Friday 16 February 2024

Forever lasted a fortnight

I know you all come here for the latest up-to-the-minute buzz from the gaming world, so, hey – have you heard about this little indie called Fortnite? I reckon it might get pretty popular, you know…

My consumption of gaming news might generously be called haphazard these days, generally comprising A Random Subset Of Things Posted To The Site-Formerly-Known-As-Twitter (a rebrand that must be a source of constant joy to whoever came up with Consignia, safe in the knowledge that it’s no longer the worst rebrand in history) . In the year since The Event things have definitely fragmented; some folk headed off to Mastodon, an old chum sent over a Bluesky invite before it flung open its doors and it’s got a good community going, but Twitter continues to limp along so I still check back in, albeit not so religiously.

My Twitter feed is more of a historical curiosity than a carefully curated ongoing concern, much like the blog roll here (with apologies to the last few diehards still blogging away). It’s been pretty stable for the last ten years or so with an occasional addition and even more occasional removal (in most cases from seeing some crypto-bollocks pop up, kicking off a game of ‘which dormant account got hijacked by scammers this time?’) A few gaming sites like Massively OP and PC Gamer are in there, and the latter posted about Harmonix ceasing Rock Band DLC. Having been quite the plastic guitar aficionado back in the day that was a shame, but my instrument peripherals went to the Great Charity Shop In The Sky (or down the local high street, at least) a few years back so there wasn’t a direct impact. Reading on, the article said Harmonix were focusing on their work in Fortnite for Epic Games – my random news consumption had entirely missed Epic buying Harmonix in 2021 and the resulting release of Fortnite Festival at the end of last year. That prompted me, for the first time, to go and download the Battle Royale juggernaut to see what’s what.

I started out with the Festival mode, and it’s… fine. There’s a limited number of free songs available with some rotation – a few from the dim mists of history (i.e. I’d heard of them), a few newfangled popular rhythmic artistes (that I usually hadn’t heard of, but generally proved quite catchy) and a few Epic Games offerings (pretty forgettable). There’s a peculiar Jam Stage that lets you play snippets of different tracks with others to create… weird noise? There are achievements for spending 5, 10, 15 minutes in there, I couldn’t see much point in it past that, maybe I’m missing the appeal. The Main Stage is, oddly enough, the main draw – essentially Rock Band on a keyboard (QWERTY, not musical) or controller, though I’m not sure how well it translates to the latter. You can pick lead, bass, drums or vocals, all of which use four lanes of notes (five in expert mode) to tap along to – no mic for vocals, no ‘strum’ in the guitar modes, just hitting buttons. For a couple of songs I tried the old technique from PC guitar-alikes back in the day, holding a keyboard upside down with F1-F5 as ‘frets’ on the left hand but without needing the space bar for strumming it didn’t really work. Instrument support is on the way, though apparently first-party peripherals aren’t on the cards.

It was diverting enough, Harmonix obviously have the background for a solid rhythm game, but without an instrument controller it’s not really the same; it’s a curious thing, how essentially the same action of pushing a button can feel so different on a silly plastic guitar rather than a keyboard. Once it gets support the current music library wouldn’t really compel me to go hunting for a USB guitar either, my nostalgia isn’t that strong. Still, it was enough to make me download Fortnite, so I figured I might as well have a look around the rest of it.

Atop a vast array of user created modes are the core options – the original Battle Royale and more recently added Festival, Rocket Racing, and LEGO. I hopped in for a round of Battle Royale, parachuted down, ran around a bit, shot a few folk, got shot. I can see why it’s popular, but not really my thing – I never really got into Apex Legends either for all its qualities. The construction element didn’t seem terribly useful in my initial mash-buttons-no-idea-what-this-does run; presumably it plays more of a part when you have a vague idea what you’re doing and can set up a strong position, a couple of the folks I bumped into started building a wall but I countered with an incredibly advanced tactic I developed I like to call “Running Around The Other Side Of It And Shooting Them Anyway”.

Rocket Racing, developed by the Rocket League folk, is a well executed racing game, but again not really my thing. LEGO Fortnite turned out to be my favourite of the modes, a survival game that doesn’t deviate terribly far from the Minecraft blueprint – gather stuff, build stuff, gather more stuff – in a LEGO brick format. The building aspect works very well, with plans that allow you to create a series of components that assemble into a specific larger structure, or can be used in a more freestyle way. Combat with bricky skeletons and spiders yields further crafting components allowing for expeditions into caves for more advanced materials. I didn’t bump into anything wildly innovative, but it was very well done, I stuck around for a while until the craft-and-upgrade-and-craft cycle got a little stale.

The addition of Festival, Rocket Racing and LEGO around the same time is interesting in developing an interlinked ‘metaverse’, with a degree of commonality across the modes. One scenario touted by the NFT crowd, between inexplicably attaching value to horrifically ugly JPEGs, was being able to own virtual items and transfer them from game to game; the Fortnite cash shop (Eminem and The Weeknd to the fore when I had a look – perhaps the latter could buy his missing ‘e’ for 200 fortbucks) has a dash of that, letting you be Slim Shady in both a Battle Royale and a rhythm game, but even within its own ecosystem things are hardly universal (there doesn’t appear to be a LEGO version of the skin, presumably as the rights and brand representation get a bit tricky).

Overall it’s not really my bag, baby; there’s a distinct lack of walking sticks and Werther’s Originals in the shop, though at least I have a bit more of an idea of what’s going on with this Fortnite malarkey now. If they keep developing Festival mode and I happen to find a reasonable guitar peripheral I might even pop back for another bash.

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