There’s a lot of hype going into the forthcoming wave of virtual reality-based devices, including Sony’s own Project Morpheus and Facebook’s Oculus Rift technology. However, according to Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, the focus should be going elsewhere – augmented reality, or AR for short.
Speaking with GamesIndustry International, Sweeney doesn’t believe that VR is a “fad”, as Warren Spector recently stated, but it will have its limitations. “VR is a 150 million user audience, but it’s not for the whole world. Whereas AR, if you look out a number of years I bet the majority of mankind will have an AR device – it will redefine interaction with computers and replace computer monitors, tablets, televisions and every kind of play technology. I think it’s the next big development in the history of civilization, if you put it in perspective,” Sweeney stated.
So far, some AR demonstrations have left people less than thrilled (the Minecraft for HoloLens demo at E3 being an exception), though the potential is certainly there with the right developers on board. “It’s a ways out, it’s not going to provide the experience for hardcore gamers in the next couple of years whereas VR is doing that right now,” explained Sweeney.
That doesn’t mean that Epic isn’t preparing for a VR future, though. It’s already adapted its Unreal Engine 4-based technology for the Oculus. “Unreal provides all the hooks for the major VR devices. You focus 95 percent of your effort on building a game and the remaining five percent goes into tweaking it for the different configurations,” said Sweeney.
CTO Kim Libreri added his two cents on the matter, talking about experiences. “We have a large community that makes Unreal experiences and games… I liken it to the birth of film, people are just working out what the laws are. I actually think the openness we’re seeing in the industry about what works, what doesn’t work, how to avoid motion sickness, the coolest way to move a player around a space, these things are really great because we all have to learn these things before we can make a great experience. We’re very happy to be part of that,” he said.
There is plenty of excitement behind virtual reality, and for good reason, according to Libreri. “I think creatively, people like new challenges when they’re building stuff – you get into games or any creative [career] because you love it and you want to innovate and have your consumers, your audience experience a new thing. Even though there’s this whole new rule set that has to be established for this next generation of VR games, most designers and developers love this challenge because it levels the playing field. For this first few years of this new medium, you’re not going to have to necessarily make the big AAA Call of Duty style games. I think people will just be very happy to be entertained, as long as they believe in the space or the characters and world that’s presented to them.
“They don’t have to have a very complicated experience because they’re novel and new. On the technical side, we try to help people by supporting the major platforms to make it a little bit easier – but we do have the issue that you’re trying to render very high resolution frames in stereo at a high frame rate. You have to be clever about your content and make sure performance is something you think about, but it’s the creative challenges that are all new; they’re not scary, people love it.”
More of the interview can be found here.