It turns out there was some validity to the months-old leaks that suggested Frontiers of Pandora would be a first-person game and, expectedly, pit the player against the humans as a Na’vi native.
Following our hands-off presentation at Ubisoft’s event, we got a brief moment to chat with Magnus Jensen, the game’s Creative Director, about whether Frontiers of Pandora might mix in with the films, flying your Ikran, and how they’ve worked Avatar’s environmental ethos into the game itself.
The showcase obviously made mention of side quests, can you elaborate on what they might look like in Frontiers of Pandora?
So one of the coolest aspects of making a game, especially an open-world game, is that you can go out on the periphery of everything that is Pandora.
You can go and look at any plant, anything really, from any angle, you can go into the cultures of the different clans we’re making for you. We have three completely separate clans for three new regions.
But yes, many of the side quests are about getting a deeper understanding of what this particular culture is, what it means to be Na’vi, and ultimately going into this world of Pandora and discovering and learning about it. It’s about the depth of the world, the side quests, and everything you do in the open world is a fantastic canvas for us to allow players to go much deeper than they could otherwise.
Frontiers of Pandora is occupying its own little slice of the world established across two films, but can we expect any crossover at all considering it is ultimately a concurrent narrative?
So primarily, we have really gone in wanting to do something completely different from the movie. And this is something that was worked out super early when we started discussions.
I was also super pleased to learn that Lightstorm were not interested in retreading or having a recreation of the movie, or its characters. Because Pandora’s a vast culture, a vast world, we went with all new characters, all new story, new everything.
It’s really about the Western frontier, that’s what it’s all about.
Just on Lightstorm, their involvement, as well as Disney, were you given the freedom to create this original story, or was it largely managed from the top?
Oh, we had enormous freedom, but we wanted help from the best and the best are the people making these films.
It really is a collaboration, a co-creation. We work every day with the people from Lightstorm, and many of them are from New Zealand so the time zone shenanigans are enormous for us over in Sweden.
But we work with the story experts, the creature experts, the animation experts, biome experts, and costume experts. I don’t get starstruck very easily, or often, but these people we’re working with are super early on the film’s credits. And they’re so excited to be working on this because something they created might be visible for one frame in the film, but here you can go up, look at it, turn it around, and inspect it.
When I first considered what an Avatar game could be, my mind drifted more toward an Assassin’s Creed-like. How did you arrive at the concept of a first-person shooter?
So I just wanted to say that I don’t agree that it’s a first-person shooter, and it’s an important distinction to make.
Yes, there is a tremendous amount of spectacular action in the game and you have a vast array of weapons and approaches that you can take. You can go loud, or you can sneak in with Na’vi weapons, it’s really about being a freedom fighter, and that’s true of all of Avatar.
But it’s so much more than that, it’s going to Pandora and stepping into the screen. To me, it’s an immersion vehicle, an escapism machine. Being able to go there and be immersed, that has a lot of value. And in the first-person perspective, it’s the most immersed and close you can possibly be to something. You go up and they react to your touch.
And it’s not just the animals that react. Plants react, and the whole world is living and simulated, it pushes back. So the first-person perspective was a natural choice for us.
The decision to make the character a Na’vi returning to Pandora in a sense and coming to understand their heritage, was that a deliberate effort to have players share her journey?
We’re super happy about our origin story. First of all, because it further drives home and really shines some light on the exploitation of the RDA and how they treat everything as theirs. Everything is a tool or a resource to them, like how they’d try and train these kids as Ambassadors.
But you know, as a game maker breaking the fourth wall a bit here, it has the advantage of allowing the player-character and the player to be on equal footing when it comes to discovering and learning things for the first time.
The growth journey is amazing when you start from being completely out of touch with Pandora and everything Na’vi, the journey is just that much more amazing.
So with your Ikran, or banshee, are we able to freely fly and land them anywhere?
Yeah, you can. You can fly absolutely anywhere. I won’t go into specific details on missions or story twists, there are some moments where it mightn’t be available but, in general, everything you see in those trailers you can fly to.
It’s very open and you can get off anywhere. It’s perhaps not advisable to get off anywhere, but you can. It’s up to you, we trust players to make mistakes and learn from them, just don’t land anywhere dangerous, maybe?
Avatar has always had environmentalism at its heart. Is that where the idea of careful harvesting emerged from?
The ethos of Avatar, which is environmentalism and sustainability, is one that we are super behind, and something that we wanted to embrace and run with.
So, as a game maker, we’re not just creating this bigger message about pollution and the way the RDA are exploiting, we’re tying that to the gameplay. The pollution actually has a negative effect, it shuts down Na’vi camps you’d otherwise access for missions and gear.
More to your question about harvesting, that same pollution can also taint something you might really want for crafting or cooking.
So the message is there and very much there in both the gameplay and the story. We wanted to try and embed it in a meaningful way so that the gamer could really feel it.