The most famous video game in the Dune franchise is Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty (also known as Dune II: Battle for Arrakis), which laid the foundations for the real-time strategy genre, inspiring franchises such as WarCraft, Command & Conquer, and StarCraft.
The origin of the Dune gaming franchise come from the six-book Dune series written by Frank Herbert. The books were published between 1965 and 1985 and they are considered to be Sci-Fi masterpieces and a must-read by many.
- Dune Messiah
- Children of Dune
- God Emperor of Dune
- Heretics of Dune
- Chapterhouse Dune
The original Dune remains the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. It had a strong impact on the sci-fi genre, laying the foundations for the space opera sub-genre and inspiring popular franchises such as Star Trek and Star Wars. Dune's impact on science fiction is comparable to that of The Lord of the Rings within the fantasy genre.
The Movie/TV adaptations have obvious been an influence on the game makers. For example, some of the characters in the first Dune game looks a lot like the actors in David Lynch's Dune film.
- Dune (1984)
- Frank Herbert's Dune (2000) (TV)
- Frank Herbert's Children of Dune (2003) (TV)
Planet Arrakis (Dune)
The games are mainly played out on the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. Resembling the Arabian Peninsula, the planet is one big desert with little measurable surface water. It would be of no interest to anyone except it is the only source for the spice Melange. Because the Spice has properties that extend life, expand consciousness (especially important for safe navigation in the universe's faster-than-light travel), it has become the focal point of the politics in the Known Universe. Because of the Spice, then, anyone who wants absolute power must control Arrakis.
"He who controls the spice, controls the universe!"
- Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Dune (the movie)
Arrakis is mainly inhabited by the Fremen people, who Paul Atreides, also known as Muad'Dib, leads as their Mahdi (Messiah) in a rebellion against their brutal Harkonnen rulers and eventually against the Corrino dynasty of the Galactic Padishah Empire.
Because of its high value, harvested Spice is often used in games to finance the player's war efforts, or in the case of the first game, both buy equipment and placate the Emperor.
Atreides vs Harkonnen
Because the great majority of Frank Herbert's Dune fiction revolves around characters connected to the House Atreides, it would not be a Dune game if the Atreides were not in it. And where you have the Atreides, you will have their arch-enemy, the House Harkonnen.
So even if the game doesn't follow any of the stories in the books, it will still pit the Atreides and the Harkonnens against each other.
While a minor touch for the purposes of game play, there are no computers known in the Dune Universe, having been forbidden after the Butlerian Jihad, a war by humanity to wrest free from the weakness of mind and soul that they said came from dependence upon so-called thinking machines, or computers. In the place of computers are "human computers," Mentats, who share some of the heightened processing power of the banned devices, and machines that must be controlled manually or with simple automation mechanisms. Nothing is computer controlled.
This may go without saying, but all of the Dune games usually take place exclusively on Arrakis, as the titular planet of the series. The books and movies themselves took place on many different worlds, but the gameplay of games from the franchise seem to take place exclusively on the planet itself. There are cutscenes from the home planets of other worlds, however and Emperor: Battle for Dune featured a few missions set on the factions' home planets.
Major Breaks with the Novels
One popular House in the Dune games is House Ordos, the masters of spycraft and deception. Except for a cusory mention in the non-canon Dune Encyclopedia (1984), House Ordos is never mentioned in any of the Dune literature. Ordos helps round out the selection of Houses, and prevents the games from being too firmly entrenched in the Harkonnen vs. Atreides pattern.
There is a slew of new equipment created just for the games, although even from a canon standpoint this can only serve to help flesh out the Dune universe through what was most often a Real Time Strategy context. It seems that the battles on the surface of the planet were decided largely through strategic elements in the book, while tactics, resource management, and attrition figure strongest into the games.
In many of the later games, major roles are taken by characters resembling their counterparts in the books, including a Harkonnen leader with a penchant for treachery and pulling people's heart plugs, an honorable Atreides ruler, and a devious Emperor. They are given different names, and their roles in the story, though similar to those in the books, are there to keep the games' stories moving.
Of course the greatest break from the novels is the very idea that different factions can win. The nature of games allows for the house the player controls to be victorious. In later games the cutscenes depicting victory in battle and in the entire conflict became increasingly elaborate, often resembling the design sense of David Lynch's version of the story.
The first Dune game even sets about recreating the basic story of Dune, especially if one follows the first film, but it tastefully breaks with many of the events, even switching the capital cities that the Harkonnen and Atredeis houses occupied, as well as changing the fates of many of the minor and major characters.