MegaMan Battle Network was pretty surprising when it was first announced. I remember I was pretty skeptical of it - I especially had a hard time getting used to some of the new designs of old characters. But I like many others came to enjoy its theme and style, and as a result it has been one of the most successful Mega Man spinoffs. A number of screens exist from the original Battle Network's early development, and although they show what's essentially the same game they looked a bit different: different graphics, different battle indicators, and WoodMan appearing in the school network.
So what's the story behind these screenshots? A bit of insight is found here, a page from the old U-Capcom site where fans of the Battle Network series wrote in their comments and questions to be answered by series planners Masakazu Eguchi and Masahiro Yasuma. At the end of the page, Mr. Yasuma recounts the first test build for what would become MegaMan Battle Network in an "untold story." I put that in quotes because this column was put up sometime after the release of Rockman EXE 4.5 in Japan, so it's been around for quite a while! Though I've known of it for some time, but I thought the article was lost after U-Capcom was remade. Fortunately I stumbled upon it, and now I can properly share the story! Below is what Mr. Yasuma comments about the original Battle Network demo.
Reading these comments from the fans, I somehow get a strangely nostalgic feeling. Because of that I'll regale the inside story to days of the first Battle Network's development and such.
When the game was being produced we created something like an experimental demo in the development's early stages. Although we also made such a ROM for Battle Network too, when I think back the contents of it were pretty strange.
First, when the game started you were already in school for some reason. Yai and Dex were wandering about, and strangely Chaud was there, too. (Which reminds me, I believe Chaud was originally planned to attend the same school.) Once you talked to everyone, a sort of "Oh no, someone broke into the network!" event occurred.
So, when you jacked into the school blackboard, you'd be in the school cyber world. The viruses that appeared were nothing but Mettaurs. And when you reached the end of the cyber world...
Err, isn't that WoodMan standing there? And when you talk to him, this sort of conversation would unfold.
WoodMan: Huhuhu, I see you made it. MegaMan: Why are you doing this!? WoodMan: I've come to steal the homework program! MegaMan: I won't let you do that! Let's Net Battle!
What the... the one behind the incident is WoodMan! And moreover, this WoodMan is a totally evil character! And besides that, it's a rather petty goal, no? In contrast to that WoodMan is MegaMan who stands in opposition with a strong sense of justice; certainly a lovable hero indeed. And, upon beating WoodMan, the game was over!
Incidentally, a screenshot of the battle with WoodMan from that time can be found on page 129 of the "Rockman EXE 3 Ultimate Capture SP" guide published by Shogakukan.
I'd like to try playing it after all this time, just to see what I'd think.
Other promotional screens would come out later, showing more of the finished product. It seems the "computer code" background to the school network was in place to near the completion of the original Battle Network. Among the changes, naturally, are more types of viruses, HP appearing over enemies, and WoodMan becoming a good guy.
I've always enjoyed looking into assets from the early development of Mega Man games, and it's much more interesting when you get the insight from actual Capcom staffers. Incidentally, if you want more looks at the developmental stages of Battle Network, as well as other MM games, you should definitely check out The Mechanical Maniacs.