The Beatles elevated popular music to an art form. Now they are looking to do the same for music video games with the colorful, inviting The Beatles: Rock Band, out Wednesday.
Expanding beyond such hugely successful games as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, The Beatles lets three singers sing along karaoke-style (previous games let only one) and a total of up to six play simultaneously (others play guitar, bass and drum controllers).
The idealized animations of the band at The Cavern Club, on The Ed Sullivan Showand amid psychedelic dreamscapes break new ground, as does the lush surround soundtrack produced by Giles Martin from master tapes overseen by his father, legendary producer George Martin.
"What we wanted to do was steep the player (in) the experience of The Beatles' music and their imagery as they were evolving over a seven- to eight-year period," says Alex Rigopulos, CEO of Harmonix.
The game begins with a stylized 2½-minute cinematic opening, then players can choose any of the 45 songs right away or opt for a chronological story mode.
Martin listened to hours of archival recordings to isolate more than 1,000 snippets of Beatles chatter from concerts and recording sessions. "It does make you feel as though you are back in Abbey Road," he says.
For the developers at Harmonix, the game "is an obvious labor of love," says Victor Lucas, host of game site Electric Playground (elecplay.com). Their efforts have led to "not just a fun new way to experience the music, but also a tactile, multimedia shrine for the most famous group in history."
Events magically clicked for the Beatles game. MTV Networks Music Group president Van Toffler met Dhani Harrison, son of George Harrison, during a vacation in 2006. Toffler says Harrison, a fan of Guitar Hero, thought that "it would be cool to do (the game) with a whole band. That is when I told him we just bought the company that did Guitar Hero and we were releasing Rock Band."
(Liner notes: MTV acquired Harmonix after it helped develop Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero 2, but a year before it released Rock Band, which expanded the music game category to include a drum controller and mike.)
Toffler introduced Harrison to Rigopulos and Harmonix. That led to the involvement of Martin, who had assisted his father on the rearrangement of the music for The Beatles' Cirque du Soleil show Love, and eventually to a presentation for Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Olivia Harrison (Dhani's mom) and Yoko Ono. "They all felt that it would expose their music to new generations," Toffler says. "The core audience who buys games are 12-to-34-year-old guys who probably don't own many Beatles albums."
Says John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts, which is distributing the game, "I don't know that you can overstate the drama of bringing what is in the minds of many the greatest band that ever lived and building a game around them."
That is what the surviving Beatles and their families hope for, Martin says. "They have become a part of history. But I think the music is still there to be enjoyed instead of being put on a pedestal. That is the point of (the game)."