If Empire Deluxe was the mother of “just one more turn,” Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty was the father of real-time strategy games. Published in 1994 by Westwood Studios, Dune II was based on the David Lynch Dune movie, which was in turn based on the classic novel by Frank Herbert, and was a sequel – in name only – to the previous 1992 Virgin Games PC adventure/strategy hybrid game, Dune. The game’s designers further deviated from the film, novel, and game versions of Dune by adding House Ordos, which was not mentioned in either Herbert’s novels nor in Lynch’s film. Of course, this was not an adventure game, so what cannon the game was based on didn’t make much of an overall impact on gameplay.
The plot was straight-forward: the Emperor needs more Spice from the planet Arrakis, and offers up the prize title of Governor of Arrakis to whichever House delivers the most Spice to him. Three Houses vie for the governorship: House Atreides, House Harkonnen, and House Ordos. Each House has different strengths and weaknesses based on their particular House zeitgeist: House Atreides uses speed, House Harkonnen uses brute strength, and House Ordos uses sneakiness. (Their prime units represent those traits, with House Atreides using the speedy sonic tank, House Harkonnen using the slow but incredibly powerful Devastator, and House Ordos using the allegiance-altering Deviator.) The Emperor’s Sardaukar make an appearance toward the end, providing an elite challenge just when you think that your victory is at hand.
As the game progresses, Spice blooms in the desert, and the Houses (either a player or the computer) sends harvester units to gather the bounty and return it to their base. The harvesters are exposed while gathering the Spice, and can be destroyed by enemy units or by the sudden appearance of a gargantuan Sand Worm. Protecting them from dangers is an integral strategic element of playing Dune II, as your score is determined by how much spice you harvest and return to your base. Of course, securing your base from enemy attacks and sending out an invasion force to wipe out your rival Houses are also important.
The list of features that Dune II debuted in real-time strategy gaming is impressive. It was the first RTS to use the mouse to move individual units. It was the first to use building bases and then units. It was the first to use a development technology tree, permitting the construction of advanced units only after certain buildings were constructed. It was the first to use units that you could move and then deploy as a base. It was the first to use different factions with different goals (and strategies). It was even the first to use a world map that you chose your next mission from. This is an impressive list, and these features are now commonplace in RTS games, but were fresh and new back when Dune II was released. All these would be found in Westwood’s own Command & Conquer series that would dominate the gaming industry for over a decade!
I fondly remember playing Dune II into the night (and the next day), cursing the computer as it launched a devastating attack on my base and thrilling to the total destruction of that same enemy. And I wasn’t the only one. The reviews for both the MS-DOS and Commodore Amiga versions were very positive (as were unit sales!), making Dune II a hit for Westwood Studios, which paved the way for the entire Command & Conquer series. Two official follow-up games were also released, Dune 2000 and Emperor: Battle For Dune, in 1998 and 2001, respectively. There’s even a non-official version: Super Dune II: The Destruction (in which you play either Mercenaries, Fremen, or Sardaukar).
The game’s influence is still recognized by the gaming industry, evidenced by it’s placement in IGN’s Top 10 Most Influential Games, GameSpy’sHall of Fame list, and Computer Gaming World’s Best Games of All Time list. With both industry accolades and sales success, it is obvious that Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty has the pedigree to belong on any retro gamer’s ‘must play’ list, and is yet another in a long line of Westwood Studio masterpieces!