Thursday, November 10, 2011

Music video game provides realistic guitar experience

By Stewart Berg, Guest Writer

The music video game genre has recently found itself in a downturn with the wavering popularity of its two largest franchises, Guitar Hero and Rock Band. However, the recently released Rocksmith and its groundbreaking ability to be played with a real guitar may signal a genre rebirth.

From my observations, the genre’s history has been largely characterized by significant innovations followed by a waning lack of interest as the innovation’s formula remained largely unchanged. Most recently, the Guitar Hero franchise brought such an innovation to the genre in 2005. Despite minor tweaks to the formula both within the franchise and in other similar ones, such as the Rock Band series, the genre’s games all largely followed the same rubric that was so revolutionary in 2005, and consumer interest began diminishing as a result.

Rocksmith may provide the genre with the next innovation it so desperately needs.

A problem that has always plagued the music-based video game is the fact that no matter how realistic the plastic instruments become, they can never be the same as their real instrument counterpart. In response to this, Rocksmith is designed to be played with a real guitar. At its release, the feature was largely restricted to electric guitars since the game requires the guitar to have a 6.35 millimeter output jack in order to play. The use of an acoustic guitar is not impossible, although it does require that the guitar have a pickup – hardware that allows an instrument to be amplified electronically.

With the advent of requiring a real instrument to play comes the natural hurdle of catering to players who do not already play guitar. Rocksmith seeks to overcome this difficulty by directing a large amount of its content at these players. One focus of Rocksmith is to actually teach the user how to play the guitar.

As learning tools, Rocksmith utilizes a large number of enjoyable and addicting mini-games. The mini-games feature such seemingly inane aspects as Galaga-like alien killing while teaching such imperative tools as fret placement and scale patterns. There are also similar teaching tools directed at more advanced players, though the focus remains on more inexperienced players.

Rocksmith features a base of 48 songs taken from the classics of David Bowie and The Rolling Stones as well as from more modern bands such as Franz Ferdinand and Kings of Leon.

Ultimately, Rocksmith as a game is limited to its innovation. Its menus and presentation are extremely bare when compared to its competition in the genre. The game also suffers in that an experienced guitar player may find the game to be too easy or simplistic. However, as a tool for teaching the guitar to inexperienced players, the game is superb.

Rocksmith was released for the Xbox 360 and PS3 Oct. 18 and for PC Dec. 13.