Game Design (1997)


While at Buzz Software we put together game designs for various clients as well as for our own amusement. One of the better-developed was Dune, based on the Frank Herbert novel of the same name. We were approached by some associates at Interplay and asked to do our own personal spin on the Dune design, for consideration for the next generation of titles Interplay was to produce.

Together, with Bruce von Kugelgen and Jon Benton, we rose to the challenge. We didn't receive the contract, but we did have fun in the effort. What follows is the design skinny we presented to our friends at Interplay.

Dune: Game Design Skinny

The Game
Dune is a large-scale game that melds turn-based strategic combat with real-time economic and political domination. Victory is achieved through a combination of economic, political and military might, with a scaleable 3D view that provides strategic-level control over everything from the aspects of the planetary ecosystem to the movements of individual units.

In Dune, players assume the role of one of the Minor Houses in the story-rich Dune universe and strive against competing Houses for control of the planet Arrakis, a.k.a. Dune. Control of Arrakis is contested in the actions of mercenaries and heroes fighting on sandy battlefields, with the production of Spice carefully shipped from the field to the Imperium and in the whispers of spies secretly planted in the homes of foes.

Dune is a modern game that blends the best elements from its strategic competitors to create a new, vibrant and exciting form of game play.

  • Tactical turn-based combat in a lushly detailed third person 3D point-of-view.
  • Strategic turn-based decisions about unit movement, trade policies, diplomatic overtures, and site construction.
  • Encampments whose growth and operation can be handled at any level of detail, down to the placement of individual buildings and units.
  • A rich universe of characters and competing Houses which serve as templates for opponents, heroes, and encounters during play.
  • An economic model based on barter and trade that operates in real time.
  • Multiple simultaneous theaters of operation that can be examined in full detail or broadly managed at a global level.
  • Up to 16 simultaneous players in either global or tactical play.
  • A branching single-player campaign replete with cutscenes that follows the story of Dune, with starting scenarios forming a tutorial for the novice player and ultimately supporting paths of both success and failure in the conquest of Arrakis.
  • A robust scenario editor that allows players to create anything from their own scenarios to fully featured campaigns.

Target Audience
The appeal of a title such as Dune is wide, capable of targeting both action-oriented strategy gamers and those who prefer a more simulation-style approach to their games. As such, Dune is targeted towards male strategy gamers between the ages of 15 and 45. Those who have previously read the novel and enjoyed it will further enjoy the way that Dune remains true to the spirit of the novel, while subtly expanding on its themes and characters as only an interactive experience can. However, no previous knowledge of the novel is necessary as the game's rich milieu introduces itself, gradually immersing the player in the gestalt of Dune.

Game Goals
Dune is about control of Arrakis, achieved through a combination of economic, political and military might. The game remains true to the novel by Frank Herbert as much as possible, inheriting characters, motives, environs and many other elements from the story-rich universe he created.

Game Elements
In Dune, players assume the role of one of the Minor Houses in the milieu of the Dune universe and strive against competing Houses for control of the planet Arrakis. These houses are extremely individualistic, each with unique history, "look", flavor and abilities. Some houses specialize in assassination and enjoy great favor with the Assassin's guild. Others are technologically gifted, producing weaponry or tactical devices that are second to none. Yet others are gifted in the ways of the mind, producing Bene Gesserit witches and Mentats that are highly sought after by different factions of the Imperium. Each of these abilities translates to a game mechanic that provides both strengths and weaknesses unique to that House during play.

In Dune, society is organized into a feudal structure, with various Houses having control of individual fiefdoms. These Houses are in turn commanded by their Lords - men who own Houses higher on the feeding chain. Major Houses are those which control a planet as their fiefdom, often through the fealty of many Minor Houses on the planet over which they exercise control. Ultimately, the whole is bound together by Major Houses reporting to the Emperor. It is to his reign from the Imperial throne that all Houses directly or indirectly owe fealty.

In the single player game these story mechanics are embodied in the campaign. Over the course of a campaign the game will progress through branching tiers of building, trading and combat. The branching campaign will follow events in the overall story that could ultimately result in the player's House becoming the Major House in control of the whole of Arrakis, or in the player's House being exiled from the Imperium. In the most glorious case a triumphant player would be treated to a scenario that pits the full native and mystical resources of Arrakis against the dominance of the Emperor for control of the Imperial Throne.

Multi-player games will be more limited in scope, due to the time requirements of the progressive campaign and the differences in time-scales between strategic play and tactical play. Multi-player games will consist of scenarios such as contesting a specific piece of terrain, item, or to establishing control over Arrakis on the global scale without resorting to tactical combat resolutions.



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