It was 30 years ago today that Alex Rigopulos, co-founder of the video game company Harmonix, first heard the Beatles play. Well, roughly. “I think I was around 7 or 8 when I discovered my first Beatles album, which was Sgt. Pepper,” says Rigopulos, 39. “It was really the first rock album that meant anything to me. For as long as we’ve been making music games, the prospect of working in some capacity with the Beatles material has been looming out there on the horizon as a dream project.” That dream is now a reality. As observant EW readers will be aware, the MTV-owned Harmonix is today releasing The Beatles: Rock Band, the latest in its line of hugely successfully Rock Band games.
After the jump, Rigopulos reveals all about the “nerve-wracking” development of this season’s essential video game.
Entertainment Weekly: How hard did you have to sell the idea of doing a video game to the Apple “shareholders”: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko One, and Olivia Harrison?
Alex Rigupolos: I wouldn’t say that we necessarily had to sell it hard. Certainly, there was an education process. They’re not gamers themselves. But there was a surprisingly high degree of receptivity to the potential of the creative opportunity here. As you might expect, it was nerve-wracking the entire way, from the very first meetings until we shipped the game. When the stakes are that high it’s going to be a nerve-wracking process.
How did you decide what songs to feature in the game?
It was a collaborative process. All of the Apple shareholders were involved, and Apple management, and the Harmonix senior team, and Giles Martin (the son of Beatles producer George Martin and the man responsible for ensuring the quality of the music in the game). We went through a process of exchanges and dialog amongst all of these parties.
Were there instances when, for example, Paul was particularly keen on a song being included?
I don’t recall the soundtrack being particularly controversial. And furthermore, because the game supports downloadable content you can feel confident that, if a song isn’t included on the game soundtrack, it will at be released in interactive form.
There are a few surprising selections, such as George Harrison’s Indian-infused “Within You Without You.” It’s hard to imagine how you play that on Rock Band.
It’s the version from Love (the Beatles-soundtracked, Cirque du Soleil theatrical production), the mash-up of “Tomorrow Never Knows”/”Within You Without You.” And you’d be surprised, actually. The tabla parts from are a ton of fun to play on the drums.
There was a much reported story that Yoko One turned up at Harmonix one day and gave your animation team “hell” for the way they had depicted John Lennon. Is that an accurate representation of what happened?
No. That was a really unfortunate mischaracterization that took place in the press. Yoko was an incredibly positive and productive contributor to the process. It was a stressful period in the project. But that was a moment when we needed help. And, at our request, Yoko came and gave us exactly the help that we needed and provided some keen insights that really helped us make the game much better. It was really kind of tragic the way that that got mischaracterized in the press
Paul McCartney has described his role on the project as that of “executive tweaker.” What exactly does that man?
All of the facts and information in the narrative were drawn from what we considered to be authoritative public sources. But Sir Paul reviewed all of it with a fine tooth comb and actually corrected a number of aspects that weren’t quite right. And it’ll be amusing to see this go out into the world with some elements that might be slight deviations from what’s established as the public record on some of this stuff.
Could you give us an example?
One was the tale of them getting their famous haircuts. And I guess the public version of that story had them getting their haircuts in one location. But the story of where and when and how was somewhat different. That’s one tiny example of the executive tweaking: “No actually that isn’t quite how it happened.”
This whole process began thanks to George Harrison’s son Dhani, who was a big fan of the Guitar Hero game. So, have you been sending copies of Rock Band to the Rolling Stones’ offspring?
I can’t say anything too specific about that. Except, obviously, there are many other huge artists that we would love to work with on future projects and we’re in contact with those artists on an almost constant basis.
Oh come on, when are we going to have The Rolling Stones: Rock Band?
(Laughs) Someday I hope.
Rock Band has been such a huge success. You must look at your bank account and think, “Wow that is a lot of zeroes!”
Well, I don’t know about that! But certainly the growth in the music game category has been good for a lot of people and I hope that will continue to be the case.
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