Rocksmith, edutainment software from Ubisoft that teaches you how to play a real guitar under the guise of a Guitar Hero-esque game, now morphs into Rocksmith 2014, with an exciting new feature called Session Mode.
After hearing feedback from users, the Rocksmith developers decided to flesh out the tools surrounding their amp simulator. That led to the new Session Mode in Rocksmith 2014.
Ubisoft demoed the new game on the E3 show floor this week, and it's already clear how much work the developers put in to make this new edition a friendlier, more innovative experience for beginners and experts alike.
(Side note: it was great to hear the raucous guitar solo from Alice in Chains frontman Jerry Cantrell (above) at the Ubisoft event.)
Get the band together
The original Rocksmith had an amazing amp-simulation tool that allowed you to virtually mimic practically any guitar tone by changing various options. You could even change the position of a simulated microphone in front of your virtual amp cabinet.
However, as any musician knows, playing by yourself is quite a bit different than playing with a band. But bands are flaky. You never know when someone's going to disappear for greener pastures or because their day job got in the way.
When you open Session Mode, you can fill out the roster of a virtual 'band,' choosing a different instrument for each of four slots. In the demo we saw, a wide variety of drums, guitars, basses, and other instruments were available. Ubisoft also created a number of preset groups of instruments in genres--progressive rock, for instance.
Once you've created your perfect backing band, it's time to start jamming. This is where the mode gets really impressive. Rather than playing a preset track for you to play over, Ubisoft designed a new AI that dynamically generates a backing track based on your current style of play.
The resulting improvisations don't have the polished sound of a finished track, but they do sound a lot like a group of friends hanging out and playing music together.
And the instruments are smart. Start playing and the other instruments enter as if a band was gradually getting the feel of a new song. Strum harder and the other instruments will match your intensity. Stop playing, and the track will slowly come to a halt, the drums petering out like the drummer just realized everyone else had stopped playing.
The drummer even reacts appropriately if you speed up or slow down slightly, rather than robotically marching along like a metronome. You'll even hear drum fills thrown in at appropriate moments.
You have pretty granular control over your imaginary John, Paul, George, and Ringo; you can tweak how fast they play, what key they play in, what groove they fall into, and numerous other options. We'll see just how malleable the system is when the game comes out, but Ubisoft demoed four entirely unique sounds for us with no problem.
Gamification of education
As fun as Session Mode is to mess with, the game also teaches you how to be a better guitarist.
Whatever key you choose to play in, Rocksmith displays the appropriate frets at the bottom of the screen. It also has a meter that displays differently depending on whether you're playing harmonious or discordant notes. Ideally you'll get better at improvising just by experimenting with Session Mode.
While Session Mode seems amazing, the Ubisoft team also is working to bring lag as low as possible this time around and has put a lot of work into recurring game modes.
The company didn't share much about how learning songs works in the 2014 edition--the entire presentation we attended centered on Session Mode--but did say players will be able to tune the game to their own preferences--'more control' was a recurrent theme during the demo.
Ubisoft also confirmed if you bought the original Rocksmith your USB to ¼" cable will still work, so there's no need to buy another.
Whatever happens with the rest of the software, Session Mode is already worth the price. The original Rocksmith broke a lot of ground for music training software, and Rocksmith 2014 is poised to do the same.
Despite the name, you can pick up a copy of Rocksmith 2014 this coming October.