October 20, 2011

Initial Thoughts on Rocksmith (PS3)

As a precursor, I loathe games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. My friends that do like them assume that since I'm a musician I'll be good at these games. In terms of playing the crappy plastic drums, those I can manage, but still think they're pretty silly, not to mention extremely uncomfortable to sit at. The singing at least is still sort of like karaoke. But when I got handed a little plastic guitar w/ buttons on it because, "hey you know how to play this song!" and subsequently had to try pushing buttons in the wrong place on the fretboard I was immediately turned off. "This is NOT a game for musicians," I thought to myself.

Enter Rocksmith. I hadn't heard about this game (for xbox and ps3) at all, but had it pointed out to me by my girlfriend in a flyer a few days before its release. About a year and a half ago I bought her a guitar, amp along with a book / DVD for beginners. I even spent some time in the first few months showing her basic techniques, how to hold the guitar, pick and basic strumming. She had always wanted to learn, or so she said. Of course, learning something like guitar is hard. Really hard. Especially when you have ZERO background in music, notation, theory or anything like that. You also need to actually want to learn how to do it. Now the guitar and all the trappings sit in her office, collecting dust, except when I am over there and decide to grab it for five, or fifty, minutes while I'm waiting for her to do her hair (or something).

So of course, something like Rocksmith appealed to her. It's not really a game per se, but rather a learning tool wrapped up to look like a game. Maybe making the practicing part a little bit more fun would encourage her to practice more than...once every two months.

For a little personal background: I'm a bass player. I've played bass in rock and metal bands for almost 20 years off and on. Currently, I practice with the band regularly, and intermittently at home. I'll freely admit that I don't practice bass a lot at home unless I'm learning a new cover tune. As such, I'm a solid bassist, but wouldn't call myself anything beyond adequate. I'm not flashy and you won't see me belting out any Les Claypool (Primus) or Billy Gould (Faith No More) bass lines.

Naturally, I own several guitars as well. I don't know many bass players who don't own at least one guitar in addition to their basses. The same can not be said for most guitarists. In fact, I know several who don't own a bass, and almost as many guitarists who've actually never even tried playing one. It's actually quite interesting to see one of these guys strap on a bass and expect to be good at it. Sometimes they are, but quite often it's more on the humorous side as they discover just how far apart the frets really are, and how heavy those damn strings are compared to those tiny guitar strings.

Anyway, back to my point (did I have one?). Right, that Rocksmith game. I did a bunch of reading, watched some promo videos from the manufacturer's site, and finally decided I'd give it a try and picked up a copy. When I got it home I grabbed my favorite electric guitar and hooked up the USB-to-1/4" cable to my PS3. Here are some thoughts on things after a few hours with the game:

+ The instructions for getting started holding your guitar and playing are good, but I did end up skipping through a lot of them simply because they're not targeted at me, but at the beginner.
+ The song selection is better than I expected once I got into playing through the "Rockstar Recommends" items.
+ The dynamic difficulty feature is really smart and usually gives you just enough new stuff not to make you annoyed.
+ It IS pretty fun.

- Customizing your tones and selecting guitars in the game is a bit of a pain.
- Playing through the theory exercises like bending and power chords more than once is annoying, because you have to go through the intro piece (or skip it)...which means you are waiting for it to load the exercise you just played.
- Occasionally it will throw an odd chord or a split chord at you when you've been playing only single notes. It doesn't show you how to play them and I haven't gone into the chord chart section for each song, but it can be a little frustrating to have them just thrown at you.

- The BIGGEST negative I found is that there is a little bit of lag between strumming a string and hearing the note. I haven't tried any of the suggested methods to fix this as of yet. It's enough to be troublesome, and I hope I can remedy it. If not, I'll have to take it back because it simply won't be usable long term.

Final Thoughts

I'm curious to see what kind of downloadable content they will come up with. I've heard that there are approximately 20 songs prepared as DLC, and that bass support will also be added that way. As a musician I can see value in playing through the game to improve my techniques and learn some new tunes. I'm really curious to see how many non-musicians, or people who want to learn guitar the game will encourage to stick to learning the guitar.

If it can actually encourage someone like my girl into playing a little more often, I'll consider it a successful game, but that remains to be seen...because she hasn't tried it yet.

1 comment:

Obsidian3D said...

As an addendum to this post, I was able to get the sound latency sorted out. After that a tiny bit of tinkering with the note speed in the options got everything performing nicely. It is a little tricky so that may turn off some people but it is worth the effort.