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Rocksmith+, the premier music-learning service for acoustic, electric, and bass guitar, recently launched on PC through the Ubisoft Store. The development team at Ubisoft San Francisco is made up of game developers, musicians, and music educators who want to make Rocksmith+ as accessible for as many players as possible.
To learn more about the development team’s approach to accessibility, as well as their commitment to listening to the community and improving the service with updates and accessibility features, Ubisoft News spoke with Senior UX Writer Marc Fortier.
What unique challenges does Rocksmith+ present from an accessibility standpoint, and how has the game been designed to overcome those challenges?
Marc Fortier: Since Rocksmith+’s core principle is to guide players’ interactions with a real musical instrument, we had to think about all the potential accessibility barriers this could introduce. To play a note on a typical guitar, there are 120-plus string/fret locations to choose from, and a given song could contain hundreds of notes. Processing this much audio-visual information on the screen, at the full speed of the song, then translating this information to an instrument, can be overwhelming for anyone, no matter where they’re at on the ability spectrum.
The Riff Repeater feature was born out of this fundamental challenge. It gives the ability to break down a song into manageable parts, adjust the speed and the number of notes, and increase the challenge at your own pace. Further, the Note by Note setting advances notes one at a time, continuing only when played correctly. Having tools to take control of the learning experience and adapt it to your personal needs makes a huge difference.
We also added toggles for most UI elements, as well as string-color customization, helping players with varied visual processing thresholds or colorblindness set themselves up for success.
Is there something you’re particularly proud of when it comes to accessibility in Rocksmith+?
MF: I’m proud of our inclusive design approach overall. This means building features that as many players as possible can use, whether they have a permanent disability, a temporary condition, or a preference. It’s one reason why we don’t have a distinct accessibility submenu, because it became impossible to draw the line between features built for one type of player versus another.
If I were to pick one small-yet-powerful option I personally love, it would be MIDI Playback. Turning this on plays music only for the notes you see on the noteway, providing essential ear training while allowing players with hearing difficulties to isolate the sound much more efficiently. It’s a great example of inclusive design, providing music education and accessibility gains all in one.
Since Rocksmith+ is a music-learning service, did you work with musicians with specialized accessibility knowledge when considering accessibility options?
MF: While we have musicians who specialize in education for all types of players, we found the best approach was to combine that knowledge with our players’ stories. They’re the accessibility experts, in a way, as they are the authors of their own personal narratives detailing the barriers they face. We also worked with our accessibility experts at Ubisoft to apply best practices across cognitive, motor, vision, and hearing categories, and we learned ways to measure the success of our efforts. Since Rocksmith+ is a live service, this is just the beginning. We’ll continue to listen to our players and build upon our accessibility options in the coming months and years.
In terms of accessibility, is there a difference between playing Rocksmith+ with electric vs. acoustic guitar?
MF: Any musician on the team will tell you the best guitar is the one you feel most comfortable playing. So, our goal is to make electric and acoustic guitar equally accessible on Rocksmith+. If you have an acoustic guitar — or even an electric guitar plugged into an amp — you can mic up without a cable using the Rocksmith+ Connect mobile app.
On PC, if you have an electric guitar or an electric-acoustic, you can plug directly into Rocksmith+ using the Real Tone Cable or an alternative device. We’re hoping these options will accommodate a range of accessibility needs, especially those related to environmental factors like available physical space and ambient noise.
Here is a full list of the accessibility options available now in Rocksmith+:
- Menu Navigation is designed for minimal input while holding a guitar and can be operated with either a left or right hand. No button holds are required, allowing the controller to be set on a surface. (Motor, Cognitive)
- Adaptive Difficulty automatically adjusts the difficulty in real time by adding or removing notes based on your accuracy. (Motor, Cognitive, Vision)
- Adjustable Leveling Speed offers the ability for players to choose how quickly the Adaptive Difficulty option adds more notes when playing accurately. (Motor, Cognitive, Vision)
- Game Difficulty adjusts fine-grain control over what types of notes, techniques and chords will be played. (Motor, Cognitive, Vision)
- Riff Repeater Practice Mode offers the ability to pause the song at any time and practice any part of the song at any speed or difficulty. (Motor, Cognitive, Vision)
- Note by Note Mode is an option of Riff Repeater where the notes won’t advance until they are played correctly which lets players play at their own pace. (Motor, Cognitive, Vision)
- Chord Explorer gives players the option to browse the chords included in any song listen to samples, and get real-time feedback (guitar only). (Motor, Cognitive, Vision)
HUD and UI
- Visual Effects Display offers the ability for players to choose to show or hide visual effects that display around the noteway (Vision, Cognitive)
- On-Screen Instrument Layout gives the option to choose between right- or left-handed instrument display, and default and inverted string layouts. (Motor, Cognitive, Vision)
- Noteway UI gives the option to choose which elements to display, including the phrase banner, fingering guides, fret numbers, chord names, and next-chord countdown. (Vision, Cognitive)
- “RS Tab” Alternative UI gives the display a scrolling tablature-style interface which provides a familiar experience for players already comfortable with guitar tablature. (Motor, Cognitive)
- MIDI Playback isolates the instrument audio just for the notes you need to play, while turning down the song volume. Players can use this to hear the part they’re playing more clearly. (Hearing, Cognitive)
- Volume Mixer adjusts the volume of the song, instrument, MIDI playback, sound effects and menu sounds. (Hearing, Cognitive)
- Subtitles include settings for display, size and background opacity. (Hearing, Cognitive, Vision)
- Color Customization provides several colorblind presets for each type of colorblindness. (Vision)
- Balanced Colors Preset provides an alternative color palette offering normalized chroma values. (Vision, Cognitive)
- Color Boost Option increases the saturation level of any non-default color preset. (Vision, Cognitive)
- “RS Tab” Alternative UI relies more on numbers and less on color to indicate which note to play. (Vision, Cognitive)
Rocksmith+ is available on PC exclusively through the Ubisoft Store, and is coming to iOS and Android devices later this year. For more on Rocksmith+, check out the official site and stay tuned to the Ubisoft News Hub.
— Chastity Vicencio