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Skip Navigation LinksPlayHard > In English > James Cameron's Avatar: The Game. Interview with Brent George, Ubisoft Montreal

Название: James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
Разработчик: Ubisoft
Зарубежный издатель: Ubisoft
Издатель в России: Бука
Официальный сайт игры: перейти
Официальный русский сайт игры: перейти
Системные требования:
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4, 1 GB RAM, 256 MB 3D Card
Intel Core 2 Duo 3.0, 2 GB RAM, 512 MB 3D Card
MultiPlayer: Internet (16)
Жанр: Action, Third Person
Игра вышла: 01.12.2009
Рейтинг: 7.0

There surely is at least one very strong reason for visiting your local movie theater in December. If you do, you will be able to see the new 3D science fiction epic film, Avatar, which was directed by James Cameron. You will also definitely hear the music composed by James Horner ("Troy"). We will not spoil any other details here since you have an exciting adventure to explore yourself. In early December, a few weeks before the movie premiere, James Cameron's Avatar: The Game will be released which is considered to be a prequel to the events that unfold in the film.

After reading everything we could find about the game, watching all the available videos, we have visited the presentation that Ubisoft made for the Russian press in Moscow. We have played through the demo several times. The gameplay looks really exciting and the graphics are visually stunning. It could not be otherwise, since there has been so much high-level interaction between the talented developers' team and the movie crew. James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game has all the potential to show that actually it is possible to make a great interactive game that is based on the movie Universe, where as a main hero you will be able to learn much more about this Universe and become an important part of its story.

Some time ago, we had a chance to discuss James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game and the creative process with Brent George, Directeur – Art Animation, for the "Next-Gen" version of the project.

- Greetings! Please, introduce yourself.

- Hello! Or should I say "Privet"?! I am the Animation Director of James Cameron's Avatar: The Game, "Next-Gen". I say "Next-Gen", because there are three very different games: the "Next-Gen" version, which is for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. There are also PSP and Wii versions and the one for Nintendo DS as well.

- How do you find Russia and Moscow?

- I love it here. That is my first time and I wish I had more of it. The city is like crazy good, in a good way. The first day I was here, I took a bus tour through the city just so I could get an idea. You know that is funny like flipping through a history book with meeting all the things as I saw in the pictures and read about a long time ago back in high school. I have the chance to see them for real. That is not an everyday opportunity to visit Russia and it has been a long distance trip. I have had a lot of fun so far. I went to see Swan Lake ballet at the Bolshoi theatre, which was amazing. I definitely would like to come back and spend more time here!

- We are already looking forward to meeting you in Moscow again then! Give us some background about your career.

- Well, I started in Film & Television industry. I was doing that for about 12-13 years. I recently moved into game industry around 5 years ago. There were many different films I was involved in, for example, a movie called "The Messengers" (2007), where I served as Visual effects supervisor. I worked on "300" (2007) and I did some shots there and then I switched into games. I did some development work for a couple of companies in Toronto and some freelance work for Bungie on Halo 3: ODST (2009). Then I moved to Ubisoft and I have been there since that time.

- How was the concept of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game born?

- The concept was born around 3 years ago probably because at that time James Cameron started making a movie so we began a little bit after that. I was not there at the Day One so I do not know exactly when the game development started, but I know that there have been a lot of back and forth discussions between James Cameron and some of the executives at Ubisoft about what we wanted to do for a game. The production itself has taken almost 2 years.

- What can you say about the interaction between the team and James Cameron?

- In the beginning, there was a direct contact with James Cameron and then, obviously, he got very busy with the film. After that, the face-to-face contact became a little bit limited, but I was actually surprised and really happy that he still was able to make a lot of time for us. Whenever we were sending him updates to the game on a regular basis, he gave us feedback on it. He was involved in the project from the very very beginning to the very very end. I think that was one of the most special things we had for this project: this high level of involvement with the actual Licensors. The fact that the property owners really cared about what we did for the game really made a big difference and allowed us to make the best game possible. Our product is the main evidence. People see it and say "Wow!"

