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The Future Human: An Interview with Tim Sweeney
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The Future Human: An Interview with Tim Sweeney

December 28, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

So the next generation of consoles is going to have whatever success it has, and we'll see how that works out. But I want to ask in advance, do you see console as a viable future platform? Because it seems to me that PC is going to continue to evolve and push forward in terms of graphical advances -- and mobile is coming up so fast. Obviously, with Infinity Blade Dungeons, that's a proper Diablo-style game on an iPad. Maybe you're not going to need a console at a certain point. When you're pushing these graphical advances, where do you see them living?

TS: The platform equation is getting a lot more interesting nowadays, but gamers aren't changing that much. There are still hardcore gamers who want to play games where you sit down and have a very immersive experience for two or three hours at a time, and the iPad just isn't a good device for that. It's too small. It's not enough of a viewing window, and the sound isn't moving around you.

But I think you're seeing at the core, as we improve graphics on all platforms, there's still going to be a difference for the sort of game you design for iPad versus console or PC.

Certainly Infinity Blade: Dungeons is based on re-envisioning the Diablo-style game around the sort of experience you want when you're sitting there with your iPhone; a game which you can play for a few minutes at a time if you want, a game that doesn't require the deep and lasting commitment to have some fun a little bit at a time, and a game that's not as huge -- a project that's being developed over the course of about nine months as compared to six or seven years.

So it's a very different scope and scale, and I don't envision the core experience that you have playing a game like Gears of War or World of Warcraft going away. I think consoles are basically just a mechanism for playing games on your TV when you want to sit back on your couch and have an awesome game experience. That's very different from sitting at your computer: better in some ways and worse in some ways.

Infinity Blade: Dungeons

Right. I just wonder, as these things do appear to be converging, what about an Apple TV or a Microsoft Surface kind of situation where you essentially have that console experience there if you want? I'm not trying to bait you or anything, but I feel like this is the last console generation. I do believe console gamers will still exist -- I hope they will, but I feel like they'll wind up moving to PC.

TS: There is no question of whether gamers are going away; the question is, do they move to different platforms? There's some plausibility in that, but the console is a very immersive way to play games. They're more immersive than sitting in a chair in front of your computer with a mouse in a bright room. I have a hard time seeing that experience going away, but I think a lot of these games that are being developed now exclusively for console are going to become more important also on the PC. Most of the companies shipping games on console are also shipping them on the PC -- and doing extraordinarily well, especially through services like Steam, where it's all online and there's no hassle of going into a retail store. So certainly the PC will be a growing part of the new ecosystem.

That's kind of the thing for me. It will become so much easier to port things to different platforms, and you guys are trying very hard to make that happen. In that universe where, say, you could stream something from your Microsoft Surface or whatever to your TV, does there need to be an Xbox and PlayStation 3 and a PC when things seem to all be converging to one point? Portability is important, but convergence is also happening.

TS: Yeah, the convergence is happening, but it comes in fits and starts, and often ideas don't completely work. Also, the thing that's awesome about the controls on an iPad or an iPhone or maybe a future Microsoft tablet is the fact that you have this screen that displays images and you're able to touch it and interact with that image; when you take that device and broadcast that image to the TV, then suddenly you just have a big, flat mouse-like surface. It's not a very compelling control device compared to a game controller, or even mouse and keyboard on the PC. I think you need more to the equation than just a smartphone or tablet beaming a signal to a TV; the controls are a problem there.

So what happens there eventually? I don't know. Are you going to have an Apple TV or a game controller or a console that won't have a game controller? Will all these devices have compatibility in terms of transferring video back and forth? I don't know. There are a lot of unanswered questions, but when the next generation of consoles comes out, you know that they're going to be highly polished devices that will work perfectly for playing games.

A lot of the other ideas that are being thrown around have potential, but are not anywhere near being a finished, polished, usable format. I think you have another solid generation of consoles coming out ahead. After that, who knows? Maybe you'll be wearing your display device around with you everywhere you go and your TV, computer, monitor, and iPhone screen have vanished because it's all mounted to your head.

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Andrew Dobbs
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It makes me shudder when I think of the time and money spent on the tech demos for UE4 and Square's new engine. Good luck out there to anyone who is trying to keep their game company afloat. After our industry's collapse for the past four years, why are we still so focused on making (and justifying) minimal improvements in graphical fidelity?

Michiel Hendriks
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A studio that needs to stay afloat can do that by getting proper tools. If by using UE4 they can save a lot of time on production of their game, then its good for the company. Shorter time to market means quicker returns (if any).

Epic, as a tool builder, needs to sell their tools. And to show off how much better their tools are compared with their competitors they need to create awesome tooling tech demos.

