Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Made it to 11 - I'm a Rocksmith!

I got Rocksmith (and an XBox to play it on) for Christmas in 2011. I'm writing this in February of 2013, having finally attained Level 11, "Rocksmith" - the highest level in the game. I achieved Level 11 after my 37th Event - a three-song setlist including all DLC (Rockstar, Bottoms Up, and Red Barchette). No encore.

I've played a LOT over the past year - 212 hours according to my XBox Live tracker. But, unlike other games, even though I've reached the highest level, there's no end in sight. I've still got many arrangements that I've never played. So, I've definitely gotten my money's worth out of Rocksmith!

Level Score Status Date
11 20,000,000 Rocksmith 2/12/2013
10 15,173,690 Super Elite Guitarist 10/28/2012
9 10,005,994 Elite Guitarist 10/8/2012
8 7,539,304 International Headliner 9/30/2012
7 5,120,927 International Supt Act 9/28/2012
6 3,534,497 National Headliner 9/28/2012
5 2,744,191 Nat'l  Support Act 9/27/2012
4 1,662,269 Local Headliner 9/26/2012
3 1,079,647 Local Support Act 9/26/2012
2 571,961 New Act 9/26/2012
1 0 Amateur 9/26/2012

Plenty of Game Left to Play

The fact that I've reached Level 11 is sort of meaningless. In fact, now I've just got this huge blank progress bar up at the top of my screen where I used to have some orange! I've barely touched the Guitarcade games. And, there's still a ton of DLC (new songs) that I haven't downloaded yet, with more coming out weekly now. Plus, I still have one secret squirrel song to unlock. I've got all of the Technique Challenges to Gold and all over 95k, but a few of them are still shy of being maxed out.

I've still got 9 more guitars to get, so at least nine more events left just to collect all 48 in-game guitars. I've never played a master event, either, so that's something else to work toward eventually. I could probably spend another year mastering the songs in my current library - especially the songs with solos. And, at last count, I've still got 21 guitar tones and 34 bass tones left to unlock! (I haven't quite figured out if any DLC songs include new tones or not.) Even though I've reached the highest level, there's still plenty of "game" left.

The original Rocksmith software came with 51 songs. No bass. I bought the bass add-on for about $30 last Fall and I've still got a long ways to go before I reach Level 11 on my separate bass journey. Since its release in 2011, the developers have released another 117 songs for download, including 3 free Christmas songs in 2011. I've downloaded 45 of them (including the 3 freebies). There are about 30 more songs I'd like to get, and Ubisoft seems to have stepped up their DLC releases to every week this year. So, it looks like there will be plenty of Rocksmith to keep me busy for at least another year. Probably longer.

Then there's the multiplayer feature. . . That probably won't get old for a long, long time. I just wish I could figure out how the singing part works. I bought a USB mic but I can't seem to get that going.

The Restarted Journey

Right around September of 2012, right after I reached Super Elite Guitarist (Level 10) for the first time, I lost all my game save data, ironically while attempting to back up my game save data. So, I had to restart my entire Rocksmith Journey from Amateur (Level 1). On my first journey attempt, I never played an event until I got all the songs on my setlist up to 70,000 points or higher. When I restarted my journey, I just played events as soon as I met the minimum qualifying score for the songs.

Concentrating on events instead of perfecting each song made things move along faster and was a lot less stressful. That's why it only took a few months to get back to where I was. Of course, when I restarted I had already played the songs before and had already worked most of them up to at least 70,000 points. Some of them were obviously much easier to qualify for events the second time around. But, some were just as hard the second time as they were the first time. Solos still kick my ass. Especially Solo 2 from Carol of the Bells.

I back up my game data and DLC every so often now. Both to the cloud and to a flash drive.

I passed on the PC version of Rocksmith because I had already paid for a fair number of DLC songs and they don't transfer from platform to platform. I test-drove the PC demo and it seemed to work pretty well, but I'm sticking with my XBox. So far, so good. Occasionally it'll get a little glitchy during a song, but I can live with it.

A Couple of Complaints

Navigation Design

After a year of playing, my biggest gripe with Rocksmith is that there's no way to go directly from rehearsing a song to working on specific hard spots in Riff Repeater. To me, this path would be a no-brainer. But, the software makes you go back to the main menu, pick "Songs," scroll through the entire song library to get to your song, select the song, and then go to Riff Repeater from within the song options. Oddly, you can go directly from Riff Repeater to playing a whole song - but then you can't go back to Riff Repeater. This should be fixed - but apparently I'm the only person who thinks so. So I live with it. There are other navigation oddities I'd like them to fix (like the Technique Challenges), but not being able to get to Riff Repeater directly after playing a song is the main one.

