GDC 2017: Epic’s Tim Sweeney on What Unreal Engine VR Means for Non-gaming Industries
VR video games are some of the most immersive, visceral experiences to date. Travelling to fantastic worlds, going brain-to-rotting-noggin’ with zombie hordes and throwing coffee mugs at floating sentient CRTs has never felt so real. But games are just the start of where VR and AR are heading, and honestly, most likely will not be either platform’s primary function in the future.
Enhanced reality devices – especially AR — will be ubiquitous in another decade or so, and used in nearly every aspect of our lives and in nearly every industry, from automotive to medical care, education to neuroscience, engineering to shopping. We’re on the cusp of a technological evolution, and while games will be driving the early experiences, they won’t be the predominant use for very long.
Of course, all of the various applications, programs and tools will require a base engine for creation, and that’s where Epic Games – and specifically its Unreal Engine – comes in. We had a chance to meet with Epic’s CEO and Founder Tim Sweeney to get his take on where he thinks VR and AR are heading and what Unreal Engine VR means for the plethora of non-gaming industries.
“VR and augmented reality are going to be the most visually-demanding platforms ever,” says Sweeney. “Unreal Engine was brought up in the days of PCs with big monitors and console games on your television, and we’ve had kind of a step back from pushing visual fidelity on mobile platforms. When you have a screen that only takes up 20% of your field of view on a mobile device, you don’t want world-class, photorealistic, high-detail graphics because it’s hard to see all the little details. You want stylized imagery. But now we’ve gone to these VR platforms and AR, your brain expects you’re going to see realistic objects, and your brain is very sensitive to anything that’s wrong.
“The ways architects and automotive companies will use VR is really healthy for us for our engine direction. In a game, whenever the engine fell short of achieving realism one area we could always fake it with some stylization, but if you have to recreate a realistic object, you can’t cheat, you have to actually do the hard work.
“Creative applications like Oculus Medium, Tilt Brush and Ghost Paint are exposing artistry to computer users that’s much more visceral than ever before. It’s a somewhat unnatural experience to sit down in Photoshop or 3D Studio Max or even Unity or Unreal and build 3D objects with a mouse and keyboard because the actions you’re doing with your hands don’t map very clearly to the actual actions in the world. In VR, it’s you reaching out and doing things with your hands the exact same way it works in the real world, so anyone who has ever painted knows how to paint in VR, and that’s a really empowering phenomena, and completely different than human interaction in the past. Just like Minecraft enabled 50 million people to become 3D content creators, I think there will be hundreds of millions of computer content creators with augmented reality and VR makes that completely accessible to people.
“Because we’ve now made Unreal Engine ubiquitous — anybody can go to the website and download the full toolset and get started on projects without any commitment, without talking to any human and without any negotiation — a variety of companies are downloading it and using it and then talking to us and showing us their projects. They’re doing some amazing things.
“We’re already about two years into that revolution of adoption of Unreal Engine by these industrial companies, and we’re seeing them making real-time engines — and especially Unreal — a much-more pervasive part of their entire production and company pipelines.
“The automotive industries are leading adopters; they’re using real-time engine tech for everything from design visualization all the way up to dealer showrooms so you can configure a car photo-realistically and see exactly what all of the millions of permutations of custom options look like in a way that’s just not possible with physical inventory.
“Right now your Amazon shopping experience involves looking at a lot of low-resolution JPEGs of products. All of those models are going to be digital in the future; they’re going to be high-fidelity and you’ll be able to preview them in a web browser or in VR and AR. You’ll be able to scale them, scan your room and place them in your environment and see if the couch you’re looking at or the painting looks good before you buy it. And then you’ll be able to customize all of these products, because once you’re able to see all of the different options, customization will be much more ubiquitous than using some bizarre user interface on the web. Products will be much more dynamic in the future, and technology like 3D printing is going to make manufacturing much more flexible than it has in the past.
“On the professional side, I’ve been blown away with the amount of progress we’ve been able to make with the VR Unreal Editor. We exposed the full editor user interface as if you have this iPad that you can bring up at any time and bring up objects in a very intuitive way. I think it’s going to be a very empowering technology for professional content creation of all sorts. Car makers are going to be designing cars by walking around in empty rooms and tweaking virtual objects until they’re ready to build them. They’ll experience that with other designers and have product reviews and have multidisciplinary collaboration — it’s going to be awesome!”