Page to Pixel: Dune Part 2 – Dune 2000 and Beyond…

Following the release of Dune II, Westwood had enjoyed back-to-back critical and commercial successes with Command & Conquer and its alternate universe sequel, Red Alert. They had also cut their teeth on full-motion video cutscenes and rendered CG with those games, which were brought to their pinnacle in their adventure game take on Blade Runner.

By this time, the real-time strategy genre was in full bloom. Not only were Westwood’s games popular, but Blizzard was making bank with its own real-time series, and it seemed everyone had jumped on the bandwagon. Some of them, like Age of Empires, War Wind, and Myth were really good. Others, like Eidos’ Conquest Earth and LucasArts’ Star Wars: Rebellion were less than well-received.

The market was crowded. Would Westwood have another hit Dune game up its sleeve?

And they call it a Sietch. A SIETCH!

In the ’90s, lots of things had 2000 in the title. Some of these things, like Gateway computers and Tempest 2000, were awesome. Of course, there was also crap like Blues Brothers 2000. It also seemed common for games to leap up in installment number rather quickly – as can be witnessed by Doom 64 and Marathon Infinity.Do I have a point? Not really, I just wanted to take you back to the days before Y2K for a second. In any case, Dune 2000 turned out to be a rather mixed bag for its day.

The game is largely a remake of Dune II, but with all the bells and whistles six years of advancing technology and hit-game money could provide. Under the skin, it’s functionally a more advanced version of the engine Red Alert (and by extension the original Command & Conquer) had run on. While this led to a less strenuous development cycle (and the engine had never looked better), it also wasn’t as modern as many of its contemporaries. It lacked the push into 3D graphics that Myth had made, and lacked the robust online options of Starcraft, which quickly eclipsed it (and most other strategy games of the day) in popularity. In addition, it wasn’t well balanced and had weaker pathfinding AI than even the original Command & Conquer.

The Sardaukar say you protest too much!

On the plus side, it did manage to excel in a few areas. The game had well-done FMV sequences, which included John Rhys-Davies hamming it up as the Atreides mentat (Davies being no stranger to videogames, having appeared in the Wing Commander series), and the cutscenes in general were cool and fun to watch. I don’t know, maybe it’s my inner Dune series fanboy, maybe it’s the fact that I prefer Westwood-style strategy to Blizzard, but I really like the game. It’s by no means perfect, but it does have some strong points.

And once again, Frank Klepacki was doing the music: this included several updated remixes of of pieces from Dune II – this time with full CD quality!

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.

While 2001 lacked any kind of space odyssey, we did manage to see two very different Dune games by both companies responsible for the previous Dune games. First, we have the incredible, unmitigated train wreck that is Cryo Interactive’s Frank Herbert’s Dune, which, like the Bram Stoker’s Dracula film (the one with Keanu), is something I like to call BLATANT LIES. Ostensibly made as a tie-in with the (best forgotten) Sci-Fi Channel miniseries, the game manages to get things wrong from page…er, screen…one.

Misspelled the author’s name. Cryo just didn’t care.

Of course this didn’t stop IGN from giving the game an 82, which I can only presume is some kind of Harkonnen plot, as most magazines and sites were far less charitable. What can I say? The game is just plain unappealing. First of all, Paul Atreides looks rather like an anime take on Kyle McLachlan (Paul in the original Dune film) after a particularly unfavorable sex reassignment surgery. The environments are also uniformly brown – I guess that fits, but there’s not much texture or shading. It comes off as flat and boring.

This is married with that particularly bad style of control that seems unique to French developers. Not intended to be a knock against that country, but it seems that Infogrames, Kalisto, Titus, and Cryo must have been having a contest to see who could come up with the most awkard and downright obtuse control schemes. This is made worse by the fact that the game would be difficult even with a decent control scheme.

And you know what? This time I don’t even have anything nice to say about the music. Because I could never hear it over the sound of the throbbing headaches this game gave me. I’m sure if I could remember it, I wouldn’t remember it, because it was as forgettable as the rest of the game.

Long Live the Fighters!

Fortunately, Westwood, now a branch of Electronic Arts (and hot on the heels of 1999s awesome C&C: Tiberian Sun), released a game the same year. Their first fully 3D rendered strategy title (the console ports of Dune 2000 and C&C not counting), Emperor: Battle for Dune was sort of Westwood’s last hurrah before becoming nothing more than a soulless puppet husk like so many other EA subsidiaries. But man, did they go out with a bang.

“We have wormsign the likes of which God has never seen!”

Like the previous Dune strategy titles, the game found the Houses Atreides, Harkonnen, and Ordos warring for control of Dune.  However, this time the game had a dynamic campaign, with neutral factions such as the Spacing Guild, Fremen, and Sardaukar joining your cause based on the choices you make. It played similarly to its predecessors, but since I liked those, I liked this too. The new units were, of course, appreciated too.

In addition, we got more of those fun Westwood cutscenes – this time featuring Michael Dorn as Duke Atreides. That’s right, Worf played the head of House Atreides. And it was awesome. You’ll also spot character actor Vincent Schiavelli as the Harkonnen mentat.

As for the music, this time we had three separate composers working on the game, with each defining a different musical style for each house. Frank Klepacki returned to provide tracks for the Atreides, David Arkenstone for the Harkonnen, and Jarrid Mendelson for the Ordos. This was part of what helped set the game apart for me – the different styles and composers really give each side their own identity and personality.

Will we ever have wormsign again?

In the past ten years it seems that Dune has faded from the radar of the gaming industry. Electronic Arts has all but buried the remnants of Westwood with Command & Conquer: Tiberian Twilight. Cryo’s Dune: Generations was canceled soon after their adventure game flopped (probably with good reason). Will another company one day take over the rich backdrop Frank Herbert prepared? Perhaps an open-world Dune RPG…perhaps, one day. Until that day comes, we have five older games, four of which are very good, and one which deserves to be buried in the sand.

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