Rocksmith Demo Preview E3 2011

Anyone who has owned or even played Rock Band has encountered that one friend who, despite numerous attempts to convince otherwise, absolutely refuses to believe that the game has any musical merit at all – because players aren’t using real instruments. In a time where it seems like the music game genre is in decline, Ubisoft looks to address the naysayers with a brand new music game, Rocksmith.

Originally announced back in March with a quartet of trailers, Rocksmith is attempting to revolutionize how we play music games by taking the cheap plastic guitars of Guitar Hero and Rock Band out of gamers’ hands and replacing them with the cool electric feel of a real guitar. Using a special cable bundled with the game, of course.

At E3 2011 we saw a live-preview of Rocksmith – to see if it’s going to live-up to the legacy of games that came before it. Certainly this is no easy task to accomplish but the game we were shown really steps up to the plate and showed us that there’s still a lot that music games have to offer. Demoed by Senior Producer Nao Higo and Creative Director Paul Cross, we were treated to some of the cooler features the game will have to offer.

To help establish the context of what we were about to experience, first came the guitar. Plucking at a few strings, Paul Cross wasn’t just warming up his fingers, but instead illustrating the simple truth of owning an electrical guitar, you need a good amp to truly enjoy its sound. That’s when he plugged in the cable and strummed again, bringing that beautiful sound of rock to the big screen behind him. In Rocksmith, your TV is the amp.

This is just a pretext for the next important feature in Rocksmith, tone adjustment. Instead of going out and buying yourself an expensive set of pedals, you can instead use the game’s own tone creation system to customize the sound of your guitar just the way you like it.

As you beat songs in the game, you can unlock the original tone of the arrangement and use that to play the song with a truer sound. Alternatively, if you like a tone from a song, once you’ve unlocked it you can use it for whatever track you want – and modify it if you feel like it could use a bit of tweaking.

Not to long ago, Cliff Blezinski of Epic Games made a comment on Twitter about wanting to play around with the concept of dynamic difficulty in the future. Rocksmith has definitely got a leg up on Bleszinski when it comes to this point. Cross very proudly explained that the innovation he thinks is most important to the game is not the guitar itself but rather a dynamic difficulty setting which will provide a much more fluid progression system for those playing the game.

He elaborated by explaining the thinking behind this decision.

“Excuse me gentlemen, how good at this thing are you that you’ve never played before?”

To which I confidently replied, “terrible.”

“Really? How do you know? It’s a silly question right? You might be really good and think this is actually very very easy and away you go. You might be rubbish at it having said you’re brilliant at it. You don’t know. So why do games ask you that question? Why don’t they find a way of finding out how good you are, setting up an appropriate challenge. Because challenge is the essence of fun. If there is no challenge it will not be fun. If there’s too much it will not be fun. Too little will not be fun. It’s about finding the right challenge.”

The philosophy no doubt stems from another simple truth revealed to us during this preview: neither Higo or Cross knew how to play guitar before working on Rocksmith. During the development of the game, both had to learn how to play and in learning themselves were inspired to capture that experience so that other gamers would be able to learn as well.

Rocksmith Gameplay

As we watched Cross play a song, Higo explained a number of the nuances of the dynamic difficulty system. Starting out with just one note appearing at a time, the game sends you more as you get better at hitting the right notes. On top of that each section of the song has its own difficulty level, so that you don’t get dropped into a solo only to flounder after having mastered the main progressions. Additionally, when you go to play new songs the starting difficulty will be based upon your overall guitar skill level, but a little lower since the new song may be unfamiliar territory. As a result, players will never start a song out at the max level the first time its played.

If your skill really doesn’t seem up to snuff, Ubisoft has included a really interesting feature in Rocksmith in the Guitarcade. The Guitarcade is a bunch of guitar based minigames that are meant to teach you essential guitar playing techniques. This section of the game leaves the music behind, and really makes playing the guitar a game where the guitar is the controller. In much the same way typing games make it remarkably easier (and less boring) to learn how to type, the eight Guitarcade minigames are aimed at teaching specific guitar skills – covering everything from sliding to chords to harmonics.

With all this impressive tech, there was one area that seemed a bit of a sticky spot. The UI itself is not controlled with the guitar like it is in the Rock Band games, instead the player has to use the controller to make all their selections. This isn’t for a lack of trying as Cross revealed that this wasn’t just an oversight on their part, but rather an issue with one of the console manufacturers not wanting their console controlled by just any device.

This unfortunately means that gamer’s will have to manage with both the guitar and their console controller as they navigate the menu or set up their tones. As an interesting feature, tones can be mapped to certain buttons on the controller turning a player’s controller into a makeshift pedalboard.

Rocksmith will be teaching people how to play the guitar when it releases on October 11, 2011 for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC and will retail for $79.99 on account of the cable bundled with the game.

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tags: PC, PS3, Rocksmith, Ubisoft