LOS ANGELES — Blast was very fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with Alex Rigopulos, the CEO of Harmonix Music Systems, and discuss the upcoming Beatles Rock Band game and the future of the music game genre.
Blast: So, The Beatles. It must feel good.
Alex Rigopulos: It feels incredible. This is a band that’s been close to my heart personally since I was a small child. So this is really a dream project for me and a lot of people on the Harmonix team in a very big way. For a lot of us it’s still very surreal that this was able to happen at all. So for us to unveil the game to the world today is a big deal.”
Blast: I’m not going to go into inter-corporate politics but does it feel good to have this coup for your company over your biggest competitor Activision?
AR: This band’s music is incredible and for us as, I’ve said a number of times in the past, we make music games, but we consider it to be music first and games second. We really consider what we do in this category to be making new kinds of music experiences and to let people experience music in a new way, and this music is so rich and so beautiful and so joyful that to have an opportunity to take that to an interactive dimension to the first time is an honor and a privilege and something that the development team has been delighted about since the very beginning.
Blast: Personal favorite Beatles song?
AR: Well first of all there’s no one favorite just because it’s changing constantly, and it has changed constantly over the course of this project as well. One of the real pleasant surprises of making the game and what will be a real pleasant surprise for people playing the game is just that everyone has heard these songs hundreds of times in their lives, and you think you know this music but when you start learning to play the drum parts of the baselines, you discover all these little details and hidden gems in the music that you never noticed before.
I have this experience with Taxman which is one of the very first prototype songs that we developed early on that we built into the game in interactive form. The first time I played it I was playing the bass line and I started playing the bass line that I know and was familiar and was kind of bouncing and having a great time playing and there’s this one moment in the song in the bridge learning into the guitar solo that all of a sudden the bass line goes crazy and starts running all over the place, and that lasts for just four bars and then falls back to the old bass line that you know. And in all the hundreds of times that I heard that song I had never noticed that insane moment in the bass where Paul just started going crazy.
And its fun to play and its an amazing little moment that I had never heard before. I think that’s a big part of what we’re giving to the world is people are going to find all these hidden gems in the music.
For me, going back to the original question, discovering those hidden gems has been changing my favorite Beatles song through the duration of the project.
Blast: You must have met Paul and Ringo over the course of this…?
AR: Yeah many times. All four of the principles (including Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono) were very creatively engaged in the project from the very beginning. So yeah they were integrally involved in every step of the project from conception to fine tuning the details at the end.
Blast: What was it like working with them?
AR: “It was completely surreal. These are titanic figures, right? And they also made some of the greatest art that I’ve experienced in my life, so to actually be in a creative collaboration with them its just stunning. Its intoxicating. But what was most surprising to me as how engaged they actually were. They weren’t just making kind of superficial comments. They really got the vision. They helped us craft the vision, and they were really focused on details as well. They held our feet to the fire and were pushing us.
It was very much with their help that we got there. It was surreal and incredibly invigorating to actually be in a creative collaboration with these titans.
Blast: It could have been very easy to make this a simple game. You could have made an extended track pack, you could have done this quickly and easily if you wanted to. How important was it for you and for Harmonix to add the level of detail you’ve done with this game?
AR: The Beatles, themselves wouldn’t have been interested in just an expansion pack. That was clear from the beginning in the early discussions, but that was great as far as we were concerned because that’s not what we wanted to do either. This music is so special that it calls out for special handing.I dont think for us we would have wanted to do it any differently. This is a once in a lifetime opp to work with material like this.
Blast: Your company has come a long way in the past few years. The Rock Band franchise has really taken off. Where do you see the franchise and the company going in the next 5-10 years?
AR: That’s a big question. First of all we’re going to continue to advance just on the content. We’ve already put 700 songs and growing on the Rock Band platform, and while that seems like a lot, and it’s a ton in the historical standards of video games, it’s still the tiniest sliver of this incredible music that’s out there and it’s a big part of our ambition over the coming years to fan out as broadly as possible to just get more content on the platform.
That said, there’s also the feature aspect and we want to continue to get new kinds of play and let people interact with the music and engage with the music as well. We still have a lot of ideas of how that might be accomplished on the Rock Band platform, but we also have a lot of new ideas brewing about fun new types of music play that would exist in entirely new games as well
Blast: Anything you can share with us?
AR: Not today. There will be a time for that.
Blast: Are there any bands you have not worked with yet that you’d like to?
Well there are the obvious. We’re talking to everybody all the time right? That’s just the nature of what we do, so we’re considering all kinds of options.
Led Zeppelin is a band that is another that everyone loves and everyone asks for ,and you know, U2 is another big band that a lot of people love and a lot of people ask for. All the obvious candidates.
Blast: Are any of those on the short timeline?
AR: Nothing imminent or announcement worthy.