Dune: Game Design Skinny (pg.2)


A single streamlined and intuitive interface spans all of the levels of detail in Dune. The interface makes use of a scaling 3D point of view that allows the player to continuously zoom in from a view of the planet in orbit to individual units in formation in the field. Within this scaling interface there are three primary detail levels at which the game is played:

  • The Global View
  • The Builder View
  • The Tactical View

From the Global View the whole of Arrakis can be seen in a spherically rotating projection. Graphic overlays can be displayed that provide location information about the player's fiefdom, other Houses, resources, encampments, trade routes, weather, and other information pertaining to trade and diplomatic relations. Specific areas on this view can be selected and zoomed-in, taking the player to the level of the Builder View.

From the Builder View the player has access to the inner workings of specific areas of their fiefdom, such as military encampments, mining operations and cities. Units can be placed and ordered, buildings can be constructed in specific locations, advisors may be assigned to oversee specific processes and the like.

The Tactical View is a special highly zoomed-in view that is only used during tactical combat, infiltration missions, and those scenarios where it is desired to have control over the actions and movements of individual units. Operations in the Tactical View take place within a zoomed-in version of a specific Builder View, using large-scale building exteriors and interiors that were previously placed by the player.

A good way to think of the continuity of these various views is to consider there being multiple "boards" in a Warcraft-style game that are connected as "zoom-in" locations on a larger, global-tactical "board". The various views are discussed in more detail in the sections that follow.

Game Mechanics
While in the Global View and in the Builder View, the game is essentially executing in real-time with known events set to occur at specific times, such as a delivery of machine parts to Arrakis by the Space Guild. However, within this real-time universe players may make turn-based inputs, selecting all of their desired moves and strategies and then submitting that turn to the game. Game time continues regardless of when the player submits their turn, the player can enter turns as often as they like so that they can play in stages or in quasi-real-time as suits their preference for minutia.

In the Tactical View the game operates in a turn-based strategy mode, with the player selecting the movements and actions for all of their units and then submitting the turn. Once all turns have been submitted or the turn clock expires the turn is played out with animation. At the end of this animation the units come to a stop and await further orders while the clock ticks down until the end of the next turn. The turn clock takes a fixed amount of real time, e.g. five minutes, which represents some number of seconds of actual time within the game universe. Should all turns be submitted before the turn clock expires the round will be processed normally, however only as much game time and unit movement will occur as proportionally was used on the turn clock. Additionally, as each player submits their turn it removes by half the amount of time remaining on the clock for other players to make their moves.

Multi-player mode supports play in either Global/Builder View or in Tactical View, but not both at the same time due to differences in time-scales. While in the multi-player Global View combat is allowed, but all such combat is resolved by the computer. Players can watch the combat at any time scale they desire, or just live with the results and continue high-level play. Multi-player Tactical View is a highly detailed affair, in which players maneuver and command their individual units while still maintaining communications with the outside world in order to procure reinforcements. Trade, building and other political communications do not happen at the tactical scale as they take far longer in subjective game-time to complete than the scale of tactical combat allows.

Finally, a fully featured scenario editor is included so that anyone can make their own single or multi-player scenarios. The ambitious can put together and unify a complete single player campaign, introducing their own cutscenes and branching storyline as they see fit.

Economics, Politics, and Game Flow
Economics and Politics are the lifeblood of Dune and drive the flow of the game. Management of these issues is the primary area of concern while the player is in the Global View.

The economic base of Dune is rooted to two things: the production of Melange (a.k.a. Spice) and possession and procurement of water. The official unit of currency is the Solari, and that unit is used within the Imperium. A strong barter economy also exists. For example, trade with factions outside of the Imperium such as the Fremen is only done with water or barter. The game naturally reflects these elements, as trade can be conducted in barter-fashion with any other faction using any mixture of elements and items.

As a Minor House in control of a fief on Dune, the player is charged with harvesting, processing, and ultimately delivering spice to their feudal Lord, another house above them in the hierarchy that ends with the Emperor. In return for this production the player receives Solari with which they can buy the necessities of life (metal, water, men, equipment) from the Imperium or from other Houses in order to build and expand their influence and production capabilities. Indigenous threats come from various factions of the Fremen, who oppose all outsider presence on Dune and the harvesting of Spice, from Sandworms, and from harsh desert storms which sever communications and transport and damage facilities.

Add to this economic balancing act the political aspects of the ultimate goal: control of Arrakis. All Minor houses are jockeying for position, trying to oust stronger houses or even their Lords so that they can gain primary control of Arrakis and become a Major House. How is this done? Through manipulation of influence, economic policy, treachery and even direct warfare.

One method for advancement is for the player to curry favor with their Lord, the Major House of Arrakis, or with the Imperium. By gaining favor the player can exchange their holdings with those of another House. In this case, the player takes control of the lands and holdings of another and they of the player's, under the watchful eye of a Judge of Change and the rules of The Great Convention. This is the most peaceable method of advancement, though it requires the player to gain a great deal of influence with the House that rules them as well as reducing the influence of the Minor House they wish to usurp.

More aggressive advancements can be made by declaring Kanly against another house: a formal feud also governed by a Judge of Change that can end in players swapping fiefdoms, a player gaining both fiefdoms, a draw, or self-destruction. Kanly takes the form of a tactical combat or series of combats, declared in advance or spontaneously approved in an appeal to the Judge of Change. Such actions will undoubtedly cause a change in influence with other Houses, especially those directly above the player, which may respond very negatively if the player violates The Great Convention during the Kanly, by using nuclear weapons against their opponent, for example. Of course, even a "peaceable" switch of fiefdoms is cause for a great deal of antagonism on the part of the House being switched out and may result in that House seeking the destruction of the player.

Influence and the elements of politics can be wielded in many different ways. Spies can infiltrate Houses to gain inside information about influence, internal communications, the layouts of structures and battle strategies, etc. With influence, professional spies can be obtained with training from the Imperium as assassins, Mentats or other character archetypes from the Dune mythos. Influence can be gained with the Fremen by not harvesting certain areas of Arrakis that are under the player's control, by providing them with weaponry, technology or water. With enough influence over Fremen special strike teams can be had that will have no negative association with the player's House in any conflict against another House. Influence can be used to gain favors from other factions, such as harvesting on their lands, lowering the price in a barter situation, gaining knowledge about other Houses, moving through controlled territory, or obtaining the specialized equipment or training that is their forte.

Also, many economic actions that are "self-improving" have definitive influence repercussions. For example, if a Minor House wishes to become the Major House of Arrakis it must acquire specialized equipment to use in penetrating the shield barrier of the Major House to perform covert operations. The only way to acquire this equipment is from the Space Guild - the Major House certainly isn't going to provide it and the Imperium might, but there's a definite risk of the Major House having spies in the Imperial court that would inform them of the transaction. So the player first needs to make communication with the Space Guild and arrange for them to use a "Dump Box" for the materiel to be shot from orbit directly to the surface. As a Minor House it is prohibited to have a spaceport, thus all space trade in items goes through the Major House, which would notice something of this sort. Once the player surreptitiously acquires a method of communicating with the Space Guild directly they can place an order. Depending on how much they can pay they may find their "Dump Box" landing in a neighbor's fiefdom "by accident" and then have to mount a special mission to retrieve it. The player may find for any of a variety of reasons the Major House has heard of the attempt. This will certainly lower the player's influence with them and may perhaps cause the Major House to declare Kanly against the player.




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