Industry interview with Nao Higo of Ubisoft

So, we went to Ubisoft when we were making our Rocksmith experiment with the burning questions you submitted to us, and Nao Higo, one of the producers of the game, was kind enough to talk to us about the experiment and working on the game! And he was even kinder by letting us know some very important information about an upcoming expansion! Hankering to learn bass guitar though? NEVER FEAR! Higo confirmed that it is true that Ubisoft is indeed making a bass guitar portion for the game so look out for that in the future!
When we asked Higo what he thought of the experiment itself, he said, “I thought it was really great! In terms of you guys really taking the time and trying to do it as scientific as you can achieve with the people that you have available…I thought that was a great thing.”
Nao Higo himself!
So not only was I feeling really good about our team, I felt even better that one of the professionals behind this game even said that he liked our experiment. Well done, GCV, well done. But enough of that! Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
We began to talk about the game itself, and really what the goal was behind making a game like this that was so outside the realm of Ubisoft’s usual fare.
“I think the key thing that really started it off is that our president here in the San Francisco office, Laurent Detoc, he is actually a guitarist,” said Higo. “But he’s really into games with benefits. So games that actually have something you can take away from the game…So when he came across this piece of technology made by the guys over at GameTank, he was really excited about it when he first saw it.”

GameTank, as you can already guess, is the company that developed the software the Ubisoft utilized in Rocksmith. GameTank is now a part of Ubisoft, as Rolling Stone explains in their article about the development of the game.

“But then when the project came around our way…we said ‘Okay, well, where are we going to take this game and what are we going to do with it? Is it going to be a hardcore guitar game…or are we going to try and make it a guitar game for everyone?’ I think the reason why we picked our approach was simply because Paul [Paul Cross – Creative director for the game] and I didn’t know how to play the guitar whatsoever. I hadn’t even held a guitar in my hands till getting involved in this project.” Higo explained.

So the team was now faced with the challenge of getting guys like Higo and Cross to play the guitar and what it would take to get that done, shaking the screen and the audience sometimes booing. The first barrier they had to get over was getting the player comfortable with just “making noise” Higo talked about how other music games let you know when you get things wrong right away. The biggest fear of musicians is making a fool of themselves when they screw up, and the team had to find a way to make sure the player didn’t fall into the trap while learning.
As far as the music is concerned, we noticed and you can too if you research the game and the set list, that there is a broad range of types of artists and guitarists. It felt like the creators were trying to reach every kind of taste with the game. 
“We actually wanted to cover a range of genres and relative difficulty of playing so that people who are newbies at playing the guitar can have songs that are immensely fun for beginners to play while we offer songs that are for people who are familiar with playing the guitar…there’s still enough of a challenge,” Higo said.
While other games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero sold well in America, Ubisoft noticed that their foreign sales and feedback were lacking as the markets there felt the songs were a little too “US centric.” 
Higo went on to explain that “We looked at some of the competing products out on the market as far as rhythm games and what they’ve done as far as their music lineup, and we thought about it from a worldwide appeal standpoint.”
Switching gears for a second,  I want to ask you a question: Did you see a lot of advertisement for Rocksmith about? No? Well, neither did I. I assumed it was because the game itself required, a system and an actual electric guitar. The amount of gamers that have something as expensive as an instrument is probably not as high as you think, so that being said, mass advertising might have reached people who didn’t really understand that they needed a real guitar to play it.
What’s scary was that I was right. Higo explained that they didn’t want people to feel robbed by the game if they bought it and didn’t have all the necessary equipment needed to enjoy it. So from their first press announcement, they tried to get the message across that you needed a real guitar. If you saw that announcement, you would have seen a bunch of people just plugging in electric guitars to systems and jamming away, no game screen, no gameplay, nothing but people with actual instruments.
And now, something for you educational buffs. I asked about the decisions in regards to what notes and information to give the player as the difficulty increased, and Higo said that they had a team of people breaking down each song and the technique challenges working on the game. So, naturally, they went to that team and their teaching experience to help make the decisions on where the player would be in learning a song and how they would teach the player.
Playing video games and guitar at the same time. For science.

Higo also talked about how they’ve seen people progress much further by playing the other songs the game recommends and the technique challenges along with specific songs. We have to agree with him because if we hadn’t done the technique challenges we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did with the game.

After we stopped joking about “introducing the pinky” when you play, I asked Higo what one of the biggest challenges was when working on the game.
“From a development standpoint I think the biggest challenge was trying to convey all the necessary information to the player in a way where it’s still coherent, in a way that people can still process.” With all that is being thrown at the player, Ubisoft didn’t want to clutter the screen with information or make the player feel overwhelmed when looking at the screen. So, of course, the decision was to make the game as streamlined as possible for the player’s benefit.
One of the things that they didn’t expect while working on the project was having to build a game with such a small team as the project itself was a gamble. Higo talked about how they couldn’t ramp up the team size and had to take their time with production because they didn’t know how the game would go over. Every day was a new challenge that they overcame.
Well there you have it folks! We’re so thankful to Nao Higo and his team for making this game and for taking the time to talk to us. 
The videos detailing out experiment with Rocksmith can be viewed right here:

Rocksmith Experiment: Week 1 –

Rocksmith Experiment: Week 2 –

Rock on Vault fans!

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