Posted by Erik-André Vik Mamen.
First posted on 20 February 2014. Last updated on 20 February 2014.
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Paul Atreides is tasked to mine spice from the desert planet Dune.
Gurney Halleck is a loyal Atreides servent.
Princess Irulan only appears in the footage from the movie used by the game but is otherwise not present in the game itself.
The demand by the emperor for regular shipments of spice from Dune must be met.
Statistics are displayed to show overall game progress.

All serious sci-fi fans are undoubtedly familiar with Dune, a novel written by American author Frank Herbert and first published in 1965. The franchise has gone on to spawn 5 sequels (not including prequels and sequels written after his death), 1 movie, 2 television mini-series, and several licensed video games. For many real-time strategy (RTS) fans, Dune II (also known as Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty), developed by Westwood Studios and published by Virgin Games, is frequently credited as the forefather of modern RTS games. However, few gamers have experienced the original Dune game, also published by Virgin Games but developed by Cryo Interactive Entertainment. Despite a sharing of the franchise name in their titles, the truth is that neither is the first Dune a RTS game nor is the follow-up Dune II a bona fide sequel, both being developed independently and almost simultaneously. In fact, the original Dune is a rare hybrid—a game that blends adventure with strategy and is considered by critics to be the most immersive adaption of Herbert's Dune universe.

The story in Dune is loosely based on Herbert's original novel of the same name. In the game, the player takes on the role of Paul Atreides, who has just arrived on the desert planet Arrakis, more commonly known as Dune. Paul is the heir to the noble House Atreides and has just been sent there by the ruler of the known universe, Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, to collect spice. Dune is the only planet in the universe from where the extremely valuable spice called Melange can be harvested. The spice has numerous uses, though it is only used as currency in the game. The emperor demands a shipment of spice every few days, with the amount to be shipped increases with each shipment. For the player, gathering spice therefore quickly becomes an important priority. Later in the game, however, the player may also secure small amounts of spice for other purposes, such as for purchasing new equipment.

The House Atreides is not alone on the planet, though. The House Harkonnen rules the northern parts of Dune and wants to wage a war against the Atreides in order to gain a better advantage by being the sole harvester of spice. The native people living on Dune are called the Fremen, and they live in caves called sietches. Also, living deep in the deserts of Dune are gigantic sandworms.

As the game begins, Duke Leto Atreides, Paul's father, orders Paul to examine the nearby sietches, in order to find the Fremen who are willing to work as allies to the Atreides. Most of them will work freely for the Atreides, since they also regard the Harkonnen (who have been terrorizing them) as enemies. In the game, each Fremen troop can pick any of the 3 occupations to specialize: spice mining, military training, and ecology. Spice mining forms the most basic work for the Fremen. Military training is required for the Fremen to learn to defend their sietches and to attack the Harkonnen fortresses. Ecology, which is only enabled late in the game, provides a way for the Fremen to terraform the deserts into fertile lands with vegetations. This is an ancient Fremen dream, even though it destroys all spice productions of the terraformed areas. It also makes the sietches less attractive to the Harkonnen to conquer, and it boosts the morale of the Fremen already living there.

Gameplay in Dune is a strange and unique mix of adventure and strategy. The player ventures by moving from location to location, not to pick up objects, but to bring different important characters along and to use spice to purchase equipment that will help to defeat the Harkonnen. The player also strategizes by giving orders to the Fremen, such as harvesting spice, searching for equipment, conducting espionage, and attacking fortresses. As the game progresses, real-time statistics are shown for all of the Fremen troops. These include the experience in their expertise, their numbers, their morale, and their current equipment.

Several supporting characters can greatly impact on Paul's missions. To make progress, some of these characters must follow Paul to help at certain key moments in the game. A maximum of 2 characters can follow Paul at any given time. A few of the characters do not mingle, so they cannot travel together. Further, at different times of the game, a certain character is required to be at a particular place in order for the game to progress, such as by unlocking a new sietch or luring a Fremen leader to join the Atreides. Gurney Halleck, an Atreides servant, can also help to increase the military training of the Fremen by being present at a sietch.

All known sietches are visible on a map. To get from place to place, Paul uses the ornithopter as a transport. The ornithopter, or omi, is a mechanical plane that is a cross between a helicopter and a bird. Later in the game, Paul can also learn to ride a sandworm. This is needed to avoid being shot down by the Harkonnen when entering their areas. While in a transport, Paul can either go directly toward a chosen site (usually a sietch) or travel in free mode and adjust course as needed to hunt for new sites. New sites can also be found by either talking to other characters who then marks a new site on the map or seeking a Fremen leader to point out the direction to a new site relative to a known sietch (in which case Paul needs to bring along another character to travel in free mode to spot the new site). It is also possible to find new sites merely by trial and error.

