Update: Epic's issued a statement clarifying its meaning, noting that - while nothing's off the table - it hasn't entered serious talks about how it'll implement online play at this point. Here's the official word, in full: “We’re not talking about our plans at this time, mainly because that plan doesn’t exist yet. Fortnite is an iterative, living project and many things are still being decided prior to its release in 2013.”
Original article: Let's start with some good news, shall we? First off, Fortnite's looking quite nice and - based on an interview I just wrapped with producer Tanya Jessen (which you'll see all of tomorrow) - the Unreal-Engine-4-powered survivor is, by and large, taking full advantage of every tool at PC gaming's disposal. In other words, expect a constant flow of new content, some form of mod support, and impressively open-ended, procedurally generated worlds. It's not all uncharacteristically colorful cartoon roses, however. At this stage, Jessen told me, a constant Internet connection requirement ala Diablo is still a possibility. She assured, however, that it'd be used first and foremost to improve the game - not as a last line of defense against piracy's nighttime pillages.
"That's something we don't know yet," Jessen explained to RPS. "It's gonna be really dependent on gameplay, and it's also dependent on platform – the method of getting updates and stuff like that. So I can't say for sure today one way or another [whether or not we're going to use it].”
She added, however, that Fortnite is - above all else - being designed with multiplayer at the forefront, so whatever goes with that territory is fair game.
"Fortnite is a game that's being developed as a co-op experience primarily," she said. "That's our number one focus. This is a game you're gonna want to play with your friends, and it's most fun with your friends. So whatever we decide to do there is gonna be more relevant to the most fun experience you can have with your friends [than it is to piracy]. But I can't nail that down today.”
That said, constant connection or not, the aim isn't to turn single-player into a stark reminder of the fact that you're single-tear-sobbingly alone. Epic wrote quite a few chapters in the Big Book O' Co-Op with Gears of War, though, so it - probably better than most - understands that forcing multiplayer where it doesn't belong can sink an entire game.
"Single-player's absolutely gonna be super fun," Jessen enthused. "But, like I said, we're building it to be a co-op experience. But co-op won't ever be required in any shape or form. In particular, we've got this personality we call 'the lone wolf' – like, the kind of person who maybe likes to jump in and play with their friends, but not necessarily all of the time, or maybe they even like to play primarily by themselves. So we are definitely making sure that Fortnite will be super fun for that type of person too.”
“It's just that, if you don't design for co-op from the very beginning and make it a pillar of your project, then the game systems don't tend to feel as solid in the co-op experience. So that's how we're developing the game from the outset.”
At this point, then, it's simply a matter of waiting for Fortnite to truly take shape. Still though, it is a bit worrisome. Diablo III's connection hiccups are well-documented - as is the point where they turned out to not be hiccups at all, but instead a complication-spewing volcano of mounting issues that sprouted from the very depths of hell itself, largely for an auction house that sort of defeats the purpose of the entire game.
Elsewhere, meanwhile, there's at least some hope - slight though it might be. SimCity's ambitious online features at least sound like they could justify the cost of entry, and a disconnect won't grind your game to a screeching halt. So that's something, at least. But even then, EA has been known to send servers to the great farm in the sky long before their time, so it could all be for naught the second, say, a sequel comes out. (And is still no bloody good for anyone wanting to play the game without a connection - John)
Regardless, more and more major developers are pegging this as the way of the future, and I'm desperately hoping that no-strings-attached single-player eventually re-emerges from the fray in one piece. But, right now - with everyone still struggling to adapt and figure out what actually works - I see very few situations where this doesn't get worse before it gets better.