Somewhere out there I like to think there’s this big warehouse full of Ballers. Creak open the huge door and the desert light glances off all these dusty glass domes, arranged in tidy rows, perhaps surrounded by a ragged circle of shopping carts, golf buggies, airplane props. The Baller was a Fortnite vehicle of almost unparalleled joy. You jumped inside, rolled around, boosted through the sky and grappled and swung between points, letting momentum surprise you. You tethered yourself to a structure and jet-bounced around inside like a pinball until the whole thing came down around you. The Baller made the game even more brilliant – and for me it almost ruined it too.
I got so used to Ballering through Fortnite that just running around on foot became kind of thrill-less. As a result, my biggest period away from the game could probably be written up as Baller fatigue. But I knew I’d be back – and I knew this because I also knew that the Baller’s days would be numbered. One day I would have to make do without it.
Deep in Chapter 2, exploring a new island, and in love with Fortnite in a way that I haven’t been for quite a while, the Baller is something I still think about from time to time. I don’t miss it. Rather I see it as a symbol of one of the many reasons for the game’s continuing success. Fortnite’s great because of the speed with which the developers put stuff into it, sure, but it’s also great because the developers are willing to take things out again. More than willing.
And not just stuff like the mechs that made everyone so unhappy or that sword that was way too powerful. Fortnite drops in lovely new stuff, lets them tear up the meta, lets them reshape the landscape, and then it takes them away again. It makes the game fresh. Even when it’s something that I truly love that goes back in the vault, I can’t begrudge the team for what they’re doing. Without the Baller, for example, I get to experience the real pleasure of the map again, which I would argue is the space between landmarks – the wild parts that you would zip through in a blink if you were Ballering.
All live games do a little pruning, but what marks Fortnite out I think is the glee the developers take in removing stuff, which, coupled with the pace of adding stuff, gives the game a lot of its character. I remember walking out into the world one day and seeing all these pirate towers around the place. For a week at least I was consumed by a desire to find them all – they were so evocative, so beautifully put together, so filled with character. After a week, though, they were part of the landscape. They burn so brightly in my memory, I think, because some while later they were gone.
Ultimately running a game is probably like running a big on-going experiment. It sounds so exciting! I’ve been watching with interest over the last few months, for example, as Clash Royale has balanced and rebalanced the Witch, a card which a lot of people love and a lot of people hate. My sense is that the tinkering here will go on for some time.
But with Fortnite, the sense of being in on a grand experiment is overwhelmingly powerful. I love this island in a snow globe. And I hope the people in charge never stop shaking it.