Epic Games has been on top of the world since its smash-hit Battle Royale mode launched in Fortnite, heading up Twitch viewership charts and crossing over into mainstream conversation with numerous celebrities name-checking it and streaming it alongside the game’s most popular personalities.
I’ve had a great time
being carried to racking up Victory Royales with my PSN pals and I think it’s safe to say I’ve boarded the Fortnite hype train. Naturally, I wanted to learn more about how Epic crafted what may currently be the most talked-about game in the world.
So I reached out to Eric Williamson, design lead on Fortnite to answer some burning questions about their free-to-play phenomenon.
PSB: How has the team at Epic been handling the insane amount of attention Fortnite has enjoyed in the past few months? Did you expect this would become as big as it is now?
Eric Williamson: We’re blown away by the response. We’re thrilled that players are enjoying the game and that it’s bringing people together!
PSB: What did the process of adding Battle Royale to Fortnite look like? How long did it take from the first person having the idea to shipping it?
EW: In the past, the Fortnite team had been experimenting with a number of PvP modes, but ultimately decided to move its focus to the PvE experience. There was always the intention to go back to that. Last year, the idea of a battle royale-style game came up. We just thought it would be cool to combine the last-man standing gameplay with the action-building mechanics that make Fortnite unique. In July of last year, we started to work on a prototype, and then released our first version of the game in September. So, roughly two months. There was such a good, solid foundation there for us, so that certainly helped us get to a playable version so quickly.
PSB: There have been lots of big updates to Fortnite since launch, with more anticipated ones on the way. Can you give us a peek at some of the smaller tweaks the team is working on? Any new QoL-level stuff in the pipeline?
EW: Yeah, the team is constantly looking to improve everything across the board, and a lot of that is based on feedback from players. Whether it’s performance improvements, new content, or updates to existing game elements, we’re always looking at how we can make the experience better.
PSB: Since adding Battle Royale, what change or tweak has made the biggest overall impact on gameplay?
EW: I think our inventory system has had such a positive impact overall. Being able to quickly pick up or swap items makes it very quick to grab exactly what you need. Some of our items also don’t take any inventory space, so running through a pile of loot to pick it all up is a really satisfying moment. All of this helps get you back to the action as quickly as possible.
We didn’t initially think 5 inventory slots would be enough — in fact, we even had plans right around launch time to increase the number of slots so players could carry more. But then we started seeing these really interesting choices about what players would carry, and how it forced people to prioritize what items they wanted. We realized pretty quickly that we shouldn’t make any changes to how that works.
PSB: Has the success of Battle Royale influenced Epic’s approach to the Save the World mode?
EW: We have folks working on both modes which are both influencing in a lot of ways. A lot of the content that comes into Battle Royale was designed for PvE first, for example. Going the other way, the Combat Pro control scheme that our team implemented into Battle Royale, the Save the World later adapted a version of that. We work closely with each other and share a lot of content, so players of both modes are seeing the benefits all of the time.
PSB: What are some other “emergent gameplay” type experiences you’d like to see someone take a stab at?
EW: The thing about “emergent gameplay” is that players discover it, so we wouldn’t want to give too much away and even lead them in any one direction. We look at everything we add to the game, whether it’s the building mechanic or a new item, as a tool players can use. How they use them is what makes the moment to moment unique and surprising, and we love to see what players come up with.
PSB: Lots of folks are starting to dip their toes into the waters of Fortnite after seeing all the recent coverage and hearing about it from friends. If there’s one tip you would give to a brand-new player, what would it be?
EW: Building! Learning how to place a ramp to get onto the roof of a building is a great first step. Fortnite’s action-building system can be used for mobility, defense, or even offense, and becoming comfortable with the system is a great way to increase your chances of winning.
For example, if you get caught out in the open and begin taking fire, you can quickly build a wall or a ramp to give yourself some cover. This protection can give you a moment to heal, apply a shield, or reload a weapon.
PSB: We can’t let you go without asking: Any hints about what we can expect in the next Battle Pass?
EW: We like to surprise players, so sorry, I can’t say much! You’ll learn more soon.