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Why Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Had to Be a Next-Gen Only Game

3liteDragon

Member
"Technology is everything, it's what allows us to realize our dreams as designers."
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora will be Ubisoft's first new-gen-only game, and that remains an unusual choice. Given the sheer number of owners of Xbox One and PS4 out there, it's simply financially more viable for most developers to work on cross-generation games – something we've seen borne out by most of the games released in Xbox Series X/S and PS5's first year. It begs the question then – what makes Ubisoft Massive's Avatar game so much more demanding that it can only run on next-gen hardware, beyond the obvious answer of "it looks nicer"? I spoke to the game's creative director, Magnus Jansén, and technical director of programming Nikolay Stefanov to find out.

Flying
Much of Frontiers of Pandora's reveal trailer takes place with Na'vi heroes riding their Banshee companions. As it turns out, this isn't just for show – the game will let you take to the skies and travel across them at high speed, and only new hardware allowed the team to couple that mechanic with the detailed world it wanted to present. "[New consoles allowed] us to have much better object detail up close to you," explains Stefanove, "but also when you're flying high up in the air – to have a lovely vista and far-distance rendering, where we can even use the ray tracing to do shadows super far away, you know, three or four kilometers away from you."

It's not just that the world needs to look good as you lazily soar over it – it's that it needs to stay looking good while you travel very, very quickly, as Jansén explains: "You're flying at enormous high speeds on a Banshee over this very, very detailed landscape. It doesn't matter how much we can render, unless we can stream it in as fast when we're moving very fast from one place to another. So just this shift to these newer hard drives, it can't be underestimated because, and it really has a lot of implications."


Map Design
One of the less visible benefits of new hardware is in changing not just how the open world looks, but how it's pieced together. Because of more limited tech, older open world games needed to balance detail with density, which can lead to large areas of relative nothingness between major points of interest (I'm looking at you Assassin's Creed: Odyssey). It seems that new-gen tech will allow Frontiers of Pandora to be built a little more organically:

"It's not just the old 'I'm taking this slow walk as I enter into the place because we have to stream everything in'," explains Jansén of the benefits to his maps, "it's little subtle things that people don't think about, which is how close together are all the places in the world. If you look at, with the old hard drives, they had to be spaced out very far [apart], because you had to stream out the old and stream in the new, so it just created a formulaic world. So, there's a ton of stuff like that."


Enemy and Creature AI
It's not just graphical power helping Massive's designers – processing power will help them try new things, too, particularly when it comes to NPCs.

"Technology is everything," says Jansén, "it's what allows us to realize our dreams as designers. It's what allows us to tell our stories, and to create the immersion and the escapism that we want. It's not just about escapism, it's about danger as well, because Pandora is a beautiful place, but it's also a dangerous place. So, the wildlife, the AI, the way that they track you, the way that they attack you, the advances in technology and the way that we are taking advantage of the power with our in-house Snowdrop engine is allowing us [to] do amazing things that would not be possible [otherwise]."

Stefanov steps in to show us exactly what that can mean: "I can give you a specific example of something that you see in the trailer that has to do with the AI systems. For the big creatures, whenever they are calm, they would obviously walk around trees and things like that. But when they are fleeing, or attacking you, or whatever, they will just go straight through the bamboo and other vegetation and just completely destroy it. I think it's really cool to be able to see all of these effects that the NPCs have on the environment, as well as you having an effect on the environment too."


Immersion
While this does fall somewhat under the "it looks nice" bracket of technical improvements, Massive is adamant that improving some of the more complex visuals will help players get into the idea that they're on the Pandora of James Cameron's original movie, not just another game world. "It's a first-person game," says Jansén. "It's, to me, the most immersive way of playing. So we're really going all-in on that vision of, 'Remember the movie, remember you wanted to go to Pandora.' Now you can go to Pandora and, to do that, we needed to have the best simulation of weather, rain, animals, and the best rendering, because the more technically excellent it is, the more capable it is of taking you from where you are and into the world of Pandora."

