The battle of the band games has never been more heated. This Christmas will see Rock Band 2 going head-to-head with Guitar Hero World Tour, which works with drum and microphone peripherals too. But with neither game even in the shops yet, Harmonix is already gearing up for round two.
As announced last week the developer is currently working on a new game based around the music of the Beatles. It's not another iteration in the Rock Band series, nor a downloadable song pack, but a standalone title being developed in co-operation with MTV and Apple Corps.
Apart from that, little information was revealed about the game when it was originally announced. So Eurogamer sat down with Dan Teasdale, lead designer on Rock Band 2, and Harmonix PR man John Drake, to try to find out more.
Eurogamer: Rumours of the Beatles game have been swirling around for a while now. Has it been hard to keep it a secret?
Dan Teasdale: Yeah, we've been working on it for 17 months. So to be able to finally talk about it is quite amazing.
Eurogamer: We know it's a whole new game, not another Rock Band title. But can you explain what that means in practice? Is the gameplay different, for example?
Dan Teasdale: It's a whole new experience. We can't really talk about gameplay specifics or tracks, but we'll be encompassing the entire spectrum of the Beatles catalogue. The concept is giving the Beatles legacy and the Beatles experience not just to Beatles fans, but a whole new generation.
John Drake: It is going to be an interactive music game. Although we can't really explain what that means, particularly.
Eurogamer: At least it's interactive. A non-interactive game would be quite dull.
John Drake: Yes, a game you just watched would be boring [laughs]. But we will say it's not Rock Band-colon-Beatles; it is a standalone title.
Eurogamer: You mentioned bringing the Beatles to a new generation there, but do the kids really care? It's been a long time since Ringo and co. were top of the hit parade. Kids today like rap music, they want songs about pimps and hos, not yellow submarines... Why not do something more contemporary?
Dan Teasdale: Because the Beatles are an amazing band. They still are the biggest band in the world and they've established an amazing musical legacy, not just in terms of their own catalogue but their influence on music from that point onwards.
I think it's criminal that people aren't familiar with the Beatles. For us, one of the big things about this game is we can bring that history out. By co-operating with Apple Corp. and MTV we can have an incredibly authentic, respectful view of how the Beatles became who they were.
John Drake: Even if you are a hardcore hip-hop head, listening to the Beatles is never anything that anyone should be ashamed of. It's the most exciting music deep down. It's probably moved the world more than any other set of music I can think of.
Eurogamer: Well, you say that, but Sony just announced that SingStar Vol. 3 will feature songs by Lionel Richie and Barry Manilow. How can you compete with that?
John Drake: I think we should give up. I don't think we should try.
Dan Teasdale: We should burn down the building and claim the insurance.
John Drake: Dude - Manilow. That's all I'm saying.
Eurogamer: I'd like to see Rock Band: The Richie Experience.
John Drake: In a second. Right there with you, Walking on the Ceiling.
Dan Teasdale: Seriously though, we have the right music platform to do wider ranges of music. We did Jimmy Buffett in July, and there's no way you could justify that on a Rock Band disc. He even re-recorded the songs for us, which was amazing. He changed lines to reference Rock Band, so he's a massive fan.
Eurogamer: I love Jimmy Buffett! Cheeseburger in Paradise!
John Drake: Let's go over what you've focused on so far - Lionel Richie, Barry Manilow, Cheeseburger in Paradise...
Eurogamer: Sorry, I'll try to be a bit more professional. So I know you're not saying exactly what platforms the game is for today - can you tell us whether the same collection of songs will be on each version of the Beatles game?
John Drake: We can't say that, but I think you can look at our history and draw conclusions from the patterns of our previous games. Usually we try to keep things carried across consoles.
Eurogamer: What about the instruments? There's been some intimation the Beatles game will work with the Rock Band peripherals, but it's a bit vague...
John Drake: That was sort of confusing, right?
Eurogamer: Right. Was that sort of deliberate?
John Drake: Let's go with yes, that was deliberate. We're trying to make it easy for people to have access to the game, but we haven't confirmed what sort of stuff the game's going to come with, or what you'll need to play the game. I would love to answer your questions more fully but I don't actually know the specifics myself. We'll have more details in the coming weeks.
Eurogamer: What about compatibility with Guitar Hero instruments?
Dan Teasdale: In terms of Rock Band and Rock Band 2, we have an open controller philosophy.
John Drake: Our ongoing philosophy is to give people the option to choose what controllers they want to play with.
Eurogamer: The press release says Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have given their blessing to the game. In financial terms, how much does their blessing cost?
John Drake: [Laughs] We're not discussing the specifics of the financial agreement, although everyone's very satisfied with the deal, I'm sure.
