I’m probably pretty late to this train, but seeing that Ubisoft have hammered out a deal with Guitar Center and GameStop to give away $25 Guitar Center gift cards with pre-orders piqued my curiosity about Ubisoft’s upcoming foray into the world of rhythm gaming. Rocksmith is an attempt to cash in on two things—one is the current slump of rhythm games where Guitar Hero is “on hiatus” (and with practically a headstock in the grave) and the fact that there will not be another Rock Band iteration in 2011.
The second item has been touted since Guitar Hero‘s release in 2005 and that’s the “JUST PICK UP AND PLAY A REAL GUITAR ALREADY” that actual musicians would spout whenever gamers would “flaunt” their virtual skills. Ubisoft essentially put their foot down and said “NO MORE,” desiring to close that smarmy void and allow gamers the opportunity to pick up and play a real guitar by using a game interface that’s akin to a virtual tablature.
Wait, didn’t Rock Band 3 already do that? Why yes, they did! However, you do need to purchase a MIDI-compatible guitar to make full use of the PRO Mode feature. These peripherals can get pretty pricey with the Mustang MIDI Guitar being around $150 new and the Fender Squier around $280. That’s quite a bit of moolah to sink into something that’s viewed primarily as a game controller (even though these are legitimate instruments by all accounts).
The big thing about Ubisoft’s Rocksmith is that it touts that you can use any guitar that has a pickup and a 1/4″ jack. I own several electric guitars and am an avid Rock Band 3 player, but the investment to switch to the PRO Mode for Guitar and Bass is rather large. With Rocksmith, I’d be able to use any of the instruments I already own to play this new game. All I would need is a 1/4″ jack-to-USB cable and I’ll be able to play on the 360, PS3 or PC.
It sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? No need to go out and buy some expensive peripheral for the sake of playing a game, you can use an instrument you already own! What a deal. And no need for some convoluted setup to use a pre-owned electric guitar to play the game.
So, why isn’t everyone talking about how great Rocksmith is going to be and how it’s going to topple the Rock Band 3 juggernaut? Well, simply put—it’s not going to.
Take that as a cynical outlook, but to be fair, I have nothing but love and respect for Ubisoft. Beyond Good & Evil is one of my favorite games of all time. Ubi even managed to persuade me to buy future iterations of Assassin’s Creed by making Brotherhood such an astounding game. And Hell, I love the Prince of Persia games—even the bad ones.
But no, Rocksmith has been doomed since its inception and the true reason is the fact that Rock Band 3 exists. I’m not going to go into a big diatribe about how Rock Band 3 is the best rhythm game ever (it is, but that’s not the point), but its existence is an impassable roadblock for Ubisoft’s Rocksmith.
Consider that Rock Band 3 has an immensely loyal fanbase, a gigantic catalog of songs (nearing 3,000 at the time of this writing; includes exportable tracks, Rock Band Store and Rock Band Network songs), an excellent interface for teaching beginners and challenging experts, a mode that doesn’t demand “the real deal” as far as playing goes, support for up to seven players simultaneously. . . There’s more, but again, this isn’t about Rock Band 3.
Rocksmith is said to debut this Fall of 2011 (September, more accurately), but we’ve barely seen anything. The Wikipedia entry is barren at best when it should be filled with a plethora of development statistics, more than six confirmed songs and a handful of confirmed artists. There should be hands-on views of how the game plays from legitimate gamer and musician outlets, but there are none. Simply put, we don’t know anything about Rocksmith.
I’m not going to take the word of some two-bit musicians who demoed Rocksmith at SXSW. Do I know how good any of these people are at guitar? Empress Hotel? Ruby Jane? FM Pilots? Why should I care about what these people say about this game? Keaton Simons is a solo artist who’s done some touring. With the Black Eyed Peas. What sort of credibility does that speak of? None. The Black Eyed Peas are irrelevant, and so is your opinion.
