July 4, 2011

Rocksmith: More Real Guitar?

At this year’s E3, Ubisoft revealed a new guitar game — Rocksmith. The twist here is that the game only works with real guitars. There’s a special USB adapter provided with the game that plugs into the standard output port of any six-string guitar.

So buy the game, add a real guitar … and start playing.

Now, this isn’t exactly new, since Rock Band 3 has a fantastic pro guitar mode which also allows you to play on a real guitar, so long as it is one of the special MIDI capable ones supported by the game. Rocksmith is the first to focus exclusively on real guitar and the first to work with any guitar you happen to have lying around.

This IGN preview does the best job so far of showing off what the game is, and how it works. I definitely recommend checking it out.

The Wired preview has more details on the required tuning prior to each song (?) and some of the freeplay amp modes.

Only a handful of tracks have been revealed for the game so far, but it does include some fairly major artists, and all original master tracks; it’s no slouch in the soundtrack department:

  • House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
  • Sunshine of Your Love – Cream
  • High and Dry – Radiohead
  • Rebel Rebel – David Bowie
  • (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Rolling Stones
  • Vasoline – Stone Temple Pilots

There’s also this clever viral ad for the game with a vaguely creepy baby guitar prodigy showing off his chops:

Rocksmith will be available on Xbox 360, PS3, and surprisingly enough, even on PC. Not sure what that means for any DLC plans, but it’s certainly convenient for a PC gamer like myself; the last “modern” rock gaming title that runs on the PC is moldy old Guitar Hero 4.

Interface wise, it turns the fretboard on its side — literally. So instead of strings pointing up, ala Rock Band 3 Pro Guitar mode, we get strings pointing to the side.

Pretend you’re playing guitar in front of a mirror, and you get the idea. It’s an interesting design choice, and I suppose it might make it easier to see some hand positions on the neck of the guitar this way.

Rocksmith’s 100% focus on real guitar out of the box, and the nifty dynamic difficulty scaling mechanism as you play, are welcome additions to the genre. (And the skill building guitarcade mini-games are genius!) But I have some serious concerns about the choice of analog guitar input to control the game, which means:

  1. Your guitar must be perfectly in tune for this to work at all, by definition. Not really a problem, just means you have to tune your guitar before playing. Guitars should be in tune anyway, right? Absolute worst case scenario the game ends up being a glorified $80 guitar tuning software package. Hardly the end of the world.
  2. The note detection absolutely, positively has to happen in real time. That is, when the game converts what’s coming over the USB cable from raw guitar sounds to “the user pressed these strings”, if there is significant lag, this is a dealbreaker. In music, timing is everything. Lag is a serious enough problem with existing digital 5 button guitars in Rock Band and Guitar Hero; input lag on an analog guitar would be absolutely brutal.

Worryingly, the lag issue is specifically called out as a problem in the IGN preview, with vague promises that they’ll fix it up before the October release. It’s not like Ubisoft is the first company to ever dream up the idea of a simple analog to digital real time note conversion. This has been tried before with little success. I can’t help wondering if there is a reason Harmonix used far more complex digital detection for Rock Band 3 pro guitar mode.

There are also some murmurings about a $199 Epiphone Les Paul Junior guitar + game bundle, but there’s no place to order it yet. Until then, Rocksmith is $79 with the USB cable included, and will be available for Xbox 360 and PS3 this October, and PC later in the year.

Line-out? So it needs some sort of pre-amp before the guitar?

Jon Massey
July 5, 2011 at 4:34 am

Jon, I was probably unclear there.. not a guitarist by any means, whatever the standard output plug on a guitar is called!

Jeff Atwood
July 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Your lag concern is valid. I responded in a rather lengthy answer on Formspring as to why this lag will still be present in the final version (http://www.formspring.me/Rockbandaide/q/203622150370785035). It’s the trade off for allowing the use of real guitars with analog-to-digital conversions. Harmonix tried this approach during development of Rock Band 3, and abandoned it because of the unsolvable lag issue. Ubisoft is leaving the lag issue in, and simply marketing “around” the issue prior to launch.

July 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm

If the lag concern is mainly down to hearing the note too long after playing it (even if it is a minute difference), what would it be like plugging guitar into amp with 1/4inch-1/4 inch jack and using the one provided by game to connect amp to console. Switch off sound from TV, hey presto, and then hope the extra delay/interference from amp doesn’t affect game-play.

July 12, 2011 at 5:29 am

minute? mean miniscule

July 12, 2011 at 5:30 am

Still looks interesting though. Would like to see how laggy it is, but at the moment i will be staying with RB3 as i have spent so much on DLC. Will i buy this aswell? Quite probable me thinks.

July 13, 2011 at 1:04 am

Is it not possible to adjust to the lag?

August 21, 2011 at 7:55 am

If the guitar 1/4″ plug out (analog signal) is input to a A /D (Analog to Digital) converter (essentially a MIDI converter) and then output to the game box would this solve the lag problem .
Tempo is the other end of learning a piece start out as slow as 30 bpm and work up to 210 (insane) bpm.
Also RockSmith and others could significantly improve sales through tablature and music offering of the electronic pieces – The conversion from on screen to on-paper would be great – it would allow the practice at your own @!#$ up tempo and refine it to an acceptable game tempo. JohnPagan921683@yahoo.com

Homeowner Joe
December 14, 2011 at 9:23 am

Playing rocksmith. The thing is that you have to use separate audio out to play with no lag. Its explained MANY times and its in the instruction booklet. Playing with hdmi audio will kill the game but if you do follow instruction you’ll have your hands on the cheapest guitar lessons you can get your hands on. The game isnt good… ITS GREAT! You also get a bunch of petals and amps, minigames for training basic guitar skills, tuner, game adjustments allowing you to play in drop D per instance… hummm seriously the game is perfect. And for ppl whining that they cant unlock stuff faster or cant change the difficulty, there is a reason for that, its because the game is a trainer. if you rock, you’ll unlock everything very fast, if you dont well… you’ll have to get better and getting better means lots of hours and practice.

The game certainly doesnt deserve the poor reviews it got, its a game changer. Best dollars you’ll ever put in a game if you’re really into guitar.

December 29, 2011 at 3:22 am

Been playing this game for a while now, sorry to bring up a dead post but for anyone really concerned about this … plug your Xbox into an analog pair of speakers and jam. I have not noticed any lag at all even using a digital surround unit (optical SPDIF out on the 360). I’ve even used HDMI directly into the TV with very little problem. This game doesn’t always pick up chords all that well, or maybe it’s just my sloppy playing, but that’s the only issue I’ve had personally. If you play to the tune by ear, the game will still pick up the slack unless you’re playing on a vastly inferior television or using the absolute cheapest HDMI cable you could find. Cable quality makes a HUGE difference!

January 17, 2012 at 10:47 am

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