A blog from one of the Unreal 2 devs detailing what happened with the development of Unreal 2. In few words, Legend Entertainment had a very strong vision for the game, they had extremely talented people in the art and mapping department. However:
1)Epic, as much as they wanted Legend to do a great game, giving them all the time they need, were shipping out UE2 updates which broke everything every single time (Epic wasn't the gaming engine team they are now back then); plus, as a small company, they weren't funding development.
2)Atari, the main scumbags, were the ones to fund the project but wanted things to be done quick. Classic "publishers are bad" routine at work. Atari also pushed gameplay and level design decisions that Legend didn't agree with; Grayson Edge (Hexephet mapper who in U2 made maps such as Hell and Janus) was apparently pissed at Atari for example, his maps went from non-linear structures ala Unreal 1 to simplistic short designs.
If the game went as Legend wished, it was probably going to be very decent (being overshadowed by Halo aside, like how U1 was overshadowed by HL1). Maybe probably not polished in various departments: UE2 was young, Legend wasn't a cutting-edge devteam... but at least an extremely respectable end result, especially if XMP was included beforehand (the longstanding community for that obscure and complex game mode was testament for its unique quality).
How things were going to go?
Unreal 2 had much more to do with Unreal 1 in terms of references, including U1's own cut content. Flak Cannon and the Shock Rifle were going to be in, as well as the Skaarj Razik (which met the same fate in Unreal 1, anyway). Stun Baton was also going to be a weapon (when the Razik was still planned for U1, it was something of an upgrade over a bonesaw weapon). The Izarian Shock Lance was originally named after the cut Unreal 1 weapon "Impaler" - it was likely changed to have Shock in its name as fanservice.
In general, the whole Unreal 2 arsenal is fairly close to the regular Unreal one; the Shotgun and the Flamethrower were based off the Quadshot and the Napalm Gun, the RTNP weapons returned in an improved fashion; the Leech/Spider Gun seemed like a BioRifle replacement. The Singularity Cannon was new as well as the unused MindClaw, a lifedrain weapon that was also capable of creating anti energy shields (forcefield much? Its energy is purple too).
The Unreal 2 campaign was very different in level order as well as the story. As read in the blog, there was a massive narrative facelift to make up for the stuff that didn't make it in the game (either cut or never developed in time).
Anyone who has U2 realized that the filenames don't make sense. Sanctuary (the first level) is Mission 8, Hell (the third level) is Mission 1, Nakoja/Drakk (9th and 10th level respectively) are Mission 3 A and B. The filenames were based off the original mission numbering.
There isn't info on what was changed in the story, the ending was different too. The crew dying was at least set in stone since the beginning. And pretty sure Legend took inspiration from anything Unreal content, including unreleased or novel stuff. They were aware of the Unbible era content, so likely the Drakk were inspired by the cyborg enemies Unreal was going to have. The Artifacts were also a concept straight from Unreal's early materials.
Atlantis intermissions aside, here's the original mission listing. One can tell by looking at the files, like texture/meshes package named after the missions.
- Mission 1 was Hell. Before its IsvKran-styled song was conceived, there was an unused and creepy music file which let out a much darker atmosphere (almost like playing Doom 3...). As always you were to fight the Araknids there.
If you played Unreal Resurgence, you might have seen them but with an altered look: much more rough/mechanical, bigger, meanier and with an Alien-style head on top of the body. That's the alpha Araknid, which was already known since the U2 E3 build (the alpha build leaked lately has them too but function properly).
There was the alpha Araknid only for the regular pawn; the Major Araknids and Araknid Queens never had an available alpha model (the artstyle change occurred before they were made, probably). The alpha Araknids played exactly like Spinners, including arc acid shots, with more rushdown tactics (finalized Araknids, save the Queen that had an unique moveset, only used melee).
In the final Unreal 2, the Araknids were a laboratory accident caused by the Artifact but I strongly believe they were their own unique race before. See next mission.
- Mission 2 was set in a desert, made by Matthias Worch (he at least did the meshes). Why Worch said it is because his name was credited in a XMP map despite doing nothing; the XMP map in question is Sirocco and it used whatever visual resources made by Worch for the cut desert map.
In this mission you would fight hordes of Araknids; this would confirm they started out as a unique alien race, not artificial.
In terms of available content for M2, there's XMP-Sirocco itself with its static meshes and various rock/desert textures across U2 builds.
- Mission 3 was the actual Drakk homeworld. You were going to meet these guys early and they had a bigger role within the story.
Legend hired a very talented artist for the design of anything alien in Unreal 2, however there were discussions on how the Drakk visual style was going to be. If you looked at the Drakk textures, you see the known blue stuff and then the brown industrial stuff. Originally the Drakk theme was a crossbreed between the Skaarj and Queen ones from Unreal 1, then eventually the more unique Matrix style theme was chosen ultimately.
The Drakk homeworld map was also going to be used for multiplayer, under the name "Purgatory".
From the alpha builds it appears the Izarian, and Skaarj too, were allies of the Drakk, defending their homeworld. The Izarian Lance original design was styled after the Drakk theme, too. It's unknown if it's a deal or the Drakk did some indoctrination (i don't want to bring much Mass Effect comparisons with U2). The Drakk back then in Legend's minds might have not been the Drakk we're seeing, too.
As for Nakoja, it was made later. This is one of the few cases where a mission is separate in two parts, A (Nakoja) and B (Drakk homeworld, if it was their homeworld anyway).
- Mission 4 is the most obscure one. All there's to it is a rock texture, a texture from the PlayerShip package and four static meshes, one of them named MINELIGHT. There's no mine in Unreal 2. It's presumed that you were going to revisit Na Pali, or perhaps a close relative. An Unreal 1 callback.