As the story of Dune unfolds, a number of key narrative events occur. Some are based on events in the book, but others are entirely new for the game. In some events, additional actions are required to advance. In the end, the Harkonnen must be defeated, which can only happen after these events have all been dealt with.

The adventure elements of Dune are rather linear. Paul can get objectives such as rallying some Fremen leaders or finding certain characters. Talking to other characters also often hints on what the player needs to do next. By comparison, the strategic elements of Dune are naturally nonlinear. It is up to the player to decide when to start military training or sieging of the Harkonnen fortresses. However, early in the game, equipment is scarcely available, so it is hard to successfully attack the Harkonnen. As the game progresses, more weapons are made available, and more strategic tips will boost the chance of a successful attack.

While there is no inventory to handle, there is equipment to manage. An example is a spice harvester which greatly increases harvesting speed. Unfortunately, the harvester attracts sandworms which will destroy it sooner or later. To prevent this, an ornithopter can also be given to the Fremen troops so that they can patrol and defend the harvest. For military training, 4 different kinds of weapons with increasing power are available to the Fremen to specialize. With the exception of the ornithopter for transport, Paul cannot use any of the equipment himself. Some of the equipment can be found around in sietches. For other equipment, Paul has to find smugglers and offer up some spice to purchase it.

It is possible to run out of resources (that is, spice or Fremen) and be unable to beat the Harkonnen. It is important to use espionage to find weak fortresses before attacking. If an attack is unsuccessful, or if a sietch is attacked and conquered by the Harkonnen, all of the Fremen in the area will be captured. However, they can be freed when other Fremen successfully attack the captured sietch, all of whom remain unusable as long as they are prisoners. Paul can die in the game. If he fails to deliver spice to the emperor, he will be eliminated after a few days. If he travels into a Harkonnen fortress, he will be killed.

Both a Floppy Disk version and a CD-ROM version of the game have been released. The biggest improvement of the CD-version is full speech for all the speaking characters. This version also features new graphics in a few outdoor scenes as well as new pre-rendered animations when traveling between the sietches. The enhanced graphics have a small drawback, however. In the CD-ROM version, when traveling in free mode, there is no feedback in the animation when the player adjusts course. In the Floppy Disk version, by comparison, the sprites will adjust ever slightly to show the course change by the player. Fortunately, this omission is mostly inconsequential given that the onscreen mini-map will always display the current course. The CD-ROM version also features some video footage from the 1984 David Lynch movie of the same name. These videos, however, are somewhat generic and not always relevant to the current events of the game. All of the footages from the movie are also accessible from the in-game encyclopedia, Book of Dune, which is also used to keep track of the game's current progress as well as to serve as a repository for more information about the Dune universe. The extra information is not needed to play the game but can be a great guide for gamers who are unfamiliar with the back story and the lexicon used in the novel on which the game is based. Alas, the quality of the videos is rather poor, thus they add little to the gaming experience. The rendered characters in the game resemble their counterparts in the movie. This is particularly true for the character of Paul Atreides, which is based upon the likeness of the actor Kyle MacLachlan who plays the character in the movie.

As the time of day progress in the game, the sky changes to reflect nighttime, daytime, sunrise, or sunset. The use of environmental cues in Dune is a rarity for a game of this era.

The soundtrack for Dune, composed by Stéphane Picq and Philippe Ulrich (credited as Stephane Picq and Philip Ulrich respectively) are in MIDI only. Some of the tracks are really well done and set the proper ambience for the strange planet of Dune. A few tracks are very repetitive and therefore a bit annoying to listen to after a while. Dune is one of the first video games for which a separate CD release of the game's soundtrack (Dune: Spice Opera) exists—a rare practice for the time of the game's original release. In fact, the CD has reached some degree of cult status because of its rarity.

Dune supports the use of both the keyboard and the mouse. For most controls, the keyboard is used simply as a shortcut for the mouse. All actions can be performed from the interface located at the bottom of the screen. Using the mouse to click on a character on the screen will trigger a conversation with the character. The same conversation can also be triggered from the interface using the keyboard. Paul can move in different directions, talk to characters, and use a transport.

Replaying Dune can still be enjoyable. All of the key narrative events will unfold in the same way, but the player may change the tactics used to achieve victory. However, all of the sietches and characters are found in the same locations in every game.

Even though the story in the game is a rather trimmed down version of that in the novel, the opportunity to experience the Dune universe in a different setting is still very interesting. Further, reading the in-game encyclopedia and gaining knowledge of the expanded Dune works can be very entertaining. The mixing of adventure and strategy elements proves to be a way of immersing the player into the game world. Removing the strategic elements is likely to make the game too short of an experience, while removing the adventure elements is likely to make the game rather monotonous. As such, Dune is a rare example of a game that proves combing different game genres can work to produce an engaging gaming experience.

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