We're here in Las Vegas for the annual DICE Summit. Unlike the hectic E3 and Tokyo Game Show atmosphere, DICE is one of the more relaxing events on the annual events calendar; partially because there's not much in the way of new gaming news. Instead it's a chance for game developers to get away from the office, rub elbows with their peers, and trade ideas. By the looks of things, and unlike last month's underwhelming CES turnout, DICE's attendance numbers seems to be pretty much on par with last year's event. Here's some highlights from the first day:
- I spent the morning checking out Singularity, Raven's new time-bending first person shooter. I've got a pretty lengthy preview up on the site and plan on following the game closely as it leads up to release later this year. Here's hoping the game--with its trippy time-altering mechanic--doesn't merely end up being "Fracture with time travel."
- Ricardo had a chance to see the new Fallout 3 DLC and EA announced (but didn't show) a new Alice game . Other than that--and a sneak peek at Sony's Eye-Toy-powered EyePet family game (more on that in a bit), there wasn't much in the way of new game news.
- With a relative lack of games to cover, the rest of my day was spent checking out some of the sessions that populate both days of the DICE summit.
- I can't fully nail down why I enjoy watching ex-Shiny head Dave Perry talk, but I really do. During his session today, Perry essentially updated a session he presented at Leipzig last year--even with some of the same photos he'd taken from his travels to game development studios and conventions in Korea and China. Still, his relentless focus on what he views as the future of gaming--community-based, free to play, micro-transaction driven games--is refreshing in a gaming industry that too often is dominated in the present-day ever-escalating arms race between Sony and Microsoft.
One thing's for sure, Perry is a great self-promoter. During his talk, he pimped no less than five of his current projects--everything from a community watchdog site of sorts called ReputationShare to his consultancy business, as well as the design book he was writing, and several other projects. It's obvious that Perry has his fingers in a lot of pots and, based on his statement today that he would never develop another single-player game, it seems he's fully intent on making those alternate interests his focus for years to come.
- My niece would love EyePet, the upcoming PS3 Eye Toy game from Sony Europe. During a session titled "Social Gaming: The European Perspective", Sony's Mike Haigh showed off a trailer for the family game which features an animated monkey like creature that you can interact with on-screen. In addition to giving your pet some affection, you can also interact with him using something called a magic card--essentially a card that you hold up to the camera and can be transformed in the virtual world on screen into any number of things, including a food container, a model airplane, and more. Your virtual pet can interact with the object you create--in one instance, the little creature was flying around on a virtual plane. No release date was given for EyePet but, I'm guessing it can't get here fast enough for the five-and-under set.
- The most sobering session of the day had to be Bruce Shelley's honest and somber post-mortem of Ensemble Studios , the recently shuttered RTS development house he helped build from the ground up. During the half-hour presentation, Shelley presented a matter-of-fact account of the things Ensemble did well (creating a close-knit working environment and developing games that over-delivered, content-wise) and not-so-well (failing to diversify the studio's portfolio, not downsizing when projects were cancelled, etc.).
It's hard not to reflect on the Ensemble post-mortem in light of the current economic climate and see it as anything but a warning signal to other developers out there. The sudden closure of the studio came as a shock to Shelley and the rest of the Ensemble team who, according to Shelley, were convinced that the studio's direction was strategically sound.
I wonder how many other development studios feel the same way right now?
Still, some good comes out of the Ensemble closure. The rise of two new studios--Robot Entertainment and Bonfire Studios--comprised of former Ensemble talent, is reason for optimism. Considering the combined experience of the people that comprise those studios, here's hoping the hard-earned lessons that Shelley outlined today will result in the same mistakes not being made twice.