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Epic Games has made its fortune with games that feature surly, grunting men whose adeptness at blowing people in half with powerful weapons greatly outweighs their negotiating skills.
In an interview with Gamasutra earlier this year, Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of the Gears of War and Unreal Engine 3 developer, did not seem surly, he was not (visibly) armed, and he did not grunt once. He's pretty much the anti-Marcus Fenix.
For someone so soft-spoken and unassuming, Sweeney gives a fascinating interview, effortlessly opening up about the game industry and the technology that will drive it in the future.
I'm interested about the work dynamic at Epic. Are you just holed up in an office coding all day?
Tim Sweeney: Yeah, largely. The great thing about Epic is that from the beginning I've had a philosophy of finding the best people for all of the key areas of the company, and then one by one, my expertise has been replaced.
The first game I wrote was all my own, and then I brought in an artist who was much better than me, and from then on I was not doing any artwork. And Cliff Bleszinski took over design, and then Mike Capps and Rod Fergusson took over the management of the company and production. Mark Rein took over sales.
And so I'm not needed as a critical path resource on any project at Epic right now, which is really cool; it enables me to go around and participate wherever I can add input. So I've been mainly involved in every team, and direction with Unreal Engine 4, their technical strategy, and making sure all our systems are going in the right direction. Not being in the critical path, I think, is really helpful, in being able to maintain the big overall perspective of the company.
At your DICE Summit presentation in February, you talked about video games simulating life with advanced graphics and technology. Is that some kind of holy grail or ultimate goal that video games can accomplish -- an exact simulation of life?
TS: Well, there are two separate challenges. One is having a lifelike graphical realism, and that's something that we know how to solve given enough computing power. And so largely it's a matter of developing, coming up with innovative new graphics algorithms and waiting for the hardware to increase in performance every year.
The other area of computing [AI] is much, much more difficult. Trying to simulate human intelligence in the game -- realistic character AI and realistic conversations -- something like that relies on algorithms that nobody has invented yet, because nobody knows how to simulate human thought. I expect over the next few decades, really, there's going to be an incredible innovation there.
I expect that to happen because we're seeing some companies really starting to address that -- that core problem of human thought. I can pick up my iPhone now and ask Siri for directions to someplace, or ask it some really complicated query, and it'll parse it correctly and give me a result. So really, computing is on the cusp of grasping the human world, and that's a really exciting thing.
What kind of breakthrough is it going to take to accurately simulate how people think and react? Or is it going to be more of a gradual building-upon of everybody's work?
TS: It's hard to predict. The one idea is that there's going to be this singularity -- that someone in the future will trigger this judgment day where somebody creates a breakthrough in computer intelligence that suddenly changes the world. And that could happen, but what we've seen is much, much more gradual and incremental progress towards that.
Google, with its search algorithms, has come up with some really impressive mathematical notions to represent knowledge, and be able to search it efficiently. That's one of the things that's impressed me in that area. The other is a Siri, with voice recognition. It turns out that they some smart algorithms, but they also have a gigantic dataset of queries and responses to help steer it in the right direction.
So I think the most likely scenario is a path works, and progress over the next few years will continue piece by piece, advancing in isolated areas that go on over time slowly, building up into something bigger.