Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Rocksmith 2014 – A One-Year Review (or “Can I Play Like Eddie Van Halen Yet?”)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 6, 2014

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Do you ever fume about what you SHOULD have said to someone who made a stinging remark to you, long after the opportunity to make the perfect retort has long expired? I do. I come up with the perfect comeback minutes later, and then grouse about not having thought it up quickly enough to use it.

Rocksmith 2014 is kinda like that perfect comeback to the days when Guitar Hero was in its heyday, and smart-alecs would say things like, “Hey, if you put all that effort into really learning an instrument instead of playing that video game, you’d be able to play that rock music for real by now!”

Well, two things: First of all, years later, we finally can. Although to their credit the original creators of Guitar Hero tried to do just that in Rock Band 3. Secondly – although it might take months to realize this – it turns out that learning a real musical instrument like a guitar is a hell of a lot harder than mastering a plain old video game. The effort required to master Dragonforce’s Through Fire and Flames in GH3 is only a tiny fraction of the effort required to be able to play the song on a real guitar. But while that effort may not quite take you to the point where you can play blistering solos that amaze audiences, it will at least develop a skill that carries over outside of the confines of a video game.

Six months ago, I posted my ‘six month report’ on my progress in Rocksmith 2014. I remained very pleased with it, as a tool that pulled off the incredible trick of getting me off my butt and practicing the guitar. Well, actually, I still usually sit when I play, so I guess the “off my butt” part isn’t entirely accurate. While I had nitpicks, overall I found that my guitar skill had increased dramatically in six months, but acknowledged that six months of even semi-serious practice would have inevitably done that. Anyway, after six months of playing the game (nearly) daily, I did not expect my opinion to change very much in another six months. Would a full year of playing the game on a reasonably regular schedule change my opinion? Drum roll please…

Nope. I’m still happy with it.

Am I Still Playing?

Things have gotten a little busy over the last three months or so, which caused some lapses in my playing time, so on the average I think I’m playing six days a week for about an average of thirty minutes a day, so that part’s not so great. That probably explains why I haven’t made huge improvements in my skill since May. Still, it highlights one advantage of Rocksmith as a training / exercise tool – you can actually see your incremental gains when you feel like you’ve hit a plateau.

Another thing that I’ve done very differently over the last six months has been multiplayer. My daughter and I play the game together a lot – which forces me to play some songs I’d be less inclined to have tried. I bought the entire Fallout Boy pack (from the original Rocksmith) just for her. And… well, we play it a lot. We play a lot more drop-D tunings with her preferences, too. Not that I complain too much. Drop-D is easy to re-tune, and there are a lot of fun songs in the game with that tuning (especially w/ the DLC).

Welcome to the Black Parade,” by My Chemical Romance is a favorite. We’re still not awesome at it, as you can hear. Brenna has not even maxed out her difficulty yet – but it’s cool that we can play together even with different skill levels. In this video, I’m playing the top (rhythm), and she’s playing the lead part below me.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I usually play rhythm parts. Rocksmith 2014 offers bass, and lead & rhythm parts for all songs that have the corresponding parts (and occasionally for those that don’t). For some songs, it has additional alternative parts as well. The breakdown is rarely strict, particularly in rock & roll. I’ve been playing a lot more lead guitar lately, which is certainly the most popular of the three ‘tracks’ offered, but I still spend about two thirds of the game in rhythm. And very rarely in bass (via the bass emulator).

What’s Changed in the Game?

As of yesterday, Rocksmith 2014 is now available on Xbox One and the Playstation 4. And for the last year, it’s been available for PC, Mac, Xbox 360, and PS3. They have consistently been releasing music as DLC every single week, which has really expanded the library. While there may be some technical glitches doing so, but all DLC released for the original Rocksmith can be played in Rocksmith 2014, and most of the songs included in the first games’ release can be imported with an inexpensive tool (and they are a lot more fun to play in later game).

With this week’s pack, there’s a total of over 500 songs available for Rocksmith 2014 (if you include the songs imported from the first game). Earlier this week they announced a massive 12-pack of Jimi Hendrix songs, which is simply gonna be amazing. You can see a list of songs (and their tunings) here. I’ve also found this handy site for getting an idea of the difficulty level of the various songs, as well as other stats. Unfortunately, it’s gotten a little slow lately – too much data in the database? ūüôā Some highlights of the DLC releases lately for me (besides the upcoming Jimi Hendrix release) have included a three-pack of surf music, a “Bachsmith” pack of classical music arranged for rock guitar, an “Arena Rock” collection of singles for getting your hair metal on, 70’s Rock Singles, “Classic Singles,” a “Yacht Rock” pack of easy-listening-ish classic rock / pop (well, some of them), plus packs of music from Foreigner, Creed, The Killers, Cake, No Doubt, and Duran Duran (awesome bass parts!). Some of the more recent releases have helped alleviate my frustration with the relative lack of 80’s rock. I’m not satisfied, but it’s a lot better. Now they desperately need more blues – they’ve got only a token handful between the two games – and rockabilly – which admittedly tends to emphasize the piano over the guitar.

Given that there are some subgenres of music that are better represented than others, still, unless you are totally uninterested in the whole spectrum of rock music (which is the name of the game, c’mon!), or have extremely narrow tastes, you should be able to find plenty of music to fill out your “digital songbook” of music to learn to play.

PROGRESS – Does it still work?

As far as how well it works… here’s 8-year-old Audrey, from Japan, playing on the original Rocksmith¬†after a few weeks / months of practice:

 

 

And here she is two-and-a-half years later, at age 10. Note her work (not perfect, but better than me by far!) on the solo at 2:00 in…

 

As far as I know, she’s not really had any training outside of the Rocksmith games.¬†She could probably use some at this point, and maybe she’s got some bad habits to overcome, but there’s no question that she’s picked up some mad skills from this game!

