Unreal Engine 3 has had an amazing run, powering a cornucopia of blockbusters over the past four years—from the original Gears of War to Mass Effect 2 and Batman: Arkham City. Apparently, Epic Games doesn't plan to retire its baby for another few years. Take a look at what Epic co-founder and Technical Director Tim Sweeney told IGN yesterday:
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. 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. I feel like that's what I'm doing now on Unreal Engine 4 in exploring areas of the technology nobody else is really yet contemplating because they're still a few years away from practicality.
In other words, neither the next-gen engine nor the technology within are anywhere close to ready for prime time.
Sweeney made some other interesting comments about where game engine technology will go over the next decade. He expects that we'll see movie-quality graphics (which means, among other things, no visual artifacts to tarnish the experience) as well as more realistic simulations of human characters—something that will involve "understanding how the human brain works and trying to simulate that with varying degrees of accuracy." From a more technical standpoint, Sweeney expects to have to scale up to "tons of CPU cores," which will require new ways of harnessing parallelism. (Thanks to Joystiq for the link.)