DLC - No Samples?

A somewhat annoying aspect of Rocksmith DLC is the fact that you can't pre-audition DLC songs in the in-game store. Just yesterday I was shopping in the online RS store and checking out new DLC. "No Rain?" Never heard of it. Also not sure I'd ever heard of Blind Melon. But, turns out, I've heard the song many times and really like it; I just didn't know it by name.

Look, I cannot be the only person out here who doesn't recognize every DLC song by title and artist, and I'm not buying DLC without knowing what I'm getting. Period. I work around this by going to Amazon, searching for DLC songs that I don't recognize by title, and playing the audio sample there. But, what would be so hard about including a little audio preview for DLC in the RS download store? It's not like the idea is totally new; you hear a short sample of every song in the Rocksmith song list. . .

The Amazon workaround actually works for me because I try to buy an MP3 of every RS DLC song that I buy. That way I can listen to my RS songs over and over and really start to memorize them. When I listen to the sample on Amazon, if I like the song, I add it to my Rocksmith DLC Wish List right there on the spot. Still. Samples in the online store would be nice.

Encores, Double Encores, and the Secret Squirrel Songs

Encores and the secret squirrel songs - the hidden songs that you have to unlock by "earning" a double encore - have been one of the most frustrating aspects of Rocksmith for me. I like unlocking the songs. That's cool. My problem is that the criteria for doing it are vague and arbitrary. I've played events where I've scored 105% of the required minimum and gotten an encore. On my 30th event, two songs were below their event qualifying scores, but I still got an encore with a total score of 111%. I've played other events where I've scored 117% and gotten nothing. So, there just doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to encores. Double encores are even worse. In fact, the developers themselves have said that double encores are a 50/50 crap shoot - even if you totally rock the first encore. Very frustrating.

On the upside, you can unlock the secret squirrel songs on bass or guitar - doesn't matter which - and play them on both instruments. I unlocked at least 2 of the secret squirrel songs this way. I wish they'd hide some more songs in the software. I just wish they'd make the unlocking requirements more objective and predictable.

Rocksmith-Induced GAS

I've bought several guitars since I started playing Rocksmith. I had a single Epiphone LP Special II before I started. Then I bought an old Yamaha EG-112. After that the GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome) really kicked in: PRS Tremonti SE, Ibanez ArtCore semi-hollow body, Gretsch Electromatic semi-holloy body, a Yamaha bass, Epiphone LP Junior, and most recently a Fender MIM Telecaster with locking tuners. All used.

I also bought a wireless system to use with Rocksmith. That was a good investment and I highly recommend it! It works like a charm on the XBox version. Can't speak to PS or PC owners. Not having a cord to trip over made playing much more fun. Does use up the 9v batteries, though.

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, now what? Well, as I said, there's still plenty of Rocksmith left after reaching 11 (gotta wonder if Spinal Tap influenced the number of levels in Rocksmith. . . ). But, over the past year I've started doing more and more guitar work without Rocksmith. I've bought a few how-to DVDs (which turned out to be mostly crap) and a couple of tab books. I actually played some (really weak) lead fills at an open mic night recently. But, I never did get my stuff together to play the 3 Christmas DLC songs live per my goal. Mainly I've run across some things in my Rocksmith Journey which have pushed me to consider some lessons. Maybe not traditional lessons but at least spending more time at open mic nights with my guitar and picking up what I can. I REALLY want to learn to play that damn solo from Carol of the Bells! I'm obviously missing something there that Rocksmith isn't teaching me. That's probably not the only thing I'm missing.

Rocksmith may not be "teaching software," but if it does nothing else it gets you playing. My hands have gotten a lot stronger and more nimble in the past year. I've also noticed that I have started picking things up faster than I did a year ago. I can often hear or feel how something should be played without having to look at each and every note on the note highway - it's like the notes go straight from the RSNH to my hands and bypass my brain altogether sometimes.

So, maybe it's time to start weaning myself off of Rocksmith a bit and doing a little work with tabs or something. I'll probably start moving that direction in time and I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Blog-wise, I plan to make a list of RS songs with and without major solos in them. This will take a little time because I'm not going to sit down and go through all 100+ songs that I own in one night. Also, as usual, until RS starts giving me free DLC to blog about, my list will only include the songs I happen to own. But, as always, I'm open to contributions from you - so feel free to contribute to this effort!

For now, I've still got about 80 songs to master and memorize! Plus 9 more virtual guitars and a bunch of tone pedals to earn and a bass journey to catch up on.


