Epic's Fortnite is a 'fresh and bubbly' co-op survival sandbox game

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Epic's Fortnite is a 'fresh and bubbly' co-op survival sandbox game
Epic Games kicked off our experience at Comic-Con this year with a panel about Fortnite, the oft-mentioned but not yet seen game that serves as the studio's followup to Gears of War. Producer Tanya Jessen, Lead Artist Pete Ellis, and Design Director Cliff Bleszinski talked at length about the game, revealing it to be a mashup of Minecraft, The Walking Dead and Team Fortress 2. It's designed and built in Unreal Engine 4, and destined for a PC-only launch.

Jessen described Fortnite as a "co-op sandbox survival game" with three different elements. Scavenging will allow players to go out into the ruined world and find items and materials wherever they can. Building will let players first erect and then customize various structures of all shapes and sizes. Combat, the last part of the game, pits players against creepy yet "Looney Tunes-inspired" monsters attempting to take those structures down.

"This is not just a game for people who like shooters or RPGS," said Jessen. "It's a game for everybody." And according to Bleszinski, Fortnite is a big change internally from what the studio has been working on more recently. "It's been really fresh for us," he said. "We've had like six years of Gears and we've perfected the art of killing. Fortnite is serving as a fresh change of pace for us."%Gallery-160290%

For one thing, you can skip the combat entirely. Scavenging in the world is all based on what tools you have available, and Epic showed video of a character first cutting down wood with an axe, and then graduating to collecting marble and brick with a sledgehammer. Building is a little more complex than Minecraft, in that players can lay down a wall that begins with a blue grid, and then mark off squares in that grid to customize it. Want to build a door? Cut out the middle and lower middle squares. Laying out grids and squares in other areas can create a railed balcony or even a sniper's nest, so there are a lot of construction options available to players.

All of those options, however, are still in flux while the team is hard at work on development. Bleszinski said the final building options "won't require an engineering degree," but there may be compromises between letting players do whatever and balancing it for the rest of the game. "It may be gamey," he said, "but sometimes in a game like this you have to be."

Originally, Fortnite was more like Gears -- it took place in a dark, realistic and ruined world, and the enemies were more frightening. Bleszinski mentioned both Cormac McCarthy's The Road and The Walking Dead franchise as influences on that original look. But as the team played the game more and more, Bleszinski said, that vibe was just "depressing." Running in Unreal Engine 4, the game not only looks gorgeous and vibrant, but much lighter and more colorful than your standard shooter fare. Nights (which currently show up about every hour or so, though that may change) can be scary, but "daytime has this kind of fresh and clean and new bubbly feel," Bleszinski said, "which is really welcoming."

Characters will be persistent and customizable, which suggests microtransactions in the Team Fortress 2 vein, but Jessen didn't budge when asked whether the title would be free-to-play. "We're actually not talking about that right now," she said firmly. "We're going to figure it out, and we're going to do what's best."

Worlds will be randomly generated ... sort of. The developers were dodgy on exactly how the various worlds you'll be playing will connect up. "It's all part of a bigger picture, a bigger world," Jessen said. "We're still iterating on how you get from place to place on all of that."

Bleszinski was also vague on the story behind Fortnite – the various little trolls and husk enemies attacking your structures aren't just mindless creatures. There's a "puppetmaster" behind them. "This isn't some sort of infection spreading in Raccoon City type of thing, this is somebody sucking the life out of people on purpose," Bleszinski said. That enemy is "'desiring life', is my cleanest way of putting it right now."

And as much as things are in flux now, that state may continue post-release as well. Epic said there will be a rolling release schedule, starting with a Friends and Family beta, which then opens up to "Epic fans," and eventually other players. And there are plans for post-release already, for more interactive buildings like installed traps. "I don't think we'll have any Rube Goldberg stuff in the first version but it's kind of a no brainer later," Bleszinski said. "This isn't like your sixty dollar Christmas holiday release kind of thing. This is slow burn."
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