Epic's Unreal Engine has gone through three major versions, and each time the engine is not only used for its own games (Unreal, Unreal Tournament, Gears of War) but it has been licensed out to a ton of other developers to ultimately make a large number of Unreal Engine based games. While Unreal Engine 3 has added new features since its official launch five years ago, the next major revamp of the development tools are still years away.
In a new interview at IGN, Epic Games' main programmer Tim Sweeney admits, "I spend about 60 percent of my time every day doing research work that's aimed at our next generation engine and the next generation of consoles." However he added, "This is technology that won't see the light of day until probably around 2014, but focusing on that horizon enables me to do some really cool things that just aren't practical today, but soon will be."
Sweeney said that for Unreal Engine 4, the biggest issue will be to optimize the engine to work on many more CPU cores than what's currently available today. He states, "... the big challenge will be redesigning our engine and our workload so that we scale more of these different computer tasks between CPU cores seamlessly in real-time and dynamically so that you're always getting the maximum computing power out with the engine, regardless of what sort of work you're doing." He adds that for the next 10 years he is looking to see games that have true movie quality graphics which in his opinion means, " ... no flicker in the visuals, no popping artifacts, no bulky character outlines on the screen at all."
The first version of the Unreal engine was launched in 1998 when Epic released its first Unreal first person shooter game. It was used for a number of other third party games such as Deus Ex. Unreal Engine 2 launched in 2002 with, oddly enough, the free multiplayer shooter America's Army. Epic used it for, among other games, Unreal Tournament 2003/2004. Unreal Engine 3 made its debut in 2006 with Epic's first Gears of War game and it has been used for a ton of major third party game titles including the Mass Effect series, Batman Arkham Asylum, Borderlands, Homefront and many more. Epic also released a free version of the engine, the Unreal Development Kit, in 2009.