Interview: AIAS President Joseph Olin On The Art Of Games

There are really two faces to E3. One of them is that of a business summit, intended to connect the video game industry with the press as a way of showing their wares to the public. The other looks at game developers as artists, presenting the fruit of their ideas and labors often for the first time.

Interactive entertainment is both business and art, and the Academy of Interactive Arts And Sciences recognizes both of these faces with their annual DICE Summit and Interactive Achievement Awards. They also host the Into the Pixel game art exhibition, which we saw this year at E3, award scholarships to game design students, and more activities designed to support the industry's creative talent.

We sat down with Academy president Joseph Olin to talk about the state of the industry, this year's E3, and more.

"As much as I think most people reflect upon 2007 as a watershed year for games ad interactive entertainment, I think everything I've seen so far at this E3 shows... that 2008 to 2009 will be bigger, better and brighter than last year," said Olin.

"It's very impressive that, stripping away the challenges of the E3 environment, and the hype and everything else, and looking at games and game makers, there's very impressive things that were shown this year... there's a broader variety of games that were shown this year than in the past."

It's true that while this year's event was low on big surprises and towering spectacle, there were perhaps a broader variety of genres and game types on offer than ever before, something Olin credits in part to Nintendo's success in widening the market through the Wii and the DS lite.

"You have to separate the business of magazines and journalism from the reality of what's here, and why it's good," said Olin. Though he admitted that the hype cycle had been useful for attracting attention and enthusiasm toward the industry, he said he thinks the industry would benefit from providing less advance notice on new products.

"My personal hope is that someday we will show less more often, rather than show more more frequently, because I think that you have the opportunity to be new, fresh and exciting only once," he said. For example, Spore has been on our radar screens for nearly three years now — and Will Wright's ability to likely deliver on such long-cultivated expectations is a rare exception to the rule.

Olin said it's unfair to games for them to languish in the long wait after early announcements. He said the positive showing for EA's Dead Space was a pleasant surprise, since in his view it had suffered from some poor "been there, done that" buzz after being announced a good while ago. "Why not wait a little bit?" Said Olin. "The things you don't see help build your interest."

He also said that Mirror's Edge is a good representation of the maturation of the craft, reflecting some film talent sensibilities in terms of style and camera use. Increased connectivity is another sign of industry maturity, he said, and his favorite current trend is cooperative play, like Resistance 2's squad creation.

Game narratives are also evolving, said Olin. "I think the thing that Ken Levine and his teams did with BioShock, and to a certain extent Metal Gear Solid 4, and to a certain extent the story within GTA IV show the promise and potential that games have to be as narratively important as film."

"We're not there yet, but in some ways, I think we're better, because I don't know that the story of Niko would necessarily make a great movie, but it's strong enough to make a brilliant game."

Olin predicts that the lines between film and games will continue to blur, but that games will use their innate strengths. He said he expects we'll see fewer non-interactive cutscenes, and more game-like cues that tell the player what to do.

"The reason that most people will still choose video games is because of their personal involvement... you go to a movie for a completely different experience and entertainment expression."