Since we are talking about technical quality, I have to assume you are not talking about average gameplay, but about "average" technical excellence.
I couldn't disagree more.
You -clearly- have not experienced the technology shock from running the Unreal 1 for the very first time on your machine. Or you weren't really a strong gamer, so you might not really care at that time.
The technology Wow factor like that didn't happen more than 4-5 times in whole 3D gaming history. I'm pretty sure I did not experience a technology jump like that, since that time, due to the simple fact, that the difference in 3d effects for next games was merely incremental.
I'm not.. sure what you mean here, what does that have to do with the way games of the genre are implemented?
Not even shaders themselves brought such a wow factor. Not even Crysis (which was also just a relatively small difference to the then-next-best-looking game).
The performance and feature-set of Unreal1's SW rasterizer were absolutely mind-blowing. 3DFX renderer was certainly very nice an fast (but that was expected), but the SW rasterizer was something ucomparable to anything else on the market at that time and for a very long time after that.
I'm confused how you got on the topic of "it was mind blowing" out of the topic of "making unreal look that good took a lot of technical refinement and rendering tricks. Trying to do a minecraft like giant voxel world in that same tech and hardware would be a nightmare."
Rendering of as many blocks as minecraft does, the lighting calculations and just the assortment of things that Minecraft does, dolled up in unreal 2 look even would likely perform abyssmally on that hardware. Minecraft is quite a bit more "low res" than unreal 2 and it still has performance issues(not just from the platform or the game type itself of course, I'm sure you could recode it for much better performance, but as a baseline.)
Your gaming history must have clearly started way, way too late.
Well you're definitely making me feel young, more power to you.
Ever played Commanche 1 ? You know, that first voxel helicopter simulator ? I played it on my AMD 386 DX 40 MHz in 1992. Fourty Megahertz.
I used to play lots of flight simulators back then and it took almost 10 times a faster HW (and 3D cards) to come up with comparably better visuals, taking into account the difference in performance. Yes, the voxel renderer was that much ahead.
I would hesistate(sort of) to say that most games made with their voxel space engine didn't hold a candle to unreal in terms of visuals. Of course that's kind of the point. That's a very early and yet advanced voxel engine and it still didn't have to deal with what Minecraft does(lighting updates and destructable terrain.) The main draw of voxels back then was the detail it added to terrain over things like basic heightmaps. It wasn't really about it being destructable like it is now.
And no I never played it.
If you ever had a chance to play the level, where they enabled water reflections for the first time and flew through some narrow canyons and then played the next-best-looking game of that times, it would be like Crysis vs Wolfenstein 1 (yes, the one which ran on 80286).
Seems a bit subjective but alright. Personally I think most graphical advancements looked amazing at the time. NES->Snes->N64 games looked astounding when I moved between them. N64 was probably my favorite console of all time, and yet now they look like garbage in comparison. Even though I still love thier visual style, the 2d games especially.
Talking about voxels, do you recognize this ?