Friday, November 22, 2013

Learning Songs on Rocksmith 2014 - A Few Nights Into It, The Fun is Wearing Thin

I've been hammering on Walk This Way by Aerosmith using the all-new Rocksmith 2014 for a few nights now. Here's how things are going overall:

Play Count: 37
OP: 56.2%

Not As Much Fun as it Should Be

My first impressions of RS-2014 are that it's pretty awesome learning software. From a technical standpoint it's better than the original Rocksmith in almost every way. But, I knew I'd miss the game element of the original Rocksmith journey and I was right. After only a few nights of playing and working on my first song, I'm just not having as much fun as I used to have playing the old Rocksmith.

I've wanted to learn how to play Walk This Way for about 30 years now. I should be busting my butt to get home from work and play all night like I did when Rocksmith first came out. But, I'm not. Granted, I'm still recovering from surgery on a dislocated elbow and my wrist is still very stiff from my recent fall, so I'm not playing very well right now. Still, I should be more excited about this cool new toy than I am.

I think Rocksmith 2014 threw the baby out with the bathwater when they got rid of The Journey.

To be fair, I picked a song that is way over my head - at least where the solos are concerned. So, I'm not making the kind of progress I'd like to make and I'm getting a little tired of playing the same song over and over again trying to get it right. Take the following criticisms with a grain of salt. 

A Side Order of Fun and Games

Don't get me wrong - there is still some fun-and-games action in RS-2014. But, it's a sideline, mostly relegated to the Guitarcade. After running through Walk This Way for the 37th time, I checked out some Technique Guides and a couple of Guitarcade games to break up the monotony. The Guitarcade has been completely overhauled and it's very cool. Very retro video-game style. In fact, the welcome screen looks like a boot screen from an old Atari. When I first saw it, I thought my XBox had been infected with a virus.

There are 11 "Technique Games." So far I've played Scale Racers, Star Chords (Get it? Star Chords? Rhymes with Star Wars. . . ), and Temple of Bends. All very fun and much better games than any of the old Rocksmith Guitarcade games. There are Leaderboard Challenges, which I haven't tried yet. And, Score Attack, which I have. More on that below.

My son and I both played for a while and had fun trying to out-score each other. Pretty soon, though, I was leveling up but my scores were going down. Plus, my fingers were burning. So, I closed the games and went back to song learnin'.

A Jungle of Cool Songs - But No Compass or Map

Without the Journey, there's almost no structure in RS-2014. When you start up RS-2014, you're just staring at a list of 9 options on a main screen. OK, "Learn a Song" is the first and probably  most obvious choice. So, you click on Learn a Song - and you're faced with a staggering list of at least 57 songs that you can learn (more if you imported songs from ORS or have already started buying DLC). Really great songs in this list, but who's to say that Walk This Way was a good song to start with? Maybe it's way over my head, which will discourage me (and most beginners). 

I think Rocksmith should apply their Dynamic Difficulty concept to song selections as well as the notes within a song. The old Rocksmith journey at least provided a framework in which songs could have been presented in graduated levels of difficulty. I don't think Rocksmith used the journey structure to its full advantage this way, but I think the concept had great (untapped) potential. Instead of tapping it, Ubisoft threw it out completely.

You can sort the songs in RS-2014 by "Recommended" status, but so far it appears that almost EVERY song I own is "recommended." There's a box to the right of each song in the song list and "recommended" songs have a check mark in that box. All but 22 of my 165 songs have check marks. Most of the non-recommended songs are songs I played before in old RS, and many of my "recommended" songs are ones that I don't like. So, I have no idea how recommendations are made in RS-2014. They don't seem to be based on playing ability or musical preference.

The song list can also be sorted on Difficulty, which means the software includes some algorithm for determining difficulty. Starting with an easier song makes more sense than letting players wander into the weeds or try to learn Bat Country right off the bat. However, I've got some questions about the difficulty ranking algorithm in RS-2014 since Sweet Home Alabama appears near the easy end of the list and Good Enough by Tom Petty is ranked as one of the 10 hardest songs. Seriously? 

I mean, if you want to tackle Bat Country, knock yourself out. I'm not saying the software should prevent you from giving it a shot. I'm just saying I'd like the software to offer up song suggestions in some logical order - like the old Rocksmith Recommends set-lists. Start with very basic, easy-to-learn songs for the average beginner and progress with songs that introduce new techniques in a logical sequence - like the little ditties in the technique reviews do. Or, perhaps tie songs into the Lessons section so that the lessons incorporate appropriate songs. They should have refined that concept instead of just getting rid of it.

And bring back the incentives. 

