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Epic Games' Tim Sweeney talks Unreal Engine 4, be patient until 'around 2014'

Epic (Mega) Games co-founder and CEO Tim Sweeney is one of our favorite people in the whole, wide gaming world, and it's not just because he told this writer that he reads Joystiq every day. While id's John Carmack is often placed atop our industry's tech pedestal, it's Tim Sweeney whose work on Unreal Engine not only shapes the way video games look but the business models behind how they're created. So when Sweeney talks about the elusive and intangible Unreal Engine 4, we pay attention.

"I spend about 60 percent of my time every day doing research work that's aimed at our next generation engine and the next generation of consoles," Sweeney told IGN, adding that this "technology that won't see the light of day until probably around 2014." Sweeney compared this early work to his work on the original Unreal engine in 1996, which introduced "a bunch of new features that hadn't been seen before." Sweeney said, "I feel like that's what I'm doing now on Unreal Engine 4 in exploring areas of the technology nobody else is really yet contemplating because they're still a few years away from practicality."

There are two primary technical challenges facing video games today, Sweeney said. The first, and most addressable, is the need to scale up "to tons of CPU cores." While UE3 can divide discrete processes across a handful of cores, "once you have 20 cores" it isn't that simple "because all these parameters change dynamically as different things come on screen and load as you shift from scene to scene." These advancements will help achieve "movie quality graphics" since that outcome has been limited primarily by horsepower. "We just haven't been able to do it because we don't have enough terra flops or petta flops of computer power to make it so," Sweeney said. Less likely to be conquered in the next 10 years: the "simulation of human aspects of the game experience," Sweeney explained. "We've seen very, very little progress in these areas over the past few decades so it leaves me very skeptical about our prospects for breakthroughs in the immediate future."

So, to wrap up: Over the next ten years, the aliens / Nazis / zombies / bug monsters in your video games will appear in "movie quality," but will still be pretty stupid.

[Image credit: Forbes]

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