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Rocksmith

October 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Call me fickle, but Rocksmith is really, really good! Thus far, it’s been a much better guitar teacher than Rock Band 3.

Of course, they’re coming from different directions. Pro Guitar in RB3 is pretty much Rock Band with an insanely complex controller. But other than the basic tutorials, it doesn’t really try to teach.

Rocksmith is all about teaching. It always seems to have something in mind – even when you’re just strumming along with a song you’ve played before, it’s like, “Hey, remember how we talked about shifting? Here’s a shifting section.” Or, “You’re pretty good at this part, let’s try it with double-strums.”

A big selling point of Rocksmith is its dynamic difficulty, and I’ve been seeing that already, even though I’ve only played one song. While playing through “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, I noticed that when I played through sections similar to phrases I had already played, they’d be a little different; maybe with a few more notes, or a section requiring up/down strumming, something like that.

And then there are technique sections and challenges, which actually go into depth about how to play guitar effectively. I always watched guitarists, and wondered how they kept track of it – how could they play low on the neck, then instantly snap to play on the first few frets, then snap back down low? Now I know a little bit about anchor points and shifting.

Probably the biggest improvement for me over RB3 is just that Rocksmith turns the interface on its side. In Rock Band 3, when a note appears to the right on Pro Guitar, it actually means that I need to move my hand down. On Rocksmith, if a note is to the right, I move my hand to the right. If the note is lower, I move to a lower string. Much more intuitive thus far, although again, the games are coming from different directions: the Rocksmith interface takes up the whole screen, and totally wouldn’t work in a full-band game.

The second biggest improvement is that Rocksmith is using my guitar’s sound to trigger the notes. It works – thus far, the recognition has been perfect. And that makes it much more satisfying. With RB3, I might pick one note, and the game plays a riff and cascades down the scales. It feels like I’m just triggering pre-determined sound sames. In Rocksmith, if I pick one note, I get one note. If I cut off the note early, it stops in game. That also means that, as I level up, I can hear the song become closer and closer to the album version.

The question still remains – in two or three weeks, will it still be fun? And will I have learned anything? We’ll have to see.

Categories: Guitar Tags: , ,

Rock Band 3 Squier Stratocaster: Thoughts & Review

October 9, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve had some time to play with the Rock Band 3 Squier Stratocaster this weekend. There’s some positive and negative, but overall I’m very happy with the purchase.

The most impressive part of the guitar is simply that it works at all. Lay your fingers on the strings, and it detects exactly where you’re pressing. There are a few troublesome zones (the 2nd fret on the low E string often registers as the 1st fret for me) but overall it’s absolutely precise and accurate, without interfering with the guitar’s functioning.

Despite the commitment to authenticity, the Squier makes no attempt to disguise its real purpose. It’s a game controller, with lots of plastic parts, a directional pad, and buttons all over the pick guard. You’re probably not going to want to take this on stage at your local open mic night, unless you want to answer a bunch of questions of “what is up with your guitar?” This extends to the gameplay, too – using the Squier in Rock Band 3 works exactly the same as using any other instrument.

I’m pretty terrible at the guitar, but I’ve already made some progress over the last few days – I understand notes and fretting, at least, and how chords are formed. I still don’t understand why chords work – why three seemingly-randomly-placed fingers sound really good – but I figure that will come.

Although it’s been a great learning experience, I have to say that Rock Band 3 isn’t much of a teacher. It never really teaches guitar technique or how to play. It has a series of lessons with some text advice, but all the lessons work the same way: here are some notes. Play them perfectly. It would have been great to have a more comprehensive educational system, maybe with videos, discussions on how to tune, hold, and use the guitar, advice on how Rock Band 3 works different from actual guitar playing, maybe some lessons in tabulature. As it stands, it’s really up to the player to set their own goals and make their own challenges. It’s tempting to want to just go through all the lessons and expect that to teach you, but you really need to just pick a song and play it over and over until you get it right. For some players, being expected to try again and again with little positive feedback will be frustrating.

I’ve got a preorder on Rocksmith, which purports to be a more comprehensive guitar-teaching tool; we’ll see how that goes. I am having a lot of fun with the Squier, and I managed to do a passable version of “I Love Rock and Roll,” so I’ll keep at it and see where I get!

It’s still hard to say whether the Squier is worth the money: it’s unique, and a great way to get started in guitar. There’s just not a lot of $300 items in video games to compare it to. I’ll probably get more use out of this than, say, the full-size controller for Steel Battalion. But will I enjoy it more than six or seven disc games, or 20-30 DLC titles? Hard to say.

Two nitpicks:

1) Why don’t they include a guitar pick in the package? Sure, it’s easy to get one, but I can imagine there were one or two people who got the guitar and MIDI box and took it all home, only to discover they didn’t actually have what they needed to play.

2) Why isn’t there  a Squier Stratocaster available in Rock Band 3? It makes sense to me that I’d want my avatar to match my guitar, but the only Stratocasters are the Big Block, which has different details, the 12-String, or the Standard Stratocaster, which is scuffed and worn. The unlockable transparent/silver/gold guitars are all Stratocasters…but none of them are exactly right.

Categories: Guitar

Note Basics Complete

October 8, 2011 Leave a comment

So far so good on the Pro Guitar! Rock Band/Guitar Hero is actually pretty similar to playing notes on a single string – just move your finger and strum. Of course, when you have notes on multiple strings, it adds a whole new dimension to the keep track of.

I do think there’s one thing missing from Pro Guitar; some basic tutorials like how to hold a guitar pick, how high your guitar should be, how to tune the guitar, etc. They need to remember their target audience, as they stated at GDC: players who are pretty good at Rock Band, but have little to no real guitar experience. Many of these people will be picking up a fancy instrument for the first time, with little idea how to take care of it.

Categories: Guitar

Pro Guitar

October 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanks to a good deal at Best Buy, I picked up the full-size Squier Stratocaster for Rock Band 3. As I pull it out and start working with it, I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

To start with: I’m a fairly experienced drum player, and a great Rock Band player, but I know absolutely nothing about real guitar. Hand me a guitar and I can’t even play a note. I don’t know why there’s six strings, or how to fret, or anything.

So, that’s time 0. We’ll see how it goes!

Categories: Guitar