It wasn't a mod; it was going to be a retail game (as far as I remember).
Well let me share a little bit of the projects goals.
So I originally came up with "Alien Legion" as "Alien Legion Quake" right after Quake 1 came out. I was like 13 years old or something. And it was... well you ever play with action figures when you were a kid and had Batman, Captain Planet and Optimus Prime fighting Predator, Velociraptors and the Queen Alien? It was a mishmash of randomness. The title was ripped off an obscure 80s comic book that I read about in Wizard Magazine. Some of the other characters were influenced by comic books and star trek. Content wise, it was just some not great Quake 1 maps with skins I made and a velociratpor enemy I downloaded.
Quake 2 came out and it got better and more focused - there was an actual plot which was kinda a sequel to Quake 2 now and utilized reskinned Quake 2 enemies. And maps got better, but it didn't come close to being done. And it was still mainly just me, up to 2am on a school night.
Unreal is where things really started to come together, but not until the second half of it, about 8 months before UT came out. THe basic idea of the plot was finalized, and I started to recruit people to work with on it. A lot of our early work can be seen here: http://www.alien-legion.com/gfx/shots/old/
The stuff relevant to that time period does NOT have the "Green Circle" HUD... that was a UT addition. The textures at this point were done pretty randomly... and I mean... well I was very proud of it at the time but compared to where we would go later, it was without a doubt a "my first unreal" project. See?
But we also got some new weapons in the game and played with some basic particle tech. Here is our flamethrower... it was designed to look like a Supersoaker 200 (yeah I know) but the lava texture in the canisters moved.
Shortly before UT came out the "FPS look" of the game started coming through. We had our basic assault rifle in, a new HUD, and a lot of plans of taking our game "pro"... but the texture content of it was still heavily reliant on free stuff from the internet and stuff we scanned in. Our enemy though, the "Scorpion Aliens" (later Skoraq) were first thought of and implimented here, setting the direction of AL.
UT came out and Fishface ported the game to that codebase and we started to take advantage of as much of the new tech that game offered. THis is when things started to move very fast and we started to recruit more people (including Drev early on!). THis directory has pictures of a lot of the early "UT-era" of AL.http://www.alien-legion.com/gfx/shots/old/facepics/
At this point AL was declared to be a "commercial project" that would release a demo but we were still an FPS. All the planning behind the game - the story, where we would take our company, was set up as this point. This is the version of the game I took to E3 in 2000 (at 17 years old) and pitched to Ubisoft. Funny story, the VP I pitched it to is one of the top people on the Xbox team at Microsoft now.
Things were going good, but we, by consensus decided to change the direction of the game's perspective, which necessitated the inclusion of a whole slew of new models, textures and general art direction. The textures you guys are talking about were actually a surprise addition to the game, but once they started getting made, we pretty much redid the look of every level, every aspect of it, to produce the game that you saw in Drevlin's pics. It's frankly, what the game always needed and the gifted people who were working on it pushed. It became the defining look of the game. We also changed the name to "Helix: Alien Legion" and intended to drop the "Alien Legion" part later, as part of an ongoing effort to remove outside influences from our game as we always moved closer to our goal of a commercial product (the cease and desist letter from the owner of the "Alien Legion" name and rights helped too)!
In terms of the intent of commercial release though, now with the back story established, I'll lay it out. I'm not sure exactly why we decided, way back in Quake 2 or early Unreal to "go commercial" (as we used to say) with it, as opposed to a mod. But it was a decision made early on. We did a lot of stuff to that end. We formed a company (Nexs interactive, website: http://www.alien-legion.com/nexs/
) registered it and filed with the government. We had NDA's and accrediation written up, as well as legal representation. It was very much a paper company though, but it allowed us to get into meetings with folks and have our rights protected. The intent post-UT release was to make what we called the "Demo", which would have been about one fifth the game, with both Single player and coop multiplayer, story / cut scenes and the like. This demo was going to be what we fished around to publishers. The demo, in retrospect had two major problems though. The first was that it utilized content (including some minor base UT content, like detail textures) that we did not own, so we would eventually have to replace those (we did know we had to do this though, and towards the final product you see in Drev's screenshots, it was less than 5% of everything we made). The second is something I didn't respect earlier, but do now that I'm a lot older and actually have major projects under my belt: the demo was trying to do too much. We kept missing deadlines on tech and content because we kept wanting to have the game basically feature complete except for additional levels. In retrospect, we shouldn't have just gone with what we had, because it was more than enough for a publisher to make a judgement on the game. But thats what being 18, 19 and 20 years old with big ambitions makes you think though.
To be clear though the extent of our "commercial" arrangement ultimately was, a few meetings with Ubisoft, a meeting and a bunch of emails with Mark Rein who was extremely gracious, and a lot of emails with game industry talent scouts. And funny enough around 2001 we got an invitation to move to Germany and merge with the team that eventually made the Crytech engine and Far Cry. Being 17 years old, that wasn't really an option ><. Completion of "the demo" overrode everything. I almost dropped out of school to finish it. But even though our baby didn't grow up like we had hoped, the amount we all learned about product development was absolutely invaluable. It was also a great taste of the industry before the mid 2000s explosion of money and lawyers.