Licensed titles have a bad reputation and there are certain reasons for that. However, in defence of makers of such games I can say that their development is a really hard work, because you have to deal with a lot of things: usually a very tight timeline, sometimes a small budget because you have to spend a lot of it to acquire the actual license itself and the goal to make many different people happy including the Licensors and the fans. So here, you have to manage all of these at the same time and it is not an easy task. That is unfair to beat up the Licensed game projects, because when you start to learn about "Why?", then you will come to "Wow!" Locally for us we were able to avoid most if not all of those pitfalls or traps, that typically Licensed games fall into. Let me point out two major things: we have had a creative relationship, not a business relationship with Lightstorm Entertainment, James Cameron and 20th Century Fox as well. Because we were creative partners, everyone was very cooperative, they all wanted to help us with whatever we needed. They were saying something like this: "You guys are making the game. We know you as the game makers. Go make us a great game! We are not going to get in your way. Tell us, what you need from us to help you make that game!"

It has been a wonderful relationship and on top of that, it is James Cameron! Everyone including myself is a huge fan of his movies. I can resight most of his films word to word. I am not alone here and a lot of people can say the same. Come on, if you are in the game industry designing games, there is a good chance that somewhere in your life James Cameron's movies or at least one of them has affected you or is influencing you in some way. Building a game on his new big movie was exciting for everybody. Everyone was willing to put some extra effort and working much harder making the game as good as possible. So those two key ingredients, the amazing team and the great relationship with the Licensors, were very important for a creative process.

- What is your favorite James Cameron's movie?

- Oh, man! That is so hard to choose! I mean there are two "Terminator" movies (1984 and 1991), "Aliens" (1986), "The Abyss" (1989), "True Lies" (1994) and so on. I think in the end of the day I would have to be torn between "The Abyss" and "Aliens". I love these movies so much! I like the other ones too, but if I had to choose, I guess I would pick those two.

- Are all members of your team fans of James Cameron’s movies as well?

- The Most of them are for sure. If you find any people who don't like his films, I'd say they are probably crazy. We have a really good mix of people in our team, but there is always a danger to have everybody religiously following someone or something. Actually, it is nice to have people with different ideas just to be able to balance the scales a little bit. James Cameron has a lot of his fans, who like his movies very much. I can't speak for him, obviously, but as I imagine to let even more and more people enjoy what he is doing, it is important to listen to any other kinds of opinions, bringing in new ideas to films & games and so on.

- What was the most challenging aspect in the development process?

- Making video games is challenging in the first place. A lot of people don't realize how hard it is, you know. In this particular case, the expectations were set very very high. James Cameron makes great movies. Everybody watched "Titanic" (1997). So when he decides to create a new movie, people are going to listen and to be excited about that, because everyone would like to rush and see everything connected with that. You could watch the trailers or, if you were lucky, even the 3D previews, and then you have no choice, but to want to see "Avatar" since it is excellent. So to be working on a game with such high expectations is challenging right away. We took on many other challenges. Let us start listing them: James Cameron and one of his next movies what is already a challenge since the film of such high caliber is huge, so we had to rank up and match the caliber of our game to what he has been doing. In addition, on top of that, it is a Licensed title, what I already covered before, there are logistical challenges and then we also wanted to have a Stereoscopic 3D option in the game, so there was a lot of extra work to be done just to allow such option. As you know, the game has to run in 120 Hz to be able to show you the Stereoscopic 3D delivering 60 frames per second in each eye. Just that required a lot to get 120 frames per second in total. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are amazing consoles. 120 frames per second that is many frames per second, so we had to work very hard to ensure we can do that. Of course, there were other challenges, but I have just named all the biggest ones.

- Who was writing the script for the game?

- That is Kevin Short. He is a very talented guy and he also has experience working in Film industry just as I do. So he was a perfect person to bridge the gap, using certain ideas from the movie and finding ways of bringing them into the game. He interacted very closely with James Cameron in the beginning, who contributed to the script and made changes himself. Eventually, we think that was great.

