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Exclusive: One-on-One with Green Day: Rock Band Project Lead Chris Foster


Green Day: Rock Band - Project Lead Chris FosterAs you no doubt know by now, when I was at PAX I had the exciting opportunity to swing by Harmonix’s office to get some serious hands-on time with Green Day: Rock Band. After a couple hours of dedicated rocking, I got a chance to sit down one-on-one with Project Lead Chris Foster and grill him for more details about the game. We covered a lot of ground, discussing intricacies of gameplay, the possibility of DLC, the reasons for the absence of anything before Dookie, and even a little bit about other single-band games. (That’s what we in the business call “a teaser.” But I can’t mislead you fine people, so I can’t help but tell you that it was a very little bit about other single-band games.)

I have a tendency to ramble in my questions and jump between topics, so I’ve edited the questions for clarity and the order of questions for flow. Beyond that, you’re looking at pretty much our entire conversation. And man, after 10 years in print it still weirds me out to be able to run an interview from start to finish. I keep wanting to trim for space. But look! It’s the internet! Space is free!

Anyway, shall we begin? Let’s.

To me, this looked pretty much like The Beatles in terms of actual gameplay mechanics. Is there anything you’re doing that’s new in terms of gameplay that may not be obvious?

I think the main thing in terms of core gameplay is reuniting Beatles’ vocal harmonies with the Rock Band 2 features that were removed from Beatles: drum fills, guitar effects, and whammy bars. We considered big rock endings and tambourine phrases, and we would have put them in, but for the music that we were doing, there weren’t really places where they fit in, so we didn’t need them.

Once of the nice tweaks is that when you bring in the DLC we actually add harmonies onto them, which is a nice way to embellish the Rock Band 2 songs that people have, and it’s something that’s unique to playing them inside of here. The “meta-game” — what we call all the progression mechanics — uses some of the same concepts from Beatles, but it’s been nicely refined. We really wanted to make it appropriate to Green Day, so it’s got three tours instead of the one narrative progression; it’s got collectibles, but they’re arranged in a different way; it has more opportunities to give you cool archival footage.

And one nerdy detail: The challenges in this, in addition to not just being repeats of chapters, we’ve also tuned the difficulty so that you have to average about four and a half stars or four stars a song in order to beat the challenges. One of the things with Beatles, people were like, “I want to get the last photo, but if I blow one song then I have to start over.” So we wanted to make it a little more of a realistic challenge.

Obviously the harmonies for Green Day have not ever been as intricate as the Beatles harmonies. But they seem like they’re handled a little differently; is that just my imagination?

I think it’s more the nature of the songs. I think we handle them the same way. They’re more like traditional sing-along harmonies in a lot of ways. The Beatles did some really amazing things, like “We’re all going to sing three things” — and that middle harmony line is always a bitch to figure out. It may be the nature of the band, where there are just two main singers in Green Day, for a two-part harmony with additional filigrees. So we authored it the same way.

But one thing we do in this, which you saw in “Homecoming,” that we also did in Beatles is, in cases where there are defined vocalists who trade off parts — like Paul sang the middle eight in, I think, “Hard Day’s Night” — that lead line turns into the harmony line. In “Homecoming,” it’s unique in that all three of them sing parts of it. That’s the only time that happens. During the “Rock and Roll Girlfriend” part of the suite, Tré is singing on-screen, and his harmony line — the third harmony line — kicks in to do the lead line.Green Day: Rock Band

I was actually really surprised by how much of the lyrics went uncensored. There are blatant drug references, blatant sex references…

I think the standards are close to, or identical to, what we do for DLC [in the main Rock Band store]. I think there’s not a lot that’s blatantly sexual in their lyrics, and I think that’s the stuff that tends to trip [the mute button]. And it’s always a judgment call from song to song, and we’ve been doing it for so many years that there are different people involved from time to time. But there’s nothing here that felt like it was significantly beyond the pale. I think there are about four words [that have to be muted], and all of their many, ah, conjugations — which is a word that should be banned itself for conversation.

On American Idiot, there are a couple songs that are sort of smooshed together; some songs in the set list seemed to be smooshed together and some seemed to be separated. What was the rationale for that?

That was based on artist preference, and how they provided the masters to us. There are a few songs on American Idiot that directly bleed into each other, and those are provided as paired songs. And then “Brain Stew/Jaded” was kind of released in video form as a paired set of songs. “Chump” and “Longview” are blended into each other on the album, but “Longview” was a separate single and those just ended up being delivered as separate songs.

I was pleased I could play “Holiday” without having to play “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” It’s not a bad song or anything, but I’ve heard it a lot.

