The Pressure Mounts
Not surprisingly, publisher GT Interactive was growing increasingly concerned about the game's long development cycle. The software publishing giant had risked a great deal of money on Unreal, and the pressure was mounting for Epic to stay on a schedule. As Bleszinski remembers, "[They] wanted me to give them a time estimate for how long it would take to create a map from start to finish - they wanted to chart it all out for us. But it's not that easy. A painter can't tell you how long it is going to take him to do a painting, and designing levels for Unreal is a lot more than just throwing ten enemies in a room and asking the player to mow them down."
Although GT's Ron Chaimowitz is now mum on the subject of delays, he agrees that "any time a title takes longer than anticipated to complete, there are frustrations."
According to the entire Epic team, GT was extremely supportive of its decision to continue working on the game until it was the product it envisioned - or at least close to it. Sweeney sums it up by stating, "We took lots of heat for our release date slips, which totaled over a year, but ultimately gamers are happier having a good game late rather than a bad game on time."
"People think we worked on it for four years, and that isn't true. People think that we were two years late, and that isn't true either."
- Mark Rein
A Victim of Exaggeration?
Even though the missed released dates were much-discussed in the industry (Wired magazine officially dubbed it "vaporware"), Rein is quick to point out that rumors of Unreal's delay have been greatly exaggerated. "Unreal turned into a kind of urban myth. People think we worked on it for four years, and that isn't true; People think that we were two years late, and that isn't true either."
The truth is that when GT signed the deal for Unreal, Sweeney was happy to guarantee a ship date of April 1997. But as we now know, April came and went without Unreal. With the game already more than two months late, the Unreal team showed up at the 1997 Electronic Entertainment Expo to exhibit Unreal in GT Interactive's booth. Most of the attendees expected the game to be nearly finished. It wasn't. As Bleszinski remembers, "After E3 last year, we took a lot of heat. People started to doubt the team and wondered what was happening with the game. We looked at the online coverage, and the press had a lot of valid points. We didn't show very much artificial intelligence, and the levels looked too much like mazes and didn't have anything memorable in them. We took that feedback to heart."
A test image of the dragon created by James Schmalz, which was later dropped from the game.
The simple reality was that Unreal was not yet ready for prime time. As Bleszinski puts it, "If we had made our original ship date, Unreal wouldn't be the cool game it is today."
Next: The Maple Leaf Convergence