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It’s been a couple of months since my first impressions of Rocksmith 2014, so time for some second impressions.

First, my overall feeling about the game: my current feeling is that it’s a great game, and potentially an important one. Not necessarily important as a game so much: what I like about it so much is the ways in which it’s focused on helping you learn guitar, and its removal (or at least making optional) many of the game tropes its predecessor had that, in retrospect, hurt that. For the right person, I suspect it’s a rather interesting case study in gamification: both the game-related elements that remain and were removed could provide useful lessons.

But just as interesting from a learning point of view are the elements that it enables by being software that aren’t related to its game aspects. Just the fact that it gives you access to hundreds of songs each of which is divided up into (typically) dozens of segments with dozens of difficulty levels: that’s an interesting capability that wasn’t accessible to teaching in general until recently. I don’t want to go too much into that here—I’ll save that up for a later post when I feel like waxing more philosophical—but there’s something there.

Instead, for this post, I just want to talk a bit about details that I’d noticed since my earlier post. One of which ties directly into the aforementioned learning possibilities, and actually it’s not a detail at all, it’s a core capability that I simply hadn’t gotten around to exploring until a week and a half ago: Session Mode. This is a mode in which Rocksmith 2014 gives you a virtual jam band: I’ve never seen something like that before, and it’s really good. The other instruments do a surprisingly solid job of laying down a foundation for you to play on top of; I’m not sure how much they react to what you’re doing (though they do adjust to some extent to your changes in intensity and rhythm), but if you want structural underpinnings to noodle on top of (basic rhythm, basic bass, preplanned chord changes), it’s there.

And the game’s missions turn out to include a quite thorough Session Mode-specific set of recommendations. I’ve gone through a bunch of them, and I’ve appreciated its guidance in exploring those features. Also, I’ve appreciate the guidance that Session Mode gives you itself in terms of not only reminding you of what notes are in the selected scale but in terms of highlighting frets that are relevant for the specific chord that the other parts are playing; this makes it a lot easier to respond gracefully to chord changes, and I imagine that it will be a useful stepping stone to learning how improvise around chords on my own.

It is the case that my playing in Session Mode does get kind of repetitive: I stick a little too closely to the notes that are suggested. I’m trying to move away from that, though; and, actually, I would also like it if it would suggest chords to me instead of just notes. For all I know, it will do that if I play Session Mode as rhythm guitar instead of lead; I’ll give that a try this weekend. At any rate: super useful for people like myself who don’t find time to play with friends but who need a nudge to get out of our comfort zones and move off script.


That’s the biggest thing I hadn’t explored when I wrote my first impressions. I also hadn’t explored Riff Repeater mode very much then: now I have, and I really like it. I don’t actually drop into it all that often, but when I do, it’s great: it lets me focus on a section, it levels up in an intelligent way (increasing in either difficulty or speed as I get better at a section, depending on what I’ve chosen), it shows me what notes I’m missing, it gets out of the way when I’m playing well enough. And it gives me enough knobs to turn that I can tune it to behave how I want in a given situation, and I can drop into it at a moment’s notice. So helpful for learning sections, and its ease of entry / use is also helpful in reducing mental barriers to deciding to do that kind of focused work.

The extra techniques that the game presents / recognizes are also appreciated: in retrospect, the original Rocksmith was noticeably farther from the original songs than I realized. Some of the differences are subtle (accented notes, vibrato); some less so (fret hand muting in particular makes a big difference, but there are also a handful of techniques that were only present in the original game on single notes and are now present on chords). And, while I can’t say that I want to get great at tapping (and my guitar probably isn’t hot enough to make it easy to tap well), I’m glad that the game at least tells me when that’s what the song is doing, some songs make a lot more sense.

And that whole previous paragraph applies to songs from the original Rocksmith and to pre-Rocksmith 2014 DLC, since they retrofit the notation to the older songs. I really appreciate the company treating its fans / previous library that way: they could very easily have not spent the time to retrofit the old songs with the notation for new techniques, but it’s there and super helpful.

Tuning is still a bit weird for me. I’m getting more used to recognizing when my strings are going, so I’m finding switching tuning less frustrating; but what is frustrating is that the game seems to always want me to tune flat. (Flat as measure both by my ears when playing along to the music and as measured by an electronic tuner.) I have no idea what’s going on there, but it happens consistently: I’ll pause to tune, it will automatically show the game’s interpretation of whether I’m flat or sharp, and it won’t match up with what the electronic tuner shows. Which, in practice, isn’t a big deal if I’m playing a bunch of songs in the same tuning (I’ll play one song where I’m maybe a little off and then I’ll tune with my own tuner and be fine for a while), but it adds extra friction if I’m dipping into a single song in an alternate tuning.

I complained last time that the game was freezing; happily, it hasn’t done that in ages, so I’m not worried about that at all any more. There are some bugs about it occasionally not remembering progress for songs (or, for newly downloaded songs, setting the difficulty to zero on the first playthrough), but the former only happens to me rarely and isn’t bad when it does happen and the latter has an easy workaround. (Go into Riff Repeater, select the whole song, set the difficulty up to a reasonable level, exit.) Still annoying, but I can deal, and it seems like they have a patch almost ready to go for that?

I guess that’s mostly it in terms of my current notes; I have a few more (the game hasn’t quite come to terms with navigating a 200-song library; I think it goes a little too far in trying to distinguish the lead guitar / rhythm guitar tracks); but that’s about it. Time for me to spend another month or so playing it (and in particular diving into Session Mode more) and then I’ll see if I can put something a little more coherent together.

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