Monday, December 16, 2013

Something for Everyone in Rocksmith 2014 - Session Mode and Nonstop Play

The last time I played (a few nights ago) I got home fairly late and didn't want to get involved in an all-night learning/practice session. Plus, XBox had yet another "required" update which took quite a while to download. By the time I actually got Rocksmith started, I really didn't feel like working very hard on anything. So, I figured I'd knock out a couple of NON-Tone Designer missions just for something to do. First a Session Mode mission. Then on to Non-Stop Play Mode.

I still miss the Events from the original RS and I'd like to see them return in future versions, but Rocksmith 2014 continues to blow me away. That's the good news.

The bad news is Rocksmith 2014 has totally locked up on me for the 5th time. 

Session Mode - A Fully-Stocked Gourmet Kitchen

My next pending mission was to Play Session Mode for 10 minutes. Remember how you felt in school when you had to give a 5-minute speech in front of the class? Playing 10 minutes of Session Mode causes me a similar level of agony.

Session Mode is a great new feature in RS2014. It really is amazing. But, so far, I am not a huge fan. First of all, they should really call it "Jam Mode." I'm familiar with the term "jam session." But just the word "session" by itself suggests recording. As far as I know, you can't save or "record" what you play in Session Mode (although that might be a good idea for future versions. . .).  So, you're really just jamming. [Actually, one of my loyal readers, Tim, referred to this feature as "Jam Mode" wayyyy back in August when we were still anticipating the release of RS2014.]

Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. It doesn't matter what they call it. For me, playing in Session Mode is like walking into a fully stocked gourmet kitchen without a recipe. All the materials and equipment are there; I just don't know what to do with them. Quite frustrating.

Session Mode lets you select a key, set the tempo, pick the "feel" for the music, and design an entire back-up band instrument by instrument. There's really no limit to what you can do with it.

But, based on my experience - which is admittedly very limited at this point - Session Mode is a playground for guitar players who already have a knack for improvising. You don't need to be able to tap or play incredibly fast or anything, but you do need a certain aptitude for pulling a melody out of thin air. If you've got that talent, Session Mode (combined with Tone Designer) is a wonderland where you can experiment for hours on end without buying thousands of dollars' worth of equipment!

I have no such talent. When I start up Session Mode, I see a scale on a guitar neck. The scale is shown at only one position on the neck, leaving me with only 12 notes to mess with. Different groups of those 12 notes appear to be highlighted based on the chord progression in the backing track. This sort of guides you along, but I basically end up running up and down those 12 notes (A-minor pentatonic is apparently the default scale), throwing in a few slides and bends to break up the monotony, and I sound totally lame - just like I've always sounded when I attempt to improvise on a guitar. For me it's probably a GOOD thing there's no recording capability in Session Mode!

Probably the only way to get good at jamming is to simply hack away at it until it clicks. Session Mode definitely gives you a facility to do that. But, I've been hacking away for over 30 years and I still suck. Maybe if there had been a Rocksmith 1978 with Session Mode I'd be a little better by now. . . but, I think I lack the DNA that is required to ever be truly good at improvising, no matter how long I play in Session Mode.

While others might be able to serve up a delicious lobster bisque of a guitar solo in ten minutes, I plucked around for ten minutes in the interest of knocking out this mission and managed to cob together a scrambled egg. No salt. Good enough to earn me the 20G Jam-a-Thon XBox Achievement and a couple of new skins for the CL-SS 210 amp. Also good enough to check off this mission and move on.

Nonstop Play - The (Surprise) Return of Randomly Generated Set-Lists!

Nonstop Play Mode is another Main Menu option. In Nonstop Play mode you can create your own set-list, decide how long you want to play (from 5 to 90 minutes), and then just start playing song after song until your time runs out. Songs level up as you play, just like in LAS mode. But, there are no points, no scores, no percentages, no leaderboard standings. Just playing. Awesome!

Like I said, the other night I just wanted to do some casual playing for a fixed amount of time. Nonstop Play Mode is perfect for that. And, it turns out you don't even have to create your own set-list. You can create your own set-list using the Song Manager in the NS mode menu. But, if you don't want to bother with it, Rocksmith will do it for you, resulting in a sort of "Random Play Mode."

I assumed that Rocksmith would use the set-list I had created in a previous mission, but apparently set-lists don't get saved. Once you quit Rocksmith, any set-list you create in NS Mode goes away. I need to verify this, but it appears you have to create a new Nonstop Play set-list every time you restart Rocksmith. No problem -

If you don't create a set-list, Rocksmith will just give you a random list of songs to play. The first song that popped up for me when I first tried NS mode was Sore Tummy by PAWS - a song that I'd never even heard of and probably would never have picked to play. After that one I got We Are the Champions and Between the Lines, two old favorites of mine. Not quite a replacement for the Events in original RS, but this is a pretty good substitute for the old randomly generated set-lists. You end up playing some stuff that you might not otherwise ever play. Expand your horizons a little - give it a shot.

When your time is up or if there's not quite enough time to squeeze in another whole song before time runs out, Rocksmith will ask you if you want to quit or play One More Song. To complete the One More Song Mission and get the One More Song 10G XBox Achievement, you obviously have to play one more song. So I did.

And then Rocksmith 2014 completely locked up my XBox for the 5th time since I installed it. Not too happy about this, I must say. Pretty sure my Kinect was OFF, too. I'm starting to wonder if my XBox just isn't able to handle all the processing required to make RS2014 so awesome. (But, I will NOT be buying an XBox One. Ever.) This has not yet gotten to a point where it's a big problem, but 5 freeze-ups in less than 2 months is a lot compared to the 2 freeze-ups I had on the original RS over more than a year and a half. I'm just becoming a little concerned. Curious if anyone else is having this issue.


