Last December Epic released its own digital games store, and now over three months later it boasts some 85 million players. Fortnite has helped, of course, as has its offering of a free game every two weeks, but most controversially it's been through its acquisition of exclusives - such as 4A Games' Metro Exodus - that it's gained most notoriety. In the wake of the announcement of Google Stadia, and at Epic's own keynote at GDC where it announced a $100,000,000 fund for developers, we caught up with Epic founder Tim Sweeney to talk though the current state of play.
When Fortnite first appeared on iPhone, we were quick to laud a genuine technological achievement - a visually cut-down version of the full game that was still recognisably Fortnite, that played the same way, that run the same code and allowed users to buddy up with their friends running on console and PC. Recently, Epic took the mobile version of Fortnite to the next level; the latest iOS devices run the game smoothly at 60 frames per second, just like their console equivalents - and the story of how that became possible is absolutely fascinating.
I've won two games of Fortnite, and both of them were by accident. Thank you to whoever I was up against for dying in the storm (I think this happened both times?) even though you clearly knew how to build properly and shoot under pressure without sending half your bullets into the sky. I'm sorry I was just crouching in a bush (again, I'm pretty sure both times). I was simply happy to have gotten that far.
I have been known, when the planets are aligned, to make the sweetcorn chowder from Nigella Express, which is Nigella's best book even if I wonder if it would kill her to season things now and then. Anyway, it is a treat to make and a treat to eat - although I warn you in advance to give it time to cool, since sweetcorn, it transpires, has a capacity to retain heat that is almost singular amongst cooking materials.
Several months ago, on a rainy evening in Birmingham, I loaded up Discord and called my university friends. "Ok guys," I said. "What can we all play together?"
I made panna cotta for the first time a few months back. It was delicious. Also, I learned two things, the first of which is that it's panna cotta and not pannacotta. Who knew?
Fortnite's new High Stakes mode is a bit of a classic, I think. It's only just dropped in but, two games down, I'm already mourning the moment they snatch it away from us again. It's super simple: you land somewhere, hunt for a safe and extract a jewel from inside, and then you have to lug it to a getaway van. It's squad-based, so it's all about teamwork, and because this is Fortnite, the intricacies in terms of approach are already muddling my brain.
By now, it seems safe to say that Fortnite has moved beyond just being a popular video game. Fortnite dominates the collective worlds of eSports, internet memes and pop culture at large and is showing no signs of stopping. The game is available on a wide variety of platforms, but if you want to play the best version of Fortnite possible, you're going to need the best PC for Fortnite.
Since the World Health Organisation classified gaming addiction as a mental health disorder in January 2018, it's been at the heart of an ongoing conversation. About its extent - how many gamers are undiagnosed addicts? - the nature of its treatment, and in some quarters, about its validity as a recognised disorder.
Confirming a leak that surfaced earlier this week, Epic Games says that its upcoming Android release for Fortnite will not use Google Play as a distribution platform. Instead, phone users download an installer from Epic's website and install the game directly, bypassing Google's store completely. "Epic's goal is to bring its games directly to customers. We believe gamers will benefit from competition among software sources on Android," says Tim Sweeney. "Competition among services gives consumers lots of great choices and enables the best to succeed based on merit."
We've seen Sony block cross-console multiplayer on PlayStation 4 before and heard unconvincing justifications for it, but never has the issue seemed as petty - and yet also as big - as it has this week.
There's never really been an easy time to debut an online-focussed multiplayer game on Steam, but the past few months have suggested there's never really been a more brutal one. PUBG and Fortnite rule all, leaving high profile casualties such as Lawbreakers in their wake while many more smaller games have suffered. And into that, roll7 - the developer of the brilliant OlliOlli, its sequel and Not a Hero - has made its first ever multiplayer game in the future sports title Laser League.
When Bluehole first announced it was adding a new Event Mode to PUBG I curled my lip at the idea. If you've invested as much of your time into a game as I have with PUBG, it's easy to fear change.
This week's big Fortnite news - and there is big Fortnite news every week - is that Tilted Towers might be getting nuked. Well, not nuked exactly, but hit by a meteor, a biographical event from which it is unlikely to emerge unchanged. Meteors often explode with a strength measured in relation to nuclear blasts, and there is a lovely decisive finality to the phrase, so let's go with it. Tilted Towers might be getting nuked. And it should get nuked. Fortnite should definitely nuke Tilted Towers.
I have Fortnite on my iPhone SE. The complete thing? Well, the Battle Royale part, anyway: the part that is currently taking over the world. And it works! It works surprisingly well. It's a little more basic to look at and I'll need a while to get properly comfortable, but I suspect Fortnite might well conquer the touchscreen much as it's conquered everything else.
Fortnite, like PUBG, is a game of a million different stories, but if you leap from the sky and aim straight for the house on Loot Lake you're often going to see one story in particular.
When Epic added a battle royale mode to Fortnite in September last year, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds publisher Bluehole was pretty upset.
This far in, I think we can officially say: Fortnite is weird. The game that originally launched offered a brilliant suite of construction tools, but the game's pretty but rather brainless PvE meant there was little reason to build anything that fancy. The fact that any and all buildings would disappear at the end of a single Horde-style level meant that you felt you were wasting your time if you tried to experiment or make something elaborate and interesting. Form definitely followed function here.
Jeffrey Manchester typically robbed McDonald's. He typically robbed McDonald's because in America, McDonald's restaurants, wherever you go, are typically the same kind of building. Manchester's genius - and it was genius, albeit of a scrappy, low-key nature - was to realise that in these near-identical McDonald's buildings, near-identical rituals were often unfolding. If you found the right moment in the day to rob one McDonald's - and the right access point to utilise - you had stumbled on a crime you could export across the country. McDonald's has developed a easily replicable system for selling burgers. Because of this, Manchester had developed an easily replicable system for robbing McDonald's.
I've finally had some brilliant moments in Fortnite. I've had some brilliant moments, unexpected and thrilling and hilarious. For weeks, I dipped in and out of a game that I dearly wanted to love, a game made with obvious craft and care and wit, but a game whose once-voguish elements - resource gathering, crafting, loot boxes! - failed to come together in any meaningful way. The art, a sort of goofy atomic-age panorama, as if Mad Magazine had been conscripted into a militia, was hard not to warm to and the PvE campaign zipped along, but I was left unsure as to why I should put any time into building complex structures to defend against zombie hordes when the match would be over in the blink of an eye and all that hard work would vanish forever, and I was suspicious of the numbers that you pumped out of enemies, one bullet at a time. Those numbers looked so great, chunky and bright as they cluttered the air, but they also looked like set-dressing rather than anything with genuine meaning to the player. Fortnite simply wasn't as much fun as it looked like it was. It often seemed like it was pretending to be a game.
Remember when zombies were cool? I think to myself, mashing the right trigger to slap down a few more with the big pointy stick I crafted earlier. That's about the time this game was announced.
New IPs, we're told, aren't really feasible at the tail-end of a generation, so it's heartening to sit down and discover that a sizeable part of the games industry is sticking its tongues out at the likes of Yves Guillemot and Peter Moore; 2013's looking like it's going to be an absolutely stellar year for Actual New Games.