D.I.C.E. 07: Event kicks off on a serious note

Keynote address precedes long night of food and drink as Sony exec Yair Landau lays out his vision of the future of entertainment; new SOE spy MMO game teased in presentation.

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LAS VEGAS--Traditionally, the annual D.I.C.E. Summit has started on a light, ethereal, and slightly inebriated note--the first day is reserved for a full round of golf for game industry movers and shakers with time on their hands, followed by many, many rounds of drinks in the Green Valley Ranch's Whiskey Bar or out by the hotel's pool and cabana complex. The serious fun of presentations and panels typically starts Thursday morning, often to the sudden shock of bleary-eyed attendees.

But this year was different. Bowing to numerous requests for a keynote address to launch the confab--one that brings game industry CEOs, development studio heads, sundry talent agents, assorted members of the press, and wannabes anxious to rub shoulders with the firmly accomplished--AIAS president Joseph Olin relented and added a keynote address, with its attendant touch of gravitas, to the opening day's agenda.

Sony execs attending the keynote address: (from left) SOE president John Smedley, SOE SVP and COO Russell Shanks, and SCE worldwide studios president Phil Harrison.
Sony execs attending the keynote address: (from left) SOE president John Smedley, SOE SVP and COO Russell Shanks, and SCE worldwide studios president Phil Harrison.

His pick to deliver the keynote address: accomplished Sony executive Yair Landau, whose long list of divisions that fall under his authority includes those that specialize in animation, motion capture, computer graphics, games, and mobile content. It was Landau's four-year effort as a newbie biz-dev guy on the Sony lot, he reminded attendees tonight, that brought Marvel and Sony together in the financial windfall known as Spider-Man.

Surprisingly, the inaugural effort paid off. Olin delivered the warm bodies, and Landau delivered the big ideas.

Landau's casual, 40-minute presentation was a mild-mannered call to arms for the industry. He heralded the rapidly maturing convergence of technologies (animation, CG, live-action, and mo-cap), but also a crossover and mingling of talent. That was Landau's big idea for the night: that the next generational leap in digitial entertainment would be one driven by personalities, not pixels.

Sony Pictures Entertainment boss Yair Landau.
Sony Pictures Entertainment boss Yair Landau.

His general concept is that the future of content development, from concept to execution to story and franchise extension, will work best when the silos that separate the CG artist, traditional animator, game coder, and live-action director are broken down and the talents are free to work together.

Given Landau's point of view--and as vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) and president of Sony Pictures Digital--he is not only reporting from the trenches, but driving policy.

Landau used the upcoming Sony Pictures feature Ghost Rider as an example of a project that combined all the specialties of SPE, one he hopes will be a critical and commercial success. But Landau sees such a blend of techniques as just the beginning. Such films (or games) can only get better when the individual skill sets start to interweave and cross over from their native turf.

"The key to convergence is taking a creative application and applying it broadly to a medium. [It] extends the story experience to a broader audience... What's different still, and hasn't started to cross over, is the talent," Landau said. "But that's where it's going."

But for all his talk of the future, Landau still has the aura of a traditionalist.

"The fundamental aspect is that entertainment is a community experience," Landau said.

And he knows the final product doesn't come from just anywhere. "Underlying it [is a] good idea and a lot of creative people pushing it."

One surprise Landau had on the gaming front was a first look at a project that SOE's studio in Seattle has been working on. Following on his ideas of moving film genres into games--he previously credited Saving Private Ryan with spawning the Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and Company of Heroes franchises--Landau showed off the trailer for the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale.

Immediately after the trailer, Landau said one of SOE's next projects would involve the world of international espionage--an MMO game where players would wear tuxedos instead of tunics. Though Landau said the game is running on live servers in Seattle, the clip he showed demonstrated what he hopes the game will eventually look like.

Codenamed "Vista"--a dig at Microsoft's new operating system because SOE had pushed the project back a year--the clip showed a third-person shooter with spies engaged in firearms and hand-to-hand combat. The game featured all the Bond trademarks--femmes fatales, exotic sports cars, and an exotic locale in Prague--and will be both cooperative and player-versus-player. Landau did not mention any release date, platform, or any other details.

[For a different take on D.I.C.E. 2007, take a look at the GameSpot News Blog, containing interviews with Myst Online's Rand Miller and Lord British himself, NCsoft exec producer Richard Garriott.]

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