Outtake from ‘This Video Game Solved The Problem of Learning Guitar’ #1: Rocksmith’s origins

Note: this is an outtake from a longer story for Backchannel, This Video Game Solved The Problem of Learning Guitar, published on 4 May 2015. This outtake concerns the origins of the first Rocksmith game.

The game’s origins are in a prototype title named Guitar Rising, which was created by independent development studio Game Tank and exhibited at the Game Developers Conference of 2008. There, a reporter for the website Destructoid demoed the game’s innovative guitar-to-USB dongle while playing the Metallica track ‘Enter Sandman’ and was impressed, noting, “While it’s not necessarily designed to turn you into a guitar god overnight, from our short time with it, it really seemed like a product that could boost dexterity.”

While searching for a publisher, the Game Tank developers visited Ubisoft, where Paul Cross was working as manager of the studio’s game design group, evaluating third-party products and critiquing their designs. “They’d brought this product in, which was scrolling guitar tab; it literally had numbers scrolling across the screen,” he recalls. “The cool thing was that it recognised the guitar input and then told you whether you were playing it right or not.” In the meeting, Cross — who had no experience with actual guitars — found that he was bored while playing Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’ on the easy setting, but couldn’t keep up with the stream of notes once the difficulty was amped up. Afterwards, Cross said to his colleagues, “Man, the idea of this is so frickin’ cool, but it’s not sexy.”

Still, Ubisoft decided to acquire Game Tank and its proprietary guitar-to-USB technology, but Guitar Rising remained dormant for another year, until Cross became creative director of the San Francisco studio in 2009. He and his team were itching for a challenge, and campaigned for the opportunity to build prototypes of some of the game ideas that the publisher owned. When Guitar Rising was mentioned by his boss, Laurent Detoc, Cross jumped at the chance. “We were quite mouthy, so before we said, ‘No, we don’t know anything about guitar,’ we bit our tongues and said, ‘Let us come back to you on that’,” he recalls. Within a short period of time, Cross says, “We had the first-person [perspective], notes coming down the noteway, dynamic difficulty, and representations of chords; we had proof that this was going to work. It was a video game, and the guitar was just another controller — it just happens to be a little more complex, and a little more intimidating.”

Click here to read the full story for Backchannel, This Video Game Solved The Problem of Learning Guitar, published on 4 May 2015.

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