Forge Your Own Guitar Skills With Ubisoft’s Rocksmith

Ubisoft has figured out a way for people to learn to play a real electric guitar using videogames.

The highly anticipated game, called Rocksmith, comes out on Oct. 18. Many are expecting it to fill a void in the music game genre, after big hit titles like Guitar Hero and Rock Band took a nose dive.

The game — which will be available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 — will cost $80, including a cable to connect the guitar and the console. A bundle including the game, the cable and a full-size Les Paul Junior electric guitar costs $200.

Rocksmith will be sold through all the normal channels and at Guitar Center.

In an interview, Rocksmith creative director Paul Cross told me that Ubisoft’s San Francisco office has been working on the title for about two years, after acquiring a company called GameTank.

The technology allows the guitar to be plugged into the console with one cord, and turns the TV into an amplifier. At that point, everything becomes digital, from tuning the guitar to creating different distortions with various pedals that consumers would normally have to pay for separately.

The game can accommodate users of all levels. To start, there are simple practice games that allow users to shoot ducks by hitting the right combination of strings. Or they can jump right into playing a song. The game will dynamically adjust, based on the number of correct notes a player hits. If they make too many mistakes, fewer notes come down the screen; if they do well, the complexity quickly ramps up.

If some parts of the song continue to stump you, there’s a practice mode option, where the game will break it down note by note. To keep it in the spirit of a game, players only have five chances, or “lives,” to keep from getting frustrated.

The interesting part is that, unlike other music games, there’s no beginner or expert mode — it’s all the same song, no matter who is playing. As players become more accomplished, they get more points, unlock new songs, and the crowd watching them grows in size.

The ultimate achievement is playing in “master mode,” which means you are playing from memory. In that mode, you get double the points.

Cross, who never played guitar until 18 months ago when he first started on the project, says he has been challenged to play Radiohead’s “High and Dry” at the company’s next work party — on stage and without the help of the game.

Despite what some critics say, Cross argues that the music genre hasn’t petered out. If Rock Band 3, which is considered a failure, managed to sell a million copies to the most hardcore fans, that’s still a success. “If we do a million units, and people say we failed, I’ll be OK with that,” he said.

Here’s a video of Cross demonstrating the game by rocking out — fittingly, in a Seattle hotel room — to Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” I do most of the talking, since playing the game, the guitar and talking to me at the same time is asking a little too much.

Who knows? Maybe that will someday be considered super master mode.


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