Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

A Whole New Game of Rock Band…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 14, 2011

My new Fender Squier Rock Band 3 guitar arrived on Friday.  I’ve been saving up for this puppy for a few months in preparation for its release. Fortunately, I’d already picked up a $40 Mad Catz midi-to-XBox converter that I knew it required.

This was the kind of thing I’ve been waiting for since the first Guitar Hero.  I should note that while technically I “play” guitar, it’s possibly more accurate to say I play with guitars. I joke that I play guitar about one month out of the year.  I get back into it for about a month, spend some time getting my callouses back, and then trying to get my skills back up to where they were the year before.  Maybe I learn something new that I can mostly forget over the following year.  And then, with my already crazy schedule, the guitar gets forgotten amidst a pile of priorities.

I’ve been a perma-beginner since I was sixteen years old.

So the whole idea of “Pro” mode for Rock Band 3 was really appealing to me.  Could a game really be used as a practice tool? I have no doubt it could, in theory — I mean, my day job is making simulators to train crane & heavy equipment operators to be better and safer at their jobs. I know it works. So I was looking forward to this release.

The cool thing about the new Squier guitar is that it’s a real, analog guitar. You can tune the strings, plug it into an amplifier (hey, I just happen to have one handy…) and wail away.  Awesome sauce. Granted, it’s a Squier – an entry-level guitar – and not something you’d really want to use for a professional performance or anything. But for a beginner or just dinking around and practicing in the basement, it’s probably fine.  But the interesting part is how you can tap on a dampener that looks like an extra pickup on the body, raising it into position to dampen the strings, and switch it to midi / game controller mode.

The guitar itself as a controller is pretty impressive. For basic playing, it’s remarkably dead-on. There are some definite limitations that I haven’t been able to see handled in Rock Band yet. String bends, for example, confuse the sensors and just don’t work. I have heard that fret-hand muting is pretty much “faked” in the Rock Band 3 tracks, which isn’t bad, but it means it will let you get away with cheating or poor technique.  I found it very forgiving for my ham-fisted playing, which is great for a beginner, but a more experienced musician may find it a little unresponsive.

The gameplay is the remarkable thing. It’s — well, it’s not really Rock Band.  I’m used to jumping in and being able to play a song “cold” in Hard or Expert mode on the standard guitar controllers. I don’t see that happening with this one.  The chord shapes used in the game aren’t exactly intuitive. At least they are labeled, so experienced guitarists won’t be left totally in the dark. For simple power-chords, you can probably get away with it well enough.

Expert mode is note-for-note exactly as played (or as exactly as they can make it) by the performance you are imitating. You can probably get away with crappier technique in Rock Band than you could get away with in a real performance, but I imagine that with a little bit of polish (and hopefully the avoidance of any really bad habits), anybody who has mastered songs on “Expert” would probably be ready to plug into a standard amp and play with a real garage band. Very cool stuff.

But it seems that with Pro Guitar mode, Rock Band 3 is about solo practicing.  A lot of it. That feels weird, Rock Band for me has always been more about getting together with friends and basically playing air-instruments and singing badly but consistently enough to score success on the mic. With pro guitar, the bulk of the “gameplay” seems to really just be incentivised practice of songs until you get good enough to play it – with or without friends. And, theoretically, with or without Rock Band.

That’s not a bad thing. It opens up a whole new dimension to the game – but it’s a totally different mode of play. It makes a game out of practicing songs. I don’t think it’s a replacement for a real teacher or more conventional practice, but it definitely takes the whole musical game idea to a whole new level. Instead of just playing a game to music, its making a game out of making music.

Pretty awesome stuff. I’m looking forward to playing it some more. Here’s hoping that maybe a year from now I’ll be able to look back and see some real progress in my own playing for the first time in years.

I’m interested in hearing how experienced guitarists feel about the game so far with the Squier.

Filed Under: Mainstream Games, Music - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Acrin1 said,

    Like yourself I’ve been playing since I’m 16 (38 now) but still very much a beginner with sometimes lengthy breaks between playing. I tend to go guitar, CRPGS, guitar, CRPGS etc from month to month.

    I’ve never played Rock Band but my sons have Guitar Hero Legends of Rock which I’ve played and enjoyed. Eventually though I lost interest in Guitar Hero as I thought that some of the harder levels didn’t justify the effort I would have to put in to get competent – I’d rather put the time into learning the songs on a real guitar.

    I’ll keep an eye on this one though.

  • Yoel said,

    Sounds interesting. I was hoping they’d make something like this.

  • tfernando said,

    Way back when, the ‘Miracle Piano Teaching System’ was a midi keyboard which hooked up to the NES (and some computers). Same idea- augment to real lessons rather than replacement, game elements in the lessons/practise sessions. Too expensive for its time, but I think it was generally well regarded.

    Personally, I think using games to teach non-computer based skills is a grand idea whenever it happens. 🙂

  • Aaron said,

    I agree that it feels like a different game. I just got mine the other day (ok, it was released the other day…) and I’ve gone from expecting 5 stars on hard and most experts to being happy to pass a medium. And I really have to focus on one or two songs and do them repeatedly, rather than my usual ‘don’t ever repeat songs in one session’ habits.

    Definitely a different game, but also pretty cool.