Skip to main content

Stepping through the game development looking glass at the 2013 D.I.C.E. Summit

DICE - Awards stageThe D.I.C.E. Summit is not so different from Alice’s Wonderland for those who work outside the video game development community. The press can attend, see all the talks, maybe even score a handful of coveted interview slots. They’re development outsiders though, and this is a very inward-facing event. News items like the Bad Robot/Valve Corporation partnership and yearly Ouya hardware updates are the exception rather than the rule. You learn quickly as an outsider attendee that the focus is very much on developing a cross-disciplinary dialogue among those who create and design games.

Depending upon your disposition and level of interest in the ideas that drive the games we play, it’s either endlessly fascinating or hopelessly dry. 

DICE - Atari joystickThe foundation of D.I.C.E. is right there in the name: Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain. These four pillars are the backbone of the entire event, informing four keynote talks that are spaced out over the two days. An additional two keynotes, one each morning, lay out the bigger picture ideas. This year, both featured Valve’s Gabe Newell; he appeared first with J.J. Abrams to discuss the challenges of cross-media storytelling and then again by himself on day two, painting a picture of Valve’s corporate doctrine and hardware strategies.

What’s cool about D.I.C.E. that doesn’t necessarily come across when you watch videos of each talk is the atmosphere. Game development is a very insular activity, with teams often cutting themselves off from the community for years at a time as they toil in secret on the next project. It’s necessary in one sense when you’re talking about multi-year timelines. Hype and marketing are an unavoidably vital components of the industry: tip your hand too early, and you lock yourself into ideas that may have to change; show up too late, and you risk being overlooked entirely.

Given all of that, D.I.C.E. provides a yearly touchstone that allows developers to break out of their grind and think about the “Why?” behind what they do. The Newell/Abrams chat featured a newsy scoop, but the bulk of it focused on highlighting the differences between passive and interactive storytelling. The pair didn’t sit down to come up with a solution. In truth, there is none. In highlighting the points of departure between their two respective mediums, they addressed old questions and raised new ones. They served their peers some food for thought.

DICE - Foosball tableThat’s the sort of thinking that drives this event. The Design keynote delivered by Sledgehammer Games’ Glen Schofield addressed one man’s sources of inspiration. A later talk, from Supergiant’s Amir Rao, considered the small studio’s attitude toward multi-platform development. Whether it’s one of the four main keynotes or the handful of related talks the fill out the rest of the two days, the process really boils down to a parade of extremely talented people offering some insight into their own process, both creative and technical. There’s nothing quite like it in the world of entertainment.

The event concludes with the annual D.I.C.E. Awards show, now in its 16th year. Spike’s VGA may be the biggest media circus when it comes to gaming award shows, but the D.I.C.E. Awards, curated and selected by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, is effectively gaming’s Oscars. Forget about sales, forget about popularity contests. If you want to get a sense of what the year’s favorite offerings were as chosen by those who create the games you play, this is it.

This year’s event was dominated by thagamecompany’s Journey, with eight wins in 11 nominated categories, including a big win for Game of the Year. Fan darling The Walking Dead trailed behind with half as many wins in eight nominated categories, including Adventure Game of the Year. Host Chris Hardwick emceed the festivities, displacing Jay Mohr as host for the first time since 2006. The show also saw Newell inducted into the AIAS Hall of Fame and Infocom founders Dave Lebling and Marc Blank presented with the Pioneer Award for their vital contributions to gaming’s development as a medium.

DICE - Pool tableAs with any awards show, there were some oddities. Despite the success of Journey, there’s a distinct lack of focus on the indie sector of the game development community among the nominees. The Adventure Game of the Year category is telling in this regard. The Walking Dead was a veritable shoe-in for the win there, but none of the admittedly high-profile competing nominees – Assassin’s Creed 3Darksiders 2Dishonored, and New Super Mario Bros. U – necessarily fit with traditional definitions of the adventure genre.

DICE - Steve MeretzkyHardwick too brought some unusual energy along with him. He’s certainly a more fitting host than Jay Mohr, and even those who aren’t familiar with his Nerdist podcast can quickly pick up on the fact that this is a guy who knows his geek trade. That said, it seemed like Hardwick was toeing a line all evening between paying respect to the development community and the culture of gamers that they speak to, and embracing the worst outsider stereotypes in his fun-poking at geek culture. 

There’s a sense walking out of D.I.C.E. that 2012 was a vital year in the growth of the medium, with many talks making reference to the looming hardware generation changeover, and the changing creative approach as they move from developing for the established platforms to harnessing the capabilities of new ones. It will be fascinating to observe how this conversation changes at the D.I.C.E. Summit in 2014, once the carefully kept hardware secrets are spilled and discussion of What’s Next can begin in earnest.

