I did a bit of console reconnaissance at E3. I snuck in to see Rock Band 3--the industry's flagship music game. It supports seven players. It has a MIDI keyboard. It has an actual, stringed guitar. And it's still not on PC. Should it be?
Yes. MIDI-compatible equipment, like
Rock Band 3's baby keyboard
, would thrive on the PC--open form-factors and non-proprietary equipment are part of our DNA. We're dead-sure that within a month or two, a dedicated fan will roll out a homemade driver to connect the keyboard to comparable Rock Band knock-offs on PC.
But I don't believe we'll see a proper, native PC release for Rock Band. It doesn't take a genius to understand that the franchise, and the multitude of plastic gear and friends that you tether to the experience, wouldn't be comfortable around a tiny monitor. That's not me expressing that familiar "we don't need it" of the Too-Proud, PC Gaming Elitist - that's me recognizing that it's not a logistical possibility. In 2010, the living room is still the place in our homes that can accommodate the most people. That's a grounded, cultural thing: the console heritage of couch-sharing, same-screen gaming, and shoulder-to-shoulder co-op isn't something the PC can emulate well. Desks are smaller than living rooms; PCs are usually a one-passenger vehicle.
Honestly, Harmonix's demo was one of the best I've seen at the show (the others: Crysis 2, and a brilliant indie game called Hazard: The Journey of Life). Harmonix is one of the most unique developers in the industry--mostly a team of trained musicians, technical gurus, artists and hardware designers, and that background is well-conveyed on stage. They kicked off the demo with Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again," two-part harmonizing and leaning on plastic keys. It's about having, not emulating, the same fun you'd expect to have with six friends and a bag of karaoke.
PC gamers have homemade alternatives like
Frets On Fire
. It can't match Rock Band or Guitar Hero's production values, but it captures that open, communal aspect of music gaming in a classically PC way: it's open source. Song importing, song editing, and access to hundreds of community-composed songs are the main benefits of the unlicensed alternative. Everything from Daft Punk to Coldplay, from Nirvana to the Mega Man soundtrack, have been transcribed by the community. And it's all free: most of Rock Band's songs individually hover around $2 on their respective marketplaces: a downside of needing to pay the game's publisher AND record label for the download.