Gameplanet: What's your background, and how did you get involved in both music and gaming?
Jason Schroeder: I was a kid from a small town who loved video games and listening to, and talking about, music. I worked hard to pursue my dream of being a video game producer and that work paid off. When the opportunity came to work with music and musicians on games, my passions just lined up perfectly and I was drawn to produce a game like Rocksmith.
Gameplanet: Has it been hard to address the perception – largely based on the questionable educational value of products like Guitar Hero – that games can't teach musical instruments well?
Schroeder: We've had to convince a lot of people to "shut up and try it". When people play their first notes on a guitar and see that Rocksmith really works, a lot of those early misconceptions go away. From there, we can talk about all of Rocksmith’s amazing features that will help them learn guitar and bass.
Gameplanet: How have you kept new players engaged in the learning process particularly when it becomes repetitive?
Schroeder: Rocksmith recommends a breadth of activities and most of those recommendations are to introduce variety into your practice routine. Playing a variety of songs exposes players to wider play styles and forces them to try techniques out of their comfort zone. We have technique challenges to give you a chance to focus on a specific technique, like Slides. The challenge includes playing a song, but also video tutorials and detailed explanations beyond what you see during a song.
Rocksmith will also recommend that you play Guitarcade games. These are mini games that use the guitar as a more traditional means of video game input. By playing notes and techniques, players are controlling the Guitarcade game, but they are also practicing.
Gameplanet: Do you think it's possible that this style of electronic learning will become mainstream in music schools?
Schroeder: I hope so. Rocksmith certainly motivates guitarists to practice. The more time students spend with their instrument, the better they will get at it. I think educators that integrate Rocksmith with their traditional lessons will have a lot of success.
Gameplanet: How is this "Dynamic Difficulty" integrated into the product?
Schroeder: Dynamic Difficulty is one of the foundations of how you will learn Guitar and Bass with Rocksmith. As the player begins their Rocksmith journey, the first song will start by asking them to play just one note. It gives them plenty of time to find the correct fret and the correct string and get the timing right. If they have success hitting that note, then Rocksmith will add more notes. If they continue to have success the difficulty will continue to increase.
Whether someone is just beginning or an expert, this method gives everyone a chance to learn how to read the Rocksmith interface. The goal is to keep players challenged without overwhelming them. If a new player gets better with each practice session, they are much more likely to continue practicing, compared to a new player seeing a flurry of notes on the screen, and feeling hopeless.
Dynamic difficulty allows players to learn to read patterns in the notes so they can understand what they are reading when the song eventually levels up to the maximum, and players are now playing every note from the original song.
Gameplanet: Have you had complete freedom to design Rocksmith from scratch, or have you carried over some elements from other music titles that players will expect to see?
Schroeder: We've had complete freedom to make Rocksmith an original game. That's allowed us to prioritise the features that contribute directly to the experience of learning guitar and bass.
Since learning to play an instrument is really a lifelong journey, we tended to choose a style that's calmer. The game rarely shouts or has explosions that demand your attention. Rocksmith is kind of like a cool friend that likes to hang out and listen to you play, encourage you to try new things, and suggests songs that you'll probably like. I think that style is really unique.
Gameplanet: Players from the Australasian region will want to know why there's been such a huge delay in releasing this title down under?
Schroeder: We had to prove that Rocksmith really works and that there’s a market for a game that uses a real guitar. We’ve really beaten all expectations and hundreds of thousands of players can attest to how well it works.
Since Rocksmith launched in North America, we never really stopped working on it. We’ve added support for Bass guitar, made some improvements to our practice modes based on player feedback, as well as dozens of other improvements. All of those upgrades are included on disc in Australia.
Gameplanet: Has gaining song licensing for the game proven to be an easier proposition, given the track record of other music titles already on the market?
Schroeder: Early in the original development, the licensing was challenging. I think we had a challenge explaining that Rocksmith really works with any guitar and that the game involves the players own guitar sound. As we’ve been able to demonstrate how well Rocksmith works and as the world has started to understand what it is, licensing has become easier. It just doesn’t require as many demos as it used to.
Gameplanet: You've already released a Bass DLC in the US, where do you see the future of Rocksmith now?
Schroeder: So far, the Bass Expansion and the improvements we’ve made have largely been based on community feedback. Rocksmith is going to continue to grow based on what guitar players need. I think we’ll learn a lot when Rocksmith launches in Australia and the rest of the world. We are also going to get more feedback by expanding from an Xbox 360 and PS3 exclusive game to also include PC in October.