We all live … here. Photo: “DJ” Dave Whelan.

It’s official: we had heard rumblings that game maker Harmonix was about to announce something, and it’s here. It’s a collaboration directly with the Beatles to make something that isn’t Rock Band or Guitar Hero — something completely new. And something completely new is exactly what’s needed.

Before Guitar Hero and Rock Band, before being purchased by MTV/Viacom, game developer Harmonix were a very different creative house. Co-founders Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy were MIT friends whose first project was an application that let you play guitar with a joystick. (Sounds like a research project you might read about here.) Their interactive music games were influenced by the explosion of Japanese titles like PaRappa the Rapper and Beatmania, to be sure. But part of what made FreQuency and Amplitude so important was that they offered more than just a simplified music experience. They were digitally-powered acid trips, with VJ-style video clips playing up buildings and surprisingly sophisticated interfaces that remixed the music as you played.

Make no mistake about it: Guitar Hero and Rock Band are brilliant titles with a fair dose of musical integrity in the way they abstract playing experiences for broader audiences. But there’s no question some of the original creativity — the sense that the game experience was unlike any other experience — is missing. And in this pumped-up HD age, in which surreal game experiences like intra-dimensional navigation in Portal or ambient floating cartoon paramecia in Spore, it’s hard to wonder if gamers who weren’t ready to snap up FreQuency a few years ago might be ready now.

So while rival Activision bakes a watered-down GarageBand-style app into another iteration of Guitar Hero, it’s intriguing, at least, that Harmonix is working with the Beatles. And they really are working with surviving Beatles and Beatles Significant Others: Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon, and Olivia Harrison. (Okay, I’d like to see a special Yoko-inspired game on Xbox Live Arcade.) Most interesting, producer Giles Martin, heir to production legend Sir George Martin
and producer of the Love project with Cirque due Soleil, twice a Grammy winner, and the man behind The Beatles Anthology is involved, too. (See a great story on him in Sound on Sound.)

Let’s get straight to the point: for the band that made virtual acid trips mainstream decades ago, it’s time for a new, digital trip. (They do describe it as a “journey” through the Beatles’ work, after all.) I think the Beatles make a perfect choice. I can’t count the number of people I know in music composition who were addicted to Beatles records as kids — not the Beatles’ generation, but their offspring in the 80s and 90s.

And despite the intervening decades, Yellow Submarine still looks imaginative and bizarre. If gaming can do anything, it can take music we’ve heard a zillion times and make it new. It can make our regular experience, the reality around us feel a little different. Rock Band has proven to be a trojan horse: it’s literally driven up sales of real instruments. That’s proof that making something palatable to a mass market can help get them hooked on new kinds of experiences. Can a Beatles game feel less like interactive documentary or re-hashed Guitar Hero, and more like a groovy, retro journey into the strange imagination that turned a lot of us on to recording, music, visuals, and … uh … animations of strange creatures? I think so. Can’t wait to see what comes out.

PS — I want to play as George.

  • http://truechiptilldeath.com peter swimm

    I bet its gonna be overrated ;)

  • Justin-Chicago

    as a big fan of the rockbad franchise I can't help but be a little disappointed by them not licensing the beatles for rockband directly…i don't want another game to play music in…200+ tracks and adding great music all the time-that's why rockband rocks so hard. In terms of the visuals, while rockband is not a virtual acid trip (i'll take one ticket please when that plane departs) the visual aspects of the game are actually pretty awseome. The character/music synchronization (lip synching, guitar and drum animations) are really amazing…what rockband attempts to do is recreate the spectical and theater of a live rock show and I say they do a helluva job.

    -note- I am too busy to buy RB2 but I imagine they have improved on their excellent presentation layer.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Peter: well, more like expectations will be set *really* high (speaking of Spore) … guess I didn't help. But, look, if it's not the Greatest Game Ever, could it be a Worthy Trip? That's what I'm asking. :)

    @Justin: Do we really need the Beatles in Rock Band? I mean, Rock Band is more about a different era in rock to me. Beatles covers just seem out of place. And the Beatles deserve more than an add-on pack, somehow, anyway — because those expectations are set so high, and rightfully so.

    Yes, the visuals in Rock Band are fantastic. But that makes me all the more interested to see some other visual directions, given how incredible FreQuency and Amplitude look on *last-generation* hardware (still more interesting than a lot of current-gen stuff today)!

  • Brianna

    @Justin I love Rock Band too…my husband and I own RB and RB2 as well as every DLC out there (that's a lot of investment), but as a huge Beatles fan (my son's name is Jude), I think Rock Band would have limited just how intensely Beatley the experience could be. I think it will be done better than RB. (RB2 isn't that vast of an improvement on RB1. Sure they fixed some f-ups from RB1 but there was so much room for adding new venues etc. Was more a showcase in laziness than showmanship. But they had to get it out there as quickly as possible I suppose.) Beatles Guitar Hero would've been an utter waste unless it was done World Tour style, but I still have more faith in Rock Band creators than GH creators. I sincerely can't wait.

    -Brianna (Gamertag: Beatle Kitten)

  • http://turntablepoetry.com dj professor ben

    re "PS — I want to play as George.": Now you can even learn to play his "secret chord"!

  • http://momothemonster.com Momo the Monster

    Ooh – got a teaser email from RobotKid. This must be the project he was hinting at. How exciting!

  • Dri

    How excellent does this look? I really liked the Love release, though i didnt get to see the show or any footage of it. I think that's a comfort that any Beatles project is still in good hands, so I'm definitely looking out for this!

    Whatever you do, no matter how much you love the game, dont send Ringo any fan-mail….. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqC0hJZNCfA

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