Perfectly Realistic Game Graphics 10-15 Years Away, Estimates Epic's Sweeney

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Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney now estimates that videogame graphics will reach the point of realism in as little as 10-15 years.

When asked for an estimate on movie-like photorealism by Gamasutra, Sweeney replied: "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."

"We're only about a factor of a thousand off from achieving all that in real-time without sacrifices," he said. "So we'll certainly see that happen in our lifetimes; it's just a result of Moore's Law."

While graphical fidelity might be perfected, Sweeney noted that mastering actual human realism will be a more daunting task.

"There's another problem in graphics that's not as easily solvable," he added. "It's anything that requires simulating human intelligence or behavior: animation, character movement, interaction with characters, and conversations with characters."

Sweeney explained that simulating human behavior is not "a matter of computational power," saying that "we just don't have the algorithms; we don't know how the brain works or how to simulate it."

"And if you could simulate it all, how could you train it to be realistic like a human? Those problems are probably decades away from being solved. Those are things that may not occur in our lifetimes."

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  • reply
    May 25, 2009 3:48 PM

    It will take massive teams to create textures and models for those "photorealistic graphics". Imagine the amount of assets you will have to develop.

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      May 25, 2009 3:55 PM

      maybe. in 10-15 years there may be a better faster way. also look at some of the stuff people and studios already do CGI wise - pretty damn close to photo-realistic, they just need to make the jump to real time rendering.

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        May 26, 2009 9:23 PM

        Well, it's been 100 years and movie budgets haven't shrunk much.

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      May 25, 2009 3:58 PM

      at that sort of point you'd start doing things procedurally, things would be made of defined substances and then the texture and minor surface details (both colour and deformation/parallax mapping type stuff) would be generated dependent on that

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        May 26, 2009 11:37 AM

        This would be the real breakthrough. Any surface (color, reflection, specular color, even bump mapping) can ultimately be described with math. It's just a question of having sufficient processing power to make it practical in real-time rendering. For that matter, it doesn't even necessarily need to be real-time; for some games it could be processed as part of loading the next level...

        Add some random number seeding for surfaces like wood, or distressed metal and plastic, and we can finally have an infinite number of wooden crates that will all look at least a little different. :P

        Tell the system Object Y is made of wood and it spontaneously generates the texture, including wood grain with proper bump mapping, the right kind of light reflection, etc. Add variables for polished wood, old wood, termite-infested wood, etc.

        A system like that could cut down development costs by quite a bit, or at least make the budget a lot more flexible.

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        May 26, 2009 11:48 AM

        Yeah, procedural stuff is the future (well, a large part of it...I'm hesitant to label anything "the future" but it is such a handy thing...and as a programmer its something that I just love the whole idea of...really cool stuff).

        It also is handy for destructable stuff...if you're generating a texture algorithmically (like say wood grain, rock strata, etc) then you have something that textures correctly when pieces get blown off if you're algorithm handles that. Hell you could do this to a limited degree in GLSL already on current hardware (just not at a really amazing photo-realistic and incredibly robust sort of way).

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      May 25, 2009 4:01 PM

      Video games will have budgets that rival Pixar productions. :(

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      May 25, 2009 4:20 PM

      Maybe making textures will evolve much like animation did with motion capture.

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        May 25, 2009 7:08 PM

        Then we can look forward to lifeless textures. Mo-cap is a terrible step backward for animation IMO.

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          May 25, 2009 7:12 PM

          The answer is you need them both. Mo-cap will catch some subtle movements that key frame animators won't catch. You need the regular animators to clean things up. I think you need to marry them both.

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            May 25, 2009 7:18 PM

            To me, the difference between mo-cap and traditional animation is like the difference between a photograph and a painting. The two are not even really comparable aesthetically. I suppose some combination of the two that looks good is possible, but I've yet to see an example where mo-cap anywhere in the pipeline didn't just suck the life right out of the animation.

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              May 25, 2009 8:58 PM

              Uncharted used both and I think it has the nicest animations of any game to date.