Stefanov gives some examples of what that can mean to the game: "In terms of a new generation of consoles, the improved [hardware] just gives us so much opportunity to make sure that the game's as immersive as possible. So a couple of examples, we have a completely new lighting system that is based on ray tracing, and I think it is a dramatic step up in quality that makes you feel like it's a real place. One tiny example is that it can actually handle the translucency of the leaves [...] so it can figure out how much of the light is reflected through the leaves, how tinted it is with the colors and everything else. You get lovely reflections and sights for the water, even down to the volumetric clouds up in the sky – they actually receive the correct lighting as well."
 
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SlimySnake

Member
SSD hate crew on suicide watch.

It's not just that the world needs to look good as you lazily soar over it – it's that it needs to stay looking good while you travel very, very quickly, as Jansén explains: "You're flying at enormous high speeds on a Banshee over this very, very detailed landscape. It doesn't matter how much we can render, unless we can stream it in as fast when we're moving very fast from one place to another. So just this shift to these newer hard drives, it can't be underestimated because, and it really has a lot of implications."
 
I'm super on board for an open world Pandora game with co-op. But at this point, who the hell gives a damn about the Avatar property? The last movie was over 10 years ago and the sequels are nowhere to be seen. I presume the release of this will line up with an intended sequel movie release or something?

Either way, look forward to seeing next-gen Snowdrop in action and hope for the best in regards to development and release.
 
Making the game next gen only is probably the only way to get people to actually care about it. If it were cross gen would anyone care about a game sequel to an overrated movie from 2009? Probably not, and it would be assumed to be shovelware. But make it next gen only and some people will buy it just for the excitement of a truly “next gen” experience.
 

SlimySnake

Member
And yet at release the game will look better, have higher resolution, higher framerate, faster loading time and more increased asset (geometry & texture) density on the PC than consoles.
Thanks for outing yourself as a warrior. I wasnt even talking about PC.

In the other Avatar thread, I literally talked about how consoles wont be able to handle all these ray tracing features at over 1080p 30 fps and that I am looking to upgrade my GPU before this game comes out.

My post was for people who said SSDs have nothing to do with game design, visuals and flying.

"It's not just the old 'I'm taking this slow walk as I enter into the place because we have to stream everything in'," explains Jansén of the benefits to his maps, "it's little subtle things that people don't think about, which is how close together are all the places in the world. If you look at, with the old hard drives, they had to be spaced out very far [apart], because you had to stream out the old and stream in the new, so it just created a formulaic world. So, there's a ton of stuff like that."
It's not just that the world needs to look good as you lazily soar over it – it's that it needs to stay looking good while you travel very, very quickly, as Jansén explains: "You're flying at enormous high speeds on a Banshee over this very, very detailed landscape. It doesn't matter how much we can render, unless we can stream it in as fast when we're moving very fast from one place to another. So just this shift to these newer hard drives, it can't be underestimated because, and it really has a lot of implications."
 
Thanks for outing yourself as a warrior. I wasnt even talking about PC.

In the other Avatar thread, I literally talked about how consoles wont be able to handle all these ray tracing features at over 1080p 30 fps and that I am looking to upgrade my GPU before this game comes out.

My post was for people who said SSDs have nothing to do with game design, visuals and flying.

I'm not a warrior, never has been and never will and No your post was not.
You literally called people "SSD hate crew" yet no one has ever denied that SSD will eventually be used to define game design, visuals and flying.
Literally what every one has pushed back on is people attributing any improvement of graphics to a magical SSD.
As if the GPU ain't an order of magnitude more powerful that last gen GPU.
 
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mortal

Member
All sounds good on paper. I don't believe a word of this until they show it all off.
Actual gameplay running on a Series X, no smoke and mirrors. So until then...

 

MastaKiiLA

Member
Yet, to no one's surprise, the game should play just like every other Ubisoft game. The answer is they'll be able to make pretty graphics, without having to optimize for like 8 different platforms. Yet Sony's first party games from this year will probably still look better than what consoles get for Avatar next year, cross-gen or not. Ubisoft should not be a champion for next-gen.
 

peter42O

Member
Personally, im very much looking forward to Avatar. Would have preferred to have seen gameplay but oh well, no biggie. Game is most likely Fall/Holiday 2022 so plenty of time.
 

