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News video games 25 June 2021, 14:25

author: Jacob Blazewicz

Ubisoft's Avatar Aims to Take NPCs and Virtual Worlds to a Whole New Level

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora got a new trailer. This time Ubisoft focused on discussing the novelties introduced in the Snowdrop engine, thanks to which the virtual Pandora will not only be more beautiful, but also feature NPCs, animals and plants that react to changes in the game world.

  1. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora got a "tech" trailer;
  2. The material discusses a variety of news related to 9th-gen consoles and a significantly refreshed Snowdrop engine;
  3. The new technology will provide much better visuals, but also a more populated game world and NPCs (as well as animals and plants) reacting to changes on virtual Pandora.

The presentation of a game based on the license of James Cameron's Avatar was one of the highlights of this year's Ubisoft Forward show. Fortunately, the publisher didn't keep us waiting long for more information. Ubisoft has released new footage of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, discussing improvements to the Snowdrop engine.

As you can see, nothing new was shown from the game itself - all scenes are from the trailer revealed at Ubisoft Forward. The developers focused on presenting the new capabilities of their technology and 9th-generation consoles. The use of ray tracing will probably come as no surprise, as will the much more detailed locations and better lighting. However, nicer graphics are not all that the new platforms and refreshed Snowdrop Engine allow for.

Avatar - Flight Over Pandora

One of the important elements of Avatar: Frontier of Pandora is the ability to quickly travel across Pandora on flying mounts. And it's not about leisurely hovering just above the forest or other objects, but traveling kilometers above the ground at a dizzying pace. Which, of course, requires the game to not only quickly render, but load (or rather stream) objects at lightning speed. Speaking with IGN, Magnus Jansén (creative director) and Nikolay Stefanov (technical director of programming) stressed that Ubisoft's aim is to deliver "beautiful visuals" with ray tracing over distances of up to 3-4km, something that wouldn't be possible without the SSDs used in the new consoles:

"[New consoles allowed - ed. note] us to have much better object detail up close to you, 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.

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."

The 9th-gen consoles have also enabled developers to get rid of one of the pains of open-world games. If you've played any open-world title, you're probably familiar with the vast expanses of space separating the main locations, which are devoid of anything of interest. This was by no means a whim of the developers, but a necessary technical solution. The game had to start loading (streaming) a new location while simultaneously - let's call it that - moving to the abandoned location to "reserve". PS5 and XSX/S and the improved Snowdrop engine enable the devs to bypass this limitation, making the game world much more condensed.

Conscious NPCs (and flora and fauna)

Another interesting new feature that isn't purely a visual improvement concerns the AI. Ubisoft boasts that they've developed a system to make NPCs and animals (and... intelligent plants) more aware of the current state of the world. Pandora's inhabitants will react to changes in the time of day and weather, but also to the actions of the player and other entities, as well as game progress. Stefanov gave the behavior of large animals as an example: normally they will avoid trees and other larger vegetation, but when angry or frightened they will ignore these and similar objects, destroying everything in their path.

All of this is meant to serve one purpose: to increase immersion to a level not seen in Ubisoft's previous games. There's a reason the team at Ubisoft Massive chose to show the game from FPP. Jansén insists that, in the end, "technology is everything," because it's what enables developers to realise their visions.

"Technology is everything. 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]."

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora will debut next year on PC, Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5.

  1. Avatar - official website
  2. Ubisoft - official website

Jacob Blazewicz

Jacob Blazewicz

Passionate about video (and other) games for years, he completed an Mba in linguistics, defending a thesis about games. He began his adventure with Gamepressure in 2015, writing in the newsroom, later also covering film and – oh, horror! – technology (also contributor to the gaming encyclopedia). He started with platformers, which he still dearly loves (including metroidvania), but he's also interested in card games (including 'analog'), brawlers, soulslike games and basically every other type of game. Don't ask about the graphics – after a few hours of exposition, he can be delighted with pixelated characters from games that remember the days of the Game Boy age (if not older).


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