It’s funny how much of American Idiot got played a lot. It’s got some real heavy hits.

I think a lot of people forget that Green Day has had a lot of radio hits. I mean, most of Dookie, but then so many songs on American Idiot…

Yeah, there were like five singles. The number of videos they made for that was pretty crazy. They made a video for “Jesus of Suburbia”! I think it was the fourth or fifth “single” — put on, like, three 45′s taped together.Green Day: Rock Band

So, is the archival stuff specifically tied to the albums?

Yeah, it’s different [from The Beatles] in a couple of ways. One is the DLC element: The photos are tied to songs and chapters the way it is in Beatles, but we have photos for all the 21st Century Breakdown songs, including the ones that are DLC. You can only access those if you’re playing the DLC songs.

The big difference is the challenges. The Beatles challenges were a way to have people revisit the songs, but it really just took a chapter and you played it again. With this, there are two main differences: One, the challenges are new configurations of songs, tied around a theme. They have a name that implies a theme and you’ll have three or four songs on that theme, and they mix from different chapters in the set list. And each challenge is specifically tied to a video. So we have 14 challenges and 14 videos.

And the last wrinkle is that you sort of “buy” the challenges: As you’re collecting photos you’re collecting what we call “cred.” And as you hit certain cred thresholds, you get to unlock additional challenges, and then each challenge has a prize. And you can see a little thumbnail of what that [prize] video is. So you have a chance to choose what you want to see. And they’re themed to different albums or periods of time.

I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but a reader asked, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the answer: It’s obviously too simple to say, “Why did you go from The Beatles to Green Day?” But what was it about Green Day that made you say “this is the next one, these are the guys we want”?

Well, “the next one” is an interesting thing in itself. You don’t “follow up” The Beatles. That wasn’t our goal, it wasn’t like, “Oh, we’ve got to top The Beatles, what are we going to do?!” There was no Indie Man in our meetings trying to figure that out. It was really just that we want to make cool games about music. And the opportunity came to work with Green Day, with a lot of their material. And we decided the best way to do that was in a [single-artist] game. It was really just that we had this opportunity: They were into it, we were into it, and we thought we could make a really kick-ass game with that.

The fact that it came out after Beatles and before Rock Band 3 is just sort of the way it goes. It didn’t stop us from doing Rock Band 3 — Rock Band 3 is going to be awesome! So if you’re a Green Day fan, this is your thing. And if you want all sorts of rock music you’ve got Rock Band 3 around the corner. So we don’t really see them competing. And Beatles is still there for Beatles fans.

Are you anticipating — I mean, obviously I know you can’t confirm anything — but do you think this is something we’re going to see more from you guys, doing a single band?

I think we’re open to the possibility of doing more. I think it all just depends on the opportunities and the artists. We certainly haven’t closed the door on it, but we haven’t announced anything else.

U2? Pink Floyd? Zeppelin?

These are…names I’ve heard before…when people ask this question.

I gotta ask!

No, clearly, there are a lot of bands that would be cool to play a lot of in these games, and…people have asked this question before.

“I acknowledge the question has been asked.”

Exactly.

Green Day: Rock BandHow are you doing DLC? Are you planning to do it like The Beatles, where you have specific DLC for this game?

This is actually different. In this game we’re taking a different approach to performances: We’re building these crafted, linear sequences. One of the reasons we could do open-ended DLC for The Beatles is that it’s all tiny clips, and we could just reconfigure them for different songs as needed — and dreamscape backgrounds similarly had that. With this, we’re really creating sculpted experiences for every single song; there’s an animation that plays all the way through, pretty much. That’s something that’s not really practical to do open-ended. So we decided we were going to make DLC just about finishing 21st Century Breakdown, using the DLC that was already out. That created a great three-album game, and also let us give each of those [six DLC tracks] unique assets, more than we could easily pack into a DLC pack. Those songs have their own video-wall assets, their own [motion capture].

So does that mean that there’s no hope at all for Kerplunk!?

Kerplunk! would not show up in this game in terms of DLC. Like I was saying before, we didn’t have access to masters — so you never say never, but the game is sort of sealed off. [Restricting the DLC] also let us build spaces in the “meta-game,” have collectible photos and prize videos specifically tied to it. So we really took advantage of making it a closed set of DLC that we could support fully, and more than we’d be able to do in an open-ended fashion.

So you don’t have access to the main Rock Band store through this game?

