Next-gen consoles and next-gen graphics engines are something that I have quite close to my heart. It's something I think needs to really evolve. I see the AAA gaming market as something that is stuck inside of a bubble.
The cause of that bubble? Consoles. I've covered this a fair bit in a few of my editorials, where I've talked about smartphones and tablets getting close to, and will eventually pass the power in current-gen consoles. Once this happens, consoles will have a hard time selling, unless we see next-gen consoles.
The previous generation of consoles teased "Full HD gaming", but delivered sub-HD gaming. Most AAA titles run at a resolution lower than 1280x720 and at frame rates less than 30fps. Of course, there are some games that run at either slightly higher resolutions, or slightly higher frame rates, but never both. We don't see games like Halo, Gears of War, Uncharted or Metal Gear Solid running at 1080p with 30fps.
Enter Unreal Engine 4.
Tim Sweeney, co-founder of Epic Games, talked at DICE 2012 where he estimated that a complete approximation of "perfect" visual quality requires computing about 2,000 times greater than today's hardware. Yes, 2,000 times. Sweeney said a "good enough" approximation of visual reality requires 5,000 trillion floating point operations per second, or teraFLOPS.
Last year, Epic used the "Samaritan" demonstration of Unreal Engine at last year's Game Developers Conference, which required just 2.5 teraFLOPS. Comparing this to something out now, such as the Xbox 360, is crazy. The Xbox 360 can only handle 0.25 teraFLOPS. This means that the "Samaritan" demo would require hardware over 10 times more powerful than what is found in the Xbox 360.
For Unreal Engine 4, it could be much more than that. Much, much more.
Rumor has it UE4 could be ready sometime in 2014, but Epic's Vice President, Mark Rein, told G4 that we should expect a reveal of UE4 sometime this year. He's quoted saying:
People are going to be shocked later this year when they see Unreal Engine 4 and how much more profound an effect it will have.
You know what still gets me? I run my games on two display setups: 1 x Samsung 27-inch 120Hz screen, so 1080p @ 120fps. Alternatively, I have 3 x Alienware 23-inch 120Hz screens, with a resolution of 3240x1920, again at 120fps. Next-gen consoles can't even get close to this. But... this means game development will fully support 30fps, or 720p @ 60fps (I'm guessing here).
I will be very disappointed if next-gen consoles can't do 1080p @ 60fps.