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I’ve been playing Rocksmith 2014 ever since it came out a year and a half ago, and I was playing its predecessor for a year before that; so obviously I like the game and the series a lot, and I imagine that I’ll still be playing it two and a half years from now. Or rather, I imagine that I’ll be playing some Rocksmith game a two and a half years from now; but, upgrading cycles being what they are, quite possibly it’ll be a new version of the game.

So here’s what I’d like in a hypothetical new version. I’m staying away from big ideas: Session Mode is great, but it’s far outside of the scope of what I would have been able to think about based on what I saw in the original Rocksmith, and I’m sure a hypothetical Rocksmith 2017 will have similar advances I can’t begin to dream of. Also, just to be clear: my baseline is that I think Rocksmith 2014 is extremely well done. So, for every aspect of the game I complain about, assume there are nine other aspects that I like just as much.

Some context on where I’m coming from: I like having the game throw random songs at me, and I like having a few songs that I’m actively working on; I’m happy to have the game give guidance in both of those areas. (I probably spend about 2/3 of my time in the former mode, and 1/3 of my time in the latter.) I have no interest in games as an attempt to make learning fun, though I’m willing to consider the virtues of games as teaching tools for other reasons. And my background is in classical music; so I’m most comfortable (and I most enjoy) playing songs as originally written, though I do appreciate support in improvisation, and I’m also more interested in the sound of the instrument and of my playing than in pedals.


With that in mind, my requests:

  • Let me give more granular ratings to songs, including a “never randomly show me this song” rating

Rock Band 3 got this right: you could rate a song with 1-5 stars, unrated songs showed up randomly with the same frequency as 3-star songs, and 1-star songs never show up randomly. It’s just as easy to use as Rocksmith‘s favorites mechanic, but it gives you a lot better random setlists. And, seriously: there are songs I never want to see in either Nonstop Mode or in at the top of Recommended sorting in Learn a Song.

  • Let me favorite/rate a song on the launch screen for the song

I’m much more likely to want to rate a song right after I’ve played it: but, in the modes that throw songs at me unpredictably (Nonstop Mode, Learn a Song Recommended), that’s the one place where I can’t rate a song. They’re not even doing anything with the Y button on the “done with a song” screen, so just let me use the Y button there! (Hmm, it’s been long enough that I’ve played Nonstop Mode, mostly because of tuning issues, that I can’t remember if you actually see that “done with a song” screen; but, if not I’m sure they can find a place to let me rate a song after finishing it.)

  • Don’t make me change tunings so frequently

I’m not arguing against alternate tunings: in fact, there’s tons of E flat DLC that I really like, to the point that I almost actively seek out E flat DLC. What I don’t like is changing tuning all the time: two songs in E, one in drop D, one more in E, two in E flat, three in E, etc. So once Nonstop Mode puts me in a tuning, I’d like to be able to stay in that tuning for a while; and I’d be totally happy with that meaning that two-thirds of my Nonstop Mode sessions were in E, a quarter were in E flat, a twelfth were in drop D, and that tuning was in place for all the songs in that session. (Or maybe ask me to change tunings every five songs, or something.) But, in practice, I’ve almost completely stopped playing Nonstop Mode, even though it’s the mode in the game that I’m arguably most temperamentally suited for, because I end up skipping songs that aren’t in E, and skipping all those songs makes the mode feel a lot less random.

This suggestion would, of course, make less sense in a context of on-disc content, because there aren’t enough songs in alternate tunings (except probably drop D) to fill up a Nonstop Mode session. But I’m not the only person out there with two discs of songs plus triple digits of DLC; and I imagine that there are people who feel the same way about drop D DLC that I do about E flat.

  • Non-440 tunings are super annoying

Like I said: I don’t like changing tunings between songs; but if a song isn’t tuned to a 440 A, then I’ll always have to change tunings every time I play it, because there won’t be two songs that both have that tuning. (Well, maybe not once I have thousands of songs, but we’re not there yet!) So those non-440 A songs are super annoying. Also, because of issues I have with the in-game tuner (see below), I have a hard time getting these songs in tune even when I am playing them: I prefer to use an external tuner to get my tuning right, and I can’t tell my tuner to set A to 447. (Or can I? Actually, looking at the back of the tuner I have, there are buttons to allow that! I should start using them…)

My understanding is that the developers realize this and have technology for bringing those songs into tune; some artists are willing to let them do that, and some art. And I’ll reluctantly agree that it’s better not to refuse to include those songs. But if there were something the developers could do to nudge artists to include their songs in normalized tunings, I’d really appreciate it.

I don’t have any great ideas for how to accomplish that goal, but here are a few.

