Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On RockSmith

Been a couple weeks, I know. Nothing exciting happening on my end. Building cities. Improving my guitar play through my PS3, so I did want to write a sort of mini-review on RockSmith. I know this isn't a review site or anything, but anyone interested in guitar might like to read some of this.

First of all, I've been teaching myself guitar for over 10 years now. I started playing when I was 16, just sort of as a side hobby. Several of my friends were in garage bands and stuff, so I just picked up stuff here and there. I know enough to masquerade as being "good," but I am not technically sound by any means. I putz around. It's all for fun.

Coming from that perspective, I've always enjoyed the Rock Band style games. It always annoyed me when I felt I could play something more easily on a real guitar than the plastic substitutes. I knew it was only a matter of time before they mated the two and came up with something really neat. RockSmith is one such attempt at mating.

Maybe you've heard of the new Rock Band with the "pro" settings where you can use a special guitar that functions pretty similarly to a real guitar. That's all well and good, but I didn't want to plunk down the cash for a special guitar. I already own guitars, and they are expensive enough in their own right. I was hoping to someday be able to use the guitars I own with some sort of game.

Enter RockSmith. Comes with a nifty USB cable that hooks into any electric guitar. Perfect.

The game itself is less of a game and more of a teaching tool. It gamifies things, but I think it is best understood as a good way to learn songs or brush up on skills. For a hobbyist like me, it's loads of fun, and I can see where it is going to improve my playing.

As someone who "kinda" knows guitar, the biggest hurdle right away for me is not the technical difficulty (it starts off as if you were a complete novice), but the transition to sight reading. I've always played songs by memory, not live. I'm having to retrain my brain and hands to use skills in conjunction with the display. It's actually fairly challenging and makes me feel like a newb a lot.

The game is gated, but the difficulty within the song scales as you hit (or miss) notes. Thus, it's possible to progress at something of an accelerated rate. It may be annoying for some to start so basic but, like I said, I need to learn the methodology anyway. I'm cool with it.

The one black mark against the game, so far, has been the audio delay. If you've done any research about the game, you'll probably see this caveat. It is processing an analog signal from your guitar, figuring out what you played, and displaying crap to your HDMI screen. HDMI is a poor transmission medium if you want immediate reaction. Apparently, if you split your audio out to analog cables (like might be used in a home theater setup), the lag goes away. I do not have such a setup, so I cannot test it.

The lag is definitely noticeable, but I've pretty much gotten used it. I crank the TV way up so I can only hear the amp, and it's tolerable. When trying to play more complicated stuff from memory (the game has an open amp feature), the lag throws me a bit, but if I just play, again it's not bad. Just something to get used to, though I'm really contemplating getting a nicer audio setup. It's not like I wouldn't use it for movies and such.

While some may take issue with the game, if you approach it as a "learning can be fun" tool, I think your expectations will line up. It's not as game-y as Rock Band but, to me, that makes it more fun in some ways. It's also not something I can play with friends, but again, that's not why I got it. (I think you can hook up a guitar and bass together now and jam, though. I don't know any bass players currently to try it out.)

Anyway, this is hardly a comprehensive review, just some scattered initial thoughts. If you're a hobbyist like me looking for a fun game to play with your own guitars, this is a great buy. I think I snagged it for like $55 or something. Probably can easily find better deals, but it's a lot cheaper than splurging for the newest Rock Band setup. And you will learn guitar. Real guitar. Pretty neat if you ask me.

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