Cited from an old Gamespot article "Blinded by Reality":
The day after Schmalz's fateful decision to show the prototype, the Epic Apartment was, as usual, entwined in a sea of cables that connected an ungodly number of computers - machines that were supposed to be used for software development. At the time, Bleszinski, then a California high-school senior (complete with pony-tail), was attempting to finish up his new adventure game, Jazz Jackrabbit, while Schmalz was tinkering with the demo that would eventually become Unreal.
Progress was slow. Although software development was their full-time job, Bleszinski and Schmalz were gamers, too, and 1994 was the golden age of Doom. Id Software's first-person shooter was the rage of the industry - a palpable, adrenaline-laced, run-and-gun action phenomena. And Schmalz and Bleszinski were not immune. "The bottom line is that we played a lot of multiplayer deathmatch," says Bleszinski - to the point where they had to hide their habit from company founder Tim Sweeney. "About twice a day, Tim would come over to the apartment to see how things were going on our games - the games we were supposed to be working on. So, when Tim knocked on the door, we'd be in the middle of playing our daily dose of deathmatch. Surprisingly, as soon as the door opened, all the computers would mysteriously be rebooting. 'Oh gee Tim, all the computers just crashed!' we'd tell him."
Weeks passed, and Schmalz - who does most of the programming, art, and design for his games - was still toying around with his technology demo. "At that point, the game was going to be really small. It was just me doing my own thing," he says. But as work progressed, he decided to take some risks. "I added textures to the environment to make it richer and took off the ceiling of the caverns to see if I could do an outdoor game. Then, medieval elements were added, and I started to add buildings to the environment. It really started looking good, but I needed to crystallize my ideas into a real vision for the product."
Enter Tim Sweeney, the University of Maryland-grad and programming-genius-turned-Epic-founder. When Sweeney saw Schmalz mapping a demo level on a piece of paper, he realized Schmalz was working in the development equivalent of the Stone Age. "Tim couldn't believe James was mapping things out on paper," remembers Epic's VP of marketing, the ebullient Mark Rein. "So Tim said, 'Hey James, I'm going to build you an editor!'" Sweeney set to work building a computerized palette of shapes and brushes that would make it much easier to build a game environment.
As work progressed on both the demo and the level editor, the excitement - and the trepidation - began to build. The development team didn't know what the demo was going to turn into, but it was becoming clear that it had the potential to take Epic into an entirely new direction. "Up until that point, we had made some pretty cool little platform games and pinball games, but no one really took us very seriously," says a blunt Bleszinski. "We needed to make a huge splash with this game."
The game shipped in May 1998 as a game very different from the one they started with.
Let's study the cover of the vanilla game from '98:
Hardcore fans of the game quickly realized how different the advertised game was compared to the final product.
Even the retail-cover gave it away:
Note that this is nothing compared to the real ammount of things we've never seen.
With the hard research work of the community people slowly recovered tons of unsued stuff we would have never seen otherwise thus expanding the lifespan of the game.
Nowadays, pre-release content is one of the hottest things in the community, most projects featuring them. See: Resurgence.
One of the earliest versions surfaced pretty early giving players a look of what Unreal could have been.
Don't mistake me, I'm glad Unreal turned out the way it is now, but I also love the feel of the early versions.
My goal is to mimic the behaviour and feel of the Unreal planned in 1995 by recreating an "only-seen-on screenshots" map, making a new gametype, recreating the "eyeball cannon", a new HUD and using enemies from the 1995 version only (BIG THANKS TO LEO AND THE OTHERS WHO SCRIPTED THEM!)
The recovered screenshots were in .PCX format and are pretty great quality, giving me a chance to use Photoshop to recreate the textures used in the shots.
Note that none of the textures used in the screenshots survived until the final release, so I had to recreate every one of them.
The original shots: