The Rock Band 3 Pro Guitar initiative has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and while the general idea of “play a real guitar in Rock Band” sounds incredibly awesome, a lot of people have wanted to know more about the design and specifics of how Rock Band 3 will help turn you into a real guitarist. I asked Sylvain Dubrofsky, Senior Designer in charge of everything Rock Band Pro, to fill in the details.
So Sylvain: What kind of hardware will people need to play Pro Guitar?
We have two really exciting new hardware pieces that people can use to play Pro Guitar. The first is the Rock Band 3 Wireless Fender Mustang PRO-Guitar Controller, made by Mad Catz. It features 17 rows rows of buttons and six strings. Take a look:
Mad Catz Rock Band 3 Fender Mustang PRO-Guitar Controller
The buttons on this controller act as strings that are pushed down to the frets on a normal guitar.
The second piece of hardware that people can use is the Rock Band 3 Squier by Fender Stratocaster. This is an actual guitar with six strings and 22 frets that can be plugged into any amp like a normal guitar. However, this guitar is special. Similar to the button guitar, built into this guitar is technology that allows the game to know which strings your left hand are pushing and which strings your right hand has plucked. This is very important, as you’ll see later. Take a look at the Rock Band 3 Squier by Fender Stratocaster:
Rock Band 3 Fender Squier Stratocaster Real Guitar
We feel that between these two models, we have something for anyone who is looking to take the next step in connecting with music in Rock Band 3. One final note, both guitars output MIDI if you are interested in that.
These guitars work for both Pro Guitar and Pro Bass?
Yep! We’ve talked about a dedicated bass guitar but at this time it’s probably not in the players' best interest. Having only four bass strings would make it impossible to play most of the guitar parts.
How does this new hardware work in the game?
I think this is best answered by talking a little bit about the process and our goals and then getting into the specifics. Our initial design goals were to have some number of Pro Guitar and Pro Bass songs in Rock Band 3 that are playable, possibly in their own special mode. Maybe we wouldn’t show all the notes or chords, but everything we did show would be correct. However, after many months of work, we felt confident enough with our results that we got a more ambitious set of goals:
Rock Band 3 Pro Guitar Design Goals
- Every song in Rock Band 3 is playable on Pro Guitar and Pro Bass.
- The Pro Guitar and Pro Bass work like every other instrument in every mode in the game.
- Every note is the correct note played at the correct place on the neck.
- On Expert, we put in all the chords and notes, so the song is charted note-for-note.
- We have all four difficulties (Easy, Medium, Hard, Expert) represented in a way that makes sense (more on this later).
There is an enormous amount of information that guitar players process, and showing that in real-time while giving players tools to get better were the main challenges we faced.
What does this look like in the game?
Let’s start from the top. Here’s a song in Rock Band 3 on played on Easy Pro Guitar:
Pro Guitar on Easy
The track is aligned so the largest strings are on the left side of the track (or if you are using the Mustang PRO-Guitar Controller – the buttons closest to you). Notes that you have to hit scroll down the track on the string you need to pluck. These two notes are on the fattest string (the E-string) due to their location and color. The number indicates that you must hold down the first fret and then the third fret and pluck the string with your right hand as it crosses the blue line.
One other small detail to note, the top part of the notes is shifted (1 is on the left side and 3 is on the right). We do this when notes are close so you have an idea of where the notes are heading and so they are more readable in fast songs.
Now on Easy, you will only see single notes. On Medium, we start introducing chords where appropriate. Here’s that same song on Medium:
Pro Guitar on Medium
There’s a lot to check out here, so let’s talk about one element at a time. Chords cover more than one string and have a unique color. The first chord in a series also has a name, F5 and G5 in this example. Let’s look closer at a chord itself:
Close-up on chord
The number on a chord tells you where to put your index finger. It’s always the lowest fretted note. In this case, you should put your index finger on the first fret on the E-string. The shape of the rest of the chord tells you what to do with the rest of your fingers. See how the shape grows in height as it goes to the A-string on the right? This tells you that you must put another finger two frets higher on the third fret.
