Will Games Be Indistinguishable From Real Life In 10 Years? And Does It Matter?

There's been a lot of talk recently surrounding the idea of photorealism in games. Late last week 2K Games boss Christoph Hartmann claimed that games would struggle to convey deep emotions without photorealism. Now Kim Libreri, from Industrial Light and Magic — currently collaborating with LucasArts on Star Wars 1313 — has claimed that he thinks games can get there is 10 years. Are video game visuals really progressing that quickly, and do they need to be on that level to truly evoke an emotional response?

"Recreating a Mission Impossible experience in gaming is easy; recreating emotions in Brokeback Mountain is going to be tough, or at least very sensitive in this country," said Hartmann, speaking to Games Industry International. "[I]t will be very hard to create very deep emotions like sadness or love, things that drive the movies," he said. "Until games are photorealistic, it'll be very hard to open up to new genres. We can really only focus on action and shooter titles; those are suitable for consoles now.

"To dramatically change the industry to where we can insert a whole range of emotions, I feel it will only happen when we reach the point that games are photorealistic; then we will have reached an endpoint and that might be the final console."

I completely disagree with practically everything Hartmann says here but, regardless, Kim Libreri thinks we'll get to the endpoint sooner than many think.

"We’re getting to the point right now," he said, in an interview with CVG, "where we’re matching the quality of an animated movie seven or eight years ago, and another ten years from now, it’s just going to be indistinguishable from reality."

I don't know if visual quality has anything to do with the kind of emotion games can evoke from players — I'd argue the mechanics and what you're doing in games is far more important. But that's just me.

Photorealism will undoubtedly have some sort of effect on games and our experience of them, but most likely the change will be gradual. I think it's far important that mechanics become refined, surely that will allow players to become more involved in their experience?

It's a tricky discussion, and not one I'm too keen on delving into, but I'd like to hear your thoughts. How close do you think games are to photorealism, and how important do you think it is in the grand scheme of things?


    I'm excited for games becoming more advanced and whatnot but I really hope that things like RPGs don't disappear, even though it's happening already. It's been ages since there's been a really good RPG with the same complexity as a game like KoTOR or Morrowind.

      Folks claimed KotOR diluted the complexity of Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate at the time, though. I think Mass Effect is a worthy off-shoot to the genre, just not the same as it used to be.

        Kotor had a lot of good things about it, but it single handedly murdered the RPG UI in an effort to make it work on consoles. It almost made the game unplayable for me and always leaves me scratching my head as to how so many people put it on such a high pedestal.

        Fair point and there's absolutely nothing wrong with simplifying a genre to make a game work properly (ME1 is one of my favourite RPGs) but what I'm scared of is a point where they just become so simplified and basic that they are scarcely RPGs anymore.

          In some ways RPG features in games are more prominent than ever. Upgrading equipment and moves in Batman and the like. I understand what you mean, though. There's definitely place for the tradtional as well as the new.

            Also a good point. Even shooters these day incorporate a similar mechanic, which is good to see. But yeah, I would love to see traditional RPGs make a comeback.

    That title makes no sense, Mark.

      On-topic though, I think there's a danger of making games photorealistic. I'm not going to say games cause people to be violent, but if that shooter you're playing looks exactly like real life there's going to be a massive amount of desensitization to real life violence and I think that could lead to some major problems.


        Games alone dont and wont make killers. I felt quite off put when i massacred the airport in MW2 and that was not quite photorealistic but one of the closest games out there to it. I played it again and still felt off. there is a lot more to it then being desensitized.

        Being desensitized is like sex with a new partner. the first 3 times are earthshattering and then after that its just sex.

        Major problems are not caused by someone being desensitised to it. These people who do horrific things have major issues. Its not as though they kill some or many people and then go "oh well, i have done it before." They fantasize about it for years before actually going through with it.

        Graphics will boost immersion though and personally, bring on the future.

      Yeah I keep re-reading it and it's not getting any better

    there is a lot of talk about actual tech but pretty much nothing on game play of the future ... its not all about graphics - GAME PLAY! / STORY LINE! should be mentioned a lot more

      That's because graphics are easy to improve - just throw more hardware at the machine running the game (especially now that Microsoft and Sony are expected to do exactly that). Story and gameplay innovation requires actual design innovation on behalf of the game developers, who are under pressure from publishers/investors/etc to not innovate and to "play it safe".
      It all comes down to the fact that no-one objects to better graphics, whereas innovative gameplay or impactful storylines can split audencies, and thereby reduce profits.

    think they're underestimating good writing, but this can't hurt either. More tools to create some special, the better.

    Games do not need to be photorealistic to convey deep emotions. Personally, A Link to the Past and Final Fantasy VII changed my life for the better and showed me just how deep and enthralling gaming can be. Those two games are definitely not photo realistic.

    I'm sorry but this is nonsense. So next gen consoles will be cg film quality of 7-8 years ago. And Next Next Gen will be photo real...

    I'm sure if consoles weren't stagnating hardware for a decade at a time this may be possible. However they are and they keep will. 10 years ago if you were to say where game quality would be now. You'd be wrong, due to the consoles stagnation. Nothing will change in the future.

      This +1.

      In 10 years time we'll be a grand total of ONE generation ahead of where we are now.

      Yep. In 10 years there'll still be flickery shadows and trees visibly fading into view fifty metres away and framerates grinding to a halt when I blow up a few police cars. In fact, the graphics of 2022 look like someone puked on a pile of garbage. In 2032 maybe we'll have something.

