Play Real Guitar On Your PS3 With Rocksmith

My name is Paul Cross and I am the Creative Director on the Rocksmith Team. My previous projects include Burnout, Skate and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle – and I want give you a little bit of background on Rocksmith, a music game that lets you plug a real guitar into your PS3 and play along to a great list of well-known rock songs when it comes to Europe this September.


The project started in early 2008 when Ubisoft started talking to a company called Game Tank. These guys had a tech demo that allowed the player to plug in any real guitar into a PS3, and the game would tell them if they were playing the right notes at the right times. Ubisoft liked the demo so much that they bought the company!

When Nao Higo, Sr. Producer and I first started on what was to become Rocksmith in October 2009, it was a tech demo called ‘Guitar Rising’ that featured sideways scrolling tablature and a number of difficulty levels you could select from. Here’s a promo vid of Guitar Rising from way back in the day:

Neither of us had ever played the guitar, so the tablature was completely alien to us. The numbers being fired from right to left were not too hard to read when we were playing in ‘Very Easy’ mode, but it was damn near impossible on the higher difficulty levels. We knew we had to make something accessible to non-players, like ourselves, that didn’t require prior knowledge to start playing.

I was handed a guitar and Smoke on the Water in ‘Very Easy’ was started up.  I waited for my first note and a red 3 appeared on the screen -  3, wait, wait, wait, 3, wait, wait, wait, 3… I could play that, but it soon became apparent that playing the ‘Very Easy’ mode for all four minutes of the song was, well, boring.


So I cranked it up to the next difficulty and a new layer of problems appeared.  Reading the numbers and translating them to my amateur fingers was incredibly hard.  And that was on the ‘Easy’ as opposed to Very Easy setting. I struggled with this for a while until I got the neutered main riff sounding ok – then the solo came!  WTF?!  12, 11, 13, 11, 10, 12,11,10,13,10,10,13… – I didn’t even know where these were on the guitar, and bear in mind they were all on different strings too.


The problems we found with scrolling tablature were:

You have to learn what it is -it’s a language, not a visual clue system. It’s not hard for guitarists to learn, but you still have to do it.
It’s very hard to read numbers when they move quickly.
They do not show the flow of your fingers or hand position so there’s very little anticipation. That’s OK if you already know how to play the guitar and the song, but no good if you’re learning

I turned to Nicholas Bonardi (Sr. Audio Designer) and asked how he would show someone how to play. He points at the guitar and says “stick your finger here and pluck… now!” – I did, and sounded the note cleanly.

“That’s what the interface needs to say,” I concluded; “it has to point at your guitar and tell you to pluck… now.”

We determined that using a 3D interface would be the way forward and set to work designing how this would behave. Here is the original sketch from my notebook and the presentation slide from our first creative brief… which was not final art ;)

Rocksmith original sketches 001ppt_mockup

We started by showing the fretboard of the guitar and creating a 3D timeline approaching it – the notes have to be in 3d as well so that the timing of when they reach the fretboard is accurate. Stems or ‘stalks’ were added to the notes to plant them in their lanes and rotation was added to improve visibility of long streams of notes, and as secondary timing information for when to play.

Here’s a concept mock-up exploring different ways of displaying the notation we required.  Note the numbers under the fretboard – these were later moved on to the note highway and actually match the numbers found in tablature, so by playing Rocksmith, you will gain the knowledge of how to read tablature without even realising it.


Here is an early in-game prototype that was built in just two months by a team of six people – an engineer, an audio designer, an audio engineer, a producer, an artist and me.


And here is a screenshot of the finished product:


The journey of making Rocksmith was fraught with issues, just like all game development.  We came to it knowing what sort of experience we were going to make, but because it was such a new take on something seemingly established, people were scared.  Luckily for us, we were creating an experience that could speak for itself and, once people got it in their hands and found themselves playing the lead line to Satisfaction on a guitar they had never touched, their fears were dismissed and Rocksmith was embraced with an excitement that has really driven the awards, success and determination of the Rocksmith Team.

Rocksmith is to release on PS3 in September 2012 and comes with a special lead that lets you connect any electric guitar to your PS3 via USB. You can find out more and peruse the tracklist over on the official website.

