“With the Ikran flight, one of the things we wanted to do was give the player a new perspective of Pandora,” Rechner explains. “You start the game beneath the canopy of the forest, so you can’t really see very far in the distance. But when you get on your banshee and fly above the canopy, it gives you a whole new view of the world. We made sure that the speed of flight didn’t feel too limiting, and we made sure that every location the player sees is accessible via the Ikran. You see floating mountains at the beginning of the game, and when you eventually unlock your Ikran, you can fly to those mountains, and it feels really cool.”
Many of the game’s mechanics are based on interacting with and learning about Pandora, from carefully picking fruit off of the vine to preserve the quality of the produce to approaching wounded animals carefully to earn their trust. “We wanted the gameplay to focus on the player becoming Na’vi, which is really about connecting with nature,” Rechner explains. “Your character’s power literally comes from Pandora.”
The Western Frontier’s three regions are distinctive, but their differences run deeper than aesthetics alone. The Kinglor Forest resembles the locales from the films and acts as a familiar environment to introduce players to the basics of the gameplay; the wide open spaces and long sight lines of the Upper Plains encourage sniper-based combat, and the thick vegetation of the Clouded Forest provides ample opportunity for stealth takedowns. “With each region, we really tried to lean into what the environments provided to us gameplay-wise,” Rechner explains. “That keeps things fresh and interesting as you progress through the game.”
To ensure every element of gameplay and story made sense within the Avatar universe, Massive worked closely with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment. The team would present Lightstorm with gameplay ideas, and Lightstorm would help align them with the ethos of the films, whether it be leaning into the asymmetrical nature of Na’vi and RDA combat or assuring the various biomes across the map made sense within Pandora’s overall climate.
“Lightstorm are the moviemaking experts and we’re the people who make video games—there was a great respect for each other’s expertise,” Rechner says. “They know everything about the films and are currently working on them, so they were the best partners to have. There is actually a lot of science and biology that goes into Lightstorm’s creative process and we picked up on that expertise over the course of our partnership.”
Ramanan and the narrative team had a constant back-and-forth with Lightstorm as well, using their knowledge to help create the game’s cast of characters. “We were able to create entirely new Na’vi clans and all of the characters within each clan,” she says. “It’s been really rewarding writing all of the backstories for our named characters. All of them have unique perspectives, they have relationships with each other and we know how they all fit together. We wrote them to feel like authentic people who are living rich lives even when you’re not standing in front of them.”