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Fortnite’s experimental story is an attempt to create ‘the entertainment experience of the future’

Fortnite’s experimental story is an attempt to create ‘the entertainment experience of the future’
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Fortnite’s experimental story is an attempt to create ‘the entertainment experience of the future’

Fortnite’s experimental story is an attempt to create ‘the entertainment experience of the future’

Why does Fortnite have a story? It’s a recreation the place 100 gamers drop onto a cartoonish island, gown up as bananas or Star Wars heroes, collect up weapons and different gear, and attempt to eradicate one another till just one stays. When that’s carried out, you queue up and check out once more.

However inside this multiplayer shooter framework, Fortnite has steadily become one of the largest and boldest storytelling experiments in historical past. From reside occasions skilled by thousands and thousands to cinematics created with the assist of Hollywood administrators, the crew at Epic has constantly examined new concepts, injecting narrative components in a method that feels pure and significant. Fortnite is amongst the largest video games in the world and arguably the most culturally impactful. And for Donald Mustard, chief inventive officer at Epic Video games, it was an opportunity he couldn’t ignore.

“For me, it was an alternative to virtually create a brand new medium,” Mustard tells GadgetClock.

That target storytelling is notably apparent now, after the launch of the recreation’s most up-to-date season. For the first time, gamers have been in a position to play via a single-player mission — a quick, action-filled sequence during which they have been guided by a glowing butterfly to assist restore actuality. It featured extra conventional hallmarks of online game narrative, like dialogue and cutscenes. And for Mustard, it’s one thing he’s been working towards for some time.

“We’re three and a half years in primarily, and now is when it’s lastly okay to be like, ‘There’s this man named Agent Jones. Right here’s what’s occurring somewhat bit. Oh look, they’re really speaking.’ However for a lot of it, it was very, very refined. Nevertheless it’ll turn out to be much less refined shifting ahead,” he explains.

The Game Awards 2018 - Arrivals

Donald Mustard at the 2018 Recreation Awards.
Photograph by Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Photos

The concept of telling a story in Fortnite isn’t new. Mustard says it was half of the plan from the starting, ever since Fortnite’s battle royale mode first launched in September 2017. And it wasn’t simply an afterthought — it was a key aspect of the experience. “Our strategy since the begin, or our aim, has been how can we create actually mass-scale, broad-based entertainment. And I at all times suppose that the method to do this is via narrative conceit,” Mustard explains. “It may not essentially be story in the conventional character-driven, three-act construction. However the conceits, and the why of what’s occurring and what’s taking place, are crucial for individuals to be emotionally connected to an entertainment experience. That’s our guideline and philosophy,” he says. “Fortnite has a story as a result of all nice entertainment has story.”

The problem has been how to inform that story. Since Fortnite is a multiplayer recreation the place gamers are principally involved with surviving and capturing, storytelling, by design, can’t be as easy. For one, outdoors of the reside spectacles, gamers usually aren’t seeing occasions unfold. As an alternative, they’re seeing the results of occasions which have already taken place, possibly in the type of a brand new location or merchandise. “That story is taking place, however you’re solely seeing some of it,” says Mustard. “You’re solely seeing the outcomes of it taking place round you, slightly than seeing all the pieces that Agent Jones is doing or The Seven are doing. There’s all these things that’s been taking place and is progressing. And so much of instances, you’re out in the world seeing the outcomes of some of these issues, however not essentially the moments that led to that.”

And whereas there are necessary characters in the Fortnite universe, the narrative isn’t informed from anybody specific perspective. There isn’t an precise protagonist — or a minimum of, not an apparent one. “Most linear tales are informed via the lens of a personality,” explains Mustard. “Star Wars is an superior universe, however actually it’s about the journey of Luke and these characters. You care a lot about these characters and their journey, and it occurs to happen on this fantastical, superior backdrop that you simply care about as effectively. Nevertheless it’s actually that lens. And most tales are informed in that path.”

In Fortnite, that principal character isn’t Peely or Agent Jones or any of the different now-iconic faces from the recreation. As an alternative, it’s the island itself. “The world of Fortnite is the principal character,” says Mustard. “I’ll give that an arc, I’ll give {that a} journey, and if we do it proper, what would occur? Would you turn out to be invested in that character? That’s why when stuff occurred, like a comet got here, I needed it to have an effect on the character. It’s going to depart a everlasting mark. The comet’s going to depart an enormous gap.”

