Of Tiberium And Time, Prologue: Dune 2 Battle For Arrakis

For Chapter 1: C&C Tiberian Dawn, click here.

I have a tendency of rambling on for too long, so I figured I’d try something different and do my Command and Conquer retrospective as a series, taking each game in turn and hopefully keeping each chapter manageably short.

Rise to action!

It still looks kinda cool, in my opinion.

The more I thought about how to do this series though, my thoughts kept returning to my first RTS: Dune 2: Battle For Arrakis (originally titled The Building of a Dynasty in North America), which came out for MS-DOS in 1992, developed by the now defunct Westwood Studios (they ended up in the hands of Electronic Arts and got butchered) and published by Virgin Interactive, which was renamed Avalon Interactive in 2003 and also seems to be defunct now, as the homepage does not work.

Dune 2 was based on David Lynch’s 1984 movie Dune which was again adapted from Frank Herbert’s famous novel. It was hailed by many as the first RTS, and arguably it was, even though elements of real-time strategy did appear in a few earlier games. I feel fairly safe in saying Dune 2 was the birth of the RTS genre as we know it though. Elements from this game are present in pretty much all RTS games made later, though they of course especially carried over into Westwood’s own Command and Conquer series.

The plot was very basic. I hardly remember any of it and as such had to look it up. The emperor was deep in debt and needed the harvest of the Spice Melange to speed up to raise money, so he promised control of Arrakis to whichever house could get the job done best.

Arriving on the scene are the noble Atreides, the brutal Harkonnen (the game actually said evil instead of brutal, I believe) and the insidious Ordos (a house made up by Westwood themselves for the game, and as far as I know is not recognised by official Dune canon). You chose which side you wanted, played through while getting advice and mission briefings from your Mentat, completed the game and got an ending suited to your house.

I quite enjoy the artwork here, grainy as it looks now.

I like how the House shields don’t even seem to try to hide their nature.

While very basic by today’s standards, the game did have a lot of elements that are used in more modern RTS games, especially the C&C series. You have the construction yard needed to build buildings. You could make an MCV (Mobile Construction Vehicle) to set up new bases or have a backup in case your construction yard was destroyed. You needed specialised structures to create units. You had infantry, light vehicles, tanks and even a couple of aircraft. You had harvesters going out and collecting resources then bringing them back to a refinery. You had to construct silos to contain excess spice. You needed to make sure your base was powered. You could construct defencive structures. You could capture enemy structures. There was a world map to choose your missions from. There was a fog of war to uncover. And it was possible to repair structures and vehicles for a cost.

The gameplay wasn’t all that different between the three houses. Okay, Harkonnen had the strongest light vehicle, while Ordos had the weakest, and you got some differences in the endgame with different special palace powers and elite units for the different houses, but all in all things were much the same. The endgame differences did make the game more interesting though. The Atreides could summon Fremen infantry (that would act on their own) and build Sonic tanks with good range and highly effective vs infantry and structures. The Harkonnen could launch highly destructive, if inaccurate, Death’s Hand missiles and construct Devastator tanks with thick armour, big guns and the ability to self-destruct. The Ordos could summon Saboteurs that blew up the first building they hit (even friendly ones, so beware) and construct Deviator tanks that launched nerve gas which temporarily put victims under Ordos control (even if the tank was controlled by a different house).

Maybe if we rev up and do wheelies, we can get up there.

Atreides were able to get their own quads in later missions.

The big worry on Arrakis was of course the Sand Worms. Most of the surface was sand, and anything moving on the sand could fall prey to a ravenous Sand Worm. You could see them coming, and then attempt to get to safety on the rocks, but quite often you’d lose a unit. The Worm usually went away for a bit after a meal though. Harvesters were particularly vulnerable since spice was only found on sand, and they were rather slow-moving. I seem to recall Carry-alls would attempt to save a Harvester in trouble, but I could be wrong. And as you only could select one unit at a time, there might be issues with moving a lot of them off the sand at once (though you shouldn’t have been dumb enough to park an army on sand to begin with).

Since rocks were the only (relatively) safe place on the planet, that’s also the only place you could construct buildings. You needed to set up a concrete foundation before placing the actual building and it did have to be connected to an already set-up building. Construction worked like in C&C: It was made inside the construction yard and then placed instantly and fully formed onto the ground. I think Westwood realised this was a little silly, since buildings in C&C would take a few seconds of setup time where you saw it rapidly assemble before it was ready for use.

Considering the limited unit control options and restrictions on base building, you could make an argument for the increased strategic element of the game, except the AI was very predictable. They always attacked the side of your base facing their base, they could forget to rebuild structures you destroy, and they never considered flanking your forces.

Our tanks will need a lot of parking space.

The menus were actually quite nice and easy to use.

The thing I remember best from the game is playing the last mission as Harkonnen. The last mission was always a 4-player free-for-all, with the forces of Harkonnen, Atreides, Ordos and the Emperor himself all duking it out. I had crushed two of the enemy bases, and only had Ordos left. There was no spice left on the map except a tiny area that produced like one little patch a minute (maybe I remember that wrong, but I do remember every time I got a new Harvester it kept going out onto the sand), both bases were essentially crippled, but with the AI cheating it kept sending the occasional unit into my turrets.

One game mechanic though was that whenever you lose all your Harvesters you are given a new one by Carry-all with a small amount of resources along with it. So whenever my Harvester went and got eaten by a worm, I saved it all up for Devastator tanks, and sent them one by one on a roundabout route to bypass most of the enemy defences and go into the enemy base and self-destruct once they were nearly destroyed. With this “tactic” I slowly wore the enemy base down until victory was mine. I had a lot more patience in those days.

I'm not sure we can fit more in here, Mentat.

The Deviator was sneakily similar to a regular missile tank.

And that’s Dune 2: Battle For Arrakis, or what I remember of it, at least. A title which took some elements from earlier dabblers, added bells and whistles in a licensed setting and birthed a genre that is now considered one of the staples of gaming. It was ported to Amiga, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and even something called RISC OS that I don’t know what is, but I’ll trust Wikipedia on this one.

With that we are now prepared to delve into “Of Tiberium And Time”. In Chapter 1 we will look at Command and Conquer: Tiberian Dawn. Until then, be safe, and remember: In Nod we trust.

For Chapter 1: C&C Tiberian Dawn, click here.

~Wulf 

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Posted on July 18, 2012, in Games, Retrospective and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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