1Darkside Beta

The Title for the Darkside of Xeen beta.

If you're a fan of dungeon crawlers, then chances are you're probably a fan of the Might and Magic series. If you don't know anything about the series, it's similar to the Wizardry games. The series was created by Jon Van Caneghem and published by 3DO which is a company that no longer exists. The series also had many spinoffs like Heroes of Might and Magic.

While all of the games except for the last installment were enjoyable to play, there is an interesting concept behind the fourth and fifth games. Clouds of Xeen was the fourth game while Darkside of Xeen was the fifth game that would conclude the chase against Sheltem who was the antagionist for almost all five of the first games. Clouds of Xeen was able to merge with the fifth game, Darkside of Xeen to become one game. If you installed Might and Magic IV and V together, you would get Worlds of Xeen with a few more bonus areas added to it.

There used to be a darker story involving Might and Magic V however... When Clouds of Xeen was released in 1992, 3DO was already working on Darkside of Xeen. This is because Might and Magic IV and V pretty much used the same engine that Might and Magic III had. Darkside of Xeen was already a quarter away from being finished and was going to be released within 5 months, but things got held back. Darkside of Xeen was going to get delayed by a year.

So why was the game held back? It's due to the original design behind Darkside of Xeen. You know how the enemies in Clouds of Xeen look a bit on the cartoonish side? Darkside of Xeen was going to become the exact oppsite of that. The original idea if actually done, would of probably ended up scarring many players. How do I even know about this? It's because 3DO gave away the beta for Darkside of Xeen. When Clouds of Xeen was first released, you had a low chance of being able to experience it.

There were only five hundred disks of the beta made. These discs were randomly put inside copies of Might and Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen. You had to buy a copy of the game and see if there was another disc inside for the beta. Because of this, accessing the beta was pretty much hopeless and to make matters even worse, the discs were just thrown in there without any kind of protective sleeve. It was like someone had decided to just shove them in there. Some of the players who ended up getting a disc for the beta were unable to get it working due to how badly scratched the discs were. There were only a few discs that worked and only a few people were able to experience the beta.

After installing the beta and starting the program, you would go straight to the title. The music playing was the same as the title screen for Darkside of Xeen, so people playing this were able to hear this for the first time. There was only a black background and only two options were avaliable, "Start a New Game" or "Load a Saved Game". There was no option to quit the game anywhere, so the only way you could close the game would be to bring up the task manager. Upon selecting "Start a New Game" on the menu, you would get taken to the overworld for Darkside of Xeen. The overworld had a new layout, much different then the final product of the game. Your party was the default group that you would start with in Clouds of Xeen and the music for the overworld was also from that game.

The beta was limited, you couldn't access any of the towns and were restricted to only a few areas and caves to explore. I'll talk more about the caves in a little bit, but the textures were almost the same as the ones from Might and Magic IV except they had been recolored with only a few modifications. Most of the recoloring job on the textures were horrible, the trees had the most effort put into them and were pretty much the only thing that was entirely different. The trees were lifeless having no leafs left on them, the water was in a darker blue color, and the sky was just blue with no sign of clouds anywhere. The worst recolor job had to be the grass. The grass was in a brown color which made it appear to be lifeless, but it just looked crude in comparasion to everything else.

Darkside Beta 2

A example of the overworld in the beta.

The monsters you could find in the few accessible areas however had effort put in them. A few of the enemies were from Clouds of Xeen while most of them were actually from Darkside of Xeen. These enemies included, Insane Beggers, Zombies, Armadillos, and Electrapedes. What made these enemies different were that they were unsettling to look at. They looked as if they had malice and hatred for the party. They also looked detailed removing the cartoonish look from them completely. Rumor has it that one of the players saw some of these disturbing enemies causing him to get frightened and destroy the disk along with Clouds of Xeen itself.

Whenever you die, there was no cutscene of Lord Xeen or Alamar laughing at you, instead you would get taken back to the title menu which was now different. Instead of there being a blank background, it would now change to a picture to how your party had died in the game. One example was if you got your party killed by any of the monsters, it would show your party mutilated in a disgusting detailed way. This picture would stay even if you quit the game, it would only change whenever your party died in a different way. There were only two different pictures of this type.

Another thing that was different were the caves themselves. Upon entering one of the few accessible caverns, you would see what looked to be a organic dungeon. This type of dungeon was never seen in the final release. The walls were made of flesh as if the party had just been eaten alive. The music playing in this area was something that was entirely new. It had some sort of horror theme to it. It was something you would expect to hear in a Metroid game. What was disturbing was that the walls actually moved as if the whole place was alive. There wasn't anything special in the caverns except for a nest of monsters inside and sometimes, a chest that contained low level equipment in it. The length of these caverns were small and would only take a couple minutes to clear if you knew what you were doing.

What traumatized people the most was when it became night time in game. Time in the game flowed very slowly. Resting would only take about two hours instead of eight. Players who were brave enough to continue playing would see the worst this thing had to offer. If you've ever played Eversion, you should know exactly what I'm talking about. Upon night time, the textures would change to something sick and twisted. No matter where you were on the overworld, this change would immediatly take place. The ground would become fleshy while the trees became entirely made out of various bones. The other Might and Magic games didn't have animated trees, but these trees were animated in a detailed way. The water was darkened yellow, the mountains had a fleshy feel to them just like the ground had. Lastly, the sky was a mixture between being black and blood red. During all of this, the music playing was a heartbeat that would sometimes go slow, speed up, go slow again, and then repeat that pattern.

Enemies that hadn't been seen before in any of the games would pop up and they were over powered from the rest of the monsters. One of these enemies was shaped like a disgusting wart that would shoot acid at the party. Another had been made from blood and shaped like some sort of diseased creature. These could attack you from a distance. There were probably going to be more enemies in this nature if 3DO was going to continue going down this route, but those were the only two enemies exclusive to the beta. Speaking of the enemies, during the night, There would be more of them and they would become smarter. They would try to surround and overwhelm your characters. Enemies would usually chase after you if they saw you on the map, but during the night, every monster was able to see you no matter where you were in the area. There was a rumor going on that you could reduce the monsters at night by going into those caves and killing all of the monsters that were inside during the day. If you were able to survive the constant swarm of these enemies, the game would have one last trick that was impossible to avoid.

You had to go inside a town or dungeon during the night before it struck midnight. Those were the only safe places you could go to. When I talk about dungeons, I mean one of the towers or labyrinths that you needed a key to enter. Going into a cave didn't count and there was no way to obtain a key in this beta. Sadly, like I had said earlier, there was no way you could access any of the towns.

When it hits midnight, if your party happens to be anywhere besides those places, the organic ground from below them would open and devour the entire party instantly. At this point, you would get taken back to the title screen which now changed to your party getting impaled by the teeth of the living world. My guess was that if you were able to find a safe place to rest, the textures would revert back to normal until night struck again.

It was unknown why 3DO had decided to make the original game like this. It could be that Sheltem was responsible for this and your party had to go and fix the damage he had caused, or it could be something else entirely. Fans of the Might and Magic series who experienced the beta either had to seek help from what they had just experienced or else thought 3DO was playing a sick joke on them.  Some of them even abandoned the entire series completely. After what happened, Jon Van Caneghem abandoned his original idea and went with the same route as Clouds of Xeen.

If you're still reading this, I know everything because I was one of the few players who had gotten to experience the beta...