Rocksmith has always marketed itself as the alternative to Guitar Hero: a game which works with, and actually teaches you to play, a real guitar. But it’s been out almost a year now, despite never making it to Australia, and never making it to PC. Now it’s set to change both those things when it launches here this Friday. We sat down with Jason Schroeder, producer on Rocksmith, to talk all things PC.
GON: It’s been almost a year since Rocksmith came out on consoles. Why the PC delay, and has the extra development time given you a chance to change anything you really wanted to get changed?
Jason: Well I think the main reasons for the general delay have been that we needed to prove that Rocksmith had a market, and that it worked. And so since that has been a success and we’ve definitely exceeded people’s expectations, we’ve been able to spend the last year engineering, tweaking the game based on what people are asking for — better practice modes, we’ve changed our riff-repeater based on community feedback, to include more manual control of mastery and more manual control of the speed at which a phrase plays back.
We’ve also integrated new languages, we’ve added Italian, German, Dutch and Japanese. And we’ve been getting the PC version going, getting hardware up and figuring out how to get the audio cards to play back at no or very low latency with our RealTone cable.
I think the time has been well worth it, hopefully everyone getting the worldwide release of PC and the Australian version on top of it, they’re going to be happy that they’re getting the latest and ultimate edition of Rocksmith.
GON: Definitely. So when you say you had to wait to see if there was a market for it, does that mean that the PC is more difficult to establish a demand for, as opposed to the console market?
Jason: Well, I think that, in general, we had to prove that there was a market for people that wanted to play really good guitar, whether it was PC or otherwise. Personally I think that the PC version of the game is really going to beat everybody’s expectations again. I think there’s a lot of guitar players out there that have guitars in their households and also have PC’s in their households and who aren’t necessarily gamers but they are interested in interacting with their music in a new way. I think the PC version is going to defy everybody’s expectations that it will be only a small percentage of the sales.
GON: Given this extra dev time, are there any extra songs or content included in the PC version that console users have had to get as DLC for example?
Jason: Well, due to licensing we really can’t change the set list. So it’s the same setlist, but you get the benefit of having a year’s worth of DLC all ready and updated, so you’ll be able to build your own setlist from day one. All of that DLC is going to be available on PC.
GON: So is there any advantage to the PC as a platform when you’re delivering DLC to players? Companies often talk to us about PC games being easier to update and certainly the certification costs are less. Is this something you intend to take advantage of? Can you see DLC being released faster?
Jason: It’s all going to follow about the same pace, probably. The ability to have it pushed live faster is great but it still takes us a couple weeks to take a song from just audio to something that can be played along with. So we’ll still have our own internal limiting factor there. That said, PC as a platform and Steam as a partner really does give us a lot of flexibility in being able to update the game, get fixes in. I think PC hardware being where it is – PC players are going to enjoy shorter load times, quicker save times, really smooth performing games… it’s just a pleasure to play it on PC.
GON: Will PC users have the ability to use their music libraries to upload any of their own songs, and play around with them, even in a freestyle fashion? Something you’ve considered?
Jason: I’d love to be able to do that, but I think that for us the way that we work with our music licenses is that is’t not feasible at this time. We try to get enough music on there so that people can enjoy a certain style of music and learn certain techniques through Rocksmith. But we also have ‘amp mode’, which is a section of the game where you can just play whatever you want, there’s no backing song. You can set over 70 pieces of accurately modelled guitar gear as part of this mode, you can configure your own tone and play along with whatever you want.
Audio on PC isn’t necessarily locked to Rocksmith so if you wanted to stream a different song in the background (with another application) and then play over the top of it, you certainly could do that. As far as importing tracks, not at this time.
GON: Does the bass expansion come included?
Jason: Yeah! The bass expansion, while it’s been a year in development on that as well, has just recently been released as DLC in the States, but on PC it’s going to be released already built in worldwide. Part of the game too is that if you don’t have a bass guitar we have what we call ‘emulated bass’ where you’ll be able to play bass arrangements just using the four thickest things on the guitar. We just pitch that through one of our pitch-shift pedals to pitch it down an octave and it sounds like a bass guitar.
GON: There was some criticism from the console version in that it didn’t go far enough in actually teaching you guitar for example — it doesn’t teach you to read music was one of the main complaints. Has there been any change in this regard?
Jason: I think that is actually kind of just opposed to what we’re trying to do philosophically. Ultimately, Rocksmith is still a game. It’s not a piece of edutainment software. We don’t want people to have to get bogged down in learning how to read music or to learn music theory beyond what’s required to play the game.