- Mission 5 is another obscure one as there's no related texture package. However it has its own static meshes pack, and it contains all the meshes for the marsh mission you do in Unreal 2 after Sanctuary.
That marsh/swamp environment had so its own level and it was supposedly the Kai planet (there's Kai themed archi in the M5 static meshes package).
- Mission 6 is Acheron, followed by Obolus aka Kalydon.
Acheron is Acheron. However there's something weird about it. In the area where you get the Artifact, there's a bunch of static meshes that don't seem have much to do with the environment around. You think they're Izanagi-made but if you take a look over the M6 static meshes package, you see these specific meshes have the Tosc prefix.
The reason is that most probably a Tosc was first going to be revealed there. Maybe they guarded the Artifacts, and the one you find in Acheron is the only Artifact found in its original position (the other Artifacts were all spread around the universe). Maybe you'd find a dead Tosc, or the planet itself was going to eat it alive. Tosc also had a alpha model which was different but I'm not sure if there's anything involved with this.
As for Kalydon/Obolus, you were probably going there for the same reasons as in the final game. The alpha version of Obolus contained more structures in the style of Sulferon.
- Mission 7 was Severnaya. The Shian mission.
This is one of the biggest things cut out of the game, and as far as I know they did reach an advanced development state. As far as the Shian go, per the E3 build there were going to be Light/Medium/Heavy units too but we only know of the Workers and the Warriors, whose concepts leaked. The third unit was likely a boss pawn. No model for the Shian have ever leaked, however the skins for the worker exist in the final game (the Warrior skins are all blacked out sadly). All the important Shian textures exist in the pre-release builds (the E3 one has them all), with very few of them making their way to XMP. There's nothing like the Shian visual theme in the rest of the Unreal series, it's recommended to take a look. They were made by the same artist behind the Drakk visuals.
Some static meshes are still in the game; for some reason one of them use a Drakk texture so there was probably some lore relation between the two races.
The leaked Unreal 2 old alpha has M7 map drafts; as you might expect, it's large red outposts in the middle of an infinite ocean planet. You would use a submarine to explore the waters, fight Shian ships, visit their locations. Shian themselves would fight by sending marine creatures at you - creatures all present in Unreal 2 but with no code.
The design of the level advanced into a mere underwater research facility which gave birth to the Severnaya we know in Unreal 2, aka Waterfront.
Unless I'm getting it wrong and Severnaya was a separate branch of Mission 7, and then you'd visit the Shian planet called Hadal.
- Mission 8 is Sanctuary. Debut cutscenes for Izarians and Skaarj were repurposed into this level as they appeared already in the original mission listing.
Not much to say except it was going to have more jungle content. The E3 build of U2 has a M8 texture pack with shittons of unreleased textures.
- Mission 9 is Janus. Originally had a more complex and nonlinear map design.
It was going to house Human vs Skaarj battles as seen in the old alpha build. Therefore a bigger Skaarj role overall in the game.
- Mission 10 is Avalon but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Avalon to begin with, just repurposed in that.
Instead it appears it was another research centre; from the story a bunch of Strider were locked into research buildings and this is likely the mission where you would finally meet these guys. This race was referenced in one of the characters' bio in the UT Ladder.
From the description the Strider was an aggressive race capable of biomass eating features in order to grow armors, weapons, and spaceships too. Not sure if they were like the typical parasite race needing other races to replicate but they seemed more of a normally intelligent alien species.
Just like all the major races in Unreal 2 minus the Tosc and another one, Strider had three units: Pods, basically walking small spiders that played out like the regular Araknids, then Villains and Nemesis (latter was originally named Nexus). Pods were able to combine themselves into a single Villain and multiple Villains could combine into a Nemesis. Bigger, more intelligent and with weapons. If the space around was too small, they could defrag into smaller units again to pass through and then recombine.
No concept art for the Strider was ever released, and likely Legend only ended up making models of them that never made it to any U2 build. The only resources existing for Strider are three decoration meshes (which seemed to have some use including health regeneration) and two fleshy textures for said decorations. That's it.
Avalon itself seemed fairly unfinished. Bunch of unused static meshes as well as most locations within the map not accessible in any way (even blocked with WALLS).
- Map 11 was the Dorian Gray itself, assuming it was named like that originally.
It was made by the same person behind the Drakk and Shian visuals... wasn't that guy doing alien stuff only?
This is probably the place where the last cut race, The N, was going to appear. Other than the Tosc, they were the only ones with one single unit, no L/M/H variants. The N seemed final boss worthy from the media descriptions: only three N existing, able to appear anywhere with multiple copies, and impossible to kill (all attacks blocked by space-time fields). No concept art ever released but the description was "Borg-like" (Star Trek). The Dorian Gray's interior is seemingly inspired by the Borg's ship design too (especially that large area with the long middle bridge). What made it in the game was their weapon, the Mind Claw, albeit not working but model and texture were available; the texture style matches the color style of the Dorian Gray too.
Most probably they were looking for the Artifacts, probably faking being Hawkins and all that. Mind that the final level got changed massively story wise.
The hilarious part is that M11 ended up being M12 in the final game while M12 (named "The Vault") is the Kai->Tosc transformation chamber area (aka M11 in the final game). What a fucking mess.
The Vault portion was made later, given the related files are named after the title itself while the other older stuff is named after the numbered mission. No idea how things were going to play out, probably you'd fight The N (The eNd?) in M11, some artifact shit happen and Tosc are all let loose, then I have no idea how you would fight N without a Singularity Cannon in the way they were described.
There were no other pawn or weapon in Unreal 2 that we didn't know beforehand. Legend set the plan super early in development.
If the game was going to be longer, having more missions or submissions, that's unknown. They even planned a faction system where you could ally with an alien race against others.