Anyway, that’s a bit more dramatic than where I was a year ago to where I am now, but the results are unquestionable. Not as rapidly as the first three months, or even the first six months, but it’s still very exciting. It’s also exciting seeing my daughter’s progress. All she did was folksong music (with big open chords) before, and now she’s cranking out some rock solos. Neither of us are ready for prime time, but¬†it’s awesome being able to nail a section (if inconsistently) that three weeks earlier seemed totally impossible. And playing together with someone is great. Not how you’d want to spend 100% of your practice, but it’s a lot of fun. Especially when we both nail our parts, improve our scores, and as the last note dies off we just know we kicked butt and high-five each other.

Another indicator for me is how quickly I can pick up new music – even outside of the game. A year ago, I was trying some online lessons to learn a couple of songs, and I seriously had problems trying to keep the notes / chords straight. Once you got past a sequence of about three chords, I couldn’t keep it in my head. I couldn’t see how anybody could actually memorize a full song, let alone play it accurately. The other day, I hit the same instructor, different song, to see if things were more within my difficulty range. While the song wasn’t complicated at all (Foxy Lady by Jimi Hendrix), it was a piece of cake for me to memorize the whole piece. It’s a small victory, but one other indicator that stuff is “sticking” beyond the game.

And while my playing is still pretty rough and I’m not quite ready to rip out any Satriani-esque solos any time soon, or ready for any public performances or anything, I can play along with many songs now and hit 97%+ accuracy. So long as that remaining 3% isn’t a horrendous botch (and yes, some times it still is…), I’m playing stuff that anybody else could listen to and immediately recognize and sing along with (assuming they know the song). Here’s me with my now go-to warmup song, in the “Score Attack” mode. I didn’t come too close to my high score this time, sadly, and you can usually hear my guitar over the rest of the music best when I screw up. But oh, well:

90% of my practice / instruction time is still inside Rocksmith 2014. I don’t think it’s a bad thing as far as the actual time is concerned, but over time the limitations have become more noticeable. This isn’t an indictment against the game, nor does it diminish my enjoyment in playing at all. But it’s a lot like my reasons for getting a new guitar six months ago – I’d actually improved enough that the limitations had become an issue.

Limitations

While Rocksmith 2014 is good at identifying some problems. It’s not 100%, and sometimes that leads me to distrust the game when it says I missed a chord. However, 90% of the time, if I’ve recorded myself or really looked at what I did, I find that the problem was indeed my own. Like I missed hitting the root string when playing a chord. That happens a lot, and it’s hit-or-miss as to whether or not the game will count it anyway.

Speaking of recording, I really wish I could do that in-game. You could in the first game, as I recall, although it was only a record of your last run, not something you could save (or if you could, I never did). Now I have to use an external tool. When you are playing, you can’t hear your own screw-ups that easily. Listening to it later, some stuff you thought you nailed (and the game gave you credit for) really does sound off, and you can hear what needs more work. To make it even more useful, you should be able to dynamically speed up / slow down the recording on playback, as well as change the volume on the background music and each player’s guitar (or voice!).

I’d like to be able to directly set my mastery of a whole song without having to go into the riff repeater. This is especially true if I’ve left the song alone for a few ¬†months and I’m trying to refresh my memory. Right now, I go into Score Attack (Hard) mode so I can practice the whole thing without having notes go invisible. Invisible notes are no fun if it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten. It’s a minor issue, but it’s something that is noticeable after you’ve played for a while.

It would also be nice to have an option to have the game ding you for stray notes, somehow. When playing with music, it’s hard to tell if you are hitting a string that you aren’t supposed to, or if you’ve failed to mute a string that’s still ringing. ¬†It might be an unnecessary complication when you are learning a song, but once you have maxed out your difficulty, it’d be nice to have that extra check on your accuracy. (Rock Band 3 Pro Mode did this, but then it was using a special digital guitar).

Overall

The game, just like playing the guitar, isn’t about sudden surprises or instant¬†breakthroughs. A year of playing is… a year of playing. It’s about slow, steady progress. Cliffs of Dover isn’t a final boss that anyone is going to encounter and beat after two or three tries. But it works, and it’s fun.

I’m still playing. I’m still practicing. After twenty years of NOT doing that, I have to give Rocksmith 2014 some credit there for helping me stay motivated. I’ve got a ton of songs to play, and lots of tools at my disposal from within the game, but because I’m playing guitar regularly, I don’t feel restricted to those. I’m still playing “unplugged” a lot, and hitting other resources. Rocksmith is still not a “one stop shop” for mastering guitar, and I don’t think it would ever be, even if all those limitations above were addressed. But it doesn’t need to be. ¬†It’s still a powerful and fun tool / toy to play with, and even a year later, it still makes learning the guitar fun.

To answer the question: ¬†Of course I can’t play like Eddie Van Halen. But I can play. Not great, but I play. That’s something I was hesitant to say a year ago.


Filed Under: Guitar Games - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



  • McTeddy said,

    Heh, Rocksmith. I played that for like two weeks until I mastered Freebird and then I moved on. Obviously, I’m a liar.

    It’s actually great to see you two playing together. You’ve come a long ways and I am a tad bit jealous with my inconsistent abilities.

  • Don said,

    Nice to hear. I’m only a week in, but really enjoying it so far. I think consistency is the key to learning guitar, and Rocksmith leverages gamification to help with that. Hopefully it keeps me hooked as well as Destiny or BF4.

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