Ubisoft’s Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is out next month, and despite book-ending the year, it’s still a major title based on the billion-dollar movie franchise by James Cameron. While there is some worry about the enemy AI or ease of exploration given the abundance of details, perhaps one of the biggest questions is why it’s in first-person.
Wouldn’t third-person make sense so players can see their character, a Na’vi, more often? Developer Massive Entertainment is also renowned for its work on Tom Clancy’s The Division, a third-person looter shooter. However, as it turns out, immersion is the main motivation.
As game director Ditte Deenfeldt told IGN, “We want you to feel immersed and like you’re really on Pandora. So it was never really a big discussion for us.” Creative director Magnus Jansen added, “This was something that we were completely in agreement with Lightstorm,” the latter being Cameron’s film studio, which is also working on the title. “To be as close to Pandora as possible, to be as immersed into it as you can possibly be, which is (achieved through) the first-person perspective… to me, it was a no-brainer for us to go there.”
Deenfeldt said, “We want you to get up close to nature, which is kind of the main character to some degree in the game, and the very best way of doing that is being in first-person. We want you to feel immersed and feel like you’re really on Pandora.”
Of course, while flying, the game defaults to a third-person perspective. That’s because the development team wants to emphasize the world of Pandora. Associate game director Drew Rechner explains, “We decided to use the third-person camera for the Ikran and the Direhorse because of the framing it provides on the world.
“We really liked that [field of view] change. You can see a lot of the tree branches, the leaves and all of those things from the wings in the third person that you wouldn’t really be able to see if you were in the first person. And the same thing when you cut through the waterfalls with your wings, you get to see that part of the [Ikran] get wet, and you see the water runoff. Those kinds of details, I think, would be really difficult to see [in first-person].”
Why didn’t Massive provide the option to switch between both perspectives? As Deenfeldt explains, “If you want to have a high quality of both, you have to make a decision very early.” Offering both for the entirety of the experience would have resulted in “double the work,” especially when creating third-person animations and interactions.
“When you’re harvesting, or when you are hunting, or just moving around, if you are in third-person that becomes tiny little pixels touching tiny little pixels, and you don’t get that particular sense of place and immersion that we really wanted this game to have.”
Meanwhile, players can get up close and personal with the world in first person. “When you are harvesting you grab the fruit, and then, as you twist the controller, the hand is in concert with what you do. And that’s sort of mimetic, that it mimics the tactility that comes from that. And the connection and the increased immersion that comes from that has been a huge focus for us,” says Jansen. It’s also apparent when navigating the undergrowth, as your character brushes aside any branches, much like Jake Sully in the first film.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is out on December 7th for Xbox Series X/S, PS5 and PC.
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