So it’s a fair comment that Rocksmith doesn’t teach you to read music, sure. But we do teach you to read Rocksmith’s UI. We’re just a game that’s teaching you how to play guitar. Whenever the decision has come up across the team — and you know that happens often, where musicians on staff are like “Hey, this is an opportunity to teach people music theory!” — we’re like “Okay, but is it fun?” and “Is it necessary, or is it enough to just give people what they need to get through?” And if the answer to both of those is “no”, then I don’t think we really want it in the game.
GON: So you envision that people will be inspired by Rocksmith to go and pursue that sort of knowledge on their own?
Jason: Absolutely! And that’s what we’re seeing happen. I think that you learn to play enough with Rocksmith but maybe you just don’t sound exactly right or maybe we’re not releasing the sort of music you want or fast enough and you have players starting to research on their own. I think Rocksmith teaches people a lot about what they can Google! You learn a lot about what you can search for on YouTube about wanting to learn more.
I think as a gateway to larger guitar learning, we send people on a journey which is really individual experience. For some people Rocksmith is enough, for others they end up getting a tutor as well, or other maybe just buying books or teaching themselves to read tabs or learn songs that we don’t’ offer yet.
GON: Do you play guitar yourself?
Jason: I didn’t, before Rocksmith!
GON: And now you’re a wizard?
Jason: (laughs) I am a… journeyman. I’m able to spend pretty much every Saturday morning with Rocksmith, I can spend some time with it in the office but as a producer a lot of my time is spent on spreadsheets, email etc, so I don’t get to play it there as much as I want but it is truly a game that I play at home in my personal time and I enjoy it. I’m playing guitar now for a year and I feel like I’ve done well, and now I’m learning the bass and honestly it’s a fun new challenge just understanding where those frets are and the difference in sort of being the driving rhythm of a song rather than the lead that plays on top. It’s a very different feeling instrument.
GON: You said before that it plays a lot more smoothly, faster loading times, etc. Generally PC gamers expect a certain level of increased graphical fidelity on their games — in fact they get very angry when it’s not there! Does Rocksmith have anything in this regard?
Jason: The game definitely looks nicer on PC. We have the ability to throttle the graphics to make sure you get the performance you want, but at the same time I’ll qualify that by saying that Rocksmith has never really been a graphical powerhouse. We’re not going to be demonstrating the beautiful landscapes that Far Cry 3 does for example. For us it’s really zbout the music. We have little tweaks in there that make the PC game a little bit better — for example, particule effects are nicer — but ultimately it’s about making sure that frame rate is maintained and the audio fidelity is there.
GON: So what does Rocksmith offer, in terms of audio fidelity, for users who have splashed out on a sweet sound card?
Jason: There’s a number of settings that you can tweak, and there’s going to be a whole FAQ doc as well about our audio hardware and the different settings you can configure to make sure that you are getting the lowest possible latency. We’ve been able to get down to less than 25 ms latency, so it’s really really, really low — imperceptible to nearly 100% of people. What we can do is give you the ability to run in audio exclusive or non-exclusive modes to give you a little bit of control over how much audio buffer you’re allowing the game to take.
We found that those that did drop some serious cash on serious audio systems, Rocksmith would actually eat all of it up. It actually — it was kind of dangerous, it was taking too long to get out the other end. So giving you the option to customise how much buffer Rocksmith audio takes is one of the configurable options that we have on PC.
GON: PC gamers have also come to expect some level of DRM from Ubisoft titles. Can you talk to us about what sort of DRM will come with Rocksmith?
GON: Steam only?
Jason: That’s it.
GON: Well… I was expecting that question to be a lot tougher.
Jason: (laughs) I gave you the shortest possible answer. We looked at all that sort of stuff, but really, we have a barrier to entry already with needing to own a guitar and needing the Rocksmith cable. I mean, we are exclusive to that cable. So we have that protection level. You can’t just buy any cable. But if you have the Rocksmith RealTone cable and you’re using Steam, you’ll have no problems at all.
GON: What’s your favourite part of Rocksmith?
Jason: I think that one of the things love most is just the community that has sprung up around Rocksmith. The Rocksmith players that exist now I think are going to grow and be an even more international community — the community really has been the most positive group of people on the internet (other than the guys who just shout “More metal” over and over again, but that’s just part of making music games), people who genuinely really want other people to learn to play guitar, that’s really been a nice thing.
To read about and see when someone says ‘Hey I just got my first guitar and I’m having trouble with this or that’, and you know there’s a lot of complications that come with having a real instrument in more than what Rocksmith can intuit’. So it’s great having a group of people out there that are interested in seeing Rocksmith succeed, in seeing new guitar players succeed, in really being supportive. I am looking forward to having Australians be part of that community, and I think that if everyone keeps helping and encouraging each other, then a lot of people are going to learn to play guitar. And that’s great.
Rocksmith will be available on Steam for $64.99 on Friday October 19.