Just because an engine supports photorealism doesn't mean you have to go for that style. Just look at Borderlands or Dishonored.

warren blyth
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cool interview.
one bit struck me hard:

"when you take that device and broadcast that image to the TV, then suddenly you just have a big, flat mouse-like surface. "

- for some reason this got me excited about the exact opposite experience: controlling your mobile device(s) with your console's controller.

How cool would it be to have game that encourages you to lay out your tablets and phones so you can see them, and has the game's focus jump among them - so you just hold the wireless controller? (+imagine a game that let you control a wildly different game on your tablet, with the same controller output that you're sending to your main console? gears on the screen, mario on the tablet. it'd just be funny and weird)
(+ imagine instantly shifting your button mashing focus to a side game on your tablet, because the main game is loading)
(+ imagine a game that encouraged a second player to hold up screens for you, to help out. maybe rotating and moving them as well.)

we mostly think about SmartGlass as a slow response supplement, like those damnable bluray movie tie-in apps.
but would it be possible to enable your "other device" to directly pick up a wireless controller's signal?
(how far from being bluetooth devices are these console controllers?)

... I dimly recall some mysterious magic around xbox controllers or systems having a "proprietary chip" (or whatever magic) that made it near-impossible to create your own wireless controller for the system. But I'm curious if it'd be possible for a smartglass app to enable direct communication with tablet or phone.

Christian Nutt
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The PS3 controller and Wii Remotes ARE Bluetooth, though I don't think they're labeled as such. Wii Remotes will work with Android tablets if an app supports them -- I've experienced this.

Joe McGinn
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Very good piece Brandon, good questions and interesting answers.

Bertrand Augereau
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Hopefully my grandkids will continue to read books, dear Tim.
With paper inside.

Mike Jenkins
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Depending on your age, they probably won't.

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Doug Poston
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@Joshua: Yeah, I also miss scrolls.

Remember how easy it was to read an entire story without having to turn a page? And you could just put it down and pick it up later and you'd be at the last spot you read (bookmarks? What a joke!).

/end sarcasm

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Im sorry, I was reading this on my computer and then I went into my livingroom to turn on my Wii U (because i'm logged on to Gama on it's Web browser) just to say that this interview went from graphics not being a sale pitch anymore to pie-in-the-sky thoughts about interfaces on gaming consoles. So I just learned that the top infuencers in the game industy are still confused about thier consumer base and what they can actually sell as a gaming experince. Is my interpretation about right?

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Joshua Darlington
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The interview shows that the computer game industry is still largely arcade-centric.

Coming from a story game emphasis, I'm more excited about layered reality tech (AR glasses, AR video chat etc) than the virtual end of the spectrum. A characterization engine that even approaches the uncanny valley seems to be decades off. -But if you layer stories on top of the material world and or live human communication channels you can solve that problem immediately and open up new value (meaningful social collision etc).

Bob Johnson
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An iPhone is far more powerful than your average desktop was just a few years ago?


Benjamin Quintero
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You don't have to chase the dream of hyper real to continue chasing graphics. 99.999-% of the planet are uncreative drones who know what they like only after they see it. Only then are they full of opinions but still never full of answers. Graphics will always be the steak on any entree. Look at other industries much older than ours, construction, clothing, makeup, even books.

I know people who purchase books because of the art on the cover in spite of the old saying. Look at any landfill to see all of the perfectly functional kitchen cabinets rotting in the sun because the US alone wants to spend over $1B each year to make them pretty again.

Graphics are not a question of hyper-real but a question of what we perceive to be perfection. How close can we get to the vision in our minds? How close can we get there in real-time, and still have budget to make some semblance of a game around it.

Everyone is chasing the dream of visual perfection at all cost because it is the easiest way to instantly connect someone to your product without the grueling effort of the audience having to visualize it for themselves. Graphics will always prevail for the same reason(s) Megan Fox keeps getting work.

Search around You Tube for 2013 trailers. There you will find a long collection of quick high impact scenes with hair raising "dong" sounds and a visual feast of crumbling buildings, undead creepers, and people screaming in slow motion. This is the language that people understand. It's no secret why games are clawing at cinema and trying to be like them; we walk out of that 2 hour visual orgasm feeling like you need a cigarette when its over. Why wouldn't you want to copy that? After all with a number like 99.999-% chances are pretty good that the people with the money, and sometimes the vision, feel safe in their little box of pretty things. No one wants to look at the ugly box, ewww.

Do you know what the top selling books are right now (and typically)? Self-help in one form or another, whether it be religious or weight loss or even financial success. Many of the top selling books on Amazon are books where people are unhappy with their imperfect self.

Graphics go beyond digital. So buck up boys, it's time to add more hours to your shift... Gamers want perfection and will not settle for less.