Epic's Tim Sweeney predicts photo-realistic graphics within 10 years

But other challenges await.

Epic founder and programming legend Tim Sweeney has predicted that we'll see photo-realistic graphics within the next 10 years.

Sweeney, who co-created the Unreal game engine, told an audience at the Develop Conference this morning that within that time frame we'll see visuals that are "indistinguishable from reality".

"It's continuing to improve at Moore's Law rate," he said. "Things are going to get really interesting. We'll be able to render environments that are absolutely photo-realistic within the next 10 years, like indistinguishable from reality level of graphics."

But, Sweeney noted, it will take much longer for game creators to create believable AI, among other things.

"That just moves the challenge of graphics to the problems we don't know how to solve," he said, "like simulating human intelligence, animation, speech and lip-syncing.

"There are still lots of areas in graphics that require ongoing research for probably the rest of our lives before we come close to approaching reality."

Sweeney was talking as part of a wide-ranging discussion on his career, Epic Games, Unreal Engine and the industry in general.

At one point he confirmed Epic is working on an unannounced "triple-A shooter" alongside PC online game Fortnite, as well as number of smaller projects.

Sweeney said Epic had switched from building a single, large triple-A game to multiple games of various scope and scale.

"Last generation, most of the company was focused on building Gears of War 3, a massive project," he said. "Gears of War 1 was a 60-person project at peak. Gears of War 3 was more than 100-people at peak.

"Now we're building several games at different scales. We're building Fortnite, a PC online game which is a fun, sort of Minecraft meets Left 4 Dead. It's a 35-person team. It's not aiming to beat Call of Duty in terms of graphics. It's more of a Pixar art style and a limited project in scope, just aimed at fun as opposed to massive breakthroughs in scale.

"We're building a bigger, triple-A shooter project that hasn't been announced yet. And we've also internally started developing really tiny projects with two or three guys working together as a team for a few months in small scale game development.

"It's really cool. We're testing our development at all scales and learning it as we go. We're trying to master development at every scale."

Sweeney's mention of the unannounced shooter tallies with a recent Epic Games job posting that sought staff to work on an "unannounced competitive online action game" that includes "player progression, heavy itemisation, and a dynamic economy".

Elsewhere, Sweeney discussed how Epic is using Unreal Engine 4 to develop games with PC as the lead platform and, from there, port to multiple platforms with a global launch in mind.

"Increasingly we can think about building one game and shipping it on every platform that's appropriate," he said. "We're now thinking about building all of our games, looking first at PC as a platform, then porting and supporting console platforms with the same game, eventually porting it down to tablets where the control scheme is appropriate, and also porting and running it on the web.

"We can potentially reach a much larger audience, and it will be increasingly important worldwide.

"Consoles are specific to the Western markets: North America and Europe. They don't exist in Korea and China, which represent half of the gaming market. Those are PC online games. But, I think we can build one game that appeals to all those markets by supporting all platforms that are popular."

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Meanwhile, Unreal Engine 4, in the works at Epic for two years now, is with developers now who are using it to make games, Sweeney said, and we should start to see the fruits of that work at the end of 2014.

"Unreal Engine 4 is aimed for next generation game development," Sweeney said. "For game developers, the rush is on right now. There are numerous triple-A games and also some smaller titles built with Unreal Engine 4 right now everywhere in the world.

"The end of next will be the sweet spot for gamers seeing the games. There are some really exciting things happening on the console platforms and with free-to-play games in Korea. They're going to change things in significant ways. I can't spoil their thunder, but it's all coming up and it's all starting to come together.

"There are multiple games in full production now doing really neat things."

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