12 things we learned about Fortnite at GDC 2018

A Fortnite character with a Remote Explosive detonator.

Epic's phenomenally popular free-to-play shooter Fortnite Battle Royale is a hot topic of debate at the Games Developers Conference 2018 in San Francisco, with the most significant update being the upcoming Replay editor, targeted at YouTubers and streamers. However, we attended a series of talks about the game – from insights about how they optimised Battle Royale to run at 60 fps, to hard lessons learnt by its marketing team – and have compiled the most interesting tidbits of info below; not least that Epic are planning to make Fortnite Battle Royale simultaneously higher – and lower – spec in order to reach even more players, including 4K on Xbox One X.

1. On Fortnite for iOS

In a session titled 'Optimising Fortnite Battle Royale', the developers talked about how they got the game to run so smoothly on mobile, including an interesting (almost throwaway) mention that the game requires an iPhone 6S to run properly, but this 'will be hopefully lower in future'. Epic are trying to reach as many people as possible.

2. Fortnite in 4K?

While the game's lowest spec is decreasing, Epic stated an intention to tackle 4K resolutions on Xbox One X

A photo illustration of a Fortnite: Battle Royale character in a dino-suit emerging from an iPhone X.

3. How Fortnite runs so smoothly, regardless of platform

There are a host of technical reasons why Fortnite runs so smoothly across platforms as diverse as mobile, PS4, PC and Xbox One, many of which are too technical to recount (e.g. we increased SSAO strength to compensate, and added LODs for all meshes…). TLDR: Epic fine tooth-combed all areas of the game's visual performance, to buy back micro seconds of latency time, which add up into a considerable saving on the strain it puts on the GPU and CPU. For example, we were shown an example of 'soft shadowing' cast from a truck, and how by making the shadow a little blunter, you're able to save a few micro seconds. Epic flicked back and forth between the two images, and it was barely possible to tell the difference.

4. Skydiving takes the most technical power

The game's graphics engine comes under the most pressure during the skydiving intro with its zoomed-out view of the world, so Epic use a number of resolution scaling techniques on far away objects, since the eye can't tell the difference.

An illustration of Fortnite: Battle Royale characters diving into battle.

5. Fortnite had to stop tomatoes rotating to run faster

Epic had to do several editing passes on cute visual touches that added to the atmosphere, but which disproportionately drained power – for example, they stopped the tomato head pillars from rotating, and were mindful of how they presented grass and trees, which are most processor-intensive due to their awkward geometry.

6. Battle Royale wasn't always going to be free

Fortnite Battle Royale began didn't begin life as a free-to-play game, and went from idea to launch in less than 12 weeks. In a Q&A session, Epic revealed that the idea from the game came from their Strategy team (based on market insights), but the whole company quickly agreed on the new plan. "We're very agile. I doubt any major publisher could have pulled this off in the way we did it", said Epic.

7. Battle Royale was initially just a mode within Fortnite Save the World

Battle Royale was initially a mode for the Save the World version of the game (a PVP addition to the PVE – Player Versus Environment – core release). In the final two weeks of development, the decision was made to turn Battle Royale into a standalone free-to-play game. The team worked 14 days straight with no pauses for weekends. Battle Royale is much more popular than Save the World, and Epic admitted the user bases were 'very lopsided'. Battle Royale has over 45 million players, and the iPhone version was #1 in the iOS charts in over 13 countries just 12 hours after launch.

8. Epic won't force Battle Royale players toward Save the World

However, in response to a question about how Epic might cross-pollinate ideas from the two games to encourage people to play Save the World, the developers were hesitant to introduce confusion or force the issue. "A lot of players just won't play Save the World", they admitted. 

9. Epic didn't comment on accusations that Battle Royale steals ideas from PUBG, but…

Did Bluehole's (the developers of Player Unknown's Battlegrounds) comments about how Fortnite was copying their game affect Epic's Battle Royale game in any way, asked one attendee? Did they see a spike in interest? Epic said it wouldn't be their place to comment, but you could 'look at it on Google Trends, add a few choice keywords, and draw your own conclusions'. So the answer sounds fairly self-evident.

10. Battle Royale defied usual launch schedules

Epic turned the traditional promotional cycle on its head, so rather than releasing a CGI trailer 12-18 months from launch, they did so with 3 weeks until launch. In fact, Epic began their promotion campaign (only 7 weeks before launch) with a gameplay trailer, emphasising the game's new mechanics first.

A screaming Propane Husk from Fortnite, with the caption "ARRRH!"

11. Fortnite's promotional style was a bit of an accident

Epic used a video to promote Fortnite during a company meeting that was so well-received, they decided to pivot all their upcoming promo videos around it. They used a clip that featured influencers and the game's creation of moments (and emotions), which led to the super short C4 explosives promo trailer, where the dude flicks out his hands to make it rain with cash. As Epic noted, C4 explosives are hardly a new idea in gaming, so they focused on the fun aspect and how it made the player feel.

12. Was Battle Royale a potential eSports play?

Did Epic consider making Fortnite Battle Royale an eSports play to boost its appeal? Epic said this was never in their thoughts, and highlighted the 12-week development cycle as proof to how the game came to life on-the-fly. However, Epic are planning a Pro-Am Fortnite tournament for E3, and were clearly open to eSports-centric new features and ideas in the future.

We'll have more on Fortnite from the Games Developers Conference 2018 as we get it, and new players might want to check out our Fortnite tips before they get started.

Dan Dawkins

FGS Content Director. Former GamesRadar+ EIC, GTAVoclock host, and PSM3 editor; with - *counts on fingers and toes* - 20 years editorial experience. Loves: spreadsheets, Hideo Kojima and GTA.