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Chapter 6. Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty (1992): Spicing up Strategy in Real Time

Chapter 6. Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty (1992): Spicing up Strategy in Real Time

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Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



launched a series of turn-based strategy (TBS) games that is still

going strong today.2 Although Civilization is probably the most well

known today, there were dozens of lesser-known strategy games,

many based on tabletop wargames from the likes of Avalon Hill.

With a few notable exceptions, such as Danielle Bunten Berry’s3

groundbreaking 1982 release, Cytron Masters, and Sir-Tech’s hybrid,

Rescue Raiders (1984; Apple II),4 these earlier games broke the

gameplay into discrete turns, during which only a single player

(or computer opponent) could make any moves. Dune II popularized a form of gameplay in which the action was continuous; just

because the player decided to break for coffee didn’t mean that

the computer-controlled opponents weren’t steadily building up

their resources. Although we’ll have more to say about real-time

versus turn-based games in a moment, for now let’s just say that

Westwood’s game introduced a new facet to strategy gameplay by

considering the passage of “real time,” that is, the actual time the

player spent playing. This fact meant that the player’s physical ability to select units, scroll the map, and so on became vital. Westwood

addressed this issue by integrating intuitive mouse control into the

computer versions—a key innovation that sets Dune II apart from

previous efforts at RTS games.5



Screenshot from the intriguing

hybrid, Rescue Raiders, for the

Apple II.

2



See Chapter 15, “SimCity (1989): Building Blocks for Fun and Profit,” for more on this game.



3



Dani Bunten Berry is also known as Dani Bunten and Dan Bunten. Born Daniel

Paul Bunten, she changed her name after undergoing gender reassignment surgery.

4



Rescue Raiders would be released by Three-Sixty Pacific in a slightly updated

form for the Apple Macintosh and PC as Armor Alley. With superficial similarities

to Dan Gorlin’s Choplifter (1982, Broderbund; Apple II, Coleco Adam, and others),

the 2D side perspective game puts the player in direct control of a helicopter,

while releasing a variety of armored, autonomous ground forces in an attempt to

get an explosives-filled van to the enemy base.

5



It’s important to note, however, that a mouse, though highly recommended, is

not required.



Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



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Why did the elements found in Dune II prove so influential?

For many gamers, the constant action and immediate responses

of RTS games are more appealing and easier than planning one

or more moves a turn and then waiting for the results to be calculated and displayed, as in TBS. This feature became important

as the potential buying population grew along with the industry; the new breed were often less enamored with the traditional

wargame, with its complex strategy, statistics, and concern with

historical accuracy. Titles like Chris Crawford’s Eastern Front

(1941) (Atari, 1981; Atari 8-bit), Hudson Soft’s Military Madness

(1989; NEC TurboGrafx-16, and others),6 MicroProse’s X-COM:

UFO Defense (1993; PC, Sony PlayStation),7 SSI’s Panzer General

(1994; Apple Macintosh, PC, Sony PlayStation), and Irrational

Games’ Freedom Force (2002; Apple Macintosh, PC) were welldesigned, approachable, critically acclaimed, and ultimately

sold well. Nevertheless, those games and others like them never

allowed the TBS to reach the same critical mass in both depth

and breadth of mainstream titles as RTS.



Screenshot from Chris Crawford’s

user-friendly TBS game, Eastern

Front (1941).



Perhaps the main reason why RTS triumphed over TBS gaming

is that it’s a purely electronic creation. The only real analog is taking command of a real-life army, an activity probably best engaged

in virtually. Although the top TBS games add slick and logical interfaces, automate the complex statistical calculations automatically

behind the scenes, and may even feature impressive audiovisual

elements, there is nothing inherent in such a game that can’t be

done between two or more dedicated players sitting at a table with

a well-designed board game.8

6



Also known as Nectaris, depending upon territory and/or platform.



7



UFO: Enemy Unknown in Europe and Australia.



8



Sometimes referred to as “pen-and-paper” games.



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Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



Dune II ’s optional mouse-driven

interface enables fast yet precise

input that works well with the

real-time gameplay.



