CHANGED VIDEO GAMES
By Matthew Byrd
Denis Villeneuve's Dune is currently shaking up the blockbuster movie scene, but 29 years ago Westwood Studios' Dune II changed PC gaming overnight.
In 1988, Virgin Interactive tried to acquire the rights to Dune as they felt the popular novels could be turned into a profitable video game. That's when the trouble started.
Trying to acquire the rights to Dune proved to be a nightmare. Virgin Interactive and its partners scrambled to keep backers from pulling out as they tried to salvage their grand idea.
The negotiations eventually led to two Dune games being developed simultaneously: Cryo's Dune and Westwood Studios’ Dune II. Despite the names, the two games are not chronologically related.
Cryo's Dune was the first adaptation to be released in 1992. It was a bizarre adventure/strategy game based on the novels and David Lynch's 1984 film.
While Cryo's Dune was well-received at the time, it's mostly remembered as a curiosity these days. It's a truly strange game the likes of which we've never really seen before or since.
For Dune II, Westwood decided to develop a pure strategy title based on the house warfare elements of Dune that they felt were the most exciting part of the novels.
While Dune II was heavily inspired by titles like Herzog Zwei, the team felt that most strategy games simply weren't that good. As such, they decided to do things differently.
Dune II's most incredible innovation was its emphasis on mouse controls. While prior strategy games emphasized hotkeys, Dune II was all about precision, speed, and contextual commands.
That swap to mouse-based controls was a literal gamechanger. Incredibly, it somehow made the strategy genre more accessible and intuitive while also making it faster and more complex.
Taking inspiration from the novels, Dune II also decided to emphasize resource gathering. That mechanic forced players to slow down and consider their actions rather than rush into battle.
Dune II also utilized a relatively rare "fog of war" system that obscured pieces of the map that hadn't been explored. That element of mystery helped them recreate the dangerous world of Arrakis.
Dune II didn't invent all of these concepts, but the way it combined these ideas resulted in one of the most complete, complex, and, most importantly, addictive strategy games ever made.
Dune II essentially created the real-time strategy genre as we know it today. Without it, we wouldn't have Warcraft, StarCraft, and Westwood's next project, Command and Conquer.
Along with the FPS, the RTS helped define '90s PC gaming. There was something mythical about this idea of organizing large-scale, fast-paced battles with nothing but a mouse and keyboard.
Unfortunately, it's been 20 years since we've gotten a proper RTS game based on the Dune universe. With any luck, the new movies will inspire a developer to properly revive this revolutionary series.