Recently, Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, the computer game programmer behind ZZT and the Unreal Engine, was asked in an interview by Gamasutra how long away we are before "real-time computer graphics are 100% realistic like in a movie?" Sweeney responded by stating that we will see those kind of graphics in our lifetime, yet achieving realistic human behavior will probably take many more decades to figure out.
"We're only about a factor of a thousand off from achieving all that in real-time without sacrifices. So we'll certainly see that happen in our lifetimes; it's just a result of Moore's Law. Probably 10-15 years for that stuff, which isn't far at all. Which is scary -- we'll be able to saturate our visual systems with realistic graphics at that point.
But there's another problem in graphics that's not as easily solvable. It's anything that requires simulating human intelligence or behavior: animation, character movement, interaction with characters, and conversations with characters. They're really cheesy in games now." - Tim Sweeney
Even with state-of-the-art games such as Half-Life 2 or Gears of War, Sweeney states that character's in games are still "extraordinarily unrealistic compared to a human actor in a human movie." As Sweeney explains, the human condition is just too complex to simulate perfectly. Even with the fastest running computers today, we still wouldn't have the power and understanding to bring a truly realistic character to the video game screen, as we're light-years away from understanding how the brain works, let alone trying to simulate it.
All the same, Sweeney provides hope in the quest of achieving perfectly realistic gaming. Even if we are somehow able to achieve "perfect" graphics, Sweeney believes their work will never be done, as technology and the artists who use it are constantly changing and evolving, bringing bigger and better games for us to play and experience.
Check out the full original interview here at Gamasutra.