As its name implies, Dune II was represented as a sequel to an

earlier game, Cyro Interactive’s Dune (1990; Commodore Amiga,

PC, Sega CD). Although Dune II is based on the same franchise, it

is a vastly different experience. The original Dune is an adventure/

strategy hybrid closely based on David Lynch’s film Dune, which is

itself based (or perhaps “inspired by”) Frank Herbert’s novel by the

same name. Cyro’s Dune is noted for easy, hand-holding gameplay,

which guides the player (who takes on the role of the novel and

movie’s main character, Paul Atreides) along a path similar to the

movie’s. Paul must recruit help from the Fremen, a mysterious race

of desert dwellers who have somehow managed to survive and

even thrive in the harsh environment of the planet Arrakis. Arrakis

is the only known source of Melange, also known as Spice, a mystical substance required for space travel and quasi-immortality.

Arrakis was formerly the sole domain of vile House Harkonnen,

who aren’t in the least pleased with Atreides’ arrival on the planet.

Without spoiling the story, the gist of the game’s plot is that Paul

has mystical powers and must fulfill his role in an ancient prophecy. Although the game seems mostly concerned with keeping

the player headed toward that goal, there are some basic strategy

components as well. Players must specify which of the converted

Fremen will mine ore and which will fight, and must equip and

train them. In other words, the germ of what would become Dune

II is present in the original, though the all-important strategic elements are buried underneath a fairly linear adventure game.9



9



On a side note, Dune’s soundtrack, composed by the French game composer

Stéphane Picq, is considered some of the best music ever heard in a Commodore

Amiga or PC game. It’s been frequently remixed and updated, and remains a staple on sites that offer downloads of classic game music.



Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



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The first Dune has a few things in

common with its sequel, but is far

more focused on adventure and

story than strategy.



Dune II differs most notably from its predecessor in its far

greater emphasis on action and strategy over plot. Indeed,

Westwood even dared to alter Frank Herbert’s story, introducing a

third house (House Ordos) and omitting the characters from the

novel. The story here is that the emperor is low on funds, and has

essentially improvised a contest to see which of the three houses

can harvest the most Spice from Arrakis. The player begins as a

military commander of the house of his or her choice, gradually

building up Spice and eventually fighting for sole supremacy with

the other houses and even the emperor.

Dune II’s gameplay is eerily familiar to anyone who has played

modern RTS games, and it’s easy to forget how revolutionary

it felt in 1992. For instance, clicking on a unit causes it to play a

sound sample; “Yes, sir,” for example. This convention would be

carried over into most later RTS games such as Warcraft.10 More

important, though, is how the passage of “real time”—that is, the

actual time the player interacts with the game—affects the gameplay. Though we’ve discussed a parallel issue with role-playing

games in Chapter 4, “Diablo (1997): The Rogue Goes to Hell,” it’s

worthwhile to raise it again in the context of strategy games.

The essential difference between RTS and TBS games is the

gameplay. TBS games can be compared to a game of chess or

checkers, in which each player can theoretically take as long as

he or she wants to make a move. The other player cannot legally

move until the first has moved.11 If we wanted to make chess

more like an RTS, the players would not wait for each other, but

10



Warcraft’s implementation of speech took a more humorous slant; for instance,

grunts that would grow increasingly agitated after repeated clicks.

11

Unless the game is specifically designed to allow other players, typically remotehuman or computer-controlled, to perform certain activities in the background

for expediency’s sake.



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Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



Blizzard’s first foray into RTS,

Warcraft, proved decisive for the

company.



would move their pieces as frequently as they could. However,

the differences between RTS and TBS are a bit more profound

than this analogy suggests. Indeed, a set of real-time rules for

chess would probably also include penalties for moving across

certain squares, or a “cooling off” period for certain pieces. For

instance, whereas in traditional chess the queen can move an

unlimited number of spaces per turn, in a real-time version, she

might only move one square every 30 seconds, whereas a pawn

could only move one square every five minutes. Obviously, such

factors would be impractical, if not impossible, to account for in

the board game, but computers can easily track such variables,

making for some very interesting strategic possibilities. Most fans

of RTS games feel that the real-time aspect makes them more

intense, whereas TBS fans can argue that their preferred setup

allots more time for decisions and can thus seem much larger

and more complex. Indeed, a single turn in Civilization IV (2K

Games, 2005; Apple Macintosh, PC) can easily take 15 minutes or

more.

