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Moments of 2018: When Fortnite stopped everything for a butterfly

In a flap.

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.

Battle royale games are about being the last one standing, but on this Fortnite stands apart. Its success lies in its focus on being fun for everyone else - the 99 players who don't win and are simply there for the ride. So there are weekly challenges and mini-games, limited-time modes, a near-constant cycling in and out of weapons, items and entire mechanics. And then there are the map changes, which make Fortnite's world feel different nearly every time you log on. Sometimes these are minor - a few trucks shifted a little further along a road somewhere. Sometimes these are huge - a whole region changing at the start of a new season. But just once - a few weeks ago - a map-changing event happened live in-game, as the whole world watched either within Fortnite itself, or as one of millions viewing streams on Twitch and YouTube. It was the conclusion to more than six months of Fortnite's meandering ongoing storyline, and a unique moment unlike anything seen before.

Up until then, each new map alteration had required server downtime and a big patch to download. If something did happen live in-game, it was simply fireworks: stuff going on in the sky with no immediate changes elsewhere. So this is what everyone was expecting once more, when it became clear Fortnite's enormous purple cube - nicknamed Kevin by fans - was reaching the end of his life. Kevin had been rumbling around the map since late August, creating the first PvE enemies, turning a whole area into jelly, lifting another chunk of the island into mid-air. But Kevin was also just the product of whole other, longer chain of events - a rift in the sky caused by a bootstrapped rocket, launched by a character who arrived from the future, via a comet first spotted in the sky all the way back in March.

Except this time, as Kevin detonated, every Fortnite player was warped somewhere new. I had no idea what was happening as my character drifted through a sci-fi heaven-like dimension, able to see everyone else on the server, stunned, doing the same. I could control my character - sort of - as I floated around, as an enormous angelic butterfly appeared overhead, the shape of the rift which birthed Kevin in the first place. You could chase the butterfly for a few seconds as it flitted around, before the camera closed in and the butterfly landed on my character's outstretched hand. And suddenly everyone was back in the game world, soaring through the sky, down towards a changed map below. Kevin had exploded and left behind a series of peaceful islands in his wake, reshaping an entire area, underneath a new, shining rainbow.

I've watched that sequence again and again and marvelled how well it was directed. How the game gave you just enough control to feel like you were part of what was unfolding rather than a passive viewer. And how the action framed you as the star of it all - the touch on your character's hand the resolution to all of the mayhem over the past year. It all happened in about 90 seconds.

Most of the time I spend playing games I'm aware I'm playing with systems and gameplay loops I have learned and gone through countless times already. In Fortnite, I know the structure of a match, of a challenge, of a battle pass season. Being part of something so unexpected and removed from anything else in the game up until that point was thrilling. Someday I'll accidentally get a third win in Fortnite and it'll never be this good.

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