Fortnite detailed at PAX Prime; Minecraft meets DayZ

"Cooperative sandbox survival game" debuts Unreal Engine 4.

Epic Games detailed its upcoming PC Unreal Engine 4 open-world zombie game earlier today in a panel at PAX Prime in Seattle, Washington.

Described as a "cooperative sandbox survival game," by producer Tanya Jessen, it resembles a cross between Minecraft and DayZ.

"Built from the ground up as a co-op game," Fortnite tasks friends to work together to scavenge for supplies and build fortifications against the undead.

There's a day/night cycle, semi-procedural environments - though they won't be completely random, design director Clifford "CliffyB" Bleszinski assured us - and it even begins with melee attacking a tree until it disappears in a poof of smoke leaving valuable resources to harvest. So far, so Minecraft.

Yet there are several feature that make Fortnite stand apart from Notch's best-selling indie-phenomenon.

First off, the combat will be far more robust than that game's first-person melee system. We didn't see a whole lot of it, but a demo of a prototype build hinted at how the weapon upgrade system will work.

A crossbow begins only able to shoot one arrow, but it can be enhanced to shoot three arrows in a spread shot, fire an electric dart that shocks all foes in a certain radius, or launch a grappling hook that can be used to create makeshift tightropes for traversing above the zombie horde for the urban explorer/gatherer type.

Enemies will be varied too. Trolls can burrow under, climb over, or in some cases go through walls and then open your doors to grant access to the enemy. They can also steal your supplies and work together to infiltrate your base.

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Husks wear their former skins like hoodies.

One of the biggest departures from both Epic's Gears of War series as well as Minecraft is the cartoony aesthetic which art lead Pete Ellis said was inspired by Pixar films, Tim Burton movies and Loony Toons animation from the 50s.

It didn't start out this way, however. Originally it was this dark gritty thing, but the team decided this would grate after awhile. "The Road is a fun book to read or a fun movie to see for two hours, but we're hoping that people spend dozens if not hundreds of hours in this world and we want people walking away thinking, 'that was bright and colourful and fun' as opposed to 'I'm going to go slit my wrists now,'" explained Bleszinski who then added, "We don't want to be in the same space as the awesome DayZ."

As far as construction goes, the detailed environments aren't as malleable as Minecraft's, but the structures you build are extremely customisable. As you progress you'll gain new schematics to create increasingly durable structures, then punch windows or doors out of them in a tile-based system. The demo we saw portrayed a character very quickly laying down a few walls and a staircase to construct the first floor of a flimsy shelter.

Fortifications may start out small, but more ambitious players can make ridonkulous skyscraper castles that look like something out of a medieval Professor Layton game.

Based on the presentation, Fortnite looks to be a promising blend of successful components with next-gen technology to back it. Yet despite Unreal Engine 4 being disarmingly advanced, Epic insisted that the art will be scaleable enough that most gamers will be able to run it.

"We're being very careful with the art in Fortnite to make sure it's really scaleable," said Ellis. "We want anybody to be able to play this game."

Jessen added, "We want to make sure that PCs you own today will be able to run Fornite."

Bleszinski added that it may come to consoles too, but that's not a top priority at the moment. "It's going to be a PC game first and foremost," he said, but "that's not to rule out [other] platforms maybe down the line."

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