One of the strongest narrative instruments utilized in Fortnite is environmental storytelling. It’s a recreation of massive occasions — a rocket launch, a battle between towering monsters, a black gap — and every leaves a everlasting impression on the island. After the rocket launched in 2018, there was a visual crack in the sky. Following the mech versus kaiju battle, a monstrous skeleton grew to become a brand new location to go to. And the black gap primarily launched a brand new lead character in the type of a brand new island. This island is a spot the place gamers come collectively to hang around and shoot at one another, however it’s additionally a digital world brimming with its personal unusual historical past.

Mustard says the recreation does have a plot with a starting and finish, and that he is aware of precisely the place all the pieces’s headed. However as a result of of the nature of Fortnite, the path to these massive story beats can change dramatically relying on what gamers do or say. He likens it to telling a campfire story, the place you may regulate the trajectory of the narrative based mostly on the reactions of your viewers.

“We’re attempting as a lot as doable to inform you a story that feels prefer it’s being informed in a second,” Mustard explains. “You and I are sitting round a campfire at night time, and I’m like ‘So we have been out in the woods, and I heard a noise…’ The story feels prefer it’s being formed in the second, and it’s being formed by the method you’re reacting to the story because it’s being informed to you. I can inform ‘Oh, that joke didn’t land proper.’ It’s somewhat extra improv.”

As an instance, he notes the massive comet crash in 2018. Many gamers predicted the house rock would wipe out Tilted Towers, one of the recreation’s most iconic areas. That was by no means the precise plan — however after seeing this response from gamers, artists from Epic created a handful of handheld indicators about the impending devastation, which have been positioned on a rooftop in Tilted. “That was us altering the story, or altering the experience, based mostly on how we noticed everybody reacting,” Mustard says. “And we do this so much, as a lot as we will.”

Extra lately, beginning with the Marvel-themed season final yr, Fortnite’s narrative has additionally more and more concerned different entertainment properties. In season 5, a mysterious phenomenon known as the Zero Level created rifts in actuality the place characters from totally different fictional universes may come collectively on the Fortnite island. It’s a good way to promote skins for all the pieces from The Mandalorian to Terminator to God of Battle to The Strolling Useless. However Mustard says that it’s additionally a crucial half of the storyline, nodding to one thing he and others at Epic have eagerly talked about creating — the Metaverse, comprised of characters and storylines from numerous movies, reveals, and video games multi functional place.

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“I knew, finally, {that a} massive half of the story we’d inform is these overlapping realities,” he explains. “It’s about the Zero Level and what that is and why that is and the way it tethers actuality collectively. I knew the solely method to do this proper was to by some means persuade all these different individuals to come play with us, to come play in our fictional universe.” As for the way these licensed tie-ins come about? “It’s just about me going to Kevin Feige and Dan Buckley and Jim Lee, all these wonderful creators, and saying: ‘Right here’s the story of what we’re attempting to inform in Fortnite, the imaginative and prescient of what it is. Would you like to be half of it with us?’ And so much of individuals have mentioned sure.”

Between reside occasions, single-player missions, environmental storytelling, and extra conventional methods like cinematics, audio logs, and nonplayer characters you possibly can chat with, Epic is attempting all types of methods to get this story throughout. There’s even an upcoming Batman comedian collection that may present much more element on the island. That mentioned, greater than three years into this experiment, Mustard says the crew is nonetheless determining what works greatest. However he believes Fortnite may effectively be a harbinger of issues to come.

“Our lofty aim is to create the entertainment experience of the future. I believe some of that is feeling our method into what feels prefer it’s going to be a brand new medium, the place it’s this blended entertainment experience that has interactive components. It has linear components to it. It has issues that will look extra like a live performance,” Mustard explains. “We’ve found some of the methods to do this in a cool method, however I believe there’s much more for us to uncover and experiment with and check out. I stay dedicated to simply attempting loopy stuff.

“Different individuals will experiment, too, and we will be taught from that. I’m simply excited for the medium. Fortnite is an indicator of what may very well be.”

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