How much emphasis on AI is there at Epic? Because a lot of people, when they think of Epic's tech, they think of nice graphics. What about the AI side?
TS: Well, the gameplay team at Epic puts a lot of thought into simulating characters in our games -- you know, your friends in the game and enemy opponents -- and so we've developed a lot of interesting solutions that help with AI.
There's a navigation mesh which gives each character an overview of how to walk through the level, and how to understand different parts of the level. If an enemy decides he needs to fight you then he'll realize, "Oh, I need to run up these stairs, and then fight him from above where I have a better angle to fire on him from."
There are a lot of basic systems like that, but ultimately it comes down to the gameplay team designing custom AI for each character and the various actions and scenarios that are carried out. It's a pretty special case; it's not a general simulation of intelligence by any means.
Is there any tech that you see happening outside of the games industry that inspires you with your own job?
TS: What's really impressed me? In the last decade, Google search and its uncanny ability to find what you actually mean that you're looking for; there's Siri's voice recognition.
Word Lens, this iPhone app; it's magic to me. You take out your iPhone and you point it in some direction and basically the camera takes a live feed, a video of the world, and it projects it onto the screen in front of you with all of the words translated from one language to another. But not just translated with captions at the bottom, it's translating like if you have a big red stop sign it's translating "Stop" to Spanish and putting it in the proper perspective with the proper lighting in the scene.
And that's a crazy advancement. Just seeing that makes me think that we're on the cusp of seeing a whole generation of augmented reality apps over the next few years that will change the way we interact with computers. Just a few pieces of growth algorithms have shown through like that over the last few years.
Google Goggles lets you do a search by taking a picture. So they're working on image-based inquiries as well.
TS: Oh yeah, and Amazon had a service like that, too; I thought, "Wow, that's an amazing algorithm there!" What you do is there is an Amazon app, you take a picture of an object and a few seconds or a few minutes later it sends you a link to that product on Amazon.com. When I saw that it's like, "Wow! They're doing some amazing image recognition tracking technology!" But no, they have an army of people who watch your pictures and then look up the appropriate thing on Amazon.com and email it to you.
TS: I know! It's the joke about Siri, right? That the real trick is that that they have a warehouse full of people in China who are typing away at your translations.
So what about the browser? That's something that relates more to something specific that you guys are working on with Unreal Engine. Where do you see the future of the browser in games?
TS: Well, we would like to see the web browser as another platform. You should be able to take any game -- a PlayStation 3 or iOS game, for example -- and just go to that and play it from any web browser.
We're slowly heading in that direction as an industry. One thing that's happened recently is Adobe Flash. For a decade or more, Adobe Flash was a little scripting language for creating more interactive webpages using a proprietary browser plug-in, but more recently Adobe created a translator.
You give it any C++ program, like Unreal Engine 3, and it translates it to a platform-independent application that can run within Flash, within any web browser or on any platform where Flash runs.
And so now any browser that supports Flash can play any web game that's built with Unreal Engine 3, or any other engine that's cross-compatible with Flash. That's an awesome breakthrough; it shows you the possibilities.
In another few years, I think that's going to be a very realistic scenario. And so the web will generally be a platform, and you can have a real application with a full feature set that runs within a web browser; that'll be very welcome. The web is a fairly awkward experience when you use a platform that's not the majority of the install base, and I think we're going to see big improvements there in the next few years.