The Mak­ing Of…

From small be­gin­nings to an Abbey Road swan song: how Har­monix helped The Bea­tles con­quer the world a sec­ond time


The Bea­tles: Rock Band – or how McCart­ney schooled Har­monix cre­ative direc­tor Josh Randall

Yes, he’d just taken the phone call he’d been wait­ing for, but now Josh Randall was wor­ried. Since his ear­li­est days at Har­monix, work­ing first on Karaoke

Revo­lu­tion and then Gui­tar Hero, he’d pushed the idea of a game based on a sin­gle, well­known band. Now it was hap­pen­ing, and the band in ques­tion was about as big as they get.

“We’d been do­ing ex­per­i­ments with games based around spe­cific groups for a num­ber of years, even be­fore Gui­tar Hero,” Randall tells us. “And I was in­volved in a se­ries of those pro­to­types. Me and the other guys would joke, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be awe­some to do a Bea­tles game? Ha ha. Yeah, as if.’

“But then, I guess in around 2006 or early 2007, I got called up by Har­monix and they said, ‘Hey, we’re fi­nally go­ing to do one of those band games. And it’s The Bea­tles.’ I’d been cre­ative direc­tor on Am­pli­tude, Gui­tar

Hero and the first Rock Band, but I re­ally had to take a week­end to think about this one.”

Randall’s nerves were un­der­stand­able: this project came straight from the top. Har­monix was then owned by MTV, and Van Tof­fler, the net­work pres­i­dent, had been hang­ing out with Dhani Har­ri­son, the only child of Bea­tles gui­tarist Ge­orge. The two were hav­ing lunch when Dhani ex­plained he was a big fan of Gui­tar Hero. He just wished it had a mi­cro­phone and a drum kit. “We’d just started work­ing on the first Rock

Band,” Randall says, “so Tof­fler asked Dhani to come meet the team and sit down with our co­founder and then-CEO, Alex Rigop­u­los. He asked Dhani if The Bea­tles would ever want to do a game, and Dhani reck­oned yes, so from that we started ar­rang­ing a bunch of meet­ings with the folks at Ap­ple Corps.”

Randall, who’d now signed on as cre­ative direc­tor, be­came Har­monix’s point man. “I was fly­ing back and forth to Abbey Road Stu­dios for months, meet­ing with Paul McCart­ney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, Olivia Har­ri­son and Ge­orge Martin’s son, Giles, who was pro­duc­ing the game on the Ap­ple Corps side. It was a very long ap­provals process. We’d send packages ev­ery few months with con­cepts for what the out­fits would look like, the char­ac­ters, things like that, and we made a ba­sic non­in­ter­ac­tive se­quence to demon­strate how we could model and move the guys. The Ap­ple Corps guys liked it and we were able to move on from there.”

Get­ting the me­chan­ics to­gether was rel­a­tively sim­ple, since ev­ery­thing in the orig­i­nal Rock

Band could be lifted pretty much whole­sale into the Bea­tles project. In­stead it was ob­tain­ing mu­sic li­cences and the bless­ings of Ap­ple Corps stake­hold­ers, such as McCart­ney and Starr, that oc­cu­pied a lot of early devel­op­ment time. Lead “I WAS ABOUT TO PUSH IT UP TO MEDIUM WHEN RINGO STARR CALLED FROM THE BACK TO DO IT ON EX­PERT” designer Chris Foster wanted to base the game around the var­i­ous mile­stones in The Bea­tles’ ca­reer, the plan be­ing to in­clude pho­to­graphs, videos and his­tor­i­cal es­says that would de­tail the lives and mu­sic of the band. How­ever, that ma­te­rial proved hard to se­cure.

“I was work­ing with He­len McWil­liams, our lead writer, and Brett Mi­lano, the jour­nal­ist who was do­ing the orig­i­nal drafts of the es­says, edit­ing them and send­ing them to Ap­ple Corps for ap­proval,” Foster says. “That process took a very long time. The sur­viv­ing Bea­tles wanted it all to be ac­cu­rate, true to what they re­mem­bered from the time, and there was a lot of ef­fort in as­sur­ing [them] we could han­dle that.”

Foster had come onto the project in 2008, af­ter fin­ish­ing work on Phase. Like Randall, his early months on The Bea­tles: Rock Band were spent fly­ing from Har­monix’s HQ in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, to Abbey Road, Lon­don.

“Be­tween hav­ing the idea to do th­ese es­says and get th­ese pic­tures and ac­tu­ally hav­ing them com­pleted took about six months,” Foster says. “We were try­ing to do right by the band, but there’s a lot of writ­ing out there on The Bea­tles and it’s easy, when you’re do­ing rock jour­nal­ism, to em­bel­lish. We ended up com­pil­ing this thick bin­der full of in­for­ma­tion from var­i­ous Bea­tles an­tholo­gies, and I took it to Abbey Road and just sat with Paul McCart­ney for about two hours, tap­ping down on a con­troller so I could scroll through the es­says we had in-game and he could read them out loud. If they were OK, he’d just say, ‘Yep,’ and we’d move on. If not, he’d ask about our sources and where we’d heard this stuff, and then maybe try to clar­ify things.

“He was very gen­er­ous. If there was some­thing we’d men­tioned about an al­bum cover, he’d make sure we cred­ited all the peo­ple who helped de­sign it. Plus, it wasn’t like it al­ways had to be his way. Some­times he’d ask, ‘Did we re­ally do that?’ and I’d quote our sources and he’d be OK with it.”

Randall had sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences. Af­ter see­ing the orig­i­nal de­sign for Ge­orge Har­ri­son’s avatar, Olivia Har­ri­son in­vited him over to drink tea and go through some old photo al­bums, just to make sure the like­ness would be ex­actly right. He was also man­ag­ing the playlist. The Har­monix team had de­cided which tracks it wanted to use, but get­ting them out of Abbey Road proved tricky.

“The song se­lec­tion came to­gether re­ally quickly,” Randall says. “We put to­gether a spread­sheet of our per­sonal favourites, then lis­tened back to them all. Some had too much pi­ano; some were maybe a lit­tle slow and wouldn’t be as com­pelling to play. But that’s how we dis­tilled it down to a short­list. We ran our se­lec­tions past Giles – we had just one meet­ing where he pointed out which of the tracks would play well – and then we got to work.

“But there was a ton of se­cu­rity around trans­fer­ring as­sets. We would fly over and they would give us a hard drive, but the files on there were en­crypted. If you lis­tened to them raw, they’d sound like garbage. That meant a lot of de­cryp­tion and op­ti­mi­sa­tion work on our end.”

“Pre­par­ing songs for The Bea­tles: Rock Band meant go­ing back to the orig­i­nal record­ing ses­sions, recre­at­ing each song’s orig­i­nal mix and bounc­ing them out into sep­a­rate au­dio files for each in­stru­ment,” says au­dio direc­tor

Eric Bro­sius. “That cre­ated sep­a­rated ‘stems’,

Ge­orge Har­ri­son’s son, Dhani, was in­stru­men­tal in bro­ker­ing meet­ings with Ap­ple Corps’ share­hold­ers, even­tu­ally help­ing Har­monix se­cure rights to The Bea­tles’ mu­sic and as­sets

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