After the freeze-up, I rebooted my XBox and restarted RS2014 just to be sure everything was still working. Then, for no good reason I decided to check out the UPlay link from the Main Menu. Still pretty much nothing there. I didn't try too hard to find it, but I didn't see anything about the 60 day challenge. But, you can still go here to swap Ubisoft achievement points for DLC. That's about it. I'm holding onto my credits to see if they add more "prizes."


  1. You pretty much nailed my feelings about session mode. It's my main frustration about learning bass - if I'm not playing something specific (a lesson, a song, whatever), then I really don't know what to do with it. I can't just pick it up and start "riffing". Maybe because I'm just not at that skill level yet, I dunno. But, it's why I don't really enjoy session mode for myself, although it seems like a great tool for those that can take advantage of it better than I....

    And it's interesting that songs level up in CP mode, but not in Score Attack. Perhaps because song attack has fixed notes, and doesn't try to match it to your ability, while CP and LAS do...

    In case I don't see any more entries in the next week - Happy Holidays! Enjoy, and best wishes to you and your family...

    1. (I hope my damn network doesn't die while I'm trying to post this reply this time!)
      I think they pretty much have to stick with a fixed mastery level in Score Attack in order to define the Easy, Medium, and Hard play levels. Instead of leveling up the song, you just move up to increasingly difficult levels of play. I love what they've done with Score Attack and the leaderboards. I didn't think I would like it at first; I sort of figured it would be like the forum Weekly Challenge thing, but I think the way Score Attack and the leaderboards work might be even more motivating to me than the old, bizarre RS scoring system.

      According to kg (below), it may be possible to "zoom out" and see the scales in multiple positions on the guitar neck in Session Mode. I will most definitely be checking this out as soon as I get a chance. He plays the PC version, so it might not work for XBox. If it does, that will make Session Mode much more useful to me. I might never get good at improvising but at the very least I'd be able to improve my mastery of scales across the entire neck - which is something at least .

  2. I think the same as you about session mode, it is useless for a beginner and it probably can't be useful without any external help.
    Please note that on PC you can see all the notes of a scale, by default it's on one position (the root chord I guess), but there are some key shortcuts to zoom in / zoom out. So you can zoom out to see the notes of the scale all over the neck. It may be also possible on console.
    Nevertheless, I find it a better tool to learn a scale than the minigames (it's too fast too quickly, you don't really have the time to learn it before failing).
    To improve this mode, Rocksmith should provide some tips or some licks to play (maybe with a lick library and with mini-missions in this mode : like "use this lick when you feel it").

    For the "tone designer" missions, I agree this is really boring but there is an end, it is really annoying to do, but I decided to do all of them straight in order to remove them of my missions list. If you do all of them in a row, it's quite quick to finish, just select the pedal they want, I think you don't even have to save the tone.

    My game never crashed (on PC) but I have a really annoying bug : all of the songs I never played (with the current "role" - lead, rhythm or bass) start with a difficulty set to 0. The song screen displays properly the difficulty estimated by the game for each section but as soon as I launch, the difficulty is reset (so I have to set it manually for each song).
    I reported the issue, they are aware of it, but I don't think they'll fix it (and I didn't find anyone having the same problem).

    1. Thanks for posting that, kg! I will most definitely be checking out the possibility of zooming out in Session Mode to see scales across the entire neck. If that is possible on the XBox platform, I think Session Mode will be much more useful to me. Like I said above, I might never get good at soloing or improvising but at least I could increase my mastery of scales over the whole neck - instead of just in one position!

      Perhaps what's missing from Session Mode is a few related Lessons. . . I have scanned over the list of lessons in RS2014 and I don't remember seeing anything related to improvising on a scale, but that doesn't mean there's nothing there. I could have overlooked it. So, I'll check that out a little closer. If there's nothing in the Lessons now, maybe Ubisoft will consider adding a few helpful improv' lessons to the next version of Rocksmith.

      I'm sure I'll eventually knock out the freaking Tone Designer missions just to get them done, but I'd be just as happy without them. On the XBox platform, it seems like I have to save and go back to the previous menu to get credit, but maybe not.

      Very weird about the difficulty level resetting to 0. You mean every single time you start a song it reverts to a Zero Mastery level? That would kind of suck. . .

    2. I play on PC and also noticed that every new song starts out at the easiest mode possible. I didn't realize that it was a bug - I thought it's just the way that they're doing this one, versus how they did it on the original. And Gallagher - to be clear, it's just the very first time you play a song - not if play something that you've played before... It really doesn't bother me too much - it's kind of a way of easing into a song that I've never played before (granted, playing 1 root note every 2 measures is a bit "too easy", but it moves up as the song progresses).

      And I agree that "scales all over the neck" is a good learning tool to have... I'll have to look for those zoom keys....

    3. Ah. . . I think that complaint came up in the original RS, too. A lot of the better, more experienced guitar players found it really annoying to start at lower levels of mastery. Which I suppose I can understand - it would be sort of a pain to have to play through a song several times just to level it up to your ability level. But, I'm not good enough to be bothered by it! I've always been very OK with starting out at a relative handful of notes at the beginning and working my way up. And, now that RS has fixed the issue of "surprise! it's actually a chord!" working up to full mastery levels is much less stressful!