Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On RockSmith

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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.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Traffic Jam and Learning

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Perhaps my favorite part about being a gamer is how easily it promotes lifelong learning. I'm a big fan of learning. I absorb knowledge like a sponge. Perhaps part of why I've taken an extended break from WoW is that I didn't feel like there were any more opportunities for me to learn. That isn't to say I'd explored every nook and cranny, but that the buffet table of knowledge for me (at least) was pretty picked over. I really had to hunt to find any savory bits.

A very easy remedy for this is to try new games, especially in different genres. Hence why I've been having so much fun with Sim City. There hadn't be a legit new one in, what, a decade? Sure there were some solid knock-offs, but I never played any of them. For me, it's a return to something familiar but that is very new.

I've chronicled a few of the things I've learned, and most recent lesson is regarding the traffic. Traffic jams are a huge problem right now in the game, not just because of my specific city designs, but also because of several other strange game design artifacts. Perhaps the mos egregious of those is that most city zones only have one connection to the regional highway. This all but forces one to have a traffic problem at larger city sizes. I'm hoping that one gets fixed in a patch soon. Until then, I'm forced to be inventive about my traffic flow.

I'd been using the old tried and true grid approach, but it isn't working. I may go back soon and modify the grid by destroying the last little bit of connecting streets, and putting in lower density streets so that my major avenues become like a limited access highway. I've heard that might help. Also, since Sims choose the shortest path (regardless of how much sense it makes), I may chop some of those paths off to force the flow where I need it to be. It's an interesting puzzle.

I've also picked up a new game: Rocksmith. It's all about learning, learning the guitar. The cool twist here is that it comes with a cord that allows me to plug in the electric guitar that I already learn (and sort of know how to play). Then, it'll run me through a "journey" that develops real guitar skills and teaches me some fun classic rock songs. I think the best description I can come up with is that it is sort of Rosetta Stone meets Rock Band. It straddles the line between teaching aid and game, and so far I've been impressed. I'll write more about it as I get more experience, but I'm a fan of things that "gamify" learning, and just learning in general. The game was recommended by a fellow guitarist, and he did not disappoint. Pretty neat.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Building Cities

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I haven't checked in for a while. Still kicking. Still building cities and enjoying it. I'm trying to complete some Great Works now. I think I've figured out how to build a successful city in most cases. Resources are so key in this version of the game. Tiles with lots of resources will be easy to build up. Also, it helps to have established cities nearby with road connections. Being able to farm out early utilities and simply pay for what you need... priceless. Well, if you ignore the paying part.

If you get your trade empire set up alongside some solid resource gathering and upgrading... you'll be making money hand over fist in no time. Most of my larger cities show a 10k plus debt per hour, but make it up easily through exports. It's pretty crazy.

Of course, as soon as I felt comfortable, a giant lizard showed up and caroused through my city. Destroyed my entire resource gathering infrastructure, nearly ruining the city. Fortunately, I'd been sitting on a sizeable nest-egg, so I was able to rebuild and get stuff back up and running without too much trouble. It was dicey for a bit. Stupid lizards.

I can't wait until some of the DLC starts showing up and they unlock things like expanding the city tiles or being able to edit the highway. Currently almost all of my cities have huge gridlocks when entering and leaving since there's only one exit on the highway. What sort of city has that? At the very least I should get one for each side of the map. I plopped a pro stadium and the traffic snarls are something fierce!

Anyhoo, that's all for now. Hope you WoW kids are killing extra critters for me.