Gradually, the Unreal team had grown from the core group of three in Rockville, MD, to what eventually totaled a dozen-plus developers spread out all over the world. While Sweeney worked on the engine and editor in Maryland, Bleszinski designed levels from his home base in California, and Schmalz worked with his team at Digital Extremes on art, design, and scripting in Canada. The level designers and technical specialists were even more spread out on the globe - some from places as far away as the Netherlands. Although this "virtual development" team worked well together, its face-to-face contact was extremely limited. For instance, Dave Carter, the Chicago-based lead animator for Unreal, was hired completely over the Internet on the strength of a single animation demo. "Believe it or not," Schmalz remembers, "I didn't meet Dave [in person] until we had worked together for two straight years."
Third Time's a Charm
Almost inevitably, progress on the game began to slow. The virtual development scheme was a primary culprit, but other factors also contributed to Unreal's now-legendary delays. As previously mentioned, the fragile work of designing a game based on an unfinished piece of technology was cumbersome and time-consuming. "It's truly the toughest thing for a developer to do," says Rein. "How do you design a monster for a level that isn't even in the game yet?" asks Bleszinski. "It was very frustrating, but also a learning process for everyone involved."
The high standards of the Epic team would also cause delays. "The rule was that only the coolest stuff gets in," says Bleszinski. "If there was a creature that wasn't as good as some of the other ones, it was out. Theoretically, we could have made two or three games out of all the content we created. We just wanted the best stuff in there."
Finally, the game's technical innovations took longer than expected to complete, particularly the scripted, in-game cut-scenes that would eventually produce Unreal's spookiest moments. These dramatic interludes - such as the early level scene where the lights suddenly cut out, the music changes, and Skaarj warriors leap from the darkness and attack the bewildered player - are what truly separates Unreal from its competition. "[This type of] drama is really tough to do," says Bleszinski, "because you have to account for all the possibilities. For instance, if a Nali Alien is scripted to get killed by a Skaarj, you must account for all the possibilities - what if the player goes and stands between them, or what if he kills the Nali before the Skaarj gets to him? I think everyone underestimates how difficult it is to program those elements into a game."