  1. Give an option to include the same song in both normalized and non-normalized tunings: purists can play the latter, lazy people can play the former. Maybe there would be some artists who would be willing to include a normalized version as an option as long as the non-normalized version was available?
  2. Come up with metrics to give an idea of how much less songs in non-440 tunings are bought, and are played once they’ve been bought, to make clear what the artists would be giving up in terms of making their songs accessible by insisting on the original tuning. Hard to do, of course, because every song is unique, but maybe give stats by comparing stats for songs by the same artist: I’m sure I’m not the only person who plays the Jimi Hendrix pack songs in weird tunings a lot less than the songs in standard tunings. (Maybe break it down into E with 440 A / other tuning with 440 A / non-440 A, to isolate the effect of “non-E tuning”, which the game really can’t/shouldn’t do anything about, from the effect of “non-440 A tuning”.)
  3. Don’t include non-normalized songs that have a non-440 A on disc. (Or, if they adopt my first suggestion: don’t include the non-normalized version unless they can also include a normalized version.) There are only so many songs they can include on disc; they’ve made the right decision in not including songs that require a capo, and this feels like a similar decision to me.


  • The tuner doesn’t work as well as I’d like

I’m really not sure what’s going on here, and it’s possible that I’ve got bad hardware, but here’s my experience: the tuning for the bottom three strings is dependable, though sometimes I want D to be a bit sharper than the game wants. The tuning that the game gives me for G is super flat, though: I probably want it to be ten cents higher than the game wants. (Which is particularly problematic because the fine tuning mode for the game will tell me I’m out of tune if I’m more than ten cents off, and because the displayed tuning fluctuates; though once I’ve made it past the fine tuning stage, though, the game is fine with me tuning the string the way I want.) I want B to be a little sharper than the game tells me, but not as much as the G. And for the high E, I think the game’s tuning is basically fine; the issue there is that if I strum, the displayed tuning will jump up and down by about ten cents, and it barely displays a tuning for long enough on that string for fine tuning mode to give me a thumbs-up. (I realize that the high E string just doesn’t sustain as long, but I can hear it for a lot longer than fine tuning mode can.)

Note that this isn’t my ear preferring non-equal temperaments: the G string sounds out of tune if I use the game’s tuner and then play a practice track, and an external tuner that I have agrees with me that the game tunes G (and, to a lesser extent, B) too low. My current hypothesis is that the cable is slightly off (though the same cable worked fine with the original Rocksmith); I’m used to its quirks enough now (and can use the external tuner as a backup) that I haven’t spent the money to experiment with that.

  • I would happily pay money for a new model of the cable that let the game work better

I don’t have any specific complaints here about the cable, other than potentially the tuning issue above; but given the progress of technology, I imagine that the developers could make pitch / technique detection even better with an improved cable. Not that I actually want the game to count it as a note failure if I, say, don’t palm mute a string or don’t use enough vibrato! So maybe just improved pitch detection, including faster detection / feedback about whether I’m hitting bends and slides. At any rate, I would be totally happy to spend another $30 on a better cable, I’m not at all wedded to using the same cable I’ve been using since 2012.

  • Better handling of song arrangements

On the whole, I think that it’s good that Rocksmith 2014 lets you decide whether you prefer to play rhythm or lead; but, as somebody who generally follows the lead guitar track, on those few songs where Rocksmith chose a different arrangement than the primary lead guitar arrangement than Rocksmith 2014 has for a song, I always prefer Rocksmith‘s choice. Which is fine, that doesn’t mean the arrangement shouldn’t default to the arrangement that the lead guitarist is playing on the actual track, but if there’s another arrangement that I personally prefer, let me flag it that way! (And also don’t insist that I play a more boring arrangement so I can get past the song in the Recommended list.)

Just as importantly: make it easy for me to switch between different arrangements for a song. When I find a song that I’m interested in, I often want to dive into it: so let me explore all the different lead / rhythm (and even bass) arrangements for that song from the same screen, instead of having to switch modes and then find the song again.

And, finally: if a song only has a rhythm part or only has a lead part, then let me play it even if I’m in the wrong mode. It turns out that there are a few songs I bought for the original game that don’t have lead parts: now they’re just mocking me at the end of my Learn a Song list, and if I want to play them, I’ll have to note down the names of the songs and then switch modes.

All complaints aside, I do appreciate having distinct lead / rhythm paths: I spent a couple of months recently exploring the rhythm side, and I’m glad I did. I just wish the boundary were more porous.

  • Pick goals that fit my play/learning style better

The game really thinks I should spend a lot of time on basic lessons and on the guitar games; maybe I would benefit more from that, but I’m generally not at all interested. So what that means in practice is that, the first time I play a song, I’ll clear all three “Rocksmith recommends” items; then I’ll get three new ones, and I’ll clear one that’s about improving my numbers (longer streak / higher mastery), one that’s about doing a section in riff repeater, and I’ll just let the third one sit there indefinitely.

Basically: I don’t want to be told to do a 101-level lesson that I’ve already gotten 100% on: I assure you, I’m not going to get much out of going over the Sustains 101 lesson again. I don’t want to be told do do a random guitarcade game. And I definitely do not want to be told to do score attack at any difficulty less than Hard: if there’s a section or two of the song that I haven’t gotten to purple (the solo, say), then that requires me to play stripped down versions of sections that I’m very solid on, and that’s just boring.

I like the top-level goals more: I particularly appreciated the encouragement to go through Session Mode and to play around with tones. But mostly I focus on the goal that asks me to play one specific songs: and, most of the time, it’ll quickly get to where it requests a song that I don’t want to play (usually because of tuning reasons), and then it will stay stuck on that request. (On the Xbox One version, it even stays stuck when I press the console off button: the game just treats that as a pause.)

