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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 3 of 3

I know you've done some research into the limits of what humans can see graphically. We were talking earlier about this idea that, to paraphrase a bit, technology will become an extension of yourself and your body; it will be all around you, happening everywhere in your world, with gestures and cameras and whatnot. Have you thought at all about the ramifications of that on the human body, being inundated with all of these screens and waves and things all of the time?

TS: It's hard to say. I think it's a simplification in a lot of ways, because I think right now we are surrounded by a whole lot of separate display devices, and most of them are really crappy. When I'm at my iPad, that's an awesome experience; but then I go to my Windows XP-based computer, and that's a pretty slow and clunky experience; and then I go to my car's navigation system -- I'm sorry, but General Motors makes lousy navigation systems. I like the idea of all of those disparate display devices just going away and being replaced with this pervasive display overlaid on top of the world that's with you everywhere. It really enables a much greater degree of polish than all of these separate experiences.

But it also enables you to be advertised to against your will, potentially.

TS: I don't think anybody would ever put up with a device like that. If Google tries to sell you these glasses that are always popping up ads in your face, they can go to hell!

But people do kind of put up with it. On the plane over here to Taiwan, you have to sit through some advertisements; they're mandatory. Or, in a cab, they're trying to sell you stuff, but you already paid money! I could foresee it happening.

TS: You're right. It's a brave new world.

I've been reading lots of Kurt Vonnegut lately, too, so...

TS: If you're scared about the information Facebook collects, for example, then just imagine what happens when there's a company that's basically beaming a live feed of what you see all day, every day, and all of your daily interactions.

Absolutely. It's kind of horrifying. But, yeah, it is interesting to think about what a game would be in that kind of environment. Does it become a Second Life kind of thing but finally done well, where you are a superhero flying through this universe and you're actually moving around in the real world? I don't know!

TS: Yeah, we could totally go into those sorts of games. Another neat thing is the realization that, if you have a device like that that you are always wearing, then any game scenario continues to work, but you don't need a display to make it work. You could use that device to project a TV to a particular place in your house, and it would work and look just like a real TV. So you could continue to use it in legacy scenarios. Going beyond that, it's impossible to predict. The only way to figure that out is to have a million smart developers each out trying new ideas, most of them failing, but finding a few things that work.

I feel like, for core games, the idea of a virtual controller is not that compelling. A core Kinect game is maybe possible, but the precision required is not really there. But in that kind of a scenario, I just have this vision of a dude that has a wireless controller that's snapped to his belt, so if he wants to play something he can just...

TS: I agree. The best game controllers and best devices in general don't only sense your motion, but also provide tactile feedback in response to your motion. That's why a mouse is so satisfying; you're moving your hand, and your hand has an enormous amount of precision, so as you move your hand you're also feeling the motion.

You want to see a high-bandwidth connection between your brain and the device. That just doesn't exist. Even with a touchscreen, you have this great ability to touch what's on the screen, but you can't feel key boundaries on your virtual keyboard. When you have a game that has a little joystick controller on-screen, you don't have any touch response there. Those are lousy.

If all you're doing with a Kinect-type of device is putting in some virtual input device, it theoretically works just as well, but if you can't feel it then it's just going to fail. I don't know what the ultimate answer to that is. Maybe there will be some advances in tactile feedback. Ideally, you want a touch device that can impart a force on you with some sort of dynamic feel. I can imagine a virtual keyboard having the feel of a keyboard through some sort of mechanism like that, but that's been largely unexplored so far.

While that does seem like it would be the solution, again, it's a little scary to me. What are those impulses going to do to me? How are they going to alter my sense of touch in general, using them long-term?

TS: Yeah. I have the same complaint with cell phones that fry your brain. That's a real problem; after I talk on my cellphone for a long period of time, I definitely feel some --

Your ear is hot.

TS: It feels a little like I drank a beer or something. It's definitely doing something bad to you there.

That's the kind of thing I was getting at before. You're mostly talking about a unified device, but if the world has all of these things it can beam at you, what's going to happen? We're going to turn into mutants or something.

TS: Well, we're already well along that path if you look at the way we live our lives. The typical person with an iPhone has a completely different view of what's out there in the world and how to navigate through it. You can't get lost anymore if you have a GPS, and you can't forget anything because you can just look it up online on Google. It's a different world.

I keep getting reminded of what the world used to be like when I come to other countries because I can't afford a smartphone that will work everywhere. At one point, when I was sending a text message on a feature phone, I tried to touch the screen to move the cursor, and of course that doesn't work because it's just a screen. I have to go around looking for specific restaurants because I'm a vegetarian, but I don't speak the language; so I have to write down instructions for myself and leave the place where my internet is. Then I'm just around with no backup. It's really made me realize how reliant on this technology I am.

TS: Yeah, it's crazy. At the rate things are advancing, we're going to have to explain to our grandkids what a book was! I mean that seriously!

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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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.