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Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Epic Games' Founder Tim Sweeney Interviewed
6:00 AM | Cord Kruse | 5 comments

Gamasutra has posted a lengthy interview with the founder, CEO, and technical director of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney. The Q&A follows the developer's path from childhood game creations to Epic's current successes. Topics discussed include the early days of shareware, his fateful decision to challenge id Software's first person shooter dominance, and his views on the progression of graphics technology.

Did you ever think about doing a Doom-style first-person shooter with Epic instead of a full-3D game like Unreal?
TS: It took about two years to come around to the realization that we could be a competitive game company in that business. At first, the technical problems seemed so hard that it felt like I was out of my league at that point and that all of the Epic folks were out of our league.
What id had done -- let's put it that Wolfenstein and Doom were so far ahead of everybody else's wildest dreams, that it just seemed crazy to try to compete. But it was around 1994 when I started to see that, yeah, they're actually beatable.
There were a bunch of shortcomings in the game, and there were a lot of things you could do in addition to go way beyond what they were doing -- there were different stories you could do. It was really around 1994 that we felt we could actually try to compete in that area.
Even at that point, it was daunting. We typically developed games with between one and three people -- usually a programmer, an artist, and maybe a musician. But those games took much larger teams -- up to ten or twenty people. It was really scary scaling up to the size of the project on Unreal where we went to about 20 people by the time the project shipped.
We had no experience managing projects like that, and developing that game -- the cost of it just required that Epic and Digital Extremes -- we had to spend all of the profits we'd made on all of our previous games up to that point on that one single game.
We were betting everything on that -- including our credit card balances. Mark Rein got his American Express card taken away from funding Epic at that point. We bet everything on it, and it was a success.

Looking ahead, how long do you think it will be before real-time computer graphics are 100% realistic like a movie?
TS: There are two parts to the graphical problem. Number one, there are all those problems that are just a matter of brute force computing power: so completely realistic lighting with real-time radiosity, perfectly anti-aliased graphics, and movie-quality static scenes and motion.
We're only about a factor of a thousand off from achieving all that in real-time without sacrifices. So we'll certainly see that happen in our lifetimes; it's just a result of Moore's Law. 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.
But there's another problem in graphics that's not as easily solvable. It's anything that requires simulating human intelligence or behavior: animation, character movement, interaction with characters, and conversations with characters. They're really cheesy in games now.
A state-of-the-art game like the latest Half-Life expansion from Valve, Gears of War, or Bungie's stuff is extraordinarily unrealistic compared to a human actor in a human movie, just because of the really fine nuances of human behavior.
We simulate character facial animation using tens of bones and facial controls, but in the body, you have thousands. It turns out we've evolved to recognize those things with extraordinary detail, so we're far short of being able to simulate that.
And unfortunately, all of that's not just a matter of computational power, because if we had infinitely fast computers now, we still wouldn't be able to solve that, because we just don't have the algorithms; we don't know how the brain works or how to simulate it.
Click over to the link below to read the entire interview.

Gamasutra: Epic Games' Tim Sweeney Interview
Epic Games

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Archives  News  Epic Games' Founder Tim Sweeney Interviewed