Honestly, this one really isn’t that big a deal: I can just ignore the recommendations. The main issue there is that, if you don’t do recommended items, then it takes a lot longer to unlock stuff: in fact, there are still songs on disc that I haven’t unlocked.

  • Master Mode tweaks

The way Master Mode works in Rocksmith 2014 is clearly better than Master Mode in its predecessor: before, I felt like I was being dropped into the deep end. Having said that, there’s one aspect of its predecessor that I do miss in the 2014 version: after playing through a song in Master Mode, you got to watch a replay of yourself but with the notes visible, so you could see what you missed. That was a great learning tool, and I’d like a way to get it back in Rocksmith 2014 for songs that I am working on mastering as a whole.

I’m not 100% sure how that would work in practice, admittedly. I think the only way you can actually force the game into Master Mode for an entire song is in Score Attack; I don’t like Score Attack, but I can deal with the distraction level as long as I turn down the sound effects, and maybe being able to review the song after a playthrough would fit okay thematically in that mode?

The other way in which Master Mode is a bit off is how it handles similar but not identical sections: being in Master Mode (at least once the notes have disappeared completely) makes it harder to learn the differences between those sections, which can be frustrating. I went through a phase in More Than a Feeling where I didn’t know the notes for one variant of the harmonics but did for the others, so I’d completely mess up in that section, then the game would realize that I’d need to see more notes, then it would show me notes for sections I already knew, and then the notes would disappear again right when I got to the section in which I didn’t know the notes to play!

  • Notation tweaks

The notation is quite good in general, but there are two changes I would make. The first is pitch bends: I would have a consistent story on whether the high part of the bent track means the string should be bent or unbent, whereas its actual meaning shifts depending on which string you’re playing. (Which, in practice, means that my expectations are trained by the top three strings, because that’s a significant majority of the bends, and I have to remind myself to behave differently on the bottom three strings.) Maybe the game’s notation makes sense on the notation on the fretboard on the bottom of the strings, but that’s rarely where my eyes are.

The other is palm mutes versus frethand mutes: despite the similar names, those seem to me quite different techniques both physically and aurally, but the game’s notation is almost identical. I wish the game used, say, an o instead of an x to notate one of them, instead of making me remember which width of x is which.

Also, sometimes the orange string looks pretty red to me, especially when it’s asking me to play an open string. (And no, I’m not color-blind.) Maybe this is just a gold dress / blue dress thing, though.

  • Riff Repeater tweaks

Riff Repeater mode is very good, but it’s still not quite in-depth enough for me. If I’m playing a tricky passage on the piano, I’ll stare at a single measure, try out a few different fingerings, and then play them over and over again until I get something that works. But Riff Repeater doesn’t let me do that: it doesn’t let me freeze a section of notes to just look at it, and it doesn’t let me go down to a single-measure granularity.

In fact, sometimes the granularity goes way too far in the other direction: I don’t understand why the game doesn’t let you select each phrase in a song independently, why it sometimes (not often, and admittedly less often in newer songs than older ones) forces you to group phrases for review. E.g. in Anna Molly, there’s one section of the song that’s far harder than any other part of the song, and Riff Repeater forces me to play four phrases in a row, when each of those phrases is more than hard enough to deserve individual study.

Also, I prefer to put Riff Repeater in “no errors” mode, but I generally find phrases difficult to pass if they involve lots of bends. Some of that’s on me, surely, but some of that is, I think, on the cable not quickly picking up on pitch changes, so it takes a while to decide that a bent note (or a slide) is accurate. Maybe they’ll need a new cable to fix that, but it seems like making the mode be more forgiving would help?

  • Remember my skill level across iterations of the game

I expected it to be annoying to have to start all over again when I switched from the 360 version to the Xbox One version of Rocksmith 2014, but actually it wasn’t so bad, and I even kind of appreciated having my play counts reset. But having the game dumb down the difficulty level for the first couple dozen songs was pretty annoying, so please at least remember my basic skill level. (And probably remember my level on individual phrases of songs, if that’s not too hard to accomplish.)

  • Less lag in the UI

The Xbox One version spends a pretty long time going through downloaded content every time you launch it, and during that process it mostly refuses to let you play songs even if the songs are ones that are on disc or otherwise validated. So please speed up the validation and make it non-blocking.

Also, even when I’ve made it past that initial validation, if I jump between songs (e.g. from the start to the end of a list in Learn a Song), it takes the game a while to load something, and it won’t let me start playing a song while waiting. From a user perspective, it looks like the game is loading the album art for the songs on the part of the list that’s on screen (and, in particular, the album art all shows up right when it lets me go into the song); if that’s where the delay is coming from, then that’s a very bad reason to delay loading the song. (I’m not actually convinced that that’s where the delay is coming from, though, it’s conceivable that it’s waiting on something more important.)


Seriously, though, all whining aside: it’s a great game: I’m only complaining because I spent so much time with the game: if I hadn’t spent as many hundreds of hours with the series, I wouldn’t have these little issues to talk about.

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