Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Sixty Days of Rocksmith 2014

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 10, 2014

I didn’t exactly sign up for the Rocksmith 60-day challenge or anything like that. But it’s been a little over 60 days since I first started playing with Rocksmith 2014. If I was truly disciplined, and learning to really play the guitar was of greater importance to me, I’d have been playing 4+ hours per day. But I have other priorities. Like making games. I haven’t quite clocked in an hour a day, though I have been supplementing my experience with some offline practicing (often with an acoustic guitar) – although half the time I’m offline I am practicing riffs from the game.  So given that I haven’t been the model student for two months, have I improved since November 4th?

Yes. Big time.

It’s not like I am ready to take the stage or anything. But I can look back at some of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles and plateaus that I had been unable to clear for months (or in some cases, years – even decades), and they seem kind of trivial now. The boost to confidence alone has been a big deal. Most of what I’m going to say here may be a reiteration from my “Quick Take” post after I’d only been playing with it a couple of days. My opinions haven’t changed much (having experience with the original Rocksmith and Rock Band 3 Pro Mode probably helped me make an informed one), but I thought some of you might appreciate an update from a couple of months of hindsight.

Planning for this post, I went back and played the original Rocksmith – something I haven’t done even once since getting the 2014 edition. It crashed the first time I tried to run it. Typical. But I finally got the thing running, and went through the painful menu navigation, and “rehearsed” a song. It’s hard to tell how much something has improved when you only look forward — looking back gives you a better perspective.

In just over two months, I have clocked almost as much time on the successor as I did the original game over the course of slightly more than a year. It was fascinating to see how I’d become dependent upon many of Rocksmith 2014‘s new features to help me understand what is going on in the song, how well I’m doing, and what I should be doing next. The more primitive guidance in the original was annoying to me at this stage. In fact, it was bad enough that it convinced me to shelled out $10 for the “Disc Import Tool” on Steam to move all the songs from the original game to the sequel, and prepared to delete the old Rocksmith from my hard drive.  I have no reason to ever go back. I should note that all the DLC purchased for the first game was already available for the sequel, automatically.

Now, two months later, I have nice calluses and improved skills. There are some favorite songs that I thought (for years) were far beyond me. Now, I’m playing them – in some cases at 100% difficulty across all sections. I’m still not up to full speed, I still make mistakes, and if I play the songs outside of the game I frequently mess up on timing or forget parts. But note the important phrase here: When I play the songs outside of the game.

That is the point of Rocksmith 2014. And that has worked.  Maybe in a couple more months, I’ll have them down perfectly (the easier ones are getting pretty close – at least playing rhythm), but in the meantime, I’m still playing guitar. People are jumping in and singing when I’m trying to play “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on my acoustic (sans solo, ‘cuz the fretboard doesn’t go that high). It’s recognizable, and it’s paying off. After a couple of decades of being stuck as a “perma-beginner” (well, somewhere between beginner and intermediate), I feel like I’m back to doing some real playing. I haven’t felt like that since I was seventeen years old.

Just as interesting as being able to play full-fledged versions of songs is discovering how quickly I can pick up new songs now. For simpler songs – particularly songs I’m familiar with – I only need a couple of play-throughs before the game has ramped up the difficulty in certain less-technical sections to maximum – the full note-for-note rendition.  I make plenty of mistakes and may have trouble keeping up, but it’s still cool to know that I’m no longer working on a simplified “beginner” version of the accompaniment.

The “Riff Repeater” has definitely become an awesome tool to help learn a song. It’s kind of amazing to me now how useless and inconvenient the equivalent tools in Rocksmith and Rock Band 3 Pro were by comparison. It’s still not perfect. If I’m just trying to get a very short riff down, it’s often best to just go back to the main menu (which kind of acts like an amp) and practice it – or bits of it – over and over at my own pace. But as a tool to help learn a section of a song and get it up to speed, it’s been my number one tool.

At Christmas, I pulled out the guitar, tuned it to the piano being played by my daughter, and we both played accompaniment for the family singing Christmas songs. Now, many of the chords were simple ones that I’ve been able to play for years, and I had to simplify in some cases where the changes were still too fast, but I had the confidence to play along – without ever having practiced playing the song before. Yes, I figure this is kind of basic guitar playing 101 kind of stuff here, but it’s just not something I’ve ever felt confident enough to do before. Now I wonder why I didn’t try earlier. It seems so simple now…

Return to Castle Chordead

For some of this stuff, I’m becoming more and more fond of the Guitarcade section of the game – particularly the technique games. Learning some songs can be great for motivation and for some skill development. But for general skill – like just learning to react quickly and make those chord changes, or to have the scales just come naturally to your fingers, or to perform slides or control the volume with absolute precision – the Guitarcade is about making those practice drills fun. Some are more fun than others, but they’ve gone all out, with worldwide leaderboards and everything else to try and make it as interesting as possible. I kind of ignored these in the original Rocksmith, and didn’t mess around with them too much at first with RS 2014 (although they are much improved), but the more I play, the more I’m finding them valuable.