0 Author replies
Carnivius_Prime 16 March, 2012 @ 12:11

I was wondering what was going on with all this when I saw it some time ago. I never much cared for all the Guitar Hero/Rock Band stuff purely because it just felt like a tedious tap-tap overpriced gimmick game rather than a proper music-themed game. The option to use a proper guitar on this is something that does interest me though. I had to sell my old electric guitar a few years ago for rent (and recently bought an acoustic) but I’ve got a friend with a spare electric I can borrow if need be.


Sounds like a good idea. I just happened to pick up my guitar when I came to the blog.

I have a 7 string guitar. I take it the full game won’t support say, 7 string, 8 string & 12 string?

They finally resolved the name dispute then? I was looking at getting this when it came out in the US but the delay in a Euro release has been painful.

This looks pretty awesome, I did love rockband/guitar hero, but being able to play a game with friends, and show off what you have learned later on away from the console sounds even better. I wonder how long it will take existing guitar players to pick up and get used too.

Also, will there be bass support? I have a bass hanging around that I always said I’d get around to learning but I was always too busy with my guitars.

Guessing there will be a feature to help you get tuned up, but if not, make sure you add one! :)

Carnivius_Prime 16 March, 2012 @ 12:26

Also I just like the idea that you won’t just have big plastic ‘guitar’ controllers laying about cluttering up your home only used for one type of game. It’s your actual guitar you play real music on and take to gigs or class or whatever. Not saying I want to be able to plug a real gun into a PS3 to play light gun games though. :P

YES, a release date! I have been waiting for this game for ages. Hopefully it will include maybe some of the current DLC that is available in the USA or maybe bass support.

Pure_Mind_Games 16 March, 2012 @ 13:34

Excellent, can’t wait

Now THAT is simply brilliant!

Using gaming to actually learn playing an instrument. I hope the creators will get all gaming awards in the world :)

This is awesome!! I can’t believe this has gone under my radar!

I can’t wait to hook up my guitar to this game. Maybe I’ll finally learn how to play it.

i can see ubisoft getting sued for this, from what i read the case has not been settled at all. you can not just steal a bands name its so wrong, they should of called it guitar smith

CrazedRacerGuy 16 March, 2012 @ 23:54

I’ve had this game since launch on 360… You would not believe how much you can learn from this “game”. My guitar playing skill has increased DRAMATICALLY since buying this game. I have about 200 hours in and went from playing “campfire rock” (strumming chords to match, loosely, a song)to playing full songs through the solos and all. It’s wonderful. I HIGHLY recommend this game if you have the patience and the desire to play guitar. I play little else these days. My only warning is that once you start playing, one guitar (or 2, or 3, or 6), is not enough.


I’ve never played any of the guitar hero or similar games like this before as I can’t read music or play any instruments, so this sounds brilliant. The fact it’s been made accessible to non-musicians like myself is excellent.

However I do have one major problem i.e. Although I love the idea of plugging in a real guitar, rather than a plastic fake monstrosity, and possibly being able to learn or improve your guitar p[laying skills through the game, the trouble is that being a non-musician I don’t actually own a guitar or know anyone who does. I assume this means I would have to go out and buy an actual guitar? which I can’t afford. Hell I can barely afford games nowadays, let alone extra things like that to accompany them. Where does that leave me in relation to being able to play this game or not?

TheBrotherHeroes 18 March, 2012 @ 06:40

I want this! : )

Ok everybody I have had this game since xmas and have played guitar for years on and off… forgot a lot of music this “GAME” re teached me songs the right way the first time and adapts to your skill leavel. just wish they would add more songs like every week… if you want to learn to play guitar get this “GAME” its awsome really

Carnivius_Prime 18 March, 2012 @ 09:49

Was just wondering. Does this game work alright with an acoustic guitar using a pick up?

snowboarder1080 18 March, 2012 @ 21:15

I have been using Rocksmith since Nov of 2011. Initially, I used an acoustic guitar with a pick up. It does not work well with a mic pick up. There is feed back. It does work with a direct electronic pick up. I bought an electric guitar after about a month. It works better with the electric guitar. I am essentially a beginner although I have played for several years. After getting Rocksmith my abilities have improved significantly. I enjoy learning all the new songs. In general, it is well designed and works well. There are some aggravating problems with the menu, constant need to tune, and the riff repeater and chord book need to be redesigned. Given these problems, I think this is a great game and highly recommend it.

niksuti-niko 18 March, 2012 @ 21:34

Finally! I’ve been waiting for this for about 6 months! So stoked at the moment, can’t wait… :D
I’m just hoping there will be much DLC!

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