Here’s another thing to worry about—this game is four months off and we’ve barely seen any gameplay videos, aside from blurbs in the promotional videos and bits of gameplay (which is noted to be a work in progress) in the SXSW video linked above. Don’t you think with a handful of months left that this game should be in its final stages and entering fine-tuning?
I do. I very strongly do. I also believe that Ubisoft is very, very behind in where this game should be . Realistically, a complete setlist should have been revealed, alongside full gameplay videos, and certainly more than just a trio of professionally done testimonials, all of which are probably paid actors. Well, maybe not all of them. “The Musician” looks like he lives out of his van. . . which I guess qualifies him as the only real testimonial. But still, zero cred for The Black Eyed Peas remark.
Anyway, to rag on would-be musicians isn’t the point—the big point is that this game is on its way for either a delay, or worse, a complete cancellation. We’ve literally seen almost nothing about Rocksmith. My biggest concern, however, are the technical aspects behind the implementation. Where’s the explanation about how all this actually works? There’s nothing on the official website, there are no interviews with developers or anyone involved with the game—nothing. WHY IS NOBODY TALKING ABOUT THIS GAME?
The most information I’ve seen is what I would consider a stub of an interview with the L.A. Times that touches on a few points that seem obvious. The most interesting bit about the whole thing is when the scaled feedback is mentioned. That is, the game adapts to how well you’re doing rather than having set tiered difficulty levels.
You know, that’s actually a really cool feature—a game that is only as difficult as you’re capable of. Rock Band 3 doesn’t have that, no sir, but what RB3 does have is a fantastic tutorial mode that teaches basics of playing rather than basics of a song. What I’ve learned in all my years is that learning to play a song doesn’t mean anything unless you know how to wield your instrument. It’s more important to learn fundamentals of playing rather than the fundamentals of playing a song.
Does Rocksmith feature a teaching mode outside of just learning the songs? Not as far as I’m aware, but in the L.A. Times piece above, the game’s creative director Paul Cross says that the game “isn’t school, but you do get to learn.” In contrast, Rock Band 3 actually is kind of like school, having full-featured tutorial modes for the game’s PRO Modes across guitar, bass and keyboards. That means you’ll be learning the notes, finger positions, chord structures, scale structures and more in addition to learning how to actually play the songs using the game’s practice mode.
While Rocksmith does have an interesting functionality in how it scales the difficulty depending on how well you are playing and helps you practice a certain section until you nail it, Rock Band 3‘s practice mode let’s you slow down certain sections to help you nail them too instead of scaling the amount of notes that you get. Essentially, you don’t get a dumbed down version of what you’re supposed to be playing.
Where Rocksmith is really succeeding and where most of the appeal lies is the fact that you can use any old electric guitar to play the game. But just how well does that work? We don’t actually know. Any musician worth their salt takes good care of their instruments, surely, but there are some gamer-musicians who wouldn’t know how to change a set of strings on a through-body. There are some guitars in such horrible disrepair that you’d be embarrassed to show them to your mom.
Can you use those guitars to play Rocksmith? Probably not. What I can tell from the game’s interface is that your guitar has to be properly tuned, unlike the Mustang or Fender Squier which have button-based and touch-sensitive fretboards. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, no, but it kind of is. Making a guitar’s tuning a priority over finger positioning seems backwards, and it’s exactly why the Mustang and Squier for Rock Band 3 are infinitely better as guitar game controllers. These two instruments enforce finger position well over guitar tuning (and as a MIDI guitar, the Mustang is not tunable anyway).
The reason that the Mustang and the Squier are so perfect for rhythm “gaming” is because they were built for that purpose. Most guitars aren’t built to be game controllers.
I guess the real problem is that Rocksmith is an amazing idea, but is likely going to have the worst execution in rhythm gaming’s history. There’s a lot here saying that this game is going to be a dud, from the somewhat restrictive interface with one’s own guitar to the fact that we don’t know anything about it and the release is just a few months away.
And with as many negative things I’ve said about it, I really want Ubisoft to prove me wrong. I want Rocksmith to be cool and enjoyable for aspiring guitarists everywhere. Even I want to like it. But all these things don’t give me any hope.