Why The Gears of War People Decided to Make Fortnite Less Dark

There are things that go bump in the night in Epic Games' next title. Fortnite is like many games put into one, but at its crux it's a survival, building game. So when the monsters start coming out, you've hopefully constructed some safe ground to defend against them.

But when the team was first sketching out the game's concept art, it wasn't always the cartoonish style you've seen in screenshots and that one teaser trailer.

At Epic Games' PAX Prime Fortnite panel this past weekend the panelists—including Cliff Bleszinski, Tanya Jessen and Pete Ellis—explained that the art and animation are all inspired from source material like Pixar, Tim Burton, and even Looney Toons.

It's pretty obvious, too. The world is colorful, and even the monsters are less scary and more cartoony. Fortnite gameplay shown off at the panel might as well have been a (really weird) Sunday morning cartoon.

This goes double for the troll enemies, who wear silly smirks on their faces, and are really just pranksters. They aren't too harmful, unless you let them get away with too much. The biggest threat they pose to you is stealing your items. Granted, you'll have to be careful that they don't steal more valuable resources than just your amusing fire hydrant hat. Heck, they can even steal the clothes straight off of your back. They're pretty swift, too, considering they're able to travel in shadows to climb through and up walls. No matter where your defense points are, they seem to be able to get to it.

Why The Gears of War People Decided to Make Fortnite Less Dark

Fortnite is also part shooter. So you can combat trolls by shooting at them. The first crossbow prototype Epic Games worked on let you shoot a single dart. But the team decided to give it an ammo upgrade for three darts. You'd have to be mindful of resources, but it'd help for those with less skilled aim, and for bigger groups of trolls (they like to work together). Epic upgraded the crossbow again, this time with electricity-equipped ammo so you can set up traps against the trolls. They they upgraded it even further to feature a tightrope, letting you walk across buildings to explore and scavenge, or even just to scout out new areas.

The more dangerous, and more creepy enemies you'll face are the husks. Even these are fodder enemy types, but they'll attack and break through your buildings. Their heads hang out of their skin, the face-skin hanging behind them like a hoodie. Sounds creepy, right? Imagine someone approaching you with their skull hanging out of their skin. Definitely creepy. But the decision to choose softer colors and softer design make the husks easier on the eyes than the concept art that was up on screen.

The husk design first started out with smoke-like legs in front, looking like a scorpion's claw-like legs. In the back, this husk dragged around limp, zombie legs. Its ribs popped out, too. The second design Epic Games came up with made the husk more of a scavenger. It had a car battery and one-way sign strapped to its waist. It might be accessorizing, or it might be a former Fortnite member, the team teased.

Why The Gears of War People Decided to Make Fortnite Less Dark

And, on that note, it's important to remember that these are not zombies. They're more like humans who have had the life sucked out of them. I'm thinking there must be a dementor type of enemy out there who can turn you into a husk if you fail to fortify your base before the sun goes down.

Tinkering with these concepts designs, the team decided to transition to stylized art. They didn't want to go for repulsively creepy, just cartoonishly creepy. So they scrapped the creepier-looking husks and scrapped the dark greys and browns. They swapped gritty-looking environments for something more colorful. As Cliff Bleszinski mentioned during the panel, they didn't want to create an "exhausting environment," they wanted their players to enjoy the world. They want you to spend hours in it, and not feel glum afterwards. Plus, they "don't want to be in the same space as the awesome DayZ," Bleszinski said.

But the biggest impact to the way Fortnite looks might be the incorporation of Unreal Engine 4. We watched the teaser trailer—which was initially captured in UE3—redone in UE4. It was gorgeous. Shadows track realistically, lighting is soft, colors pop out at you. You see strong greens and reds, made brighter by the pretty sunlight shining down on it. And during the game's night cycle, the sky twinkles with stars and a glowing moon. It's all very, very pretty.

Why The Gears of War People Decided to Make Fortnite Less Dark

The panel ended off with a video that I wish I could show you, but will undoubtedly be released eventually. It showed off huge, expansive buildings made with the materials you chip off of Fortnite's world. Creations that you see in Minecraft. Castles, even. Apparently the building mechanic—which I saw lets you tinker with editing windows, stairs and doors, building choke points and even structural elements like arcs and railings—will let you do all sorts of wild things.

So bring on the not-so-creepy, kinda-cartoony night.