There are a few other features which I feel I should note:

Rocksmith 2014 offers a lot of songs with non-standard tuning… either different tunings (Drop D, E Flat, etc.) or slightly sharp or flat versions of standard E tunings. In a game like Rock Band with a midi guitar, this didn’t matter. But when you are playing along with the actual song, you need to be in tune with the other instruments. It’s really cool that they did this, but I find myself avoiding songs that don’t have E Standard tuning. If I do decide to tackle a song in a different tuning, I’ll stick with other songs in the same tuning for a while, just to avoid having to re-tune my guitar. I think the point they wanted to drive home was for players to get used to re-tuning their guitar so that it is no big deal. While I’m glad that the songs are there (some of my favorite songs are in a different tuning!), I still don’t like retuning my guitar, especially if I don’t want to skip a song in “Nonstop Play” mode.

I don’t feel like I’m really taking full advantage of “Session Mode” yet, though the experienced guitarists who play this game often swear by it, from what I’ve seen. I still feel like I am “working up to it,” though it’s so open-ended that it’s really nothing a beginner can’t use. If nothing else, you can just set up a metronome and practice your scales here. But at it’s best, it’s a really cool multi-instrument virtual improvisational jam session.

“Score attacks” are a lot of fun (they can be accessed via a song, or in the Guitarcade section) if you want some “old-school” Guitar Hero type fun. It gives you three skill levels you can play a song (plus a “master” skill level where there are no notes on the screen, and you must accompany the music completely from memory).  This can give you a better idea of how much you are improving on a song than the percentage score from the main “Learn a song” menu – and also a chance of failure. When you get to the point where you are just practicing a song over and over, this can be a fun way to keep it interesting. I don’t use it often, but I do get a kick out of it when I do (assuming I don’t screw up so bad that I fail out of a song).

Another thing that’s really worth mentioning (again) is the list of suggestions generated by the game before you practice any song. Some are just goals for you to work on – new targets to strive for. Others suggest reviewing a chord or a lesson. There are also suggestions that take you directly to a Guitarcade game to work on a technique, or the Riff Repeater to work on a problem section until you nail it. While this initially interested me, for most of the last two months I ignored it. It was pretty obvious to me what I needed to work on. Now that I’m hitting performance levels in the high 80s and 90s, however, this section has become useful again. It’s no longer as obvious where I’m struggling, and it’s cool that the game can point out the places where I need more work. Personalized instruction!

So… yeah. While it’s still relatively early (maybe I should check back in with another report in 2-4 months?), I can say that even with a fairly casual commitment, the game *works* as a training tool. Quite well, particularly in comparison to its predecessors – which, in spite of their flaws, were still helpful.

In fact, I actually brought up Rock Band 3 the other day, with my Pro guitar. I hadn’t used it in months. There are still a lot of songs I bought for the game that I never really tried! Emboldened by my success in Rocksmith 2014, I brought up one of the easier songs at the highest difficulty level (something I never felt capable of handling a couple of years ago), and began to practice a section. Fifteen minutes later, I was able to play the section at full speed with no mistakes (at least once). Then I pulled out a regular guitar, and played it without accompaniment.

I thought it sounded pretty respectable.

Filed Under: Geek Life, Guitar Games - Comments: 13 Comments to Read

  • mogwins said,

    Nice write up! RS2014 really is ace, isn’t it? On guitar, I’ve been such at the intermediate plateau for years. I picked up a cheap bass guitar for RS2014 and I’m just loving it.

    Like you say, you do get a bit dependent on the stream of coloured notes to keep your timing true, but if you’re really nailing the hardest version of a song, Master mode will kick in and the notes will fade awa leaving you on your own. It’s very satisfying.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I’m not quite there yet, but I felt like I was right at the beginning of the intermediate plateau. I guess I had a bit longer to go. 🙂

    The cool thing now is I’m actually capable of playing several songs I always thought were out of my league. I can’t play them *well* yet, but it feels like the only things standing in my way at this point is just a good deal more practice.

    I’m glad to hear you are having a similar experience! Just as you said – it’s amazingly satisfying when you finally nail the song or section. It’s like, “Woot! Cool! New skill added to my life!”

  • McTeddy said,

    I really have to start playing again. I put so many hours into the original but haven’t had the same urge to play the new one. I dabble with my guitar and use tabs online, but can’t find the motivation to go all out again.

    But you aren’t kidding about the feeling when you finally have a song down. The first time I played a song on master mode was amazing.

