Desert Saga – A Compilation of Dune Games

In mid-September, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune made its debut in the Russian box office, a month before its US premiere and on the HBO Max streaming service. We decided to recall how game developers tried to adapt Frank Herbert’s difficult book cycle.

Briefly about the universe
The focus of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi saga is the desert planet Arrakis, aka Dune. Only here a substance called spice (or spice) is mined, which is used for space flights.

People in “Dune” live and die under the rule of an all-powerful emperor. Several large feudal lords obey him, including the rival Atreides and Harkonnens.

Still from the movie “Dune” (1984)

When the emperor transfers Arrakis to the control of the Atreides, this displeases the Harkonnens, they begin to weave intrigues. As a result of the coup, the Atreides were overthrown, the planet was taken over by the Harkonnens, the failed heir Paul Atreides went into the endless desert to seek help from the indigenous people, the Fremen.

Dune (1992)
In 1992, two Dune games were released – Dune from French Cryo Interactive and Dune 2: The Building of a Dynasty (Dune 2: Battle for Arrakis in Europe) from American Westwood Studios. They are not related, but they have a common publisher, Virgin Games, so the second project has a number in the title.

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Dune borrows the look of the characters from the film adaptation of “Dune” by David Lynch (1984). So, Paul Atreides here is the spitting image of Kyle McLachlan, and Feyd-Rauta Harkonnen is Sting. The plot diverges from the book: the Atreides are fighting the Harkonnen right on the planet Dune.


The game is torn between elements of adventure and strategy. On the one hand, you participate in conversations and fly around the villages. On the other hand, it is necessary to extract spice for the emperor and recruit an army to resist the Harkonnens.


The Dune soundtrack, composed by Stefan Pieck and Philip Ulrich, is memorable. It combines oriental instruments, sounds of nature, mechanical percussion. It was released as a separate album under the name Dune: Spice Opera.

The game was originally available on floppy disks. A little later, Virgin Games released it on CD-ROM (PC and Sega CD), which improved the visual component, for example, adding video inserts from a Lynch painting.

Dune 2: The Building of a Dynasty (1992)
Dune 2 is far from both the original book and the early film adaptation. In it, the emperor pushes their heads against three factions on Arrakis: the familiar Atreides and Harkonnens, as well as the Ordos. You will not find the Ordos in the book cycle, they are described only in the fan encyclopedia. According to the emperor’s idea, which of the clans will get the most spice, that will get the planet.

Dune 2: The Building of a Dynasty

Westwood performed a 2D top-down game. You need to erect buildings (among other things, for the processing of spice), create an army, defend and beat enemies. The main resource is, of course, spice. The “Fog of War” hides the unexplored territory. Factions differ in units and weapons. You control each unit directly. In addition to opponents, giant sandworms also interfere, swallowing vehicles at once or twice.

Dune 2: The Building of a Dynasty

Although there were no tank battles in Herbert’s Dune, gamers liked this detail. And it is not customary to complain about the lack of plot and philosophical issues in strategies.

Dune 2 has shaped and defined the RTS genre, real-time strategy. Command & Conquer and Warcraft are largely due to the success of Dune 2.

Dune 2000 (1998)
Many years later, Westwood released a remake of Dune 2 with the then popular 2000 prefix. She entrusted the task of rejuvenating the classics to the British Intelligent Games.

Dune 2000 borrows the engine from Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Judging by the reviews of the Western press, Intelligent Games has not eliminated the problems with the balance. There are only two new units in the remake. But units are now allowed to be highlighted with a frame, and not to give commands to everyone.

Dune 2000

The missions in the game are the same as in Dune 2, however Westwood filmed videos with live actors. John Rhys-Davis (Dwarf Gimli from “The Lord of the Rings”) lit up in the frame. The plot has been corrected: the Bene Gesserit Order sent the main character to Arrakis. In the books, the order conducts genetic experiments in an attempt to develop a person with a superintelligence that can see the past and the future (Paul Atreides became him). In Dune 2000, a trusted Bene Gesserit must bring peace to a desert planet.

In general, the press considered the strategy to be outdated. She did not wait for such fame as the original.

Emperor: Battle for Dune (2001)
And again the tandem of Westwood and Intelligent Games. And again – a real-time strategy.

Emperor: Battle for Dune is a direct sequel to Dune 2000. After the assassination of the emperor, the clans of Atreides, Harkonnen and Ordos converge on Arrakis in a second circle in order to erase their competitors into dust. Between assignments, you are shown staged scenes. The plot is complemented by relationships with other factions affected by the war, including the Fremen.

Emperor: Battle for Dune

In the end, you find out that the conflict was deliberately set up by the Space Guild (controls all flights in the known universe) and the Tleilaxu (geneticists). The Tleilaxu’s goal was to create the Imperial Worm.

The most noticeable difference between Emperor: Battle for Dune and its predecessors is the transition to 3D. It didn’t bring anything really interesting to the RTS genre. Emperor: Battle for Dune became one of the links in the chain of Westwood’s failures that led to the closure of the studio in 2003.

Frank Herbert’s Dune (2001)
The name Frank Herbert’s Dune was borrowed from the Sci-Fi television series that was released in 2000. Together with music.

Cryo looked at a typo in the writer’s name

Frank Herbert’s Dune is a stealth action game that depicts Paul Atreides’ life in the desert and his fight against the Harkonnen. The project was repelled by expired graphics, primitive artificial intelligence of enemies, meaningless conversations and nasty little things like the lack of saving during missions.

The failure of Frank Herbert’s Dune led to the bankruptcy of Cryo.

What’s next
Due to financial problems Cryo suffered two more projects that led to the release: Dune Generations and Frank Herbert’s Dune: Ornithopter Assault. Both had to be canceled.

Dune Generations was presented as a massively multiplayer online strategy game. Cryo launched the DG website, filled it with concept art and posted a trailer. Gamers were offered to drag their dynasty to power in the galaxy, relying on trade, the army, or for the time being fulfilling other people’s orders.

Frank Herbert’s Dune: The Ornithopter Assault for the Game Boy Advance is nearly complete, and its playable image can be found online. Here the user must fly on an ornithopter, grabbing for escort missions, water extraction, destruction of Harkonnen objects, and so on.

Then there was a long lull. The fact is that the developers, for some unknown reason, have always bought a license to create games not directly from Brian Herbert, son of Frank Herbert, but from the film company Universal. Strategies are licensed for a David Lynch film, and the latest stealth action is licensed for a 2000 TV series.

Perhaps Brian Herbert didn’t care about games at all? Be that as it may, in early 2019, the Norwegian studio Funcom happily announced an exclusive deal with Legendary Pictures (directed a new film based on “Dune”) and Herbert Properties (manages the legacy of Frank Herbert). With the highly successful Conan Exiles, Funcom plans to play three games over six years for PC and consoles.

Funcom’s first Dune game is similar to Conan Exiles. It is an open-world online survival game. We will see the result in the next couple of years.