot of stuff from scratch.”

It took time, but Flury and the pro­gram­mers even­tu­ally got the an­i­ma­tion sys­tem straight­ened out. Randall went back to Yoko Ono. “It was one of the most in­tense meet­ings of my life. I was con­stantly think­ing about what would go on in her head when she saw it. It was John play­ing Don’t Let Me Down – such a pas­sion­ate song – and we just had to do it right, had to pre­serve their le­gacy. Thank­fully, Yoko gave us the thumbs-up.”

The game launched in Septem­ber 2009 and sold three mil­lion copies be­fore the year was out. Foster con­sid­ers it the high point of his ca­reer. “The mission of Har­monix is to bring the joy of mak­ing and per­form­ing mu­sic to non-mu­si­cians,” he says. “And The Bea­tles: Rock Band, as well as do­ing that, was meant to af­fect the re­la­tion­ship peo­ple had to this mu­sic, this band. When I was work­ing on it, I knew I’d have big­ger and harder game de­sign chal­lenges in my life, but noth­ing would have the im­por­tance of this game.”

Randall re­turned to Abbey Road with Paul and Ringo to playtest the game one last time. “I had it on easy mode, be­cause I was jet­lagged and, well, I’m not that good at it,” he says. “Af­ter one track, I was about to push it up to medium when Ringo Starr called from the back of the room, telling me to do it on ex­pert. So I was just fum­bling through this thing, you know, like clink, clank, clink, and at the end of the demo Paul looked around at ev­ery­one and said, ‘You played well, you played well, and you played well.’ But then he got to me and said, ‘You, hmm, not so well.’ And all I could think was, ‘I just got ripped on by Paul McCart­ney – that’s awe­some.’”

Cre­ative direc­tor

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