There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man–with human flesh.”
– from “Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan
The Dune franchise has long been a source for video game tie-in. In fact, Dune 2 released in 1992 gave birth to modern Real-time Strategy game genre. Below is a list of all official games that feature Dune.
This is the first game based on the Dune franchise. It is an official adaptation of the 1965 Dune novel while also using some of the visuals developed for David Lynch’s 1984 Dune movie. This video game is equally famous as being faithful as it is for having a troubled development. Multiple delays and angry investors put its release in doubt. In fact, one investor took with them the right to make more video games and gave it to Westwood Studios which made Dune 2 – also released in 1992.
Dune 2 is often considered the game that triggered the Real-Time Strategy game genre. Some aspects already existed in order, mouse interface to control units, base building. Yet, the strategy genre had up until that moment been dominated by Turn-based strategy. The concept of Dune 2 is simple. With harvester units take spice as the game’s single input resource and build up as many combat units as possible. Enlarging your base with specialized buildings allows you to optimize and select form a wider variety of combat units. 1992 was before cut scenes made their way into games as most were published on floppy and not on CD-ROM. As such the game’s storyline was detailed by text-based dialogue.
Recently the source code has been used to create fan made game engine recreations such as DuneLegacy. One criticism of the game was that the A.I. was not challenging enough. A recent analysis shows that the A.I. was sophisticated but did not perform flanking maneuvers or rebuild its defenses because scripted events intervened.
In 1998 Westwood released a remake of their Dune 2 RTS game called Dune 2000. The game capitalized on the recent successes the studio had with games such as Command & Conquer in 1995, Red Alert in 1996 and its expansion packs in 1997. In fact, the game was made by a subsidiary of Westwood called Intelligent Games that made the aforementioned expansion packs.
Dune 2000 was a faithful remake that gave the original a much needed graphical boost. Nonetheless upon its release the game received criticism for not innovating and lacking the graphical fidelity expected. In those days it was expected most games would become 3D, but the formula established with Dune 2 and C & C is better suited for top down isometric viewpoint.
Nonetheless Dune 2000 was an excellent game. It sported cinematic cut scenes between missions and a selection of three factions: Atreides, Harkonnen and Ordos. The game also featured a soundtrack by legendary video game composer Frank Klepacki. That said, the game lacked any true innovation. The gameplay was ultimately prone to the same ‘tank rush’ tactics as seen in other Westwood games. Once the player got a grip on the tactical situation victory was inevitable. Experienced players could try their luck online in multiplayer – something that is now possible with CnCNet.
Emperor Battle for Dune
After the success of Red Alert 2 in 2000 Westwood studios embarked on development of its last RTS as independent developer – Emperor: Battle for Dune. The game released in 2001 and co-developed by Intelligent Games. The story is a sequel to Dune 2000. With the emperor dead the Landsraad and spacing guild ask the great houses to once again vie for power over Arrakis – Dune. The game had one radical shift from Westwood RTS games – it featured a three-dimensional viewpoint.
While the game received no small amount of hype and media attention before its release it disappeared soon after. In many ways Dune 2000 is more remembered. The game featured cut scenes between missions with actor Michael Dorn (Worf on Star Trek TNG) playing Duke Atreides. The player could not also ally with another faction in order to obtain unique units. Thus specialization in one direction was possible.
Sadly, the game had no small number of flaws. The 3D viewpoint made the game look sterile and had an averse affect on gameplay. Furthermore there was once again a lack of innovation, the system of allies lacked meaningful depth. In the end the missions were solely there to beat so the cut scenes were accessible.
Frank Herbert’s Dune
The last game released under the official Dune franchise banner was Frank Herbert’s Dune by French developer Cryo Interactive. This is the same developer that made the first Dune game 1992. Though acting as a tie-in to the Sci Fi Channel series from the previous year there is no other relationship. The game is a 3D adventure that is by all accounts a faithful adaptation of the source material. However, players found the game bugged and hard to play. Cryo Interactive closed its doors in 2002 as the game was a commercial flop, with the PlayStation 2 port only becoming available in Europe.
Though it was based on the miniseries it bares no resemblance, no doubt using the likenesses of the actors would have cost even more.
Future Dune games
In March 2019 an article appeared on TechRadar reporting that more Dune games are in development. Legendary Entertainment, the production company behind Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation has ‘supposedly’ signed a deal with Norwegian developer Funcom to produce no less than 3 games. The deal is valid for a 6 year period.
There is little corroborating evidence for this deal. Though the movie production company has every reason to produce such tie-in media considering the popularity of previous Dune games. As game development is as protracted as movies there is no surprise that no formal announcement has been made.
Meanwhile the article mentions that one of the games is likely an MMO. Considering Cryo Interactive was developing such a game before it went bankrupt is a salient detail. Funcom is a studio with around 140 employees. Recently Funcom worked with Petroglyph Games to publish their RTS game Conan Unconquered. Which could mean that Funcom will act as publisher if not developer. Petroglyph is of course famous for the many former Westwood Studios employees. Which alludes to the fact that at least one Dune game will be of the Real-Time Strategy genre.