Dune is a 1992 adventure strategy video game, based upon Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel of the same name. It was developed by Cryo Interactive and published by Virgin Games.
Dune blends adventure with economic and military strategy. Loosely following the story of the novel, the game casts the player as Paul Atreides, with the ultimate goal of driving the Harkonnen from Planet Dune, while managing spice extraction, military, and later, ecology through the native Fremen tribes. As the player progresses, his troops are equipped with weapons from “crysknives” to atomics, tap into Paul’s latent psychic powers and get acquainted with such characters from the book as Chani and Liet-Kynes.
Released for the Amiga and IBM PC compatibles, it was one of the first floppy games to be converted to CD format, which included footage of the David Lynch film, voice-acting for all speaking roles, and highly improved, 3D-rendered traveling and location screens. This version, a mix of the Amiga graphics and the extras of the PC-CD version, was also released on the Sega CD / Mega CD console.
The audio track, created by Stéphane Picq and Philip Ulrich, was released by Cryo (formerly Exxos) on the album Dune: Spice Opera.
The story is mostly based on the plot of the Dune novel: the player is Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides and Lady Jessica. The House Atreides was given an irrefusable offer by the Emperor Shaddam IV – mine the spice from the desert planet Arrakis, occupied by their longtime arch-enemies: the House Harkonnen. Duke Leto accepts the offer not only because of the wealth provided by Spice trading, but also to defeat the Harkonnens.
The game, seen always through the eyes of Paul, is a mix between real-time strategy and an adventure game. While the basis of the game is the strategy component, dialog between characters and a linear plotline give the game more depth than most strategy games. The player is also required to do some miniquests involving talking to characters and traveling to locations, which adds a small adventure game element.
There must be a balance between military and spice mining power. While having a strong military force will provide fast response to the Harkonnen, if Spice isn’t mined fast enough to keep up with the Emperor’s demands, the game will be lost. However, if there is too much focus on spice mining, Harkonnen troops can ambush a sietch, capturing all troops inside. They can only be rescued if the sietch is liberated. Since the game is as much resource managing as military conquest, balancing both is the key for successful completion.
Dune consists of two interwoven gameplay layers: an adventure layer reminiscent of dungeon crawler games, and a top-down strategy layer more reminiscent of 4X games. The player may switch between these two layers at will, to carry out completely different sets of activities required to win the game.
The adventure layer allows the player to move about short distances, whether inside structures (e.g. the Arrakeen palace, or a sietch) or to walk out into the desert. The strategy layer shows the entire planet Arrakis and allows surveying (and later controlling) Paul’s assets in the Spice-mining effort and the fight against the Harkonnen.
The game runs in real-time, measuring both the time of day (with corresponding changes to the in-game visuals) as well as the number of days elapsed since the beginning of the game. The flow of time is crucial and it passes at the same pace regardless of which layer is being viewed.
Gameplay evolves in a manner that responds to the evolution of the story itself. As the story progresses, more and more options become available, mirroring Paul’s gradual growth as a leader to the Fremen and a danger to House Harkonnen and the Emperor.
The game begins with Paul at the Arrakeen palace, his family’s new residence on Dune. The very early game involves moving around the palace to meet and have conversations with his family members and trusted advisors, introducing the player to the game’s setting.
Conversations in Dune are interactive to a limited degree, with the player able to occasionally select responses in order to advance the plot – but most dialogue options simply command the other character to divulge pertinent strategic information, or to carry out some relevant action in the game world. For example, Duncan Idaho can be asked to give a detailed report on the current status of the Atreides Spice-mining operation, or to send a shipment of Spice to the Emperor. A few characters can be commanded to join Paul in his travels.
Soon enough, Paul is sent out by his father Duke Leto to contact the local Fremen tribes and attempt to convince them to work for House Atreides, which has no military or spice-mining forces of its own. Travel to those Fremen sietches must be done by Ornithopter, by selecting the destination or a general direction and flying there in a straight line. During flight, it is possible to spot certain points of interest from the air. Certain characters who are currently following Paul may increase the probability of spotting such locations. Every visited location (or one whose position had been reported by a character during dialogue with them) is shown on the “select destination” map. The travel sequence can be skipped, but the flight time is calculated and the in-game clock will be advanced accordingly once the destination is reached. Once a Fremen sietch is reached, Paul may converse with the local chieftain to attempt to convince the Fremen to join the Atreides. Though most chieftains will agree immediately, some require further convincing and Paul would need to perform some specific action or raise his reputation score before they will agree to work for him.