That’s intense! How do I find out what these shapes mean in the first place?
Learning what chords are and how to hold them are one of the biggest learning curves in playing guitar. Fortunately we have enhanced our trainers to really help you learn these things while feeling and sounding awesome – I’m sure we’ll get to that more on a future blog.
OK, so Easy looks pretty accessible. How do you go from that to “actual guitar playing”?
Hard and Expert are where the rubber meets the road in terms of playing the real song. Expert consists of every note and every chord in a song. On Hard, we reduce the note/chord density and sometimes the complexity of the actual chords where needed. Here’s that same part from above on Hard:
Pro Guitar on Hard
…and on Expert:
Pro Guitar on Expert
That’s great for telling me what I need to do. Does Rock Band 3 also show me what I’m doing in relation to this?
Absolutely. In our research, we found that both guitar players and people who are new to guitar look at their hands a lot when learning basic skills or specific songs. We’ve come up with on on-track display called the “Position Wave” that lets you know what your left hand is doing in real time. Let’s go through some examples.
When you are pressing down on the E-string on the third fret the Position Wave looks like this:
When you are pressing on the A string on the third fret it will look like this:
You can see the Position Wave tells you which string you are pressing and at what fret. Once players get used to this, the need to look down at their hands is vastly reduced.
Does this work for chords as well?
As you place additional fingers down on other strings, the wave will adjust its shape to cover those strings as well. As in chords, the number is always the lowest fretted note. As the Position Wave covers extra strings, the height changes when you move your fingers further apart. Let’s look at some examples.
Here is what the Position Wave looks like when you are holding down all six strings at the third fret:
Since your fingers are all at the same fret, there is no height variation.
If you place your fingers down on different frets, the Position Wave will change heights. Let’s take a look at this in action:
This player is holding the right shape. The shape and number match the incoming chord perfectly. Now all they have to do is strum right as the chord fits inside the Position Wave.
Let’s look at an example of what your hand looks like when you are holding an open position C chord:
In this example, your index finger is on the first fret on the B string which is represented by the number. The shape is showing that you are holding down the second and third frets on the D and G strings. Don’t worry if this is a little over your head right now, we’ll teach you these things in the Career Mode and Trainers.
This is ridiculously awesome. Moving on, I hear there is a modifier specific to Pro Guitar and Pro Bass?
As mentioned earlier, Pro Guitar and Pro Bass display one number and a shape for a chord. We also have a modifier called Chord Numbering that allows players used to tablature to see numbers for every string in a chord. Here’s an example:
Very cool! In addition to what we’ve talked about, are there any other techniques that Pro Guitar covers?
We have many of the usual secondary mechanics that you are used to in Rock Band, like sustains, Overdrive, hammer-ons and pull-offs, but to represent the cool things you can do on a guitar or bass we went even further.
Can we see some examples?
Sure. The following are just some of the things that we have in the game.
Left-hand muted chords/notes:
Left-hand Muted Chords
Slides both up:
A pretty interesting one is Arpeggios. Arpeggios are when you hold a chord shape with your left hand and pick notes with your right. We represent that with a shape and chord name that lock into place at the bottom of the screen. The notes to be picked that are part of the chord are all colored the same light blue color:
There’s a lot more but I’ll leave some surprises for people to enjoy when they play the game!
And all of this is something that anyone can pick up, right?
Absolutely! Our main focus was making the game so that people with no or little guitar experience could learn the basics of a song. We’ve had a lot of focus tests with people where they went from no guitar experience to being able to play power chords on the easier Medium difficulty songs within an hour.
In our opinion, it’s not enough to simply teach players power chords at random spots and call it a day. From Easy to Expert while playing Rock Band 3, we don’t just want to give another way to let you FEEL like you are playing guitar – we want you to be ACTUALLY playing guitar.
Thanks, Sylvain! You’re a champ!
Thanks for spelling my name right!