Page last updated at 11:53 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 12:53 UK

A first look at Avatar

By Daniel Emery
BBC technology reporter, Los Angeles

Screenshot from Avatar, Ubisoft
Early shots suggest Avatar will look very impressive

"Before you go any further sir, I'm going to need your phone, your laptop, your bag, and any photographic equipment you may have on you."

We're being stripped of all our technology at the start of a press briefing. A process which is, to say the least, unusual.

But this is an unusual press conference; we are about to get the first look at Titanic director James Cameron's new action adventure movie Avatar and see Ubisoft's game of the same name.

We are ushered into a room, one side of which is filled with an enormous 103in plasma screen; a working prototype from Panasonic. The walls are plastered with concept art.

Then out steps Jon Landau, the film's producer, who runs through the basic plot.

"The script for Avatar started 14 years ago, but back then, the technology to make a film like that did not exist," he said.

New territory

The film - and game - follows the exploits of a paralysed marine called Jake Sully who is sent to the beautiful, but dangerous, world of Pandora to help a mining corporation extract a mineral Mr Landau called "unobtanium".

Humans cannot breathe the air on Pandora, so they have to travel - and work - in cumbersome airtight suits.

Screenshot from Avatar, Ubisoft
The game revolves around the battle for Pandora

However, Pandora does have an indigenous population - the Na'vi - a race of 10 foot tall creatures who have no interest in helping humanity exploit, and ultimately destroy, their planet.

So the corporation has created a hybrid creature from both human and Na'vi DNA that is controlled via a mental link by a human operator: the Avatar.

Trouble is, every creature on the planet - plant and animal, including the Na'vi - now want humans off the planet and will use any and every means at their disposal to drive them off.

Humanity is engaged in a fight for survival on Pandora, and it is into this environment that Jake Sully is dropped.

"Our industry has not created a new universe in 32 years," said Mr Landau. "We have now."

A reference, if ever there was one, to George Lucas' Star Wars which made its debut in 1977.

Both the game and film were developed in tandem; so much so that ideas from game developer Ubisoft were incorporated into the movie.

The game, an action adventure shooter, faithfully replicates the movie environment; in stereoscopic 3D if your monitor is capable.

The graphics, from the little we saw, were impressive and on a par with how stunning Crysis was when it made its public debut.

Foliage, creatures, characters, and weapons are superbly rendered. By day, the environment is a lush - but oppressive - jungle. At night the entire planet glows with bioluminescence, making the world look even more alien than it already is.

However, this is just a backdrop to the game, which is predominantly about combat.

Screenshot from Avatar, Ubisoft

Fighting talk

Mr Landau stressed that the game's plot was not a carbon copy of the film.

While the film goes into avatar mode fairly early on, the game lets you play as a human soldier fighting his way through the jungle as the various jungle life forms try their best to kill you.

The game also lets you play as a Na'vi warrior. While humans may have a technological edge, they also have every plant and animal out to get them. For the Na'vi, this flora and fauna are not just friends, they are allies.

In the demonstration we were shown how a Na'vi warrior could climb on the back of a large winged creature that could then be used to knock helicopters out of the sky.

Mr Landau said that Jake Sully changes sides and helps the Na'vi "lead a revolution to force the humans - and avatars - off Pandora".

The catch, said Mr Landau, is that when Sully is in avatar mode, he is fully mobile; back in human form, he is confined to a wheelchair.

"It's a moral dilemma that he will have to face."

It remains to be seen if this moral dilemma from the movie will be replicated in the game.

Both film and game are due for release at the end of 2009.



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