Epic's Unreal Engine 3 has served as the backbone for plenty of hits this generation, but now the company is investing more of its time in planning for the next generation with Unreal Engine 4. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney says most of his day is spent on research for the next generation, and the company is currently attempting to tackle the challenges that more advanced systems will bring.
"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. "This is technology that won't see the light of day until probably around 2014, but focusing on that horizon enables me to do some really cool things that just aren't practical today, but soon will be." He says the fun of this project is "exploring areas of the technology nobody else is really yet contemplating because they're still a few years away from practicality."
Of course, more power means planning for how to use that power. "The big challenge that's going to be coming up in the next decade is scaling up to tons of CPU cores," Sweeney said. He says Unreal Engine 3 tends to divide the CPU's work between two cores. "But once you have 20 cores, you can't easily say this one is going to be for animation and this one is going to be for details on the face of the character, because all these parameters change dynamically as different things come on screen and load as you shift from scene to scene."
Sweeney expects the next ten years to be driven by the slow march toward movie-quality visuals, and improved "simulation" aspects like more realistic enemy behavior. The next generation has stalled, but it's most certainly on the way. Epic's UE3 has been widely adopted this generation, so it's smart business strategy to prepare for the impending new cycle.