    Games definitely do not need to be photorealistic to evoke an emotional response. The only games I can say to have elicited an emotional response from me are Mother 3, Shadow of the Colossus and Journey. And none of those games are particularly photorealistic.

    His whole statement makes no sense. Do books not convey emotions because they are not 'photo realistic'? What about cartoons? What about CGI movies like the original Toy Story, or games like Wind Waker? None of these are photo realistic but watching/playing/reading them all certainly evoke more emotion from me than most blockbuster movies do.

      I think peopel are musunderstand what he means

      its like the uncaney valley gets in the way

        I agree. The cinamatic team working on D3 said they had this issue with creating Leah's model. The closer they got to realism, the more "wary and untrusting" the audience became. Photorealism (or something closer to it than we are used to) actually had the opposite effect than described above.

    Emotions are already being conveyed in games without the need of photorealism. Sure it's not present in every game but it doesn't need to be, just like every movie doesn't need to be an emotional rollercoaster. People today still cry from playing FF7 and you wouldn't exactly say it has aged well.

    As to when we will reach photorealism? That depends entirely on how much support PC games get because if how long this console cycle has gone on for is any indication you won't see it happen consoles for 5-10 years after PC. We need more developers like DICE and Valve who develop games on PC first and then scale down to consoles for console ports not the other way around if photorealism is to happen any time soon. If you think about it BF1942 came out in 2002 on PC, and 9 years later BF3 came out and it is such a remarkable difference in the quality of the graphics. If that same leap happened again photorealism is definitely possible in the next 10 years.

    I always thought that Lost Odyssey wasn't so much a game as it was an emotional journey. The Thousand Years of Dreams were some of the most emotional things I've experienced with games and all they were was words and music on the screen.

    The emotional/moral choice you had with the Little Sisters in Bioshock really got to me as well...because I for the life of me couldn't harvest them no matter how hard I tried...I always had to save them.

    So much emphasis is placed on graphics these days that they don't seem to get the fact that the majority of games need to have the quality of their writing catch up to their graphic levels in order to evoke those complex feelings...

    Doesnt matter if your graphics are photo-realistic when the words coming out of characters mouths sound like they were written by a Frat Boy.

    Pretty sure I cried when playing Yakuza 3 when your mate gets shot. Graphics were shit

    The notion that we require photorealistic graphics to convey a range of emotions is ridiculous.

    To the Moon really moved me, and it looks like it could have been at home on the SNES. The scene in Jennys apartment in The Darkness is quite emotional. Again in a game that is not even close to photorealistic.

    I'm genuinely shocked that a company head would come out and say such outright nonsense. Photorealistic graphics won't convey anything if the game doesn't have the writing to back it up.

    Gran Turismo 2 was SO photo realistic. Back in 2000.

    I think this might be a semantics issues between the term portraying emotion and evoking emotion.

    I remember reading this in an IGN comments section and I liked it-

    'I think photorealism can help in portraying emotions not necessarily evoking them'- something to that extent.

    Games like Thomas was alone, which is just some rectangles if you are being reductive , can evoke emotion very well but I agree that photorealism can help with portraying emotions. You know, things like subtle face movements, body language etc have a long way to go in games.

      Link in Wind Waker conveyed plenty of emotion and he was cell shaded. I think conveying emotion and evoking emotion while different are closely related in a visually based media. And as for the whole body language and facial animation thing, it obviously can get better but I don't think photo realism will make that big a difference to the power of the emotions it will convey and evoke compared to current gen mo-cap.

    Some of the most emotion evoking games I played we're Final Fantasy 6,7 and 10. They were all less than photo real. What makes a great game is story and playability and re-playability. Can you honestly say that a "pretty" game is better than one well written or one that plays like a dream? I don't think so.

    I dont want games to look real though, I like the games that have the magical feel about them.

      World of Warcraft is a good example of this.
      The graphics are in no way photo realistic, but the world looks and feels alive or 'real'.

      Agreed, I like stunning graphics but I don't want it so far as to be photo-real.

    This is basically bullshit, Pixar have been making people feel senses of loss/sadness/happiness for years.

    I thought he was just saying photorealism will make it easier...

    Pretty sure I shit myself when playing Amnesia, didn't need photorealism to give me that kind of emotion.

    I think there is a few example in the comments above where great messages and emotions are conveyed through animation or games that aren't that close to photo realism.
    Toy Story 3 and "UP" come to mind, and apparently Spec Ops: The Line although I haven't played that yet.

    I think when photo realism is considered, story and emotions take a back seat, instead everyone focuses on the awesome graphics and cool effects. It looks pretty for the sake of looking pretty not to tell a story or convey emotion.

    Games don't need to be photorealistic to convey emotion - the golf-club scene in Bioshock was a brilliant example of that. But consider how much more impact that scene would've had had it been photorealistic... I could barely watch it without feeling ill as it was, beefing the graphics on it would have actually made me physically ill. Sometimes themes and basic visuals are enough; going beyond that only makes it easier to go too far, and push your audience away.
    With great graphics comes great responsibility.

    Yeah can't say I agree with the authors opinion for pretty much the same reason as everyone else. Realism isn't required for emotion.
    In terms of realism though, I'd say we're pretty much there as far as real time shading is concerned. I think advances in animation tech is far more important at this stage than minor graphical improvements..

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