Monday, November 28, 2011

Rocksmith Made Me a Believer (In XBox)

Those of you who know me well or know my kids know that our house is XBox/PS-free. I'm against kids sitting around playing video games all day when they could be outside. Even if that weren't the case, I have three computers within arm's reach as I type this, plus another desktop system in my garage and my wife's laptop downstairs. Oh, and an old system in the music room that I just haven't parted with yet. So, we have no shortage of computer systems on which we could play games if I were inclined to buy and play computer games. No need to spend $300 on an XBox or Playstation, right?

Until now.

Before we go further, I should explain that IF I break down and buy a gaming system it will be the XBox rather than the Playstation. That's a holdover from when I used Sony video cameras and editing equipment. Great gear, but I learned the hard lesson that once you buy into the Sony regime you are stuck with it. Besides, Microsoft is at least nominally an American company. So, let's not have an XBox versus Playstation argument. My kids are just lucky I'm considering either option. If they had any idea I was considering this possibility, my status as coolest dad in the world would be etched in stone.

So, why now? Why, after thirteen years of making my kids feel like the only Jewish kids on the block at Christmas, am I suddenly not just able to consider but actually enthusiastic about the idea of getting an XBox? Because you cannot, as yet, play RockSmith on a PC. (Nor on a WII.)

If you haven't heard of RockSmith yet, don't feel left out. It was just released this past October. I had never heard of it until this past weekend. And, then, it was only because our new music store in town had a fully-functional display set up when I went to buy drum sticks the other night. The kids and I played it and at least two of us were hooked. You may not have anything about RockSmith yet, but you will. In fact, allow me to be the first to pass the good news along.

Remember Guitar Hero and Rock Band? Utter waste of time. I've always said that. While Guitar Hero looks like it might be marginally fun to play for about an hour, it's basically air guitar with a plastic prop. Apparently I'm at least partially correct in my assessment of GH's/RB's ability to stay relevant. I haven't seen either one of them on store shelves this year. They may be there, but they aren't the "rock stars" they were last Christmas season. I mean, you can still find Bee Gees records, too, but that doesn't mean they're still relevant.

Anyway, I've always said if you're going to spend the time learning to play GH/RB, why not spend that time learning to play an actual guitar? Apparently the folks at Ubisoft agree with me. RockSmith is essentially the GH/RB game (the guitar part) except that you use A REAL GUITAR.

That's right. You plug an actual guitar with strings and frets into your XBox/PS and start the game. Instead of doing a half-assed air guitar thing with some plastic, guitar-shaped game "controller," you play actual notes on actual guitar strings. The system compensates for tuning, and it takes care of the messy amp settings to get the right "sound" for the song you're playing. But, you're actually playing a guitar.

Like (from what I remember) GH/RB, the better you get, the harder the game becomes. Until you're playing the entire song note for note on your guitar. And, what you learn transfers. My son came home after his test drive and played exactly what he had learned on RockSmith on his real guitar. Quite unlike anything you can do with what you "learn" by playing GH/RB, huh?

And, here's another thing. You don't need a $400 Fender Tele to play RockSmith. Any cheap-ass guitar with an output jack will work (acoustics, too, if you have a pickup attached). I got a real piece of crap online a few years ago for about $25 and it will work just fine with RockSmith. The cheap plastic game controllers go for anywhere from $40 to $150 and what are you going to do with them when you aren't playing GH/RB? Nothing. Waste of money. You can get a perfectly nice electric guitar for $150, which you can actually play independently of your game system.

At $79.99, this isn't the cheapest game you can buy for your Xbox or Playstation, but you get what you pay for. Not to say your kids wouldn't get bored with it, but what they learn before that happens will be real. Still not sure I'm going to rush out and buy an XBox, but the fact that I'm even thinking about it speaks volumes about RockSmith. If you already have an XBox this would be well worth the money. Even if you had to buy a cheap guitar to use with it.


  1. Agreed.The game is actually useful.
    I lent an older friend (in his 50s) my 360 and my squire for a few weeks when he found out about Rocksmith. He loves it. It was enough for him to scour flea bay for a used xbox, and he "doesn't do video games". He plays Rocksmith, and then goes in the other room and practices what hes learned on the amp. It does transfer with a little practice.


    1. Right on! Thanks for commenting. We're still enjoying Rocksmith after over a year and a half.

  2. I look forward to reading this blog, i'm a drummer myself, turning 21 on Thursday. I picked up a cheap £100 guitar and began playing Rocksmith, sometimes I find myself overwhelmed while playing a new song, any tips for this? Thanks

  3. Thanks for checking out the blog. As you read more of it, you'll find a number of tips and tricks that I've developed or discovered or learned from others. So, my first tip is to check out the rest of my blog posts and see if any of the titles jump out as being particularly relevant to you. Overall, I know exactly what you mean about some new songs just making you feel completely overwhelmed. Believe me - I've felt this way many times! But, take heart. Some songs that I never believed I'd get through I have since mastered and memorized. Some of them just had soooooo many notes. Some of them moved so fast. So, the first thing is to just realize that this will happen and you CAN get past it.

    Like with most things, just take it as it comes. Fortunately, Rocksmith helps by adjusting the number of notes you see, so if there are just too many notes to handle all at once just stop trying to play all of them and just hit the ones you can hit. Once you get those nailed down, trust me, RS will throw more at you!

    Riff repeater, as you'll read over and over again in this blog, is a huge help. It's gotten much better since RS was first released, too. On some songs, the best way I found to learn was to actually force the level all the way UP to 100% and use Riff Repeater to play each phrase slowly (instead of working my way up adding notes at full speed. . . ). Try both approaches. On some songs, one approach works better. On other songs, you may find that the other approach works better for you.

    Just a couple of examples to encourage you. When I first started, I thought I'd never be able to play Surf Hell. Just too fast for me. But, now I can tear through it perfectly. It's usually solos that kill me. But, I've even managed to nail 3 of the 4 solo phrases in Carol of the Bells (the free Christmas DLC song from last year). Had someone told me I'd ever be able to play that two years ago, I'd have told them they were insane.

    So, just hang in there. Take it bit by bit. And stay tuned to my blog. I've been a little absent lately, but I hope to write more. I've addressed some specific songs and also come up with a very unscientific ranking of songs from hard to easy that you might find helpful in choosing what songs you want to tackle.