Oct. 1st, 2017

Dune 2

Oct. 1st, 2017 03:03 pm
davidn: (Jam)
Inspired by DOS Game Club's foray into Command and Conquer, I'm having a try at running through Westwood's entire series of RTSes. I started with an attempt at Dune 2, which is curiously named because they never made a Dune 1 - the name came about because publisher Virgin Interactive somehow became confused about who was actually developing a game for them based on the Dune novels by Frank Herbert, and ended up with two of them. They chose to release Cryo Interactive's first and last interesting game as "Dune", and this unrelated Westwood strategy game as "Dune 2". To add to the confusion, this second game was subtitled "Battle for Arrakis" in Europe but in its native America was called "The Building of a Dynasty" with a long Y (where it was of course based on Doon, the novel by Frank Urbert).

I had this game, whatever it's called, installed from disks from my brother's friend in the 90s, and only vaguely remembered about it - I remembered it being a real time strategy but I hadn't realized at the time that it was the first one as we know them. I also remembered that I never got very far at all, but I was confident that this time around I could conquer it.

Turns out I couldn't because Dune 2 is legitimately completely bloody impossible. I mean, I've watched a playthrough of it that does seem to indicate that it is indeed possible to get beyond mission 3, but I just can't fathom how to do it. A large part of this is that the controls are... appalling, but I say that in the context of today when a lot of RTS niceties exist to compare it to. Most noticeably, you can't select units in a group and tell them to go somewhere - you have to laboriously click on each one, click on the Move command, then click on the destination. It's hard to synchronize your units in order to repel an attack, or to organize them to attack the enemy - I thought I was doing pretty well once after destroying the opponent's Windtrap power source, but then he just plonked a new one down on top of four of my units and erased them from reality.

On top of this, the sandworms of Dune make an appearance, mostly when you least want them to. There are three types of terrain - rock, sand and spice which acts as the game's gatherable currency - and you're only safe from them when you're standing on rock. When you get the status message "Wormsign!" and the music changes, you have to abandon whatever you're doing and jump straight to wherever the ground is quaking, hurrying to get any unit that's on sandy terrain nearby out of the way before the worm's three-lipped head pops up and devours your unit instantly. This is bad whenever it happens, but it's particularly aggravating when your precious Harvesters (which are the ones that will be on the sand most often) are gobbled up, leaving you without a way to obtain spice.

It's interesting that among the huge number of vital RTS concepts that this game invented, worker units were not among them. The closest thing are the Harvesters which you have to send out to gather melange filtered out of the sand, but these are large tough units that pick up tons of cash before transporting it back instead of small weak ones that you use in swarms. And there are no units that build things - instead, all buildings are made in the Construction Yard, the heart of your base, and once they're ready you can command them to pop up out of the ground anywhere on rocky ground adjacent to your existing buildings. Buildings deteriorate over time, but you can slow this process by laying down concrete slabs first (which takes bloody ages and the player above doesn't seem to bother).

It's hard to call Dune 2 a bad game seeing as it (and the game that they took inspiration from, Herzog Zwei - which coincidentally translates to "Duke 2") started off the entire RTS genre as we know it and everything. But it definitely hasn't aged very well due to lacking a lot of the RTS conveniences that we've come to expect, here in the future that it was responsible for.

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