- What ways for storytelling do you prefer?

- Our game has a little bit of everything. We have Cutscenes, which you could already see in the trailer, those are good for certain moments. Over the last few years, it has been this big debate about whether cutscenes in games represent a good idea. I don't think there should be any debate on that. Cutscenes can be good or bad, but if you include them in a game, do them well. Make sure, that they do not distract a player from a game. Make sure they fit in well and serve their purpose. We tried to stay very sensitive to that while adding cutscenes to this particular game. Also we have the Quests' system we use to tell the story. Our game is interactive and you are living through its story. The Story is being delivered to you, but not in a passive way. You can meet different NPC, who will tell you what is going on and that you will need to take care of some things. After that, you just go and do that, you are writing the story as you go, which is nice. You'll be much more involved in it and that's a great advantage that games have over films because it allows developers to make people who are watching as the story unfolds be active participants in the story, letting them be a part of it as opposed to sitting back and just being a spectator.

- Who is your favorite character in the movie?

- I just don’t want to give away anything. One of the reasons for creators of the movie being so secretive about it, because every character there is special. That will be something you won't want to spoil for yourself, so just go to see the movie itself. Don't worry about the game because it won't spoil the movie at all, it'll only make you even more excited about the film.

- You mentioned the importance of secrecy and how did you ensure it during the game's development process?

- It is not just a game we are representing; we are representing the film as well just by being associated with "Avatar". That is terrifying to me, but people know more about the game than they do about the so amazing movie, and the development process was also a big responsibility for us. Back at Ubisoft Montreal in Canada, we have taken a lot of very serious precautions. We worked in a place we called "The Bunker" which is a studio within a studio. Just to get into Ubisoft, you need a keycard to access the building itself and there is a turnstile you have to go through, so you have many security measures installed. However, once you are inside one of our floors is a Production floor for all versions of Avatar. You will have to get through another door and another turnstile to reach this production floor. There we have two computers, a Ubisoft PC and an Avatar PC, which is cut off from the rest of our internal Ubisoft network structure, so only the Avatar PCs are actually connected to each other. Even the servers are located in that particular "Bunker" and there is just no access to Avatar's production facility, unless you have a very special security clearance. I have been working for Ubisoft and even when I switched to the Avatar project, I had to sign some additional Non-Disclosure agreements, just to be able to work on the game.

- What can you say about the main hero of your game?

- You find yourself in the beginning of the game kind of thrown into this very exotic world. Pandora is the moon that the game is based on, just like the film. We keep things beautiful, but dangerous, what you will soon realize with all the creatures and plant life being at present. The Na'vi are running around the forests and attacking human soldiers on a regular basis. You will get overwhelmed with this feeling of danger. Your job there is to deal with that danger, because it is causing a threat to the company you work for which is called The Resources Development Administration or the RDA Corporation. They are mining the planet's resources and the wildlife and the Na'vi are attacking those mining installations, what brings a lot of grief to RDA. You have been sent there, as a soldier to protect the mining facilities, but as you keep on doing that, you start to understand that there is more to the story than it had been first told you. You will have to find the underlying cause of it to realize that mining of the planet is putting the planet itself and all the people on it in very grave danger. The rest of the game is pretty much devoted to putting an end to this danger and saving all the life on the planet, including the planet itself. There are many ways to achieving this objective and that is the major thing in the game.

- Could you explain the key differences between the factions?

- Yes. You start as a human soldier. You can choose from some preset player models, males or females. As a human soldier, you also have the access to your Avatar, which is a genetic crossbreed between a Na'vi and a human that is like a surrogate, which you can control with your mind. I know it sounds a little far-fetched, but it is actually great. You have seen the trailer. What will it feel like to wake up in a different alien body? The movie explores this theme and we do the same thing in the game. We allow people to play as two very different characters. In your human body, it will be more like a Shooter game depending on the technology, weaponry and the guns you possess. You will be able to use a flamethrower, a grenade launcher, an assault rifle, an M16 machine gun, a shotgun, a nail gun. You rely heavily on these weapons. When you are playing as an Avatar, you will be more like a primitive Na'vi, their armor and weaponry are more savage like a large battle axe, staves or dual-wield blades. You will have access to a crossbow and a bow and arrow accessory. For the most part your strength will show itself during any melee combat. It will be important to get close to your enemies to hit them as opposed to shooting them from a distance. So two different factions represent two very different play styles.

