‘Rock Band’ Game’s First Downloadable Album Revealed, But Nirvana Still Just A ‘Rumor’

Judas Priest's Screaming for Vengeance will be available next week, with LPs from the Cars and the Pixies to follow.

In what is said to be the first of a steady stream of announcements, MTV Games announced Friday (April 18) that Judas Priest’s 1982 album, Screaming for Vengeance, will be the hit video game’s first fully downloadable, playable album. The album will be available next week.

“That album was an important, seminal heavy-metal album in the early ’80s,” Alex Rigopulos, co-founder of MTV-owned development studio Harmonix, told MTV news during a Thursday phone interview. “It was on the short list of albums that had to be available on the platform.”

Following Priest will be the Cars’ The Cars in May and the Pixies’ Doolittle in June.

While more than 100 tracks have been offered for download since “Rock Band” was released in November, albums — promised shortly after the game was announced — have yet to be offered.

Rigopulos said that it has taken time for record companies to find full masters for classic albums and for the material to then get encoded into songs that can be played via his game’s guitars, drums and microphone.

The idea of offering a full album clicks with him, even if he recognizes that it’s not the most modern of ideas. “In the last decade or so, we’ve gotten primarily used to listening to music as singles in our iPod,” Rigopulos said. “But a lot of this music was composed and structured to be listened to as an album.” Playing through the album can transform or enhance one’s appreciation of a band, something that has already happened for him with the Judas Priest record. “I only knew about four of the songs on the album before this whole process started. It was by playing it in ‘Rock Band’ that I first experienced it as an album. It struck me how powerful it is to play through an album. … Doing it as a play experience gets this music inside you.”

If you’ve been a follower of the “Rock Band” hype, you might be confused why Judas Priest is getting the debut slot. The first album announced for the game was the Who’s Who’s Next?, which Rigopulos said is still caught up in the process of a record company delivering the master music assets to the game developer. And what of Nirvana’s Nevermind? Rigopulos said that one is just a rumor.

(Regarding the Who, Rigopulos added that there has been so much interest from fans that there will be “another announcement of something” regarding that band and the game.)

The developer wouldn’t tease any albums beyond the three announced, but when asked if more recent bands like Fall Out Boy could also get the “Rock Band” album treatment, he said, “I think we’re going to be doing all of the above, [keeping] in line with the platform strategy that will include all decades of rock and all subgenres of rock.”

Downloading an album for “Rock Band” won’t be much different than downloading a song. The download will not include any special play-the-album mode or add-ons based on the band. It will strictly provide a new slate of songs. So don’t expect to download Judas Priest avatars or anything. Rigopulos said Harmonix sees the character a “Rock Band” gamer plays as a projection of that player. “For us, the idea of injecting licensed characters doesn’t make a lot of sense for ‘Rock Band.’ ”

While singles are released weekly for “Rock Band,” Rigopulos said his team could not yet promise a regularly scheduled offering of albums, not even at the monthly rate. And in the weeks that albums do come out, no other singles may be offered. In the longer term, however, the offering of music will ramp up.

Albums will be offered as $15 downloads on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The tracks can be bought individually for $1.99; Screaming for Vengeance has 10 songs. It will be downloadable on Tuesday on the Xbox 360 and on Thursday for the PS3.

And to owners of the PS2 version of “Rock Band” or the upcoming Wii version? Downloading the albums won’t be an option, but those gamers aren’t being forgotten. “Suffice it to say that all of this content we’re amassing for next-gen consoles, we want to make it available to as broad an audience as possible as we can.”

Also on Friday, MTV Games announced that more than 8 million songs have been purchased as paid downloads for “Rock Band” via the PS3 and Xbox 360, a significant increase from just three weeks ago, when the 6 million mark was achieved.

Check out the Multiplayer blog, updated daily, for even more gaming coverage.