Epic's Cliff Bleszinski and Tanya Jessen Talk Up Fortnite

Comic-Con 2012: Fortnite developers Cliff Bleszinski and Tanya Jessen discuss the game, Unreal Engine 4, and why it’s exclusive to PC.

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Scavenge. Build. Survive. Those are the three pillars to the upcoming action game Fortnite, the premier game to feature Unreal Engine 4. During its Comic-Con 2012 panel, Epic Games showed off some early footage from the game, which will be released sometime next year. Specifically, Epic demonstrated how the crossbow weapon will function (including a tightrope upgrade that you can walk across); how the troll enemy will slip past all your defenses; and how players will construct buildings. After the presentation, we caught up with designer Cliff Bleszinski and producer Tanya Jessen to learn more about the game.

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How has Epic selected Fortnite as the premier game for Unreal Engine 4?

Tanya Jessen: Originally, we were making Fortnite in Unreal Engine 3, but as we figuring out what the game was, it started to show promise of being a more open-ended game that will last for many years. At that point, it didn’t make sense to keep it on UE3 because we really saw Fortnite as being something that’s going to be out there and living for a really long time.

On top of that, we had already shown what UE4 can do at the highest level with the Elements demo, so we thought we should put out a game first that was really accessible and that everyone could play on their PCs. This is going to be a game that the PC you own today…will be able to run, and that’s a great thing for the engine, especially as a toolset for game developers out there.

Cliff Bleszinski: Getting a game out the door sooner rather than later helps us because, until you ship a product with all the hooks in place, and all the tools working properly, you can’t start iterating on the engine itself and get it out the door for everyone who's licensing it.

Will Fortnite take advantage of all the features of Unreal Engine 4?

TJ: Fortnite is specific in terms of [scope] and in terms of accessibility, but there is still a lot of things about UE4 that made Fortnite special. One of those, which we talked about during the panel, was Blueprint: the next version of the scripting language K2, or Kismet 2. For example, the skybox [in the demo] was set up by our coders so that the artists could determine all the colors, shaders, and such that should be used at certain times of day and link those to other parts of the game. By creating a blueprint linking streetlamps to time of day, the game will know to automatically activate the lights when dusk starts to fall. Together, these blueprints will help create a more dynamic space.

CB: Coders no longer have to hook in every sound effect and every particle effect manually; the artist can put that stuff in there themselves which is better for iteration, better for production, and better for overall costs.

Why is Fortnite being released as a PC exclusive?

CB: When you're releasing a game that you want to have regular updates on, getting through the [approval] process [on consoles] is a very extensive thing that takes months, and we need to be agile and nimble with this product. Plus, the fact that we're back making a PC-exclusive title--initially, by the way, we won't rule out other platforms further down the line--is news. With our roots and everything, we're coming back to the platform that started it all.

There will be a mod community there [on PC]. We're going to have special events on a regular basis with this game, and still keep tweaking the knobs from back at base and have a dynamic experience for the player--it's almost like dungeon mastering. All those elements added together meant that the PC made the most sense. It's more scalable if you have the high-end monster rig; it's going to look great, and even if you have a crummy one from a few years back, it's not going to look as great but it'll still run. We want to try to hit as large of an audience on the PC as possible.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for original IPs?

CB: It's cutting through the noise of everything out there. The thing about the slow burn of Fortnite's release is that we're slowly going to build our fan base up over a longer period of time and, hopefully, become a massive community.

TJ: Video games are also really expensive to make, so going with something that you already know people love lets [companies] mitigate some of that risk. And--to circle around back to UE4--one of the big goals has been decreasing iteration time and allowing game developers to build something faster with a smaller team. I mean, right now the Fortnite team has 17 core team members and, basically, we try to get things in as fast as we can so that we can test them, iterate on them, and tweak them. UE4 allows us to do that.

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Can you construct impossible buildings in Fortnite? Buildings that are not structurally sound?

CB: There's a fine line to that, because we want to see some crazy M.C. Escher stuff, but we don't want [buildings] that are just off floating in space. We're still determining our rule set for that--you don't have to be a structural engineer to play this game. We're not going to go all Bridge Builder on you.

TJ: A fun part of the game is working around the rules to get what you want accomplished.

What are your thoughts on the recently announced Ouya console, and how disruptive will it be to the console market?

CB: I have absolutely no idea. I think it's cool; I think it recognizes that there's room for sofa gaming and console gaming; I think it proves that users are hungry for [new options].

TJ: Competition is always a good thing; I love how it's shaking things up.

CB: I love indie games. I would have killed for this type of platform as a child growing up. I would have made Jazz Jackrabbit and put it on it. The less gates there are for talented people to make great video games, and get the maximum amount of eyes, the better!

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