- What inspired your artists to create the world of Pandora in the game?

- We cannot take all the credit for it. Pascal Blanche is a very talented Art Director who worked with us on our game. His job included direct interaction with James Cameron's crew and James Cameron himself trying to get inside their minds to understand what they were doing for the movie. It was a very big task for him to make a Realtime engine feel like you are in Pandora. Creating visuals for a game is very much different to making them for a film. There was a really good team backing Pascal up and he had access to a lot of content, photography, stock footage from the movie crew they used to base their Art Direction on and in turn that helped us during the development process of the game. It allowed us to create the whole Universe together. The game world very quickly started to look like Pandora. I remember a meeting with Lightstorm Entertainment and 20th Century Fox. They came in, saw the latest build of the game and were like "Wow! It totally feels like Pandora as if you are there!" We were really happy to hear that and now we hope our fans will feel the same way, but we are sure they will though.

- What about creature designs in the game?

- I believe that all the creatures in the game do appear in the film. There is nothing new. We have been taking everything we could see in the movie and put it into the game.

- How can we interact with the environment?

- There is destructible terrain, many plants can be destroyed as well and some of them are actually traps for a gamer. When playing as an Avatar though, do not worry about the plant life, instead you have to worry about the soldiers who have a lot of robot drones hidden in certain areas. Those are the traps as well you have to be on the lookout for.

- The possibility to ride Pandora's creatures looks so exciting.

- Yes! Just as you could see in the demo there are vehicles human soldiers could use and while running as an Avatar, you will meet Na'vi Dire Horses, which are roaming freely through parts of the map. You can walk up to them, just mount them and then ride around. Obviously, there are more types available like the Thanators. Then we also have the Banshees and the Leonopteryx, which are the flying creatures.

- How aggressive is the enemy’s AI?

- We worked hard on the AI. There are kinds of common enemies in the game, you will see them in different shapes, sizes, colors with unique abilities. We made sure that they are special and they like to hunt you in packs. They like to surround you or use hit-and-run tactics. For example, you have to be very careful with the Viperwolves since if they outnumber you, you will get into trouble. You have to kill them all fast and you have certain skills to help you like a Repulsor, which sends a fear wave out to make enemies run away from you. This way you will earn more time to shoot at them till they come back to attack. You can use the Cloaking skill and many other ones, which will help you in specific situations. You will really need to use these skills because that is one of the most important parts of the game. You will have to take advantage of them, because people who do not will see their character dying often in the game.

- How will the new gear become available?

- It unlocks automatically. We did not want to force a player to make certain choices and then later on regret their decisions, so don't worry about that. You will become more and more powerful, think of that as of an upside-down Pyramid. As you play the game, you will go higher and higher getting more and more new options. By the end, when you unlocked all the experience packs, you will get all the options opened to you and then you can use any weapon, any armor and any skill available in the game.

- How can you describe the in-game controls?

- The game is not very complicated, you know. We wanted to make sure that people could pick it up, play and have fun. We have some little flavors here that will keep some of the more hardcore games happy, but the game will not frustrate any casual gamers as well. If you played any third-person game before, you will learn here pretty fast. I think we have found the perfect balance between the complexity and the ease of play.

- Will the PC version of the game support console controllers?

- Fantastic question! Though I don't know the answer for sure and I wouldn't dare to take a guess.

- We would like to know more about the Multiplayer.