Dan Teasdale: We can talk about the creative agreement. They've seen the game, they're working with us to push forward development. Giles Martin [son of George, the original Beatles producer] is music producer on the game. Everyone at Apple is closely tied in to make sure the game is as authentic as possible.
Eurogamer: Presumably though Paul McCartney won't have direct involvement in terms of popping down to your office to do a bit of rendering...
John Drake: Paul McCartney will not be coding for the game [laughs]. I don't know if Sir Paul has a computer science background. Let's not presume, though. The dude's a knight, he might be very good at it.
They are seeing different builds and giving us feedback. They're going to be instrumental in making the game feel right. Instrumental - see what I did there? [Laughs]
John Drake: We don't really talk about the specifics of sales figures, but I don't think the exclusivity really hurts.
Dan Teasdale: The exclusivity gets more people interested in the game... I think any disparity in numbers is because of factors outside of 360 exclusivity.
Eurogamer: Like what?
Dan Teasdale: Like getting the game out on time. We came out in May which was probably a little too late for us, to be honest. It's a shame we had to release so late. I think as we go forwards, you'll see that window get narrower.
Eurogamer: How concerned are you about competing with the new Guitar Hero, considering it's now a music game that also works with drum kits and microphones?
Dan Teasdale: I'd challenge that. I don't think we're competing with Guitar Hero.
Eurogamer: Come on now. They're both music games that work with drum kits and microphones...
Dan Teasdale: At least from a design perspective, we're going after two completely different audiences. Rock Band is about an authentic band gameplay experience. We want people to have fun at parties, and we want to reach a wide audience.
We developed the original Guitar Hero as a more technical experience. There's nothing wrong with that, it's a valid experience; it's just not what we're going for.
I don't sit around going, "How do we beat Guitar Hero?" I don't need to. My team's got more than enough great ideas.
John Drake: We're not thinking about one-upping, we're trying to make the best game we can... Their game focuses on totally different stuff to our game in certain respects. We're spreading a very large music catalogue with a ton of songs, they have a music creator in their game, and it's very cool and very different. People can play both. It's just like Call of Duty competing with another shooter.
Dan Teasdale: Call of Duty and Halo are both great franchises you can enjoy. It's the same with Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
Eurogamer: But you don't need to pay hundreds of pounds to get the most out of Call of Duty and Halo... What's happening with instruments for Rock Band 2? Will there be a bundle?
Dan Teasdale: We're going to do separate instruments at launch. Eventually we will release a bundle. It's the same philosophy we had in the US and it's worked out really well, not just for us but for consumers who just want to pick up drums or the game by itself or whatever.
John Drake: We're really trying to give people the option to not have to spend over EUR 200 on one box.
Eurogamer: Europe got some exclusive tracks when Rock Band 1 was released. Are you going to do the same thing for Rock Band 2?
Dan Teasdale: We're focusing more on the platform as a way to get music out to people. We learned that people in the US also want to listen to music from the UK, France, Germany... So what you'll see is more localised content delivered through the music store, so everyone can enjoy it.
I would say, if you have indie bands in the UK that you want to get into Rock Band, post on RockBand.com. We read everything and take it into account.
Eurogamer: You mentioned the recording studio in Guitar Hero earlier. Do you wish you'd included a similar feature in Rock Band 2?
Dan Teasdale: We've dabbled with stuff like that in FreQuency and Amplitude. Our take from that was, you have to do it properly. You need to support all the instruments, you have to have songs longer than three minutes, you have to support more than 1200 notes... So our focus on that kind of experience is going to be on making it authentic, making it fit with the platform and giving people a fully-featured way to do that.
Eurogamer: How much is the full Rock Band 2 set-up going to cost?
John Drake: We're looking to be as close to what people are hoping for as possible. We hope people keep in mind it's very expensive to make a game of this size and weight and shape. It's not just a disc, it's a huge box full of metal and plastic, and there are complications that come along with that.
It's really fun, it's a great experience, and I think it's worth the money that's being charged for it. If people haven't checked it out and they're just complaining it's too expensive, they should go hands-on then judge the experience.
You can always expand your Rock Band 1 set, split the cost with a friend, just add the instruments you want from Rock Band 2, just buy the game - there are lots of ways to play.
Europe and especially the UK is one of the birthplaces of rock and roll, so the more Rock Band we can have going on right here, the better.
Eurogamer: Steady on, now. This isn't a press release.
John Drake: I know you're not going to type that up, I'm just saying... I'm sure you'll cut out the bit about you liking Lionel Richie, too.
Rock Band 2 officially launches in Europe on 21st November for Xbox 360, with PS2, PS3 and Wii versions to follow.