The Game: Three Houses – Atreides, Harkonnen and Ordos – converge on the planet Dune, intending to consolidate their power and eliminate one another from the business of mining the spice melange from the planet’s sandy surface. Players pick a House and then take command of both the mining and military efforts, directing and managing each, and facing stiff opposition from the other Houses. As long as spice is being extracted from Dune, the player can summon or build whatever resources are needed to continue the mission and crush the opposing forces. The only path to victory is the destruction of the other Houses and complete control of the planet. (1993, Westwood Studios / Virgin Interactive)
Memories: The first console adaptation of Westwood’s genre-defining point-and-click real time strategy game released in 1992, Dune II has a strong game as its inspiration and, on the Genesis, a decent platform to bring it to life. The only way Westwood could screw it up would be in the execution – mainly the user interface.
While the nature of the game presents some difficulties in being translated to a gamepad controller, Dune II maintained its considerable strengths without losing a lot in the translation. Where the game had been point-and-click on the PC and Amiga, it was now select, search, and select again with the Genesis controller. Westwood understood that speed was of the essence, and the interface makes it easy to get from one place to another quickly. The one drawback of the interface is a weakness carried over from the computer edition: once a unit completes its objective, whether travel or fighting, it must be selected again before giving orders.
Other than that, Dune II is still the well-balanced game that shaped the real time strategy genre for years to come, and unlike many other examples of computer-to-console ports that could be named, it doesn’t suffer significantly in console form. Westwood would use the basic framework of Dune II as the basis of its Command & Conquer series, and would use the refinements of that series to return to Arrakis in 1999’s Dune 2000, which was once again available on both PCs and consoles (in that case, the Sony Playstation).
Even in this relatively “primitive” form, the game is addictive and compelling enough to be a more effective follow-up to the Dune universe than most of the print fiction that has sprung up following the death of Dune author Frank Herbert. The shadow cast by Dune II across the gaming landscape – modern RTS games still closely follow many of this game’s conventions – is almost as large as “Dune”‘s influence on literary science fiction.