Tuesday, November 01, 2011

EBGDAE: It Looks Like The Band Is Getting Back Together

I very much enjoyed the Every Bunny Gets Drunk After Easter series, but all of us seemed to hit the wall with Rock Band Pro Guitar mode at the same time, and the series just withered away.

Now, though, since we're all playing Rocksmith (and enjoying the hell out of it), we're back, baby.

Well, sort of--this week we have a guest columnist, Dan Plantholt, who sent me an excellent e-mail about his experience. Next week, I'll give you my impressions, and I think tour guide David Gloier and trailbreaker John Harwood are in as well.

I will say this, though: studies of learning theory have pretty clearly established that we learn most quickly when we are constantly challenged, and Rocksmith's difficulty system, as a learning tool, is downright incredible. I have made an absolutely RIDICULOUS amount of progress in less than two weeks, and I know that the constant challenge is the primary reason why. Oh, and one more thing: actually hearing the notes you play is an incredible incentive to refine your hand placement and improve your tone.

More on that next week, but for now, please welcome Dan Plantholt:
I've been reading your blog since early this summer, and when I started I went back through the archives to read your EADGBE posts about Rock Band's Pro Guitar mode. For Christmas, my wife got me the Mustang Pro Guitar controller (not the Squier Strat), and I had played it a few times. I have enjoyed all the music games since Guitar Hero 2, and love playing the Pro Drums on Rock Band 3, and even the Pro Keys is fun, but the Pro Guitar just wasn't. I had originally thought I'd want the Squier, but after hearing some about it, I was much less interested. It was expensive, and it had some characteristics that I didn't care for, like the thick neck. I saw some pictures comparing it to a standard Strat neck, and it was a good 1/4 inch thicker. Having played a Strat, and not liking it compared to the guitar I have, I'm glad I didn't go for that one.

(aside: I am a self-taught bass and rhythm guitarist who plays fakey chords but mostly bass guitar in a cover band. We have a lot of fun, but none of us are any sort of virtuoso. I've always wanted to be better at playing guitar (especially lead parts), but never cared to practice a lot or get a teacher)

But on top of that, all the criticisms you ultimately had for RB3's Pro Guitar mode resonated with me. It was a lot of work, the controller was... 'ok', but not like playing my real guitar. The 'fail' sounds completely break up the game and rob me of a very important feedback mechanism when I'm really playing (hearing the wrong note), the difficulty levels are not well done, and the feedback from the controller was terrible. So I haven't played it much at all. If I play Rock Band now, it's pro drums.

I hadn't really heard of Rocksmith until your post last week. After your first post on it, I looked it up a little bit, and was intrigued. Your descriptions were good about the difficulty ramp-up and the difference in the UI. I finally decided to get it on Saturday, and played through the first few songs, even though my fingers were really sore from a band gig we had on Friday night! (which hopefully doesn't sounds like I'm great at guitar or something. We're pretty good as a group, but I'm no great guitarist).

So with Rocksmith, again, your descriptions are right on about it. It's far more of a teaching tool than RB3. The variability is great, the small lessons are great. I haven't done too many of the mini games yet, but the Duck one was cool to play. The visual representation of the guitar is good, and so is the notation used for what you play. It's much more intuitive: a box with the chord fingering is obviously a chord. The X across a note is muted. Bends took me until the lesson to understand, but slides were right there. As both you and John Harwood said, having the difficulty change as you're doing better in the song is just genius. No more being completely bored to finish on Easy. Now it's "Let's see how far we can push it." And it also gives you so much better feedback. You hear the notes you play wrong. It has the bouncing arrows to show you which direction to go. And it will keep putting that chord up until you get it (like that goofy C chord in Sweet Home Alabama)! And it does that without yelling at you, without embarrassing you, and without punishing you.

I will be interested to see how I do on songs that use things like Drop Tuning (like Slither), because it's difficult for me to hear a difference between the strings in my lap and what's coming out of the 'amp'. But I'm interested in getting there. And I'm enjoying a lot of songs that I haven't really heard of. And along the way it feels like I'm learning things about lead techniques, especially bending.

So I just wanted to share my thoughts on the game, since you are to thank for me knowing about it in the first place, and giving it a try, rather than just dismissing it as probably unsatisfying like RB3.

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