Ten years to graphical realism according to Epic’s Sweeney

It’s the unspoken and unwritten yet ever looming epoc of gaming technology – graphical realism in game. Whilst graphics that are truly indistinguishable from the real article are still a technical impossibility, Epic Games’ founder Tim Sweeney speculates in an interview with Gamasutra that we may only be 10 years away from such a phenomena.

“We’re only about a factor of a thousand off from achieving all that in real-time without sacrifices. So we’ll certainly see that happen in our lifetimes; it’s just a result of Moore’s Law. Probably 10-15 years for that stuff, which isn’t far at all. Which is scary — we’ll be able to saturate our visual systems with realistic graphics at that point.”

Sweeney concedes that there is more to achieving realism than the number of polygons you can squeeze into a frame or the number of lines on a screen, “Animation, character movement, interaction with characters, and conversations with characters. They’re really cheesy in games now. A state-of-the-art game like the latest Half-Life expansion from Valve, Gears of War, or Bungie’s stuff is extraordinarily unrealistic compared to a human actor in a human movie, just because of the really fine nuances of human behavior.”

Ultimately this is the dilemma facing developers. Graphical realism is the easiest goal for those producing technology to set themselves, because it is arguably the easiest to achieve. The real art behind videogame production, which technology can only help make happen, is as Sweeney says in capturing that elusive human spirit and producing what at the end of the day is great, immersive entertainment. It is testament to the art of story telling that – as retro games fly off virtual shelves of PSN and Xbox Live – regardless of technological capability and visual fidelity, the ability to create a compelling narrative and entertaining experience are timeless.