$150,000 in the Make Something Unreal Contest awarded such memorable mods as MaxSMoke's Unreal4Ever... and I don't remember anything else. It gave, at the time, half talented level designers like develbunny with his map with invisible floors and invisible pits you can fall into a prize over Jeremy Graves's masterpiece. Mr. Graves works at Ion Storm Austin now. Here's hoping for another round of memorable successess in the $1 million prize!
The big prize that was awarded to Unreal4Ever should have catapulted the mod to the forefront of not just the UT community, but the Mod Community in General. It should have been the Counterstrike, or DoD or Urban Terror of Unreal Tournament. Instead, despite a 2 week spike in number of players, U4E remained fairly unpopular with only 3 dozen or so players and irregular support on the part of MaxSMoke. The mod wilted when it should have been flourishing. Instead of bridging the gap between UT and UT2k3, the mod basically vanished as the UT community shrunk from a few thousand to a few hundred people. In Summer 2000, the "Golden Age" of the UT Community, Planetunreal was raking in 25,000 hits a day. Today, it averages 3,000. Just think what would have happened if the mod awarded the big prize was able to bridge the gap? Then again, Tatical Ops didn't win the big prize, yet they put their game on the market via Infogrames.
Moral of the Story? The perfection of your mod or level and your ability to sell it will make you successful, not some silly cash prize from NVIDIA.
Cliff sold a generation of hard-working kids out on the idea that everyone would hire them if they just made cool looking levels and worked as hard as they could. Nothing could be closer from the truth, and it is obvious that he became the token spokesman for the teenage level designer working his butt off who makes it big, but in reality, simply wanted to both increase the mod community for his own game, as well as have a pool of talent that the top 1% might be worth using, if even that. MSUC did it before with it's "enter your mod, win big, get your name out (and we own anything you enter, btw)", and they're repeating it again this year, with some more cash and a video card maker on board.
It's not about talent. It's about elevating people to the community, creating spokesmen we can point at and say "they did it, you can to!", and romanticizing the reward for your work, a phantom carrot on a string, dangled in front of people. They work, you profit.
But, I suppose, U4E survives today. Its last update on the site was 5/06/03, and before that its last update was 3/31/03. The front page, instead of being filled with hype about the mod, is now basically bad mouthing Planetunreal. Maxsmoke says he has a UT2k3 version in the works, but doesnt have a screenshot to show for it. The last update of his mod - Unrea4Ever Fortress v1 came on 6/13/02... ALMOST ONE YEAR AGO.