When TRON hit theaters in 1982, it took one of the world’s largest, most expensive supercomputing clusters years and millions of dollars to render 20 minutes of textureless, gourad shaded CGI consisting of basic primitives with animation consisting only of translation, rotation, squash and stretch.

The same fidelity of 3D seen in TRON became possible to render at 60fps, using the full resolution of home televisions on a home console as of the release of the Sega Dreamcast in Japan just 16 years later. Probably it was feasible on N64 but the point I want to make here does not require quibbling over 2–3 years.

34 years after the release of TRON we saw the commercial release of modern home VR which could realize the dream of that film, putting you into a digital environment in a convincing way but at vastly greater visual fidelity.

For another point of comparison, Toy Story came out in 1995. At that time it was a groundbreaking achievement in painstakingly pre-rendered computer graphics. The first mass market home console capable of such visuals, the Xbox 360, came out just 10 years later.

We went from “unattainable feat of computer science and artistry requiring world class supercomputers to produce” to something any kid with a new game console could render, in real time, on a home entertainment box in the span of a single decade.

I expect even if we keep chasing the polygon dragon, computing power will advance so substantially as a consequence that doing lifelike voxel/pointcloud sims will become feasible as a side effect, even though it wasn’t the goal hardware devs had in mind.

I give it maybe 20 years, 30 at most before we have immaculately high resolution, full human fov VR headsets running photorealistic voxel based game engines, and probably that’s a very conservative estimate

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