Lack of Objectives/Rewards

Another problem with RS-2014's lack of structure is that there's no set objective or reward for progressing. Sure, there's our over-arching objective of "learn to play songs" or in my specific case "learn to play Walk This Way." But, how do I know when I've "learned" it? At this point, it seems like it's sort of up to me to decide what Overall Percentage (OP) I'm willing to accept. If I'm OK with an OP of 54%, I've "learned the song" and I can move on to the next one.

Qualifying a song for an event in the old Rocksmith required you to achieve a specific score. This was a tangible but reachable objective. When you reached it, your reward was playing the song in an event. Granted, events were just short sets played in front of cloned CGI Gen-Y hotties in a made-up venue, but they were FUN. It was virtual crack that kept me playing and working hard for the next fix.

What does RS-2014 offer me? A vague, Overall Percentage figure. Fine. So, I can play about 54% of the notes in Walk This Way. So, what? There's nothing which motivates me to improve on that number. I've mastered most of the song phrases except for the solos, and it's unlikely I'll ever be able to play those - no matter how many times I review bends and slides. Which means I've learned as much of this song as I'm likely to learn. So, now what? Just move to the next song on the list and play that one until I'm tired of it?

While working your way up to Events, Old Rocksmith also delivered a host of prizes for reaching specific goals. When you reached 70,000 points on a song you got a new tone pedal. When you successfully played an Event, you got a new guitar. OK, so the guitars were sort of a waste since you couldn't actually see them without digging deep into the menus and scrolling through them; but, instead of scrapping them I'd have made it so they appeared on the player's studio wall like a trophy case. I never messed with tone pedals but I enjoyed getting those as rewards for reaching 70,000 on songs. More virtual crack.

In RS-2014, you get fret markers and amp "skins." Guitars were useless eye candy, but fret markers? Whatever. At least in old Rocksmith you could see the whole guitars if you were willing to dig into the menus. The only place you'll ever see the fret markers you earn is when you use the tuner. And, you don't get them for improving your playing. You get them for just navigating around in the software. Ditto for amp skins. I have no idea what amp skins are supposed to do or how you use them. I'll let you know when I figure it out. Apparently you can earn venues in RS-2014, but I haven't figured that out yet, either.

I've still got LOTS of exploring to do - and explore I will. 

Some Options

Nonstop Play is a way to make "set-lists" and play through them in RS-2014. I plan to try that tonight or this weekend. From what I've seen so far, you don't have to qualify songs for Nonstop Play mode. You just mark Favorites in your song list and pick how many minutes you want to play. Then, you just play straight through your list of favorites until time is up. Sort of like an event, I guess. We'll see.

I have already tried a new RS-2014 feature called Score Attack. You can access this from Learn a Song mode or you can access it through the Guitarcade menu. It works sort of like the old scored song-playing Rocksmith game. You play through the song pretty much like you do in regular Learn a Song mode, but you get a running score. Scores are strictly on a song-by-song basis, though; there's no overall score. Also, Score Attack requires you to choose one of three levels of play: Easy, Medium, or Hard. You work your way up to Master Level by achieving "Gold Rank" at the Hard level of play. It'll be a while before I figure out how this works. So far all I know is that making a mistake during the song gives you a strike. Three strikes and it's Game Over.

Technique - Guides and Games

RS-2014 still offers some fun ways to work on techniques. There's no more bronze, silver, or gold medals like in the old Technique Challenges. In fact, they're not even called "challenges" now. There are Technique Guides and Technique Games . The Guides are more like video lessons. Very, very good video lessons. You get OP "scores" for playing the short practice riffs but no medals are awarded. The Technique Games are exactly what the Guitarcade games were before - games that require guitar playing techniques to play. Fun for a while, but still no replacement for the old Journey concept in the original Rocksmith game.

That's it for now. Gotta run errands and I have to work tomorrow so I may not get much playing in tonight. More later.


  1. Re: sorting on "recommended" - the idea is that it orders the list based on its recommendation of how to progress - it's going to show you essentially every song still, but it's suggesting the order for you to play them. (IE: first song on the list is what they're "recommending" you play). I imagine that the only songs that wouldn't be "recommended" are ones that it can't figure out where to "order", so they get dropped out.

    Sort by owned though - no clue about that. Maybe they plan (or planned) to show DLC in the song list to encourage you to buy it ("Oh look - they recommend that I play Song X next - maybe I'd better buy it"), and provided a way to prevent those from being listed ("only show me songs that I own"). That's the only thing that I can come up with.

    1. Seems like a reasonable guess. But, I noticed that sorting on Recommended breaks my song list into 2014 songs and original RS songs. So, clearly the recommended ranking is fixed. I'd think sorting on Difficulty might be a better choice - IF the "difficulty" ranking algorithm is at all valid. I'd almost say they give us TOO MANY ways to sort songs now - takes a little while to scroll through the sorting options, especially if you accidentally pass the one you want and have to cycle all the way through to get back.