Yeah, that was a choice on our part — we want to have Green Day performing Green Day songs. The advantage of this disc is that we have these venues and these characters and these unique performances. So there’s no sensible way to bring in the rest of your library. So if you want to play all of your library, you can export these songs into Rock Band. The export has a fee, but the GameStop preorder or the Deluxe Edition are ways to sort of get around that.

But if you want to play as Green Day, you can play all the Green Day songs [in this game], including the ones that are in Rock Band now. To get all the cool custom assets and Green Day stuff, it has to sort of sit on its own disc, and we’ve just sort of embraced that, and made that about the place to play Green Day, rather than trying to mush everything together and give you access to everything — but then you have a shitty experience, like Billie Joe singing Lady Gaga. Which, as awesome as that would be, is really not what we’re going for. Let someone else do that.

I have to ask the provocative question: Obviously this is a game for Green Day fans. Do you think people are going to be disappointed to find out that there’s nothing in there before Dookie?

I think there will be some people who wish that we’d hit some of those, and it was definitely our intention. I think the album-centric plan was, for me, a great way to give people a lot of songs they care about for different reasons. And I think by not having the [earlier] songs, we have room to do that — a bunch of hits. But yeah, it’s a tradeoff with any of these games. I mean, how many songs weren’t on The Beatles that people really wished they could play? So we’ve got a similar [situation] here, but, you know — you do what you can.


25 Comments

  1. Adam says:

    Awesome interview! Looking forward to the game!

  2. kunde says:

    Nice stuff!

  3. Tommy says:

    Very excellent job, sir!

  4. Joe Rybicki says:

    Thanks, folks. I really appreciate the kind words.

  5. Nick says:

    Great interview. I love this site!

  6. Game!Ov3r says:

    nice interview… i kind of got a chuckle out of the comment about Billy singing Lady Gaga… kind of a little slam on Guitar Hero and the Cobain issue. When he said this, did he say it with a little bit of a knowing smile?

  7. Joe Rybicki says:

    Game!Ov3r, I was wondering if anyone would catch that. :) Yeah, definitely a little smirk with that line. It was clear what he was referring to.

  8. Brendan says:

    Nice job on the interview. Keep up the great work with the site.

  9. Rab says:

    Lame about no DLC for the game…that’s the same stupid decision Activision made with Metallica? Who cares about pictures? And the animations are over the top. Why would you need Green Day to lip synch 50 songs when it’s not really that big a deal, since obviously the Beatles looked fine.

    Green Day isn’t retiring. It’s absolutely silly that they didn’t try to incorporate a way to include any future songs they record (not to mention the back catalog they missed). It’s almost as if they’re saying this is just a temporary game, we’d prefer you play Rock Band 3 or 4 to play future Green Day songs. I’m sure, just like with Metallica, it was a way to cut costs, more than anything.

    And as for Beatles songs, yeah, who wants Help or Hey Jude when you can play Boys, I Wanna Be Your Man and I’ve Got A Feeling (great interview but i take it they wouldnt answer about Beatles DLC). At least on this game they have little filler.

  10. Joe Cam says:

    Did anything ever come up about the possibility of completing the other albums through standard Rock Band DLC eventually?
    Also, he even mentioned that there were a lot of Beatles songs that didn’t make it, so there’d be the same with this… Did it cross your mind to say “Hey, Rock Band 2 has 84 songs on the disc and you’ve got just over half that for Green Day. Couldn’t you just fit the other albums on there?” or do all the song specific animations kind of prevent that?

    Sorry, I just REALLY want to eventually play Redundant or Walking Contradiction. You’d think they’d at least make sure they got all of the singles included… Maybe we’ll see one of them on Rock Band 3?

  11. Joe Rybicki says:

    @Joe Cam, I think the thing that drove the song selection for GDRB was the albums. I didn’t include the quote because it was in the EW article I linked to on Friday, but when talking to all of us, Foster said that the track list discussion started with American Idiot. Like, “This is an album that’s meant to be played all the way through, so let’s put the whole thing on there” and then, “Hey, so is 21st Century Breakdown…” and then, “Hey, pretty much everybody knows all of Dookie…”

    I think to understand the selection you can also just look at sales: Dookie, AI, and 21CB are Green Day’s three biggest-selling albums by far. They may have had bigger singles here and there (though I’d imagine “Good Riddance” is probably the only thing that outsold any of Dookie’s big hits) but in terms of albums, those are the three biggest sellers, as well as the three that are most highly regarded by the critics and the industry…which means that more people are familiar with those albums than any of the others.

