In its latest seasonal update, the 200m-selling blockbuster allows players to create their own islands and share them with friends – the response is likely to be huge
Every three months something gigantic happens in the lives of 200m video game players: Fortnite Battle Royale starts a new season. The seventh of these launched on Thursday, bringing a variety of additions to the online multiplayer shooting game, but the most important of these is surely the Creative mode, a whole new element that allows players to build their own Fortnite landscapes and share them with the world.
For the uninitiated, Fortnite Battle Royale (as opposed to Fortnite Save the World, a linked but different version of the game) puts 100 players on an island together where they must search for guns and equipment and then fight until only one player remains. They begin on a large island filled with houses, shops, factories and sports arenas, but a huge storm rolls in progressively through the game, forcing combatants into an ever smaller area. The visuals are bright, brash and cartoony, and the locations are silly, from fast-food joints with enormous burger-headed statues, to toilet factories and spooky castles. It’s like playing Call of Duty in a world created by the Scooby Doo art team.
There has always been a modest creative element. As well as shooting each other, players can use a simple interface and a variety of in-game resources to build walls and forts with which to protect themselves. But with season seven, developer Epic Games has added a separate Creative mode. Here, players are given their own small island – effectively a virtual blank page – and a palette of objects to drop into it. You can run around the environment just as you do in the main game, but double-tapping the jump button lets your character fly around freely, giving them an architect’s perspective on their project. It’s very similar to the Minecraft Creative mode, which was surely a model for the Fortnite development team.
An intuitive series of menus lets you simply place whole buildings – a castle here, a mansion there – thereby quickly creating your own town. You can easily place buildings on top of each other, too, merging them together to create weird Escher-esque monstrosities. Alternatively, you can choose one of the “gallery” options, which provides you with all the separate building blocks of a familiar Fortnite building type, laying them all out on your island like a giant Ikea package – from these pieces you can construct something from scratch. One gallery gives you all the pieces to construct an elaborate obstacle course, opening up new forms of gameplay in the familiar environment.
Picking up, rotating and placing objects all uses the same controls that players are familiar with using from the game, so it feels very natural. At any point during the process, you can switch out of the “flight” mode and simply explore your emerging world as a regular player. The game automatically saves your progress, so you can keep coming back to the same project, and each player can have up to four islands stored. A neat touch is the bar in the corner of the screen that shows you how much memory your world is taking up – you can’t simply create a sprawling megalopolis – like a real game designer, you have to think about technical constraints.
When you have something that’s filled with scenery, you can choose to start a game, selecting a freeplay or elimination match, and deciding on team sizes. Up to 16 friends can then be invited in to play on your new creation with you, so you’re able to showcase your game-design skills; you can also set it so other players can help you construct your world, allowing group projects. Islands can also be shared online, and Epic Games has even reserved a space on the main Fortnite island (an area which used to be known as Risky Reels) where it will showcase the best player-made creations.
As with Minecraft’s Creative mode, and other games allowing the development and sharing of user-generated content – especially LittleBigPlanet and SuperMarioMaker – it’s going to be fascinating to see what players do with these new tools. Very quickly, fans are likely to subvert the tools available, creating islands that challenge and defy the parameters that Epic has set down – which is one of the delights of handing design toolsets to millions of people. The options in Fortnite are reasonably limited right now – you can’t create your own textures, vehicles, emotes or dances, for example – but it’s a very good start: the controls are intuitive, and the creative infrastructure is highly granular, allowing talented players to really define the sort of experience they want to build.
It may also bring a note of positivity for parents who have seen their kids sink hundreds of hours into a game about shooting other people. At least now, those kids can actually create something, getting together with friends to work on an island project rather than just blasting at each other with cartoon guns. When the small British studio Media Molecule first launched its charming platform game LittleBigPlanet in 2008 it expected the level construction feature to be a minor part of the appeal and wasn’t sure how many people would have the courage to upload their creations to the main server for others to try: within a year there were one million user-create LBP levels online. We have also seen Minecraft become an extremely useful tool for collaborative projects in the classroom over the last five years – there could well be similar potential here.
As Fortnite is so successful and influential right now, it may encourage other developers to include user-creation tools in their own projects. Building things in these heavily constrained systems is not much like real game design, but it fires the imagination and teaches concepts such as balance, composition, and environmental signalling. Twenty years ago, a whole generation of leading game designers cut their teeth creating their own “mods” of games such as Doom and Half-Life. The next batch could well come from Fortnite.
1 Fortnite’s New Creative Mode: A Game Changer Photos