Is Rocksmith Better Than Your Guitar Instructor?


No more button mashing and no more hokey plastic peripheral devices. That’s the aim of Ubisoft’s upcoming music title Rocksmith – an ambitious game that aims to teach absolute musical novices how to play the guitar and replace ‘Guitar Hero Syndrome’ (being really good at something with very little actual skill required) with true sound and real-world ability.

Already available in America, Rocksmith marries education and gameplay by use of dynamic difficulty and simple user interface commands. As such, the overall design and functionality will instantly feel familiar to anyone who has dabbled with rhythm games in the past. Menu animations, navigation and even the general themes of having note timing scroll towards you across a vertical plane is practically identical. Except instead of hitting a brightly coloured pad, you strum a guitar.

Songs, again like those found in previous music games, are divided by difficulty and task you with hitting specific cords to ‘learn’ a track, rather than rack up superfluous points.

To promote the title and generate a bit of hype about the upcoming launch, Rocksmith producer Jason V. Schroeder made the trek from America to Sydney’s Annandale Hotel to host a preview event, and as luck would have it, I was extended an invitation. First and foremost, Mr Schroeder tells me that Rocksmith isn’t designed to create a fresh batch of Jimi Hendrixes for the modern age, but to get gamers, and by extension developers, thinking.

Am I doing this right?

“This is not a shortcut to mastery, not by any means. This is just another way to play and learn guitar. When we [Ubisoft] first saw the title, it was basically just a tech demo. Someone had made a funky little piece of code on the idea that you could get a game to ‘hear’ a guitar. Once we actually sat down with it, we knew it had potential, but the next step was to keep the balance between full fledged learning tool and enjoyable game. The goal is to teach guitar after all. So we had to make a title that was accessible but also one that instilled in people that you’re actually ‘playing’ a real guitar and that you should respect it,” Mr Schroeder explains.

“And because it’s a real guitar, it’s not as simple as just hitting buttons. We had to be a bit clever with how we implemented design elements. So before we even let you play a note in the game, we take you through what’s called ‘Sound Check,’ which teaches you how to hold a guitar and sling it over your shoulder … just get comfortable with it in general. So it’s basically like having a private little virtual tutor. People shouldn’t get turned off if you’ve never layed hands on a guitar before; this game is perfectly suited for you in that case because that’s the way it’s designed. But, on the flip side, if you’ve had a bit of practice with a guitar in the past, this will help you reach that next level.”

“What we do to start you off with is show you how to do one thing. One cord, one note, nice and easy. Get your fingers right and just strum along. Then when you’ve mastered that, we amp it up and throw in a couple of cords back to back. It’s a nice, steady process and we think everyone will have a really positive experience with the game if they go in with an open mind.”

Despite the game’s somewhat touchy ‘educational’ angle, Rocksmith has received generally positive reviews in America so far and is being hailed as a fantastic learning tool.

“Some of the only negative stuff we’ve seen has come from people who are classically trained in the guitar,” says Schroeder. “Sure, Rocksmith doesn’t teach you how to read sheet music, but it’ll get you well on your way towards it! The best reviews we’ve had of the game all come from those little sites like Amazon and eBay where average people are just weighing in with their opinions. Seeing things like ‘thanks Rocksmith – you got me started and now I really want to learn guitar’ is fantastic.

What we’d really like to see though is in line with those wolf shirts. ‘Rocksmith you got me laid so many times! Thanks!”

A bundle for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 will be released, which includes the game, an adapter, an Epiphone Les Paul Junior guitar, a strap and two picks. The Epiphone Les Paul Junior guitar is a fantastic starter guitar. It’s a great place for newcomers to start and it’s not too expensive, so even if you buy the game and can’t get into playing, you won’t break your budget. Likewise, if you pick it up and really love the basics Rocksmith teaches, you can go out and buy an expensive Gibson and keep learning or do whatever you like. Any guitar with a 1/4 inch jack will work with the game.

Rocksmith is currently planned for release in Australia on September 27 and is out now in North America.

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