Derktron

Banned
Good. Cross-gen needs to die already. It will be the longest cross-gen period ever.
Do you honestly think that would change anything on how devs make their games? -- I mean seriously, games will continue to look like pure poop along with performances where devs still can't figure out these next-gen consoles and can't do a native 4K, 60fps to 120fps.....I can continue to comment on what I think is wrong but in all honestly, we are not going to get many games that are truly next-gen and that is going to be super rare.
 
...and also because in 2014, an unnamed studio head (who is 1000% Crytek's Cevat Yerli) offered the Lightstom Entertainment dudes cocaine when they came to sign the contract, so they pulled out of the deal.

LOL I never saw this..yo this is HILARIOUS. Dude probably snorted his salary celebrating before they came in thinking it was a good idea lol
 
Do you honestly think that would change anything on how devs make their games? -- I mean seriously, games will continue to look like pure poop along with performances where devs still can't figure out these next-gen consoles and can't do a native 4K, 60fps to 120fps.....I can continue to comment on what I think is wrong but in all honestly, we are not going to get many games that are truly next-gen and that is going to be super rare.

Considering I just platinumed Rift Apart I call nah you’re wrong lol
 

oagboghi2

Member
I'm not a warrior, never has been and never will and No your post was not.
You literally called people "SSD hate crew" yet no one has ever denied that SSD will eventually be used to define game design, visuals and flying.
Literally what every one has pushed back on is people attributing any improvement of graphics to a magical SSD.
As if the GPU ain't an order of magnitude more powerful that last gen GPU.
Umm yes they did. There were tons of thread where people downplayed the focus on SSD in console, most notably in PS5 threads
 
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Danjin44

The nicest person on this forum
Cross gen or next gen only, it doesn't make any difference. At end of the day this game either is gonna play like FarCry or Assassin Creed and I have no interest in that.

Mario + Rabbits it their best game in my opinion and only game from Ubisoft I’m actually looking forward playing.
 
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KungFucius

Member
I'm super on board for an open world Pandora game with co-op. But at this point, who the hell gives a damn about the Avatar property? The last movie was over 10 years ago and the sequels are nowhere to be seen. I presume the release of this will line up with an intended sequel movie release or something?

Either way, look forward to seeing next-gen Snowdrop in action and hope for the best in regards to development and release.
I have said the same thing, but Avatar is James Cameron and he has consistently wowed with SFX in his movies. I am of the mind that there are no real wows left in movies, but maybe he can find a few more.

As far as this game goes, I had no clue it existed, but being a licensed property to coincide with a major movie sequel, I wouldn't doubt that it was contracted to be on next gen only either to market the movie, or as a marketing ploy for Ubisoft with the ulterior motive to get some more experience developing without the constraints of last gen.
 

Haggard

Member
Literally what every one has pushed back on is people attributing any improvement of graphics to a magical SSD.
As if the GPU ain't an order of magnitude more powerful that last gen GPU.
So being able to near instantly switch out a complete RAM full of high quality assets while also being able to make full use of the RAM capacity for every single scene due to not having to retain other scene's assets does not count towards an "improvement of graphics"?
No matter how powerful a GPU is, it can only render what it gets fed.

You either need a lot of expensive RAM or some cheap alternative like the console's I/O hardware if you want next gen object density and diversity at all times.
 
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SlimySnake

Member
So being able to near instantly switch out a complete RAM full of high quality assets while also being able to make full use of the RAM capacity for every single scene due to not having to retain other scene's assets does not count towards an "improvement of graphics"?
No matter how powerful a GPU is, it can only render what it gets fed.

You either need a lot of expensive RAM or some cheap alternative like the console's I/O hardware if you want next gen object density and diversity at all times.
I like how a dev literally spells it out and people still miss it.
 
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