    I don’t know the exact sales figures, but I’d imagine that if you’re looking at doing a single-band game, you’d love to include the entire catalog. But there’s no way to do that in a cost-effective way. (That is, it’d take so long to make it that it couldn’t be profitable.) So you start thinking about where you draw the line…and for Green Day, the biggest-selling albums and singles is a pretty sensible place to do it.

    To be clear, though, that’s just my speculation.

  12. Dingo Dan says:

    i personally think that not not having DLC is a huge draw back for me and will be hoping that there is just a little.

  13. gdpunkdude says:

    i have to get this game! the only problem is i don’t have a game console.

  14. agreenlife3 says:

    the DLC thing is really stupid and just laziness/money i think but maybe if it sells well we’ll get DLC. I really would like eventually to get most if not all the song catalog Warning and Shenanigans are both really important and its stupid how little (or no) songs there are from those two albums. 1039 and Kerplunk! aren’t as big of a deal to me personally What I’d like to know is that part when he mentions masters, does that mean Harmonix couldn’t get the masters for Kerplunk! and 1039, or if all the songs are not masters. I definitely hope its the first, but if you could clarify, i don’t think the article explained that.

  15. Jorge says:

    to “agreenlife3″. By “masters” he reffered to the master tapes from Lookout. Not the songs mixed, but the guitar track, the bass track, the drum track and the vocal tracks. That’s one of the reasons a lot ot people thought of when it was announced that Kerplunk or 1039 weren’t on this game, that Maybe Lookout didn’t want to lend the master tapes.

  16. Joe Rybicki says:

    Jorge has it right, and sorry for not being clearer in the post. Sometimes I forget not everyone knows these terms! :) But yeah, by masters he meant the original multi-track recordings, which you need to separate out the instrument parts in the game. (Well, unless you’re willing to do crazy audio forensics like with Beatles.)

    The odd thing is, Wikipedia says those albums were rereleased by Warner — usually they would get the masters to do that. But it’s a lot easier to rerelease an album without them than it is to do a music game, so that doesn’t prove anything.

  17. Mike says:

    this game would have been epic only if songs from 1039 and kerplunk made it. they should come out with a track pack of kerplunk songs and 1039. that will make up for it.

  18. swarley says:

    but did it come up at all that they thought about releasing warning or nimrod even for the regular rock band games? like how foo fighters have a couple full albums on there?

  19. Nate says:

    Its not the end of the world that their pre-Dookie stuff isnt in the game. I still feel that there is so much green day in this game that it just wont matter. I do hope they add more DLC down the road like they did with Beatles, such as rounding out Warning, and perhaps adding any future albums.

    Joe, as always a great and interesting article. Keep up the good work!

  20. Liam says:

    The absence of the pre-Dookie songs didn’t bother me at all. The only thing that confused me was why they made up a venue for the dookie era when they could’ve used something like a Woodstock’94 stage, which was a focal point in the band’s early history. If the game is supposed to be representative of the last 15 years of their career, then something like that should’ve been included, as the infamous mud fight is what got the band the majority of their mainstream attention and helped make them something of a household name, it just feels weird that there was no mention of it, but maybe there is something in the unlockable pictures/video

  21. Joe Rybicki says:

    Liam, Foster did address that, actually. See this article:

    “We considered Woodstock ['94] — that was one that was high up on our list — but daytime venues are much harder to pull off convincingly in these engines; they don’t look as good, which is why you always see things at dusk or night, or an interior. So that took that one off the table.”

    Foiled by technology!

  22. Rick says:

    Lack of pre-Dookie DLC is lame! I’m a huge Green Day fan and I’m guessing the majority of people that buy this game aren’t just casual music fans, but huge Green Day fans, hence those that would appreciate DLC.

    Also, the band bought the masters from Lookout about a year or two ago and own the masters now. That’s why you saw those “remastered” versions of 1039 and Kerplunk last year put out by Reprise. So the comment that Foster, “couldn’t get those masters” makes no sense to me.

  23. Matthew says:

    Sucks. they probably shouldn’t have done this game. it’s too disappointing. none of the look out albums, not being able to do woodstock… it’s just pointless. it highlights the last 6 years of their career and doesn’t represent their whole career like beatles rock band did. i was very let down reading the track list. just saying…

  24. mofo says:

    There were awesome songs on Warning, Nimrod and Insomniac that are sadly missing from this game, but the weaker songs from American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown are included in entirety? Lame!

  25. Newcscallibur says:

    I’m a big Green Day and Beatles fan and love the Beatles DLC I know loads of people who are waiting on more DLC, bring more out iv paid for for all the Beatles one’s and still won’t more keep them coming and Green Day albums as well, keep your consumers happy.