Tim Sweeney founded Epic Games as a college student living in his mother’s house. Back then, he chose the name Epic Mega Games to give the illusion of something more than a one-man operation. But those were the Shareware PC days, when gamers voted with their wallets and creative coders could make a good living off of a hit game. A lot has changed in the 20 years since Epic Games was founded. But one thing has remained the same. Tim Sweeney remains at the forefront of technology. And it seems like the entire game industry taps into Unreal Engine 3 technology these days.
Epic Games was showcasing new Unreal Engine 3 technology to press and previewing Unreal Engine 4 tech to developers at its booth at GDC 2012. Sweeney took a few minutes to talk about the future of gaming in this exclusive interview.
What are your thoughts on how far technology has come since you launched Epic Games 20 years ago?
As somebody who was born before the personal computer era even began, it’s amazing how much the technology has changed and how much that’s enabled better experiences with gaming and computing and the entire consumer experience. At the same time, we’re on the verge of a new generation of hardware. Everybody is talking about will there be another console generation or are consoles good enough today and perhaps we’ve already seen our industry’s brightest days. But I don’t think so at all.
How do you see technology evolving over the next 20 years?
Over the next 20 years? The next 20 years is a hard one. I think the line between computing and the real world is going to continue to blur. There’s this YouTube video going around with this father who hands a magazine to his little girl. The girl picks it up, drags her fingers over it, and it doesn’t respond. She gets really frustrated and thinks it’s a broken iPad.
How do you see that tablet generation impacting games?
I just think about what that generation is going to be like when they reach college age. It’s going to be a different world. It will be something that we would recognize as science fiction. You watch a Star Trek episode right now, and the tricorder is really big and clunky. You’re thinking, “My iPhone is so much better than this.” I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Where do you see opportunities to innovate in games?
Smartphones today have pervasive connectivity and GPS and orientation sensors. My iPhone always knows exactly where it is. I can now go on a hiking trip and never have any possible risk of getting lost because it always knows exactly where I am and places me on a map. This is fundamentally important. If you look at what Facebook does with social networking, enabling people to make social connections, there’s a whole new dimension of that that could be connected physically based on physical proximity connecting people to business and other nearby aspects. I think that technologies like Google Search haven’t even begun to touch on that, and then there’s the thought of integrating your 3D positioning in the real world into games through augmented reality and that’s incredibly tantalizing. There have been some early experiments there, but I think that’s a whole area that’s prone to a major revolution over the next decade or so as people just discover the right ideas for games and the right mix that makes an entertaining experience.
What are your thoughts on the future of motion sensor gaming?
With Kinect we’ve seen the idea of pervasive sensors becoming aware of your body and its motion and being able to replicate that in a computer environment. Kinect is an idea that’s been around for a long time, but the Kinect is the first consumer product that actually carried that thought to its full completion with a combination of some amazing Microsoft research work on camera technology and 3D image recognition that combined with a fun consumer experience as developed by game creators. We’re starting to see a lot of new possibilities, but just think what’s going to happen over the next decade or two as these sensors become mounted to every device? What if you iPhone could see your entire body and could recognize gestures and what other control mechanisms could we have that way as we get more and more precise input from these sorts of devices?