Another important consideration is the number of computers

one has available on the same network. Most multiplayer RTS

games require at least two networked computers, whereas it’s

usually possible to “hot seat” a TBS. A hot seat game means

that players literally take turns sitting in front of the computer;

the seat is still warm when the next player takes over. Although

Dune II is a single-player game, later RTS games would allow

for multiple players over a LAN; a direct computer-to-computer

connection via either serial cable or modem; and eventually,

the Internet. These games include Blizzard’s aforementioned

Warcraft: Orcs and Humans (1994; Apple Macintosh, PC) and

Command & Conquer (1995; Apple Macintosh, PC, Sega Saturn,



Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



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Screenshot from the animated

tutorial from the original Apple II

version of Cytron Masters.



and others), a deeply influential game codeveloped by Westwood

and Looking Glass Studios.

As we noted near the beginning of this chapter, Dune II wasn’t

the first attempt at an RTS, and it’s worth taking a moment to

examine the earlier pioneers. Perhaps the most cited games in

this context are Dani Bunten’s aforementioned Cytron Masters,

Dan Daglow’s Utopia (Mattel, 1981; Mattel Aquarius and

Intellivision), and Technosoft’s Herzog Zwei (1990; Sega Genesis).

Dani Bunten, perhaps better known for the Electronic Arts’ multiplayer classic M.U.L.E. (1983; Atari 8-bit, Nintendo Entertainment

System, and others) and the action adventure The Seven Cities of

Gold (1984; Apple II, Commodore 64, and others), is certainly an

intriguing developer worthy of a book of her own. Cytron Masters,

published by SSI for the Apple II and Atari 8-bit computers, was

a rather abstract war game with a real-time component. Two

players12 work to conquer each other’s command centers by building cytrons, “cybernetic electronic units” that can perform different

tasks. Bunten herself remarked in her memoirs that “rather than

appealing to both action gamers and strategy gamers, it seemed to

fall in the crack between them.”13 Bunten followed up these concepts in 1988 with Modem Wars (Electronic Arts; Commodore 64,

PC). This revolutionary game took the important step of having the

players connect to each other via modems; that way, each could

have full control of his or her own machine and screen rather than

12



Or one against a rather perfunctory computer opponent.



13



http://www.anticlockwise.com/dani/personal/biz/memoir.htm. Additionally, a

tribute in the October 1998 issue of Game Developer magazine by Brian Moriarty

described Cytron Masters as a “two-player design [that] offered a curious conjunction of strategy and real-time action in a game that pushed the Apple II hardware

to its limits.”



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Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



having to share. Unfortunately, at the time, the lack of widespread

modem use and long-distance telephone service costs for those

that did prevented the game from achieving great sales, and, for all

their innovation, neither Cytron Masters nor Modem Wars seem to

have had much influence on other RTS games.



Box back from Mattel’s Utopia,

Intellivision version.



Dan Daglow’s Utopia is another very interesting game from

the early 1980s, often claimed as the predecessor of Maxis’

SimCity and Bullfrog’s Populous (both 1989 for various systems). A strictly two-player game,14 Utopia put players in charge

14



A single player could play for a high score if they so chose by simply leaving the

other island abandoned.



Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



of their own island economy. The goal is to construct buildings

on the island, generating revenue and curtailing rebellion.

However, since the players couldn’t directly attack each other

and combat was highly abstract, Utopia ultimately has more

in common with SimCity than Dune II and later RTS games.

SimCity and Populous were certainly better known than Utopia,

and were widely admired by critics and gamers alike in the early

1990s. Although these games were not focused on combat, they

did feature many of the elements that would become established conventions of the RTS genre. Populous is a “God game”

that puts players in the role of a god who can manipulate land to

aid followers and stymie the followers of the rival god. SimCity

(Chapter 15), lets players plan and build a city, which develops

in real time. As a parallel, Dune II takes both land and structures

into consideration; for instance, players can build structures

only on concrete foundations.



Screenshot from Herzog Zwei,

a surprisingly forward-thinking

console RTS.



