Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora was one of the big surprises at Ubisoft’s E3 2021 press conference. Even though it had been announced years priors, the publisher and developer finally got to show the game off. And today, Ubisoft went into a little more detail about the game’s tech, its engine improvements, and more before calling it the “biggest leap” in the Snowdrop engine’s history.
The above trailer details some of the advancements Massive Entertainment had to make in order to adapt to creating the green and lively world of Pandora. While the Snowdrop engine has been used for other games like South Park: The Fracture But Whole, Massive is used to making giant cityscapes for The Division and its sequel. In order to support a world like Pandora, Massive had to upgrade its engine.
It uses a “microdetail system” that can load in thousands of assets (like, say, plants) at a time to create a highly detailed environment. There are a ton of different types of vegetation, too, and that allows for a lot more objects than “[they’ve] ever had before,” which is also due to some differences in how they use the GPU. Essentially, the engine is a lot better at making more enriched and dense jungle-like settings.
These plants should also feel more alive as better shaders let them react to the player or the weather. This is shown in the trailer when the plant recoils as the player puts their hand next to it. The improvements apply to sky as well. Since players can use banshees to fly, Ubisoft added better volumetric clouds to make sure the sky looked as good as the ground.
However, the ray tracing might the term or feature that most people would recognize as more games are supporting it in this new generation (remember that Avatar is a current-gen and PC exclusive). The game does support ray tracing and that can seen in a few ways. Ray traced global illumination will ensure that world is more naturally lit no matter the weather or time of day while the bioluminescent plants will be able to glow more spectacularly.
The last part of the trailer is likely something that needs to be detailed some other time as the examples were a little vague. NPCs can have different animations and activities based on the state of the world, be it weather, player progression, or time of day. It somewhat sounds like an extension of the schedules that Ubisoft has used in the most recent Assassin’s Creed games where NPCs act accordingly based on their needs.