The Portable D.I.C.E.

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by Robert de los Reyes, Esq.

Two disparate events were held last week in Las Vegas. The "D.I.C.E. summit" is a series of lectures and panel discussions held one at a time in an auditorium in the Hard Rock Hotel. The individual segments range from paeans (to Syd Mead, Shigeru Miyamoto and Yu Suzuki) to design lessons, and war stories (David Jones, Chris Taylor and others) to business issues (Seamus Blackley, BioWare and a panel on digital delivery). The summit is a welcome event in a number of ways. It builds camaraderie and a sense of community in a way that, say, E3 is incapable of doing. Here, industry types gather to give away their secrets and share their experiences rather than hawk their wares. (Well, mostly.) The summit also marks an important stage of industry development – the industry is old enough to have stories and best practices to share, as well as heroes about whom songs of praise may be sung. The limited number of talks, consecutively presented, also encourages you to listen in on a topic you might otherwise give a miss. Who'd have thunk it, but the panel discussion on digital delivery was one of the liveliest of the talks of the summit. It was lively in part because half the panel was pitching its business products. That made for some less than totally objective speechifying, but it also gave the other half of the panel something to argue against. We almost had a "When Good Nerds Go Bad" video on our hands. While the DICE summit doesn't even come close to garnering the appeal for the average gamer that E3 does, it can boast a wonderful sense of safety and community for those who think digital delivery really is something worth getting worked up about.

The second event is actually older than the summit – the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' awards. This year's summit was the second, but the awards were in their sixth year. Interestingly, the awards, presented fully in Oscar style, come off as a much younger event. Forget the technical glitches that plague every such event – even Broadway shows. And forget the putrescent script writing (oh how I wish I could). It is the odd undercurrent of insecurity that gives the awards such a teenage feel. Having spent all day Thursday in a summit discussing the ascension of the game industry into a mature pillar of the entertainment industry as a whole, we spend Thursday evening in a show filled with B-actors, new and used musicians, and extreme sports figures who, besides Tony Hawk, could barely recognize a video game at 50 paces. Now it's one thing to bring in an actor to emcee the proceedings. Brilliant as our industry leaders may be, even a drunk Dave Foley runs circles around them in the areas of public speaking and improv comedy. But the others are interlopers, brought in, seemingly, to validate the event and the industry as "big time." Their ignorance of games was appalling, but more appalling still was the open disdain some showed for the enterprise. Lest I earn a nasty reputation as the guy who advocated getting rid of the scantily-clad presenters lifted from late-night syndication obscurity, let me step back a second. I think I'm not suggesting that such folks be removed from the event so much as pining for a day when such folks actually know – and are unembarrassed to admit they know – what the event is designed to celebrate.

But there is room for the awards to grow, and I suspect they will. And they'll need to do so in more ways than one. Where the summit is filled with a spirit of "we're all in this together" no matter how big or small a company you work for, the awards give rise to cynical whispers about influence and exclusion. The extent to which such whispers are grounded in fact is unknown to me, and I won't speculate. Their mere existence should be a matter of concern. Because it's not the glass and chrome that makes the awards special, but rather the sense that your peers, who too have heard the chimes at midnight, are telling you, among all these talented people, did something special. That's what the attendees want these awards to be, anyway. Ironically, that fact became most clear when a stunned and embarrassed Will Wright stepped onto stage to receive Massively Multiplayer / Persistent World Game of the Year for The Sims Online. Wright – a man with nothing left to prove to anybody – took the award, stared at it blankly, turned to his peers and promised them that he would make the game worthy of the award he had just received. He knew. We knew. The only person who didn't know was Dave Foley, and he was too drunk to care. That will need to change. And I'm not talking about Dave Foley.

In case you're wondering, it's possible to purchase a full DVD set of the summit and the awards, but you'll need to lay out $350 for it. For those who don't have $350 just burning holes in their pockets, I thought I might share some of the more memorable quotes from the seminars. There are many more great ones than I have here, but these are the ones from the seminars I was able to attend and managed to scribble down with relative accuracy (someone correct me if I'm wrong) before my hand became too cramped to write anymore. We have more detailed articles in the works from our time at DICE, but this may tide you over:

David Jones (Realtime Worlds) on Grand Theft Auto III:

 "If you really want to know where GTA came from, it came from Pac-Man. The dots became people and the ghosts became cops."

Chris Taylor (Gas Powered Games) on his fast-talk:

 "We developers are a sneaky bunch. We learned it from publishers."

Raph Koster (Sony Online Entertainment) on balance:

 "Give one fish, somewhere in the ocean, one more hit point, and all of a sudden, BAM! You have too many paladins."

Seamus Blackley (Capital Entertainment Group) on licensed properties:

 "Licenses help, but a lot of people use a license as a Band-Aid to put across shitty game design. At least write the shitty game design first and add the license later."

Cliff Bleszinski (Epic Games) on taking a franchise into a new genre:

 (while shimmying in his chair) "Dance Dance Medal of Honor! Schnell! Schnell!"

Will Wright (Maxis) on paying attention to fans:

 "Players have very good suggestions for problems, but they don't see the design plan for down the pike, and it's hard to communicate that to them."

Raph Koster (Sony Online Entertainment) on player behavior:

 "People do whatever they get a pat on the head for... They'll do the 'ding!' thing rather than the fun thing."

Rich Vogel (Sony Online Entertainment) on communicating with fans:

 "The problem is, everything you write is a promise to players... [Even if you don't mean it that way] it becomes 'You lied to us!'"

Jason Rubin (Naughty Dog) on thinking ahead about sequels:

 "God forbid anyone here makes a game and says, 'That's the best I can ever do.'"

Chris Taylor (Gas Powered Games) on development:

 "To make a game, you need between 10 and 20 miracles."

Ted Price (Insomniac Games) on design:

 "We just made the game we wanted to play. We didn't consider the market forces believe it or not."

Seamus Blackley (Capital Entertainment Group) on publishers:

 "Why do publishers behave as they do? It's not because they're evil or stupid. Really."

Alex St. John (WildTangent) on gamers:

 "Consumers are sluts for great gameplay."

Gordon Walton (Electronic Arts/Maxis) on working with others:

 "Microsoft and EA – We're either going to build it or buy it. We're not good at partnering."

Chris Taylor (Gas Powered Games) on whether a Dungeon Siege sequel will use the same engine:

 "We got schooled heavily in the economics of game development. We have to use it again."

Ed Fries (Microsoft) on security codes:

 "Will they hack it? Yes." (gestures for next speaker to take turn)

Seamus Blackley (Capital Entertainment Group) on development

 "It's very difficult to predict fun, especially in an industry this young."

Cliff Bleszinski (Epic Games) on message boards:

 "There are members of our team that just won't read the message boards because it would require a doubling of the dose of Paxil or something."

Gordon Walton (Electronic Arts/Maxis) on finding new gamers:

 "We really don't have an on-ramp for people to become core gamers."

Raph Koster (Sony Online Entertainment) on managing expectations:

 "Players aren't stupid, they're just... highly involved."

Gabe Zichermann (Trymedia) on digital delivery:

 "The internet is not out to destroy your business."

Chris Taylor (Gas Powered Games) on games that start too slowly:

 "Where's the exit to town?! I just want to kill something! Can I kill you? I can't kill that woman with the baby?! That sucks!"

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on March 3, 2003 9:06 AM.

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