Friday, November 22, 2013

Learning a Song on Rocksmith 2014 - Night #1

Walk This Way. No, no. . .  THIS Way!

Rocksmith 2014, even more than the first edition, bills itself as a learning tool. So, it's no big surprise that "Learn a Song" is the very first option on the Main Menu. I'll start my new "journey" by going down this path first.

I chose Walk This Way by Aerosmith as my very first song to learn on Rocksmith 2014. I've wanted to learn this song for years and years, so let's see how it goes.

Keep in mind that I played the original Rocksmith for 2 years, so I will frequently refer to differences between the original Rocksmith (ORS) and Rocksmith 2014. These comparisons won't mean anything to brand new Rocksmith players but old veterans might find the comparisons interesting.

[Note: I play on an XBox 360. All console and control references are specific to that platform. For other platforms, just use the equivalent control input.]

Learn a Song

The basic Learn page includes the following options, with your selected song title right up at the top:

Walk This Way
("Rocksmith Recommends" activities - 3 items)
Technique Guide
Guitarcade School
Score Attack
Bonus Arrangements

To start, just press the A button. The RSNH (Rocksmith Note Highway) appears and your selected song starts. Pluck a string on your guitar and psychadelic sound waves flow from the speaker cabinets. Reminiscent of the old Rocksmith Events, the wall of the studio morphs into a smokey haze through which you can make out the faint silhouettes of an audience. Yep - even when you're just learning, there's an audience.

Things start out simple, just like the old RS. Just a few notes fly toward you on the RSNH establishing the basic framework of a riff or melody. As I start hitting notes consistently, more notes appear. The audience begins to get rowdy and I can hear them applauding my efforts.

Improvements from Old Rocksmith

Generally, playing through a song in the Learn a Song mode is very much like playing a song during an Event in the original RS but with several improvements. The RSNH has been cleaned up so it's a little easier to see what's going on. The song lyrics are now diplayed in the upper, left-hand corner of the screen in a bigger font so they're much easier to read. In general, there aren't as many messages flashing up on the display while you're trying to play. For example, I don't remember seeing any "Level Up" or "Level Down" messages. If you miss a note, you get a little "Miss" message on the note itself but that's it. The bar graph is still at the top of the display showing your mastery of each phrase and an "alert" message is displayed whenever you're playing a phrase in "Master Mode." But, you aren't bombarded with an endless battery of atta-boys and ah-shits on the screen. It's much less distracting than the old version.

The audience DOES respond to how well you're playing, and they WILL boo you if you suck!


One HUGE improvement for 2014 is the treatment of chords. Simply put, they're treated as chords!  No more leveling up a phrase and discovering that the one finger note you've been playing is actually a complex barre chord which requires totally different hand position! You don't have to play the whole chord all at once, but the whole fingering is shown right from the start so you know what's coming. Initially, only the root note is highlighted and the rest of the notes are muted gray. You only have to play the highlighted note. Then, as you "level up," more notes are highlighted until eventually you're playing the whole chord. And, now you'll know what chord you're playing because the name of the chord is shown next to the chord diagram right from the start! If you never played the original Rocksmith, you have no idea what a great improvement this is. Kudos to the developers on this one. Well done.

Bends, slides, and sustains look different now - more like ribbons. I was fine with the old way of showing bends and slides, but this is OK, too. Maybe slightly easier to see.


Another subtle but noticeable difference on the 2014 Learn mode is that there's no score displayed while you're playing. Like I said, it's a lot like playing a song in an event in the old RS. You don't get a quantitative measure of how well you played until you finish the song. This is probably good in that it reduces distractions, but I miss the running score tally.

Given that some aspects of scoring in ORS remained mysteries even after actual software developers tried explaining it on the Ubisoft forums, I don't expect to understand RS-2014 scoring any time soon. So far, all I can tell you for sure is that there's no numerical "score" in the Learn a Song mode. When you finish playing through a song, you get a Note Streak and an Accuracy Percentage like before. But, in RS-2014's Learn mode, instead of getting a numerical score, you get an Overall Percentage.

(There ARE some song-play modes that give scores - but not the regular Learn a Song mode. I'll talk about those other modes in future posts.)

