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Starlight VIP Party with HMX

It’s true that E3 is loads of work, but we here at Harmonix believe in a zen-like balance of work and play in our lives.  On Thursday evening, after a long day of demos, travel, and general insanity, MTV’s Celine was kind enough to get me, HMXVeng, HMXPardo, and HMXSean on “the list” for an exclusive event happening at our hotel. After all, you haven’t been to Lalaland, if you haven’t snuck into at least one party with chi-chi catering, swag bags, and an open bar (in this case, it was an open, ice cream Sundae bar).

Because we’re nerds and don’t understand the meaning of “fashionably late,” Veng, Pardo, and I got to the event a few minutes early to learn more about our VIPs, and to help get a few Rock Band setups running.  Our VIPs for the evening included about 20 families and staff from the Starlight Children’s Foundation.  The foundation provides various forms of support for families of children dealing with serious or chronic illnesses. Harmonix has been a long-time supporter of Starlight and their mission and we were absolutely psyched to play some Rock Band 2 with our little VIPs. Our Starlight rockers were also the first kids to actually get their hands on The Beatles: Rock Band and watching their reactions to our game was one of the highlights of our trip.

The kids arrived dressed to the nines and ready to rock out – one young lady told me: “Don’t worry, I’m not going to get crazy – I only dress like a rock star,” before launching into a raucous version of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” while her cousin held it down on bass.

Some of the kids had played Rock Band before, but for most of them, it was their first time really playing our game. HMXPardo and I held down the fort in the RB2 room with Celine while HMXVeng got newcomers set up with The Beatles: Rock Band.  HMXSean and Design Director, Chris Foster, were also on hand to answer questions about working at a video game company. Our fearless leader, Alex Rigopulos, also stopped by to greet families and hang out.

The kids were fascinated by us and our game – and they came armed with some great questions. Chris held court with a small group talking about the steps it takes to design a game. He also offered up some life lessons when asked about cheating in games: “think about all the great stuff in the game that you miss out on when you use a cheat!”. A few of the guests quizzed HMXPardo, who works in our audio QA department, pretty extensively, about his job – scrolling through the song menu and asking whether he “really” knew the songs and could sing them on the spot (he could).

The coolest part of the day was watching the kids open up as they played our game. The kids were all super supportive of each other and great at taking turns – I took part in a few sing alongs and impromptu dance breaks with the little rockers waiting their turn. Those who walked in shy and reserved didn’t stay that way for long as each new song brought more crowd participation, laughter, and energy to the room.

A group of three sisters who had quietly introduced themselves to me at the start of the party opened right up once they got their hands on some ice cream and The Beatles. By night’s end they were talking faster than HMXJohnD at a demo: “This game is so awesome!” they gushed, “it’s beautiful – it’s the best! The Beatles are our favorite band of all time!”

In the Rock Band 2 room a few boys who had shuffled up with a request for some Sponge Bob hits were in full-on party mode by night’s end – twirling their drum sticks, doing high kicks, and throwing their guitars over their shoulders to hit overdrive. Another one of our VIPs put on the Beastie Boys “So Whatcha Want” and freestyle rapped with Celine over the lyrics! (I like their version about sandwiches and smelly kids in gym class over the original).

The best part of the night, for me, was being reminded of what our game is all about: having fun with your friends. The coolest part about playing with our Starlight VIPs was that they were all there just to play and have fun together – no one worried about their scores, or what difficulty they were playing on – they just wanted to jump, dance, sing, and rock out for the night. One little guy summed it up perfectly after drumming, animal-style, through an All-American rejects song: “I hit the notes! Fourteen percent?! I AM THE GREATEST DRUMMER IN THE WORLD!!!”

After two hours of enthusiastic rocking, our guests finished the last of the ice cream, picked up their swag bags, (snuck a few extra lollipops), took some pictures and got ready to go. A lot of hugs, high fives, and handshakes were exchanged as our VIPs departed. Though I was wiped out from all the madness at E3, I wouldn’t have missed the Starlight party for the world – I can’t think of a more perfect sendoff for our last night in LA or a cooler group of VIPs to party with.