Pixel Sundays: Dune and the return to Arrakis

3 March 2024 at 14:00 in Deals, Gaming News with no comments
Pixel Sundays: Dune and the return to Arrakis

What is Dune

Dune is a name that hasn’t been heard for quite some time not only in the gaming world but also in the media due to a true absence. The Dune universe springs from the mind of the brilliant Frank Herbert and encompasses not only a massive research effort, but also an ideological thought in the representation of the human mind and criticism of modern society, an aspect that has definitely helped to make the work famous with the first book released in 1965. Divided into 6 Books (Dune, Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, Chapterhouse of Dune), Dune talks about a distant future of about thousands of years in the future where humanity has been able to develop interstellar travel at the speed of light, managing to conquer and colonize various planets.

But humanity has decided to prohibit any form of “sentient machine” with the immediate execution of anyone found to possess it. However, this has not stopped them, instead pushing them further, reaching a stage where they have developed Extra Sensory Perception. At the center of the Dune story is the planet Arrakis, a desolate planet dominated by desert which, however, serves as a resource for the Melange. Melange, commonly referred as Spice, is a powerful hallucinogenic substance that creates a strong dependency, in exchange for a prolonged life of about three times and the possibility of unlocking Prescience abilities. Prescience allows for precise calculation and makes faster-than-light travel safer. The spice is therefore at the center of millennia-long conflicts between the various houses of the Landsraad and at the center of human life in Frank Herbert’s dystopic future.

Frank Herbert's books: Dune, Messiah of Dune, and Children of Dune

The protagonist of most of the books is Paul of the Atreides house, central figure to the conflict on the planet Arrakis that will bring about change not only on the planet but the entire Landsraad. In short, Frank Herbert has created a science fiction world of enormous proportions, not only in terms of content but also in the meticulousness of the aspects that has become a reference point for many along with other renowned sagas worldwide. This, of course, didn’t stop at cinematic adaptations, but Dune has also made its way into the world of video games with some titles that have left a profound impact on the gaming landscape.

Dune 1984 film official artwork

Dune: The Classic Games

The first game ever is Dune from 1992 developed by Cryo Interactive based on the early books and features Paul Atreides through a graphic adventure that combines strategic and resource management elements and was quite successful precisely because of these characteristics. However, the most famous title comes from the rival Westwood Entertainment, which at the end of the same year released Dune II, a real-time strategy game. Although not the first of its kind, Dune II is undoubtedly considered by many to be the father of the modern RTS genre, in fact, Dune II not only manages to combine Frank Herbert’s complex world into a fun real-time strategy format but also introduces and skillfully uses elements already seen in the emerging RTS genre. We also see the appearance of composer Frank Klepacki, who will work on Westwood titles, famous especially for the Command & Conquer soundtrack.

Dune II showcase from 1992

In 1998, Westwood decided to bring Dune 2000, a remake of Dune 2, which brings not only improved graphics but also new gameplay elements borrowed from the Command & Conquer series. Klepacki returns with a remastered OST and new soundtracks. We also have the addition of Full Motion Video of high quality to present the story of the 3 factions, and online multiplayer to complete everything. An interesting note is how in 1999 the PS1 version used 3D models for buildings and large units instead of 2D of the PC version. In 2001 we instead had Emperor: Battle for Dune, Westwood’s last strategic game before being acquired by EA. Emperor is a 3D strategy game that serves as a sequel to 2000 with a new story and a new faction and sub-faction system.

The last Dune game dates back to 2001 with the disastrous Frank Herbert’s Dune from Cryo Interactive, which also marked the company’s failure. Inspired by the 2000 miniseries of the same name, we return to play as Paul Atreides in an action and exploration game with significant fundamental issues behind the title.

Dune: The New Games

Subsequently, many Dune-branded games have been announced but unfortunately canceled one after the other until there was a resurgence of interest in the series thanks to the 2021 cinematic adaptation by Denis Villeneuve. In fact, in 2022 we have Dune: Spice Wars by Shiro Games. A profound change from the beloved RTS to a more mainstream 4X, but which compensates for the lack of more free unit control and especially the longevity of the matches, with an intricate and pleasant diplomatic system that embodies the spirit of the series and especially Villeneuve’s films. In short, a good 4X and certainly a good Dune game.

Finally, we have Dune: Awakening, a Funcom MMO Survival game made in Unreal Engine 5 that should be coming soon. Awakening sees us again on Arrakis, using the Survival element that seems to fit perfectly with the hostile conditions of the planet. Obviously, there will be no lack of the imposing Sandworms, amidst an immense desert that hides ancient ruins and especially the Spice. The Spice itself will be at the center of PvP conflicts, between control and use to unlock powers and creations. We will have a first showcase of the title with the Dune Awakening Direct scheduled for 4 March , 2024, 18:00 CET with two new trailers and further information.

Dune: The Influence of the Franchise and What the Future Holds

Over the years, Dune’s influence has diminished, but from the 1960s to the early 2000s, Dune was a fairly renowned and famous franchise. And although over the years it has not had the same relevance, it is undeniable that Denis Villeneuve’s work has helped the series to return to popularity, with the imminent second film and a potential third one. Certainly, the biggest influence of the gaming saga is that of Dune II, considered by many as the father of the modern RTS genre, as Dune as early as 1992 proposed many of the basic mechanics of the RTS genre, then expanded and refined by other giants of the genre such as Warcraft, Command & Conquer, and Age of Empires over the years.

Starting with the fact that the use and ability to use resources is an integral part of the Dune universe, namely that dedicated to the collection and refinement of the Melange. Not to mention how the concept of Fog of War that partially reactivates gave a veil of mystery and unpredictability to the exploration of the map. Not to mention the use of the mouse to command the unit, a concept now integral and taken for granted in the genre, like the Tech Tree that requires certain buildings before unlocking new ones. Presence of environmental dangers with the Sandworms, the explosions of Spice concentrations, or how buildings take damage over time due to Arrakis’s adverse conditions.

If Dune II was important for the RTS genre, the film series and especially the literary one has been a reference in the Sci-Fi genre for years to come. It is certainly not a coincidence that many elements of Star Wars, Mad Max, and even animated films like Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind are inspired not only by the post-apocalyptic desert dunes of Dune but also by the intricate plot between political games and a humanity that does not surrender to adversities. With the arrival of Dune Awakening, many hope that Funcom’s title will live up to expectations given the bold choice of an MMO Survival, and if well done thanks to the Dune universe be a reference to the genre. So, we’ll have to wait and hope for further games based on the world glimpsed by Frank Herbert.

A key art of Dune Awakening, the latest game in the Dune series


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By whizzerlow whizzerlow