“AVATAR” COUNTDOWN: 28 DAYS
James Cameron has big aspirations for “Avatar,” and here at Hero Complex we’re stepping up with some epic coverage plans: a 30-day countdown. Today’s topic: Hero Complex contributor Gerrick Kennedy reports on the Ubisoft video game that hopes to take the fans of the sci-fi epic on an entirely different adventure.
Security is intense these days at the Montreal offices of Ubisoft where more than 200 employees are working overtime to put the final touches on the new James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game, which is due to hit store shelves Dec. 1.
“The bunker” is how Patrick Naud, the executive producer of the game, referred to the area for the team dedicated to the creation of a 3-D gaming experience that matches Cameron’s ambitious film project. Cameras, guards, extra locks and some fairly scary employee contracts have all been put into place to protect the game that looks to be one of the most intriguing releases of 2009.
“We’re just finishing the last production for the PC version,” Naud said. “From then on it’s just waiting for the game to come out. We’re hoping people get as excited about the game as we are.”
Cameron has been on a quest to make the “Avatar” film for more than a decade and there’s plenty of curiosity considering the massive success of his last feature film, “Titanic” in 1997, and the industry chatter about the film’s innovations in 3-D and visual effects technology. Naud and his team hope to create a video game that is also a potential “game-changer,” as the film is being billed by industry observers.
“We met James three years ago,” Naud said. “That first meeting was so that he could approve us. We wanted to expand the world and we didn’t want to do a game of the movie. We didn’t want to have the boundaries of having to follow the film.”
Naud, like many of the collaborators working with Cameron on “Avatar,” spoke with excitement in his voice about the director and his years-in-the-making epic. Ubisoft, though, has followed a different path through the alien jungles created by the Oscar-winning director’s script and film.
“We had an idea what we wanted to do,” Naud said of his company’s pitch. “There were two main concepts: doing the game of the world, not the movie, and giving the players the choice to choose sides. We felt in the beginning of the project there is a big part of the story that’s not told.”
The film follows the adventure of a Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) who is sent to the distant moon Pandora, where, given control of a towering, blue-hued alien body, he is supposed to gather intelligence about an alien race who lives atop valuable natural resources. After learning the ways of the Na’vi tribe, though, Sully finds himself wondering which side of the impending conflict he belongs on.
With Cameron’s blessing, Ubisoft Montreal created its own storyline set two years before the events of the film. In the game, players take on the role of Abel Ryder, a code breaker sent to Pandora. There they enter the Avatar Program, which creates the alien-human hybrid bodies, like the one used by Sully in the film. Players are then faced with a choice: Side with the noble Na’vi or work for the Resources Development Administration, the armed human enterprise planning to mine Pandora’s coveted minerals.
Naud said game developers wanted to challenge themselves more after Cameron asked why the game couldn’t be 3-D like the movie. Although Naud assured gamers it’s not needed for game play, he says gamers who do have a DLP setup that supports 3-D vision, or a 3-D-vision capable flat-screen TV, will have the bonus of experiencing the game much like they would the film.
Nintendo users will also experience the game differently as the Wii and Nintendo DS games follow their own story lines, separate from the other platforms.
“Play as a young Na’vi warrior whose village and family have been destroyed by the RDA, you’re seeing it from this different perspective,” Naud said. “It uses the Wii balance board and the MotionPlus that was released this summer. Something we felt was a nice addition.”
Naud said that Cameron realized the potential the video game has to strengthen the “Avatar” brand and that the filmmaker approached his relationship with the game creators in a collaborative manner that Naud said is far from the norm in the film-based game sector.
“It’s not the type of relationship we have with a licensor,” Naud said. “Some studios might want to be more protective of their characters. It’s not everyone that sees it as an extension of the brand. Some see it as a way to get more revenue. We had the liberty to create new characters, new worlds. He knew of games, but he didn’t know what made a game great. He trusted us. He told us to ‘go all in.’”
— Gerrick Kennedy
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