During the Steam holiday sale, I gave into temptation on one title: Rocksmith. This is one I’d been looking forward to as it lets you play a Guitar Hero-style game using an actual guitar, so long as it has a 1/4″ jack. I grew up learning how to play the piano (poorly), which it turns out is little to no help whatsoever with a guitar, at least at this stage in my progress. I’ve only sunk a handful of hours into it thus far for several reasons which I’ll go into in a bit, but so far, here’s what you can expect if you, too, decide to take up the Smithing of Rock:
• The software is just one part of the deal. If you buy it via a download service, you’ll have to go buy a special USB cable that connects your instrument (also sold separately, so take that into account) to your PC or console. If your USB port, like mine, is near the top of your machine, you may want to rig up some way to keep the weight of the cable (it’s heavy) from pulling too hard on your possibly flimsy USB connection.
• I got my guitar, a Rogue Rocketeer, at a place called Musician’s Friend. They’ve got a big distribution center near where I live, so shipping was quick. They stock a lot of used gear if you just want something basic to play around with and don’t want to hunt eBay or Craigslist for however long it takes to find the bargain of a lifetime.
• It’s hard for someone who has never truly played to figure out what they’re doing wrong. Until I did some searches about basic hand positioning, I found myself muffling strings by accidentally resting my fingers on them. I’m still working out how to “feel” which string my pick is on. Also, there doesn’t appear to be a “right” way to wear a guitar with a strap. Most of those who play and post about it online appear to be in the “whatever’s comfortable” camp, so I’m still working that one out.
• If the Rolling Stones could hear what I’ve done to “Satisfaction,” they’d likely pay someone to make sure my guitar met with an “accident.” It’s not entirely my fault (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), as the game has a unique way of ramping up the difficulty: It does it while you’re playing. You start out with one-note plucking as the screen shows you which string to play and which fret to put your finger on. If you get good at it, it’ll start throwing more notes at you without warning. The kind-of down side for me is that you can’t master a certain level of difficulty as your apparent skill is constantly adjusted for.
• You can play any of the songs that come with the game any time you want, apart from the ones that are unlocked by your performances/scores. A complete list of the songs is on the Wikipedia page for the game, and more are available as DLC.
• I haven’t played much because, apart from having work to do, my kid wants to join in. This isn’t entirely bad, of course, and it’s amusing. However, when he went to bed the first night I had this setup, I plugged in my headphones and thought I’d try to massacre something by The White Stripes. That’s when I found that even when not using speakers, the guitar isn’t totally silent. A voice wafted out of a back bedroom that said, “Daddy, what are you doing with my guitar?” In the interests of a sound sleep, I put aside my efforts at musical expression. Of note, if you do have a child that wants to play this game, they sell kid-sized electric guitars.
• The worst feature of this game by far is the fact that once you’ve plowed your way through a song like a plastic surgeon giving a nose job with a combine harvester, the game plays the atrocity you perpetrated back at you while it waits for your next menu selection. Maybe this is some kind of behavior reinforcement mechanism, but whatever its purpose, it’s needlessly cruel.
So that’s where I stand (since sitting made me play even worse, though the armrests on my chair didn’t help). I’m hoping that later, when I get to chords, the game will give me a sense of how to read guitar music, but I currently have no clue if it will. Next, I’ll need someone to make a Bardic mod for one or more popular computer RPGs, so I can get some practical use out of this thing.