Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rocksmith (Part 2: Trailbreaker John Harword)

Trailbreaker John Harwood now has Rocksmith (so do I), and he sent me impressions that are a summary of our "Oh, wow!" conversations over the last few days. Again, it's not italicized for readability, so it's all John from here on.

Color me impressed. It's quite intuitive and it's done something that Rock Band never quite managed to do for me: it had me playing a riff on my own outside of the game in under 30 minutes. While not an amazing technical accomplishment, the sense of accomplishment was fantastic and, more importantly, very enticing and has me wanting to do more, more, more! I think that may ultimately be the legacy of Rocksmith and it's teaching method... It makes you want to continue and learn in a fun, methodical, and rewarding way.

While I've hardly scratched the surface of content in the game (yes, I'm going to keep calling it that. Any non-movie disc you put in a console is a game), it's already given me more fun and more self-confidence than anything yet has. I adore the difficulty ramp-up/down. For me at least, it's spot-on. When I play a section again and it now has more notes in it, that's a tremendous pat on the back for me and tells me I'm doing well enough that I should try adding more. And it's so wonderfully incremental.

David may not have seen that as he was blazing past to the Eddie Van Halen difficulty level, but in Satisfaction, it did the most wonderful progression of adding notes and, most crucially, it was different in different sections depending on how I did. I can't stress how huge that is and how different a tack that is than RB3. I would frequently find myself in RB3 being bored by some segments and utterly lost in others within the same difficulty. I started out just playing the first note of the main Satisfaction riff on the 2nd fret, then the quickly added in the upper 5th fret note (yes these notes have names, but I'm not a musician, sue me) and then later added in two lower notes and two upper notes. And this is all within the same playthrough. On the second time through the song, it gave me the distinctive 3-note lower run followed by the two upper notes, then it added in a 4th fret note leading up to the upper, then by the end also had me doing the 4th fret leading down to the lower notes. And that's the 2nd run through. A later run through also added in a quick double note on the upper.

That's just one riff of one song. The game also noticed that I was doing very well at steady strumming (thank you, Justin!) and it quickly added in long series of notes in the rhythm sections, but as I was utterly failing to make the transition over to the 2nd string for the next series, it backed off from adding anything further. So what I have now is something that seems pretty close to the full main riff, a wonderful steady strum in the rhythm section, and 2-3 notes in some of the transition parts in that section.

It's not easy, it's not medium, it's not expert. It's the John difficulty. It's for me. It's what I can do. And I get chills just thinking about how cool that is. I'm sure it's not going to be perfect and the game's going to piss me off here and there, and it's not fun to be backed down in difficulty in a section because you suck (although it is sometimes a relief), but this is an excellent teaching system. I think I can get this.

Also worthy of mention is that you're hearing what you play and while that may sound obvious, it's huge. In RB3, I had to keep the strings muted and developed all sorts of bad habits. In the Satisfaction riff, I quickly found that my pinky is still weak and I really had to put a lot more pressure down to get a good tone out of the note. Otherwise it sounded like crap. But in RB3, it just sounded like 'plink' and I didn't care. But now I not only want to hit the notes, but I want them to sound good and that's very different and a subtle motivating factor that you can't describe on the back of a game box.

One bit of epic fail: You check tuning on your guitar each time you do something. Annoying, but fine, it goes by very quick (The game's full tuner kicks ass, btw). One time it wouldn't accept the 3rd string's tune. But it didn't then kick off the tuner or anything to help me. I just keep strumming it just keeps highlighting the string and asking me to strum it. Now what? I have to hit start, push right to exit what I'm doing, push A to accept that I'll lose unsaved progress (from a tuner? really?), exit back to main menu, scroll over to the tuner and launch it, all to find out that my volume knob got knocked and it wasn't loud enough to register that string. Fail. Bad, bad, bad, completely avoidable fail. Just ask to launch the tuner for me if I strum the string more than 5 times and it's not acceptable.

My wife the teacher/text book editor would often talk about how a given book wasn't pedagogically sound in that it either took knowledge for granted, or didn't properly build upon previous knowledge before introducing new concepts. I love RB to death, but RB3 Pro was more or less a fail for me in terms of presenting what I needed to know and slowly building me up to bigger accomplishments. While I can't yet speak for how far Rocksmith will take me, it's already demonstrated a much more sound learning system and difficulty

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