According to the popular gaming website, 1up.com, Herzog Zwei

is “in many ways the progenitor of all modern real-time strategy

games,” and claims that it laid the foundation for Dune II and later

RTS games.15 However, this rather obscure game by Technosoft

didn’t make it to Western shores until 1990 and is actually a sequel

to Herzog, a game released only in Japan. Although the sequel is

very popular among members of the Genesis community, for others it seems more of a historical curiosity, and there is little evidence to support 1up’s claim. Regardless, Herzog Zwei is definitely

15



See http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3134179.



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Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



a forward-thinking game with many features commonly seen in

later RTS games. It supports one or two players (via a split screen),

who compete in real time to take over neutral bases, gradually producing the combat units necessary to destroy their enemy’s base.

Players directly control a flying transport ship that can transform

into a robotic armor type combat unit. Although a very interesting

game, it was not well received at the time and only later achieved

cult status.

In short, while there were plenty of games that shared or introduced Dune II ’s pivotal features, it stands alone as the first true

modern RTS. It was the first to take advantage of the mouse and

keyboard combo that had started to take over the computer gaming scene, and its high-resolution graphics made it possible to

distinguish units and view a wider gaming map than ever before.

Furthermore, its graphics were not abstract as in many earlier

wargames, but representational—a trike looked like a trike, not

a symbol. The vehicles even make trails in the sand they travel

across. It’s difficult to exaggerate the importance of mouse control as well, which made scrolling the map and selecting units far

more efficient than ever before. However, even these innovations

would have been for naught if the game hadn’t been fun to play.

Fortunately, Westwood’s game offered some of the best gameplay

of its era, coupled with high production values.

There could easily be an entire book on the many RTS

games that followed in Dune II’s wake, including innovators

like Chris Taylor’s Total Annihilation (GT Interactive, 1997;

Apple Macintosh, PC), which featured 3D units and terrain that

influenced gameplay; and Ensemble Studios’ Age of Empires

(Microsoft, 1997; Apple Macintosh, PC, Pocket PC), which combined the civilization-building elements from Civilization with

typical RTS mechanics. Perhaps the two most enduring are the

Warcraft and Command & Conquer series. Warcraft: Orcs &

Humans was a tremendously successful game that helped establish Blizzard as one of the world’s eminent game developers.

Its gameplay is unmistakably influenced by Dune II, though

themed on fantasy rather than sci-fi. The game also featured

popular options for multiple players over LANs, a pivotal feature that took advantage of the networking frenzy created by

id’s Doom (Chapter 5, “Doom (1993): The First-Person Shooter

Takes Control”), which had penetrated to the core of the computer gaming industry. Warcraft spawned three sequels, and at

least some of the gameplay seen in the massively multiplayer

RPG, World of Warcraft (see Chapter 24, “Ultima Online (1997):

Putting the Role-Play Back in Computer Role-Playing Games”),

is borrowed from the older title (as well as the characters and

stories). Of course, Blizzard’s StarCraft (1998 for various systems)

series of best-selling RTS games is also impossible to ignore.



Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



75



Total Annihilation’s key

innovation was its 3D terrain,

which influenced gameplay. For

instance, units could move across

hills, but at reduced speed.



Command & Conquer (1995; Apple Macintosh, Nintendo 64,

PC, and others) was developed by Westwood, so it’s certainly

no surprise that many of Dune II’s best qualities show up in this

long-lived series. This massive and many-forked franchise would

take some time and space to describe accurately. Some of the

games are based on sci-fi settings, whereas the Red Alert games

(beginning 1996) are alternate history, in which Albert Einstein

finds a way to travel back in time to assassinate Hitler. The

Generals branch (beginning 2003) is not connected to the earlier

games, introducing a storyline set in modern times.



The Red Alert series of

Command & Conquer games pits

the Allies against the Soviets.



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Chapter 6 DUNE II: THE BUILDING OF A DYNASTY (1992): SPICING UP STRATEGY IN REAL TIME



In these and other RTS games, gameplay is based on building

structures, generating units, managing resources, and engaging in strategic combat. This formula, first to see maturation in

Dune II, has consistently proven successful with gamers, and

there seems little doubt that RTS games will continue being produced and thrilling gamers worldwide for many years to come,

particularly as efforts continue to streamline interfaces for play

on gamepads.16



16



Although every new console RTS seems to boast that it has at last overcome this

challenge, computers remain the platform of choice for most fans of the genre.



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