Once at least one tribe has been recruited, the strategy layer becomes unlocked. This layer allows Paul to direct his troops to move to any known location on the planet. It also provides a small interface to examine the availability of spice in each sector of the map (once Spice prospectors have been recruited as well). Finally, any Fremen tribe can be instructed to pick up spice-mining equipment (which increases their mining efficiency) if it is available at their current location, or even to search nearby sietches for such equipment. Tribe movement between sietches takes place in real-time. Tribes will automatically begin to mine Spice at their current location and will continue doing so until the Spice runs out. Spice is automatically moved to the Atreides’ stores at Arrakeen, requiring no logistics for its transportation.
Once Spice begins to accumulate, the Emperor will begin to make demands for Spice shipments. These are received in a communications room at the palace and must be fulfilled within a certain period of time, otherwise the game will end with the Emperor invading Dune and destroying the Atreides. This adds a dimension of gameplay wherein the player must calculate how often they must return to Arrakeen (Atreides Palace), since each shipment requires manual confirmation. Duncan can be instructed to send more or less than the requested amount of Spice (assuming it is available), in order to preserve spice or delay the next request, respectively. Spice also serves as a currency that can be used to purchase additional mining (and later military) equipment from Smuggler camps, which will be marked on the map as the game progresses.
As the story develops, Paul will discover more sietches and gather more and more Spice-mining tribes. Eventually, the Harkonnen will attack one of the sietches and take one of the tribes prisoner, at which point Duke Leto will go on a retaliatory suicide mission and be killed. This scripted event pushes the game into the next stage: creating a military force to defend sietches and ultimately take the fight into Harkonnen territory. To start, Paul must complete certain plot objectives by traveling to specific destinations and conversing with certain characters, primarily Stilgar. Once the requirements are fulfilled, Paul can instruct tribes to switch from Spice-mining activity to military training. Such a tribe can then be equipped with any available weaponry, instead of mining equipment, to increase its combat efficiency. Military tribes can also train to increase their prowess and morale, more-so if Gurney Halleck is told to remain at the sietch where the military forces are training. Once ready, military tribes can be sent to scout out Harkonnen fortresses and attack them. Attacking tribes must outnumber and out-equip the Harkonnen defenders of a fortress in order to win, otherwise they might be destroyed and / or taken captive. Morale also plays a strong part in a military tribe’s effectiveness and Paul himself can influence a battle’s outcome by traveling to the site of a battle and issuing generalized combat orders (cautious vs. aggressive). This is very risky to Paul himself and can result in him being killed in that battle. If a battle is won, Paul might be able to interrogate to fortress’ previous commander for more information and possibly release any tribes held captive there. Over time, a captured fortress will be turned into a new sietch.
An alternative (or complementary) option to straight-out combat is to start a terraforming project on Dune, setting certain tribes to work on ecology. This option becomes available only after completing a plot thread involving Liet-Kynes. Ecology tribes can construct a wind trap (or use an existing one) at a sietch to begin accumulating water and then be equipped with plant bulbs which they will automatically plant wherever they go. The bulbs will grow into vegetation (seen growing on both the strategy and adventure layers) and will expand northwards over time from the location where they are planted. Vegetation rapidly destroys any spice still left in the soil, in any region it expands into. As such, if it ever reaches a Harkonnen fortress, the Harkonnen will lose interest in that region and abandon it without a fight. This method is very time-consuming and will destroy any potential spice-mining prospects in the affected areas, but in conjunction with the military campaign can nevertheless pay off strategically. An important side-benefit to terraforming is that it increases the morale of all Fremen tribes, thereby increasing their efficiency at whatever they are currently doing.
Early on in the scripted storyline, Paul will begin to have visions of events occurring far from his current location. As time passes and more plot events occur, Paul’s telepathic ability will become more and more pronounced. At first, this ability will allow Paul to instantly know whenever a message has been received at the palace (including the all-important demands for Spice from the Emperor). Later on, Paul will be able to contact and command Fremen tribes a short distance from his position on the map. As the game progresses, the range of Paul’s telepathic ability will increase, until it eventually spans the entire planet. Furthermore, the Fremen will eventually teach Paul to ride sandworms (as an alternative to Ornithopter flight), which can be used to approach Harkonnen fortresses more safely.
The ultimate goal of the game is to destroy all or most of the Harkonnen fortresses, coming within striking distance of the Harkonnen palace, Carthag, which is near the north pole of Dune. Then, a massive army must be collected in order to make the final assault and win the game.