Thursday, November 17, 2011

EBGDAE #16: I'm Still Playing

This week, it's my turn, although trailblazer John Harwood (whose career score in Rocksmith OBLITERATES mine) wanted me to mention that you can read a Q&A with a Rocksmith developer on Reddit here.

Highlights (from John):
--Bass support definitely coming "next year"
--3-5 DLC songs coming every 2 weeks
--Several bands that had initially dismissed licensing outright approached the developers a week after release wanting to get in.

Bass support certainly does not suck.

Also of note, I purchased both "Jessica" and "More Than a Feeling" on Tuesday, and they're both terrific. Jessica was absolutely my favorite Rock Band song in the "pre-real guitar" era, and it's a huge pleasure to actually play it on a real guitar now, even if I'm just playing single notes.

Okay, I've certainly hinted at this in the last few weeks, but let's get right to it: this game is killer. KILLER.

Why? A list.
1. Hearing what you are playing forces you to focus on note production and sound quality. In the last three weeks, my finger placement and tone has improved dramatically, and it's all because I could hear how crappy I sounded. There are so many nuances to finger placement that I would have never understood without hearing how I sound.
2. The dynamic difficulty system is unfathomably brilliant. I'm always on the very edge of my competence, and often beyond, and I am never allowed to coast. Because of that, my rate of learning has been ridiculously high, because my brain is constantly being forced to adjust. I cannot emphasize enough how well this feature is implemented.
3. Also because of dynamic difficulty, I don't hit a wall. There are always options for me in my career, some more difficult than others, but I never feel like I'm going sideways. I'm doing chords now, and they're certainly challenging, but there's always somehwere I can improve. As an example, see #4 below.
4. Believe it or not, in addition to the standard "musician's career", Rocksmith also has arcade games, and even more unbelievably, most of them are an absolute blast. There's a baseball game that challenges you to hit individual notes, and if you do, you get hits, score runs, etc. and it doesn't look like some half-ass piece of work, either--it's actually quite well-done. There's another mini-game called "Dawn of the Chorded", with zombies approaching your bunker position, and the way you fire your guns is to play the specified chord (you can see the chord shape on the screen).

Learning how to play chords is hard work, and it's dull, really--there's just no way around it. Including a game that's cleverly designed, though, breaks up the monotony, and I've already noticed a difference in how quickly I can shift my hands around the fret board.

The biggest endorsement I can give this game is that I want to play it every day. I can play some of my favorite songs, I can work on my career score, or I can just play arcade games. There are enough options that it keeps feeling fresh to me, which must be the single most important thing when learning how to play the guitar, because it takes so much practice.

If you're wondering about the review scores, don't. In fact, some of the worst reviews I've read have been about this game.

Case in point: the Kotaku review, which is one of the single least-competent reviews I've ever read, and something that never should have been published.

When you first boot up the game, you see a visual that explains how to connect your audio for minimum latency (in short, use analog cables). You will see this screen every time you boot up the game. You will also see the same information in the information ticker that scrolls across the screen at menus. It's also in the tiny manual that comes with the game, I believe.

It's freaking everywhere.

So what does this reviewer do? Let him tell you:
Rocksmith's most immediate—and most problematic—issue is lag. After plugging my guitar (a G&L Telecaster) into my PS3 using Rocksmith's included USB-to-1/4" cable, I played a few notes and immediately noticed the lag between when I hit the string and when the note sounded on my TV's speakers.

Software recording programs like Pro Tools and Logic often use what's called "low-latency monitoring" to deal with lag, which usually requires immediately flipping a dry signal back through the monitor speakers while simultaneously routing it into the recording software for processing. Rocksmith is, perhaps unsurprisingly, incapable of this trick, partly because in order to provide the guitar tones it's emulating, it has to slow down for at least a fraction of a second and process the dry audio from the guitar. I should note that lag will differ depending on your setup—I was running audio through an HDMI cable into my HDTV. Analog audio cables straight from the console probably help with this. But no matter what, there's gonna be some lag, and furthermore, I'd rather not rejigger my PS3's entire cable setup just to get the game more functional.

That's awesome--Rocksmith can't "flip a dry signal back through the monitor speakers while simultaneously routing it into the recording software for processing," an apparently heinous omission. Meanwhile, this dumbass can't connect analog audio cables, which should take anyone less than five minutes.

Because of this utter lack of effort, it's a terrible review, and it's completely unfair to the game. Even worse, this guy is a legitimate musician (taken from the review):
I studied jazz saxophone at an intense music school and play a whole bunch of other instruments these days as well, including the guitar. (Here's me onstage looping a bunch of instruments at a show.) I've worked as a professional musician ever since graduating, gigging around San Francisco, composing and arranging music on commission, producing shows and recording bands, and I spent the last seven years directing a jazz ensemble at a local independent high school.

And yet you can't connect analog cables. Shame, that.

Surprisingly, this may not be a coincidence--a "real" musician bagging on the game. David Gloier send me this last week:
I've never been more irritated by reviews of a game than I have the ones for Rocksmith. "You won't become a real guitarist playing Rocksmith", "it doesn't do bla-bla-bla", "I've played guitar in a real band and this is a joke", etc...shit like that. First off, anyone with legitimate experience playing the guitar (i.e. - playing in a real band) really has no business reviewing this game. It's not for them. As I mentioned before, a large number of guitar players exist that hate the fact a learning tool is out there that they didn't have the privilege to use. I've been on guitar boards where guys refuse to even acknowledge that Rocksmith uses a real guitar, continually making references to playing with a toy guitar, even though I specifically tell them you use a real guitar plugged into the game, and have posted links that show them as much. It's like they don't want to admit it exists.

In other words, fear the "professional musician" review, unless you're a professional musician. For this game, I recommend other sources.

Overall, if you want to learn guitar, or want to learn new songs more quickly, Rocksmith is a terrific teaching tool. It's fun, it's diverse, and it makes practice interesting instead of drudgery.

And I'll be playing again in a few minutes.

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