    A tone-deaf moron like me was actually playing guitar.

  • David Carlton said,

    Huh, interesting that you’re finding guitarcade useful. What you say about that rings true, too; e.g. I appreciated guitarcade forcing me to make the link between names of chords and finger positions, because I’m hoping that will let me realize better when I’m playing the same chord in different places. But I haven’t actually played that mode enough to get a real benefit yet.

    Also interesting what you say about finding the per-song riff repeater suggestions useful again, I should give more of those a try.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @McTeddy – you did know you could force the songs up to max difficulty in the Riff Repeater, right? Once you’ve attempted that difficulty, the game will use that for the next time you play the song. So if you turn it all the way to max, the next time you do a song it will be maxed out (but if you fail a lot, it will drop the difficulty of the trouble sections back down).

    Yeah, it’s a great feeling. If I was 16 again, I’d be all over this. As it is, playing guitar is a tertiary priority, but I think I’m going to keep devoting time to it this time around. It’s fun, and I’m really enjoying the progress. And if I can keep making progress at thirty or forty-five minutes per day, then it’s a win. I’m just not sure what I’ve squeezed out of my schedule to make room for that…

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @David – Yeah, I understand the need for the drills to improve speed, accuracy, recognition and familiarity, and something of a “muscle memory” for everything from chords to fret positions, strum patterns, etc. It’s not extremely fun, but I appreciate RS doing their best to make it interesting. I think the newer games are for the most part superior to the counterparts in the first game.

    I was particularly impressed with how they have “Scale Racer” and “Scale Warriors” (or whatever they are called). The first seems more basic, and just has you drilling your scales over and over again (but in a slightly more entertaining fashion). Scale Warriors, on the other hand, has you all over the scale fighting the bad guys and having fun with the scale. If you think about it, it’s kinda teaching you how to actually *use* the scales, and get comfortable playing all over it… just like you’d do when improvising in a solo or jam.

    So yeah, I think they are useful.

    The suggestions are still kinda hit-or-miss with me, but I’ve had a few occasions where they’ve really done the trick of helping me get past where I’m stuck, which was cool. So I don’t just dismiss them. I usually run the Riff Repeater with no failure tolerance (best for a short section…), so it just keeps speeding me up until I nail the section at 100% speed, and then it just drops me into the song from that point.

  • McTeddy said,

    I actually only learned about the riff repeater’s difficulty setting after two weeks of play. Up until then I just played the score attack or whatnot that sets the entire song to a specific level.

    I think my biggest problem right now is that I’m afraid to go back and see how much I’ve regressed. Therefor, I allow myself to be distracted by other things that I deem “More important”.

    I am curious though, is anyone else having problems with the tuner? In 2014 for PC my cursor tends to go CRAZY and jumps all over the place. I can get through it, but it takes far longer than it should.

    It could be my guitar or cord dying, but my 360 version of the original works perfect.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    It seems kinda sensitive to me, yeah. Not (usually) super-wild, except the high e tends to drop out early, but I will get a lot of fluctuation +/- a few points. Good enough to count, so it doesn’t slow me down.

    I know what you mean about regressing. I think once I quit playing the other games regularly, that was probably a discouraging factor. But then I didn’t go crazy with it or anything to begin with, so I had less ground to lose… 🙂

  • David Carlton said,

    I am not thrilled with the tuner – aside from the high e dropping out early, it also consistently tunes somewhat flat to me, as measured both by my ear (when playing the subsequent song, I don’t have perfect pitch) and by the tuner I use when not playing the game. But that does sound a little different from what @McTeddy is saying – mine jumps around some but not enough to interfere with the tuning process.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Sounds about like my experience – though I didn’t notice it getting too flat. I did just change my strings today, too (they hadn’t been changed in… let’s see…. what year is it? I guess I changed my high e string some time in the last 18 months ‘cuz it broke…), and that seemed to make a difference. Not so much with the tuning (although it seemed cleaner – a little less variability) but it seemed that it was better at registering my notes.

  • David Carlton said,

    Yeah, Rocksmith 2014 taught me to pay a lot more attention to how old my strings were – the tuning got a lot less variable for me after I changed my strings. So maybe that’s McTeddy’s problem?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Doubtful, as it sounded like he didn’t have that problem (with the same guitar) on the consoles, just the PC.

    I also tweaked my intonation on my low E string today. I’d never done that before. That seemed to help a lot on the Scale Racer game. But the guitar sounds much, much better now regardless. 🙂

  • McTeddy said,

    It could actually be the strings because I haven’t changed them since the getting the guitar. I have this terrible tendency of breaking things that I take apart so I’ve been holding off.

    Everything I’ve read about the new tuner involves it being MUCH more sensitive which could explain why the original doesn’t notice the difference.

    One of these days I’ll get around to restringing it.