What this new Overall Percentage in Learn mode represents I can only guess. And, here's my guess: I am guessing that the OP in Learn a Song mode represents how close you are to playing ALL of the possible notes in a song. 100% means you have leveled up every phrase and can generally play every note in the arrangement. 50% means you're seeing about half of all the possible notes. I think.

Note Streak and Accuracy were always self-explanatory and they don't seem to have changed. Note Streak is simply how many notes you play correctly in a row without screwing up. Accuracy is what percentage of the notes at your level of mastery you get right. At lower levels of mastery, you could have a very high Accuracy and a low OP. Once you level a song all the way up, I suspect Accuracy and Overall Percentage would be roughly the same. But, I could be wrong. . .

As far as point value of notes, technique bonuses, etc., I can't even guess. All I know is that you don't get any messages telling you that you did an "Awesome Slide!" or a "Good Bend." Which is fine. In ORS, I often focused more on whether or not I got a "atta-boys" than on my playing.

Other Learning Tools

You can learn a lot by just playing through songs over and over again until you get it right, but RS-2014 offers several additional tools to help you get there quicker and easier.

Rocksmith Recommends: Tips

Not to be confused with recommended songs, below your song selection on the Learn menu, you'll see a list of 3 activities with checkboxes next to them. This is a random list of learning activities to help you along. It will include things like "Check out the Asus Chord" or "Use Riff Repeater to Increase Your Mastery." Just click on the tip and RS takes you to the exercise or activity. A green check mark appears in the checkbox as you complete each item. When you complete 3 activities, three more appear. I haven't found a limit yet.

What About Riff Repeater?

Still there and better than ever. In fact, it's obvious that the developers spend a LOT of time and effort getting Riff Repeater up to its full potential. Now it's practically a separate program that you can access easily while playing songs.

You can get to RR by pausing a song while playing in the Learn mode (press B on controller). This accessibility is another huge improvement in RS-2014! You still pick a phrase to hammer on in RR, just like before in ORS. But, just as I always suggested, you can now also jump straight from a rough spot in a song to RR and work on the troublesome phrase on the spot without having to quit the song and navigate through a series of menus and sub-menus.

You can also access RR from the Rocksmith Recommends activities list when it shows up there.


Helping to keep some of the "game" aspect of Rocksmith alive are Missions which pop up every so often in the upper, right-hand corner of the screen. These are similar to the old "achievements" - stuff like "Play a Song that Requres D-tuning," or "Play Star Chords." Completing missions earns points which you can trade for DLC, including songs, on your UPlay account. More on that when I get a chance to check it out.

Other Notes, So Far

I've just begun to scratch the surface of the new Rocksmith, but I have figured out a few things so far. First of all, the User Manual, buried in the Tools/Options menu is not particularly helpful unless you are completely new to your console. Mainly it talks about very basic issues like controller button mapping.

As I pointed out earlier, turn off your Kinect if you have one. Apparently RS-2014 allows for the use of voice commands through Kinect sensors, which might be easier than keeping an XBox controller nearby while you play. But, given my experience with background noises from the game itself, the convenience of voice commands is outweighed by the inconvenience of random weirdness.

You CAN reverse the order of the song list after sorting. Use LB on the XBox controller.

Also, I've had a lot of sensitivity issues using my joystick to navigate and select menu items. You can get around that by using the D-pad to scroll up and down among menu selections.


  1. You know, I just finished up a spectacularly miserable attempt at Blitzkrieg Bop and I was wondering if I just got booed or not... I hadn't played that song in a while and I forgot the simple pattern so when it came up in Free Play mode it took me about 15 seconds to fully recover. In the meantime I couldn't help but notice the crowd seemed... I don't know... restless and angry, I guess. I figured it might be just the normal crowd noise because of the venue or whatever but maybe because I was playing at way below my (ahem... alleged) 90% mastery they responded badly. Frankly, I am cool with the booing being real. One thing that creeped me out in the original Rocksmith was knowing I was blowing a song during a gig and being stared at in the whole time by an army of dopplegangers patiently swaying in absolute silence.

    1. That's hilarious! I have fond-ish memories of the cloned CGI hotties in the original version just standing there with their phones out and that blank look on their faces while I muddled through a song. But, yeah - that booing you thought you heard actually WAS booing.