DICE - Journey winIn the coming days, we’ll be sharing a series of interview features that aim to give a sense of how the talk on the ground at D.I.C.E. unfolds. We spoke with a number of significant contributor at this year’s event, including Gearbox Software’s Randy Pitchford, Syfy’s Mark Stern, Supergiant’s Amir Rao, and the powerhouse 343 Industries duo, Kiki Wolfkill and Frank O’Connor. We also had the rare opportunity to chat with Infocom founder Dave Lebling, now a casual gamer with a love for World of Warcraft, and get his perspective on how the industry he helped set the foundation for has changed over the years.

D.I.C.E. is a special thing. Those in attendance should feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness it for themselves firsthand. Attendees from their tumble through gaming’s looking glass with new perspectives on the craft of game development and the ideas that drive the people who build our most beloved interactive experiences.

Editors' Recommendations

Adam Rosenberg
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Previously, Adam worked in the games press as a freelance writer and critic for a range of outlets, including Digital Trends…
Lenovo Legion Pro 5 gaming laptop with an RTX 4070 is $400 off
Cyberpunk 2077 on the Lenovo Legion Pro 5.

If you're planning to buy a new gaming laptop, we highly recommend looking for offers involving the Lenovo Legion Pro 5. There's one right now from Lenovo itself -- a $400 discount that pulls the machine's price down from $1,900 to $1,500. It's still not cheap, but we assure you that every penny spent on this gaming laptop will be worth it. You're going to have to hurry with your purchase if you don't want to miss out on getting the device at 21% off though, as its price may return to normal at any moment.

Why you should buy the Lenovo Legion Pro 5 gaming laptop
The Lenovo Legion Pro 5 is our top choice in our roundup of the best gaming laptops because of the fantastic value that it provides as a reasonably priced and well-built machine. It's powered by the AMD Ryzen 7 7745HX processor and the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070 graphics card, plus 32GB of RAM that's enough to run multiple applications like streaming software and web browsers while playing the best PC games at their highest settings, according to our guide on how much RAM do you need. With these specifications, the Lenovo Legion Pro 5 is also prepared to play the best upcoming PC games without any need for further upgrades.

Read more
Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition is about to clear its final hurdle
microsoft activision blizzard acquisition uk preliminary approval mwiii reveal full 006

Microsoft has had a tough time getting its acquisition of Call of Duty-maker Activision Blizzard approved, but it just cleared a major hurdle. The U.K.'s CMA, which previously blocked the acquisition over concerns about its impact on the cloud gaming market, says that it has "provisionally concluded" that Microsoft has addressed its biggest issues with the acquisition.

Namely, it likes that Microsoft will give the cloud gaming rights for Activision Blizzard games to Ubisoft. "The prior sale of the cloud gaming rights will establish Ubisoft as a key supplier of content to cloud gaming services, replicating the role that Activision would have played in the market as an independent player," the CMA explained in a press release. "In contrast to the original deal, Microsoft will no longer control cloud gaming rights for Activision’s content, so would not be in a position to limit access to Activision’s key content to its own cloud gaming service or to withhold those games from rivals."
Its press release also reveals that Ubisoft will have the ability to make "Microsoft to port Activision games to operating systems other than Windows and support game emulators when requested." Essentially, it's pleased that Microsoft no longer has an iron grip on Activision Blizzard games outside of the Xbox ecosystem and is closer to supporting the deal because of it. Of course, both Microsoft and Activision Blizzard are pretty happy about this.
"We are encouraged by this positive development in the CMA’s review process," Microsoft president Brad Smith tweeted. "We presented solutions that we believe fully address the CMA’s remaining concerns related to cloud game streaming, and we will continue to work toward earning approval to close prior to the October 18 deadline."
Meanwhile, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson provided Digital Trends with the following statement: "The CMA’s preliminary approval is great news for our future with Microsoft. We’re pleased the CMA has responded positively to the solutions Microsoft has proposed, and we look forward to working with Microsoft toward completing the regulatory review process."
A final decision from the CMA is expected to be made by October 6. As Smith mentioned, Microsoft's Activision Blizzard acquisition is expected to close by October 18.

Read more
NYT Connections today: answers and hints for Friday, September 22
New York Times Connection game logo.

Connections is the latest puzzle game from the New York Times. The game tasks you with categorizing a pool of 16 words into four secret (for now) groups by figuring out how the words relate to each other. The puzzle resets every night at midnight and each new puzzle has a varying degree of difficulty. Just like Wordle, you can keep track of your winning streak and compare your scores with friends.

Some days are trickier than others. If you're having a little trouble solving today's Connections puzzle, check out our tips and hints below. And if you still can't get it, we'll tell you today's answers at the very end.
How to play Connections
In Connections, you'll be shown a grid containing 16 words — your objective is to organize these words into four sets of four by identifying the connections that link them. These sets could encompass concepts like titles of video game franchises, book series sequels, shades of red, names of chain restaurants, etc.

Read more