James Cameron's Avatar: The Game Interview

Despite the billions of dollars at the box office that his films have generated worldwide, James Cameron has never been directly involved in a videogame. Until now. Ubisoft's James Cameron's Avatar: The Game marks the first collaboration between the Oscar-winning filmmaker and the videogame industry. PC gamers will be able to play Avatar in 3D with NVIDIA GeForce 3D Vision technology. Cameron talks about the close collaboration that he and his LightStorm Entertainment had with Ubisoft Montreal in this exclusive interview.

How did you end up picking Ubisoft for the Avatar videogame?

We had some time on this film. It was a four-year production, and we're already a year and a half into it looking for a game company to get on board early enough that they're gonna have a couple of years to author a really good game. Ubisoft gave us the best pitch. They really got inside the head of the movie. They came back to us with something that was not only sounded great, but it was something that would play well. It thematically would mirror the film in a really interesting way.

How did it become a 3D game?

We knew they were our guys, regardless of whether they went 3D or not. But I urged them to think about doing the game in stereoscopic 3D, which hadn't been done for console even. It had been done for PC games, but it hadn't been done for a widely released console game. They said, "We don't know if we can do that." So they went off and a couple of months later, they came back with a 3D demo. At that point, the game was still a first-person shooter. Later we changed it to a third-person shooter.

What do you think of the 3D Avatar game?

It's amazing. I remember when they plugged it into a big plasma 3D monitor and holy crap, you were there on Pandora. I thought, "Well, this is it. You guys are gonna drive a stake in the ground. There's gonna be all the games before this one, and then there's gonna be all the games after this one." I could not imagine at the time that I saw this game demo and played it that it was not gonna revolutionize gaming.

Do you play videogames?

Now I'm not a gamer. I don't spend 100 hours a week doing videogames. The reason for that is that I just have to cross two or three movies off my list of things that I wouldn't get to make, because I'd spend too much time doing that. So I kinda hold myself back from being a hardcore gamer, but you play this game and it's a whole nother deal. I think that the stereo will probably be driven strongly by games, when other game companies get the sense of what's possible here. Into the home, and acceptance in the home, is coming a lot sooner than people would have imagined a couple of years ago.

How involved were you with the creation of the Avatar game?

It's interesting. I said to Ubisoft, "Guys, make a parallel story. Let's not tell the story of the movie. You guys can come up with a story with characters. Use the same technology. Use the same general parameters. Use the Na'Vi culture as we've created it. Extrapolate beyond that." That's what they did. They made up their own characters. They came up with their own story lines. In a way, when you play the game - first of all, it doesn't spoil the movie at all, which is why I'm completely comfortable having the game being on the street two or three weeks before the film comes out. In a way, it just whets your appetite for the movie. At the same time, from a gamer's perspective, it's not the boring, "I have to play Jake Sully. I know in the movie this happens, and..." It's a much better relationship between the two.

What was the collaboration like with Ubisoft Montreal?

We had a great collaboration on it. We said to them, "Hey, we're working in a game authoring engine, so we have to run all of our proxy models at a fairly low polygon cam. Can you guys use this stuff?" They said, "Hell, yeah!" We gave them all these assets, and helped them build out their world very quickly and consistently with our world that we were working in. Conversely, they said, "What do you think about this weapon?," "What do you think about that weapon?," "What about this vehicle?" They wanted things for the game that didn't exist amongst the movie assets. Some of them we thought were pretty cool. To the extent that we could, we brought some of them into the shots in the movie, so there's this great kind of cross-pollination between the two. I let them do their thing, do what they do best, which is develop a game. I'm not gonna try to spoon feed it to them, or tell them how to do their jobs. Ubisoft is one of the best game developers around, so let them do their thing.