Rocking Out with Guitar Games

So I was just about to dole out the ~$300 for the Rock Band 3 Fender Squier guitar when Noah told me about a new game due out this fall called Rocksmith.  What’s so cool about Rocksmith?  Well, on the surface this Ubisoft game appears to allow you to plug in any guitar to its included 1/4 inch jack to USB cable and then play along with 45 or so songs.  ”Well hell”, I thought, this sounded pretty awesome and would most likely be much cheaper than the entry fee to Rock Band 3′s true guitar experience.  Best of all, I could jam out with my Flying V or my old Jackson shredder.  Or, if feeling bluesy, I could, theoretically, play my good old Strat.

Well, after doing a lot of research on the Intertubes, it turns out that there’s a hitch, and it’s not a small one.  There’s a vast inequity between the respective offerings from Fender/Harmonix and Ubisoft.  It seems that Ubisoft’s technical solution used for capturing the tones being played on a guitar and converted to midi is monophonic.  This technology has been around for quite a while and is basically what is used to determine your vocal pitch for Rock Band 3, most instrument tuners, and a variety of tone to midi products.

Now, if you watch the videos for Rocksmith with this in mind, you will notice that at no point are two (or more) strings ever picked at the same time.  This is, to me anyway, a huge bummer.  If you’ve ever sang in Rock Band 3 you know that you can sing an E1 where the actual song uses an E3.  You also know that most guitar songs employ something that we in the business call chords.  Chords are a fundamental component to music.  Without the ability to a) determine how high or low a note you’re actually playing and to b) analyze more than one note at once, this game is essentially broken.

Broken is, I know, a harsh term.  Nonetheless, it profoundly limits the real guitar experience for the game.  Sure, most guitar leads are played with runs of single notes but this game lists rhythm and lead tracks as options.  Imagine playing a Stevie Ray Vaughn song or even something by Nirvana with no chords.  It would not be the genuine guitar experience the game claims to bring to the table.  While I have not yet purchased and played the Rock Band 3 Pro Fender Squier guitar, the technology seems sound, pardon the pun.  There are sensors between each fret and these are used to determine the exact fingering for each note or chord across the entire fretboard.  This means that it can analyze each and every note and feed this back immediately to the attached game system.  While it costs much more, it adds a huge dimension to the experience and is the closest thing to really jamming with a band yet offered by rhythm games.

My decision is certainly made for me.  I’m going to spend a lot more money, but one added bonus is that the guitar, in conjunction with the Mad Katz midi controller (required for the Xbox360), can become an extremely cheap midi guitar solution for my home recording studio.  A professional version could cost something well around $2000 and up.  The double duty aspect appeals to me greatly since I find a guitar much more natural for note entry than a keyboard.  Enough talking/typing, time to get one of these things ordered since I haven’t yet found one anywhere locally.


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