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A wise musician once said “love is all you need”. This adage can be applied to just about anything in our daily lives, including video game development.

The Beatles: Rock Band is a product of such love. So much meticulous work went into making sure every facet of the game was true to the Beatle’s soul, you’d swear they were making a comeback.

This kind of care is in stark contrast to Guitar Hero 5′s recent infamous corporate use of grunge legend Kurt Cobain. Read on for a quick journey into the utterly polarizing world of contemporary rhythm games.

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At the heart of Beatles: Rock Band’s inception was Dhani Harrison: son of legendary Beatle George Harrison. One day, MTV President Van Toffler met with Dhani by chance: the seed for a Beatles rhythm game was planted, and the rest was history. Shortly after, Apple Corps (formerly Beatles Ltd.) got involved, and started to make the dream a reality.

Frankly, it’s no surprise that Apple Corps openly chose Harmonix’s Rock Band legacy over the direction Neversoft/Activision’s new take on Guitar Hero, citing “[we] respect and appreciate what Harmonix does creatively for rhythm games”.

Harmonix’s sparing full retail release schedule is key to the success of Beatles: Rock Band. While the Guitar Hero series sees a constant need to release sequel after sequel, Harmonix has stated time and time again that their bread and butter will be downloadable content in the form of full Beatles albums.

“All You Need is Love” will be available soon for download, the proceeds of which all go to charity, and full length albums will be available at a later date, starting with the timeless classic, Abbey Road.

Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison, Giles Martin (son of the “Fifth Beatle”), and even Paul and Ringo themselves all had a hand in the game’s creation. Apple Corps’ archive photographs of original Beatles performance sets were used in the meticulous creation of the game’s stages and locales, and Apple also helped in the creation of the game’s ingenious “dreamscapes”: nostalgic set pieces similar to The Beatles’ psychedelic movie Magical Mystery Tour.

Harmonix and co. even went so far as to keep all of the trials and tribulations of the at times tumultuous band out of the game, including Ringo’s unpopular estranged period, allowing his role as the group’s drummer to stay intact throughout the entire experience. While some purists may claim its misrepresenting the band, it’s obvious that all those involved wanted to focus more on the actual music and message of The Beatles rather than get bogged down by negativity.

Simply put, Harmonix worked “8 days a week” on The Beatles: Rock Band, and it shows.

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Moving on to Guitar Hero 5: what’s wrong with the above picture? Any fan of Nirvana knows that Kurt Cobain, former band frontman, wouldn’t have used extreme pyrotechnics, and corporate rock stylings in any of his concerts. Kurt’s brooding, melancholy style helped shape much of grunge music’s dynamic in the 90s and beyond.

Kurt’s inclusion as a playable character for any song in the game (including pop music) was met with a riotous response from not only fans, but people who were close to the Nirvana frontman himself. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, former members of Nirvana, said that they were “dismayed and very disappointed”, calling for an after-the-fact patch to remove Kurt as a playable character.

Not familiar with the current controversy? Compare this:

To this:

What utterly confuses me is that traditionally, Guitar Hero has attempted to differentiate itself from Rock Band in a respectful manner, starting from Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock: which includes an ensemble cast of playable and non-playable rockstars, all of which were featured in their own element. In other words, Poison’s Brett Michaels actually went into the studio to record his own motion capture performance, and gave the developers creative input for the game.

To make matters worse, in addition to Cobain’s GH:5 appearance, the solemn “man in black” blues legend Johnny Cash is also an unlockable character, which means you could just as easily have him banging away at a drumset to your favorite flamboyant pop single.

The difference between Brett and the late stars Kurt Cobain and Johnny Cash is simple: the latter can’t represent themselves, or defend their own image. While Harmonix combated this inconvenience by consulting various friends and family members of the two deceased Beatles members, Activision decided to just go ahead and get Courtney Love to sign a ridiculous contract, and somehow do the same for Cash.

While Cobain’s story has been getting headlines due to the unsatisfied Cobain estate, Johnny Cash is another matter. Why not respect Cash’s legacy as one of the greatest singer/songwriters of all time by having him appear in a similar, vocals only fashion just like Michaels in Legends of Rock? The same could be said of Cobain: rather than license his name out as a playable character, he could have easily been a guest guitarist for a few songs.

The bottom line is: you have to keep your fans happy, and Activision isn’t doing theirs any favors. While a lot of younger generations’ only musical education is from various films such as the biopic Walk the Line, a lot of the current customer base for rhythm games are middle aged fans who grew up with most of the music featured in the actual games.

Lennon and McCartney said it best: You “can’t buy me love”, Activision.

  1. Very nice read Chris. Beatles Rock Band is a masterpiece, and feels like one. GH5 feels like just the next yearly entry in the franchise. Clearly, both teams have different views on what moves merchandise, and actually thinking out a concept (The Beatles) pays off.

  2. I think we are all growing tired of Guitar Hero now, but GH5 does at least have a few improvements despite this controversy. Full review coming soon!

  3. I’ll still go with Guitar Hero, I already have RB 1 and 2. I’ll pick up Beatles once it’s been out a while.

    I just bought GH: Greatest Hits and I’m having a blast with my mates playing the full band.

    Also, making Kurt Cobain rap looks like immense fun. Can’t wait til I can get Michael Jackson playing Enter Sandman. ;)

  4. avatar Zombutler

    There really is no better way to describe B:RB than as a product of love. Like you said, SO much love and care went into that game and it shines through every single moment. While I don’t think GH games(GH5 in specific terms) are bad games, I just don’t feel like Activision has the passion Harmonix does. RB for life. Great article.

  5. Great read Chris. I have to admit that I do not plan on ever buying a Guitar Hero game as long as I can help it. I personally love those guys at Harmonix and what they’ve done with the first two Guitar Hero’s and all the Rock Band games.

  6. avatar Contra666

    I have to point out several things that people are missing here:

    1) Guitar Hero World Tour had Jimi Hendrix in it and you could use him to play any song, but nobody cared about that did they? Think he wanted to play the bass of a Paramore song?

    2) It took Neversoft THREE years to finally get Kurt Cobain in the game because Courtney Love had dragged her feet for so long. This clearly wasn’t some cheap cash in. They got her to design how he looks in the game (choosing clothes that she thought best represented him) and the end result is pretty good. Your article doesn’t feature any of this, merely describing it as “signing a contract” which is just plain wrong.

    3) Kurt Cobain is not mentioned in any of the marketing materials for the game. He’s not mentioned on the case of the game or prominently on the box for the full band versions of the game. He isn’t mentioned in the TV ad and Neversoft didn’t confirm he was in the game until just before it was released. If this was really some way of cashing in, they’d make it quite clear he’s in the game.

    4) I think the whole issue here is a misunderstanding on Courtney Love’s part as to what being a character in Guitar Hero entails. All of them can be unlocked, not just Kurt. I guess that wasn’t explained clearly enough to her

  7. avatar rose

    love the article. you might like to check out this story over at on the button comparing the new guitar hero 5 to the beatles rock band. http://onthebutton.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/rockband/

  8. @Contra
    I should clarify that I never meant to portray Guitar Hero 5 as a bad game (it’s actually quite good).

    The reason I didn’t mention Jimi is because his appearance isn’t nearly as appalling as Kurt, someone who completely stood against everything his avatar ended up becoming in the game. While it may be the standard practice for “Estates” to crap on their fallen celebrity family members, its obvious that you’re going to piss off a bunch of real music fans by doing this.

  9. avatar JimmyBean

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

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