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              May 25, 2009 9:45 PM

              What about Andy Serkis' mo-capped facial animation for Gollum on the Lord of the Rings films? In the end, isn't mo-cap sort of the ultimate and most intuitive puppeteer interface for controlling the movements of what amount to digital marionettes? If mo-cap animations suck, I think you have to blame the mo-cap actors and their director, not the technology/methodology itself.

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                May 25, 2009 11:00 PM

                Puppeteering is very limited compared to what you can do with hand animation. You will always have the limitations of your physical body. With hand animation you are free to exaggerate any where you see fit.

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                May 26, 2009 5:59 AM

                Yes, his mo-cap brought it to life, but they needed hand animators to smooth things out. The animators had much more work to do than Andy did.

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          May 25, 2009 10:16 PM

          I've heard this a lot, but it always seems to come from animators. Yet every single time I ask them to show me some examples of games with good hand animation, they keep showing me these clips of characters that have severely exaggerated movements and really shitty follow-through and momentum.

          Although having done it myself, I can attest to the fact that cleaning up mo-cap data can suck the life out of animators.

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            May 25, 2009 10:59 PM

            I guess it really comes down to personal taste. Some people might like animation that is simply information recorded off some actor or mime. However a huge audience exists for animation that is pushed further than that. For instance, Pixar animation. It is incredibly appealing because they work off of principles that push animators to do things that you couldn't get even with the best actors in a mo-cap setup.

            In short, you can mo-cap a guy punching something, and then you can get a great animator to animate the same punch and the animators punch will FEEL so much stronger and full of force. It is about frame by frame exaggerations that are just impossible to get with mo-cap.

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              May 25, 2009 11:09 PM

              Should also point out that I'm talking in the realms of photorealism (Or more in the case, realistic stuff) here. Cartoony aesthetics like TF2 or Pixar movies will always be far better off with traditional animation.

              I should also point out that I've always believed that in-game animations that affect gameplay (Run cycles, jumps, attacks, etc) should almost exclusively be hand animated, namely because they're short and it's an absolute imperative that they're as clear as possible. Death animations and scripted sequences can benefit a lot from motion-capture, though.

              For cutscenes and the like, however, I've never seen hand animation that comes even close to mo-cap.

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      May 25, 2009 4:21 PM

      It might not take much at all. Think about now where there's a lot of hassle in having to scale everything down and reduce the polygon count which they won't have to do.

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        May 25, 2009 10:28 PM

        Yeah, we already have to create obscenely high-poly models in order to generate the normal maps for objects. Being able to use the high-res meshes instead of having to bake them down onto low-poly versions would save a tonne of time.

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      May 25, 2009 4:35 PM

      Procedural texturing.

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      May 25, 2009 9:29 PM

      This is the solution for our economic troubles. 3000 artist teams to ship your average game. ;-) Think of all the people who will yell at their moms "You told me I'd never be able to make money as an artist!!!"

      Of course, to keep costs down, it will be paid about as well as your average job at Costco, but thems the breaks.

      Serious response: Some people are complaining about graphics and AI, etc in this thread. Seriously, they're separate issues, and usually don't involve the same engineers. It's like going into a thread about jelly and complaining that they're not focusing on the intricacies of peanut butter. They're entirely different things.

      And Blitz below commented.. Procedural generation of worlds will help provide "blueprints" that then need a billion assets.. You'll still have to make as much stuff as you do today, but procedural terrain and world generation can help some of it. Honestly though, I don't see hyper realistic being the preferred rendering, except for sims. For most games, stylized aesthetics are largely more enjoyable and enhance the experience. Hyper realism usually just makes the uncanny valley that much more uncanny.

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      May 26, 2009 12:39 AM

      Exactly the problem and the main limitation. Dev costs and budgets are obscene now. Have a look at Ass Creed 2 - 250 guys working on this game for a few years. Imagine in 10 years when you are talking several fold the amount of detail required to create this stuff. The worlds would just take far too long to develop without lots of procedural generation, but even that only goes so far and doesn't go very far if you are creating something unique like psyhconauts.

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      May 26, 2009 9:52 AM

      Actually maybe textures should be open source in the future. That way developers can use what they want and focus on developing the tech of the game.

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      May 26, 2009 1:23 PM

      Exactly why Im probably going out of this industry by then

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