DICE 2008: Now We’re Back … In the Casino Again


Stepping off the plane into the whirling light and sound horror show that is McCarran Airport is like waking up in Saigon, staring at the ceiling fan; it’s like an instant hangover without the pleasure of the drink. It’s like stepping through the looking glass, only the hatter is a banker, the queen a dealer of blackjack.

Vegas is one of those places its fun to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here. (Sorry, Joe.) And working here … well, it sounds good on paper.

We’re in town for the DICE Summit, the annual congregation of the game industry’s best and brightest; full of highfalutin talk, mind-stirring panels and speeches, and an awards show where the above best and brightest can lord it over their peers, or be lorded over, depending on fickle fancy of fate.

This year the Summit is being hosted at the luxurious Red Rock Resort, just outside of Vegas, a 30 minute cab ride or so from the fancy casinos everyone thinks of when they hear the word “Vegas.” It’s a resort and spa situated alongside Red Rock Canyon, miles from anything else, save a gas station. And, like everything else in Nevada, it has its own casino, too.

Approaching the resort from the city, you’re instantly struck by the immense emptiness of the Nevada desert. Chances are, even if you’ve been to Vegas, the fact it’s sitting in one of the driest, most desolate spots on Earth has never quite penetrated your consciousness. It hadn’t for me, and I’ve been here countless times.

A little sand in the parking lots and the mysterious absence of trees don’t adequately counter-balance the gross display of abundant luxury in even the poorest casinos on the strip. And when you pass the fountains in front of Bellagio, ensconced in a body of water so large it could practically be called a lake, the word “desert” doesn’t immediately spring to mind. But drive a few miles outside of town and you’re reminded that, yes, Nevada is as barren as the surface of the moon. If the moon had a casino sitting next to Copernicus crater.

I shared a cab from McCarran with Nokia’s Ace producer, Scott Foe, and the surprisingly affable Cliffy B. Cliffy and I chatted it up at the airport about the trials of growing older (we’re both in our 30s), the value of working with people you can trust (Cliffy has nothing but good things to say about his team at Epic) and the pitfalls of designing games set in jungles.

In the cab, talk turned to the conference and the awards, and wondering if Gamecock would be dumb enough to repeat their misguided stunt at the VGA Awards Show, interrupting the acceptance speech of the only person anyone really cared to hear from, earning the company a black eye from the community. A quick poll suggested the joke is no longer funny, no matter how many times they use the word “cock.” Time and a place, gentlemen.

As for the resort itself, it’s clear why the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences chose the venue: It’s posh. Extremely posh. But in that Vegas way, where even an outrageous per night fee won’t guarantee you free internet and decent service. You have to pay extra for that – for everything besides soap and towels, actually – even though you’ve already paid extra to come out here. This makes sense in a Vegas sort of way, but anywhere else it’d be considered highway robbery. The Red Rock Canyon view is almost worth it, though. Almost.

But we’re not here for that. We’re here to hear what the gamerati have to say for themselves at the event constructed specifically for them to shower themselves with praise for being themselves, and by illuminating their favorites, chart a course for the year to come.

Accordingly, there were a lot of smiles at the kick-off bash this evening. The food, at least, was free, as were the drinks, and everyone saw someone they hadn’t seen in at least a year. It’s like homecoming with booze, and the atmosphere – at the start anyway – was more positive than perhaps any other conference I’ve yet attended. Even if the attendees are stuck in the desert, a $40 cab ride from the Strip.

Thursday, the meat of the conference begins, and Thursday night: the long-awaited awards show. Stay tuned.

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