- We just started talking about it to the press. The short version of the story says that yes, we have Multiplayer available. It will facilitate 16 players online at any given time. You can fight faction against faction in 5 different modes, where Na'vi battle with RDA. Factions have very different play styles so the gameplay here will also be really intriguing. In the game the Na'vi are taller than humans and they can be scaring when running at you. I played a couple of Multiplayer matches back in the office, whenever I was playing a human character; I was terrified on a regular basis. I was really glad to have big guns, because otherwise I'd stand no chance. Moving on to the 5 Multiplayer modes now: we have Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Attack and Defend, Capture and Hold.

- Can you share some technical details about your graphics engine?

- It was the Dunia engine, which was the Far Cry 2 (2008) engine, but so much heavy tuning has been done to it since. Far Cry 2 is the first-person shooter and Avatar is the third-person Action game. A lot of more support has been given to the animation and graphical systems to support the new perspective. For including the Stereoscopic option, we had to ensure the presence of a lot more frames per second. It required huge extra work. At Ubisoft we are always moving forward and here we wanted to add some graphical enhancements to push higher the graphical resolution and the texture resolution. It all required making certain modifications to the engine.

- In-game animation looks wondeful. How was it created?

- I have had an amazing team to work with, let us thank its members as well. They made getting the animation done for this game really easy. We had access to the Animation Director of the film and his crew, we were able to learn a lot from them like how the tall Na'vi move around and we have taken the advantage of this knowledge. We arranged conversations with the creators of the movie and they explained us everything we needed to know. The time we saved here was spent on the other parts of the game. On top of that, it allowed the movie and the game to look more similar.

- Why is the innovative Stereoscopic mode so rare nowadays?

- Because it is new. Mark my words: you'll see more of it. If I could show it right now putting 3D Glasses on your face, you would look through them and would surely say "Wow!" I cannot wait for more such games to come out. It will not be a question for the future, more TV manufacturers are going to support this technology, graphics cards makers have been doing that for a long time. The reason for why it has still been so rare is in the developers and in the fact that they have to jump on this. At Ubisoft we are brave enough to make very high-quality products to help stimulate the market.

- How do you collaborate with Chance Thomas who is the composer of the in-game soundtrack?

- Yes, Chance is the official composer, but how did you know that? Have you seen the Credits already?

- The game is so promising. It’s going to be a big hit. It has been a sincere wish to know as much about it as possible.

- Yeah, you are good. Chance is a multi-award winning composer. Let us put it this way: the sound in the game is amazing. When I wore my headphones to listen to the tracks recorded for the game, I couldn't believe what I heard. I was listening to something that sounded like a movie soundtrack. That is how good our in-game soundtrack is. We did some very cool things while layering music pieces together, so they could increase the drama and scale up with the intensity of the action taking place on the screen. Our music supports the dramatic moments in the game really well.

- How did you select the voice actors for the game?

- Kevin Short handled that. He is the scriptwriter as I mentioned before. So that is a question you better ask him when you have the chance.

- What is "The Conquest" mode?

- It is a strategic mini-game in the game. Your experience can get translated into credits, but you don't cash the experience for it. Just at certain experience levels, you will have access to certain number of credits. You will be able to conquer provinces and unlock bonuses what will modify your character in the game.

- What are the differences between the "Next-Gen" versions of the game?

- You will have a hard time finding those differences. There always are some small ones though since we are talking about different hardware. They are all unique and not ports of each other. The one for PC and all the "Next-Gens" were developed in tandem.

- Your favorite video game?

- Oh, man! Really? It is absolutely impossible to choose just one like if you were asked about the favorite movie. I won't pick one since I like so many.

- In your opinion, what is The Best game of this year?

- Wow! Pick between James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game and Assassin's Creed II here.

- What picture do you have on your desktop?

- It is an Avatar picture actually, a sample of concept art from the movie.

- What do you do in your free time?

- Everything and even riding my motorcycle.

- Name 3 things you associate with Russia.

- Red Square, vodka and beautiful women.

- Thank you for this great interview!

- You are welcome!

22.11.2009 18:39, Unicorn


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