  1. Hey, Good to see you posting again.

    First, things are hoppin over at rocksmith buddy (rsevolve) and it is amazing how many songs you think are "good enough" but really have alot of improvement left.

    But more to your point, RS's biggest plus is that it gets you to play more. Playing a bunch is really important, but at some point you have to make sure that the technique that you are learning is correct. If it isn't correct, then you are just practicing bad habits. For me, it is right hand technique - both string skipping and syncopation. I am a big fan of truefire for video instruction - There is usually a sale right around Easter time. They also have a great, supportive community on their forums.

    I have also started playing out and it is a blast. That has led me to come back home with a better idea of what skills i am missing...and they aren't really RS skills - theory, rhythm and timing. Jamming has also cranked my GAS up to 11 -just got an Amp Head - my first major purchase since i bought my guitar and amp (pre RS).

    Anyway, good to know that you have been playing out and things are OK.


  2. I've got to tell you, I haven't been over on the Ubi RS forum for ages, either, and while I miss interacting with several friends there, I do not miss the forum much. It's a great forum. Don't get me wrong. But, that weekly challenge thing was just too much pressure for me. Everybody there is very helpful and all that, but seeing people post videos of themselves playing stuff WAY better than I can was just getting discouraging. I really enjoy just muddling through on my own - even though I suck! So, I doubt I'll be popping in to check out RS Buddy any time soon.

    I WILL check out the TrueFire videos, though. That might be very useful for me. In fact, I may start doing a little critique of various self-help tools as I go along this road.

    Congrats on the amp head! I'd love to buy a head and a big 4x12 cabinet - but I really, really don't need it! And, right now, I have nowhere to put it!

    All is well. Great to hear from you and thanks for checking in.

  3. Congrats on level 11... I agree that RS isn't much of a teaching tool, but it gets you playing a lot more. I've played my bass more in the few weeks that I've played RS than I did in the year prior to that. Plus, I guess it's good sight-reading practice, although I can't say that I think that's the easiest way to learn a song...

    And I'm not home right now to verify, but I *believe* that the PC version of the store plays a sample from the DLC when it's highlighted. I mean, I'm 99.99% sure it does, because I was listening to the samples the other night while scolling through what was available.

    Out of curiousity, have you done anything with the "custom songs for RS" project? I was looking at it, but am wary of it reducing the "RS experience" for me, so... think I'm gonna pass for now, but was wondering if you had played around with it at all...

    Good luck going forward...

  4. Read from your blog about you considering the purchase of a 3/4 Squier for your children. How did it go? I'm interested since I just bought one for our kids (8&10 year old) as their first guitar.

    Great blog, keep on writing!


  5. Hey, Jarmo. Thanks for reading!

    I never really followed up on that kid-sized guitar idea, huh? One of the main reasons is that I ran out of kids. . . Mine are now big enough to play full-sized rigs, and I don't know any littler ones that I can use for my evil experiment! But, I'm keeping an eye on new neighbors. Perhaps since you got a 3/4 you could tell us here how it's going? You were smart. I have no idea what I was thinking getting my 6 & 7 year olds full sized guitars. . .

  6. Well, here are some notes about the 3/4 Squier:

    It is light, well-made, the tuners are very good. Yes, the frets are closer to each other but an adult can easily play with it too. My wife tried it and liked it. I'm lefty socannot say much about it.

    Kids love it too. They've never played guitar before so they cannot compare it to other guitars. I will start teaching them gradually some techniques at the pace they want to. Perhaps they will try Rocksmith at some time. At least they love to play the riff from Smoke on the Water :)

    On the downside, the low E-string is quite loose and starts buzzing easily. That's due to the shorter scale length. I could tune it to other than standard E, but then learning chords should be done differently. I guess I'll stick with the standard tuning. If our children start learning guitar it won't take too long that I can buy a full-sized for them.


  7. Jarmo - Thanks! Great info. I'm trying to think of a way that you might cure the buzzing 6th string. I'm not sure I'd do an alternate tuning - although there are plenty of Drop D songs in RS. You probably don't want to raise the action, so maybe it's something that just can't be helped. Thanks for reading and posting.

    My son loved that Smoke on the Water riff, too! Much to my dismay. I was burned out on that song by 1980. . . but RS did sort of revitalize it for me. I was really just happy to see my son playing old stuff!

  8. When we were buying the guitar the guitar shop seller warned about the sixth string problem. The recommended solution was to tune it higher or to use another string (like A).

    However, as I said IMO it will be better to learn right finger positions for standard tunings even at the cost of some buzzing.