Ubisoft Massive has released a preview trailer for Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora and all the new generation technology that they’re integrating into the Snowdrop engine that the game will be running on. With Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora a current gen exclusive across PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PC, Stadia and Luna, there’s a lot that they can do to push the boundaries.
Technical Art Director Sebastian Lindoff said, “As the world of Avatar is so different to anything we’ve done before, we had to do some major upgrades and big improvements to our engine.”
Ubisoft Massive are shifting gears from the dense urban jungles of New York City and Washington DC in The Division series, to the actual jungles of the alien world of Pandora. However, true to the 2009 film (and presumably its upcoming sequels), Massive has “created a Pandora that you can experienced from the deep, dense jungles on the ground to the grand vistas high up in the skies.”
This happens on a number of levels. Kunal Luthra, Senior Technical Artist, said that “using the micro-detail system, we can propagate thousands of assets in one frame. This allows us to have a lot more highly details environments for Pandora.”
All of the foliage on the ground now uses automated placement to help fill out the game world with vegetation, perhaps more fully than human artists can, while also using “visibility tests” that are now handled by the GPU to increase the amount of plants that can be rendered. There’s also new engine shaders that will be interactive and possible to affect by the player, “from real-time wind simulations and interactions to intelligent plants reacting to your presence.”
High in the sky, the engine now has volumetric clouds to improve the visuals when flying around and, obviously, we couldn’t discuss a new generation game without talking about ray-tracing.
Oleksandr Koshlo, Senior Render Programmer, revealed that there will be real-time ray tracing for global illumination and reflections. These will work with dynamic objects and dynamic weather and time of day – the effect could be similar to what we see in Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition.
Interestingly, Ubisoft Massive also talked a little bit about AI. Alice Rendell, Lead Narrative Realization Designer, explained “The different activities that NPCs can perform in the world and the different animations they have can make the world feel really alive. So, for Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, we wanted to take this one step further and created a system where our NPCs understand the state of the world. For example, weather player progression or time of day.”
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was announced back at E3 2021, in which Ubisoft revealed that the title will be a first person action-adventure game. They also gave us a little bit about the story that they will tell.
In this new, standalone story, play as a Na’vi and embark on a journey across the Western Frontier, a never-before-seen part of Pandora. Explore a living and reactive world inhabited by unique creatures and new characters, and push back the formidable RDA forces that threaten it.
The game is in development at The Division creators Ubisoft Massive, the project having been announced all the way back in 2017. It’s not actually the first Avatar game made by Ubisoft, which was a very rubbish tie in to the original movie all the way back in 2009, but we hope that this effort will be much better. Then again, you do have to wonder how Ubisoft Massive are juggling so many plates. In addition to still leading development on The Division, they are also getting to work on a Star Wars game, after Disney decided that they’d had enough of only having a single game company making titles from their golden goose.