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Epic's Tim Sweeney on the problem with photo-realism

Graphics will be "indistinguishable from reality" within 10 years, but that's where the real problems begin

Epic's Tim Sweeney believes that game graphics will achieve photo-realism within 10 years, though that endeavour merely highlights the myriad problems that raw power alone cannot solve.

Speaking at the Develop conference today, the founder of Epic Games marvelled at the million-fold increase in computing power for graphics since he first started programming. And at the current rate of progress, the environments in video games will be, "absolutely photo-realistic within the next 10 years."

"An indistinguishable from reality level of graphics," he said.

However, that will only offer the veneer of realism. Sweeney believes that creating truly convincing worlds requires solutions to a range of difficult problems.

"There are still a lot areas that will require ongoing research for probably the rest of our lives before we come close to approaching reality"

"That just moves the challenge of graphics to the problems we don't know how to solve. Like simulating human intelligence, animation, speech, lip-syncing. There are still a lot areas that will require ongoing research for probably the rest of our lives before we come close to approaching reality."

In a wide-ranging talk, Sweeney described in detail his personal journey to the summit of the industry. The need for rapid change was an ever-present message, and Sweeney believes that is more relevant now than ever before.

"It feels like we're going through the last 25 years of game history at the rate of four years every year," he said, addressing the huge changes wrought by the rise of agile, digital platforms for game creation and distribution.

These changes present a huge challenge to established companies, but Sweeney is confident that the culture of Epic Games will be able to withstand those forces and ultimately thrive - just as it did when the industry moved from 2D to 3D, and from PC to console.

"We've always recognised that the industry is in a state of constant change, and those that react fastest are the survivors," he said.

"We've always recognised that the industry is in a state of constant change, and those that react fastest are the survivors"

Indeed, Epic has already started to change in response to the new face of the industry. The Unreal Engine 4 has been built with a greater emphasis on flexibility and scalability than any other technology in the company's history.

"It means that now, increasingly, we can think about building one game and shipping it on every platform that's appropriate," he said, listing PC, console, tablet and the web as target platforms for Epic's future games.

"It means we can potentially reach a much larger audience, and it will be increasingly important worldwide. Consoles are specific to the Western markets - North America, Europe - but they really don't exist in Korea, China... I really think we can build one game that goes to all of those markets by supporting the appropriate platforms."

Sweeney said that there are already a number of projects of different sizes being developed with Unreal Engine 4 all over the world - "the rush is on right now" - and the "sweet-spot" for seeing the engine's capabilities will be, "the end of next year."

And the same is true for Epic, which has changed from the single-project focus of the Gears of War and Gears of War 2 years, to a new approach that supports the development of multiple games of radically different sizes - including the 30-man PC online game Fortnight, a larger unannounced AAA project, and another unannounced project being built by a team of three people.

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Matthew Handrahan avatar

Matthew Handrahan

Editor-in-Chief

Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.

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