With the D.I.C.E Summit all set to run from February 17th to 20th, Develop spoke with Joseph Olin, president of organisers The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, about the conference, which offers something quite distinct from its rivals.

Q&A: D.I.C.E Summitâ??s Joseph Olin â?? Part One

Develop: What distinguishes the next D.I.C.E Summit from other established industry conferences?

Joseph Olin: It’s a small conference; about 600 attendees and it’s kept small by design to facilitate interaction between game makers. The primary focus of our invited presenters is their collective expertise within the world of game design and production. We’ve given the stage to a number of Hall of Fame (or future Hall of Fame) level of designers: from Myamoto to Will Wright, to David Jaffe or Ken Levine.

The topics are on the philosophy that drives one’s work and usually not about “their games” specifically. We see the Summit as an opportunity for game creators to share diverse points of view on game-craft as well as challenging each other to elevate our collective body at work.

In addition to game makers, we also invite creative people from outside the industry; we’ve had Alec Bernstein, Senior Designer at BMW discuss the impacts of videogames on car design, Syd Mead, discussing the future and nature of interactive design. Last year’s keynote was film director Gore Verbinski, who spoke on the subject of maintaining creative integrity during the “over-collaborative” processes in film, or game, production.

Develop: What do you see as the highlights from your sessions and speakers? From both this coming event and those past?

Olin: From past years, there are a few speakers who come to mind (beyond Gore’s talk last year). Alex Rigopulos gave a great synopsis of the 12-year overnight sensation that was Harmonix. Their simple mission was as musically oriented engineers who wanted music to drive the game playing. Alex told a tale that encompassed all of the challenges of critical acclaim earned without commercial success. It was a plain-spoken but great speech because it asks the question of everyone in the room: “How hard and committed are you to your dream.”

Doug Lowenstein, the founder of the Entertainment Software Association (and E3), gave his final speech as head of the ESA challenging all of the game makers in the room to be accountable for doing great work. Chris Taylor gave a very personal talk on how his growth as a game creator was changed by his personal evolution. I think that Robin Kaminsky, the former worldwide studio head for Activision gave a compelling presentation that argued the statistical science of marketing trumped critical review scores in contributing to Call of Duty IV achieving its level of commercial success.

Looking to February’s Summit, I think we have one of the most impressive lineups in the conference’s history. It is the largest number of speakers and sessions ever hosted by the Academy. We have a number of significant game creators; offering as diverse a view on the craft as there is in today’s marketplace. As a huge fan of the Resident Evil titles, I was thrilled when Capcom advised me that Jun Takeuchi would attend this year. His approach to game design has changed as the audience of players has increased on a global basis.

Todd Howard, as one of the creative forces at Bethesda Game Studios and this year’s Fallout 3, has a unique perspective on games; not dissimilar from Lars Gustavsson from Digital Illusions. Mirror’s Edge is a title that reflects the visions within Lars’ team and their approach to getting there is (we expect) different than others. Bruce Shelley, who will be installed in the Academy’s Hall of Fame as part of the Interactive Achievement Awards on February 19, will talk about the lessons of making successful games that resulted in their studio, Ensemble, being closed by Microsoft.

We have invited J. Paul Raines, the chief operating officer of GameStop to address the creative community on the retail marketplace and the changing nature of players. In concert with NPD, the Academy has commissioned research that examines some of the dynamics within our growing universe of players: what they play online, where multiplayer fits, online distribution…a number of issues that we expect game makers to find interesting and useful.

Develop: How does the 12th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards fit in with the goals of the event?

Olin: Actually, it’s the other way around. One of the motivations for creating an Academy-hosted Summit was that it would become the perfect and permanent home of the Interactive Achievement Awards. The Awards are at the core of why the Academy was created in 1995; an independent peer-based organization of game makers who take on the challenge of selecting the best work done each year.

We were modeled after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Oscars) and Recording Academy (Grammy’s). We wanted to recognise the accomplishments within the specific disciplines of craft as well as celebrate the whole of the game. Over the course of the past 12 years, as games have become one of the most popular forms of entertainment, game makers (and publishers) have recognized the value of celebrating truly great work among the huge body of game titles that are released each year.

Within the creative community, receiving an Interactive Achievement Award is a significant career accomplishment because it’s given by one’s peers. Truly the Awards complement the conference and vice versa. I would have to say that over the course of the Awards’ history, we’ve gained greater acceptance within the creative and publishing communities: we announced over the summer an agreement to have the International Game Developer’s Association professional members participate in the Academy’s Awards process: from Peer Panels to voting; our membership enrolment is at a record level.

As a sign of the continued growth within popular culture this year’s Award ceremony will be shown on television (we will announce are network partner in the next week) as well as streamed live via the web through IGN.com

Develop: Could you detail some of the other offerings aside from the sessions and presentations that make up the main conference?

Olin: In addition to the primary conference sessions, we have a showcase of the latest collection from the Into the pixel art project that we run in conjunction with the ESA. Now in its sixth year, Into The Pixel is the only professionally curated exhibition of game art in the world. At this year’s Summit, we will announce our 2009 jurists, including curators from the Getty Museum, Armand Hammer Museum and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, submission policies and host a silent auction of a strike of last year’s collection.

In a gallery adjacent to the main conference theater. As part of the pre-conference activities, the Academy and Autodesk hold an afternoon session dubbed the Visual Fight Club. We take a panel of experts and address a topic from a number of perspectives while an artist creates a mural that depicts the discussion. It’s much more fun to participate in than I can describe to you in print.

I suppose one of the most significant aspects of the conference is all of the ad-hoc meetings that attendees create; scattered across the grounds of the resort. Given the small scope of the event, it’s a great opportunity to have meaningful conversations with people not ordinarily accessible. Lots of good things come out of it. The BioShock movie project is the result of 2K Boston’s Ken Levine and film director Gore Verbinski meeting and sharing thoughts about the potential of translating the tale of a utopia gone-awry to other media.

For more information on the D.I.C.E Summit, visit the event’s website, and check back tomorrow for part two of our interview with Joseph Olin.

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