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:
- 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.
- 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.