For the past two years, revolutionary real-time strategy games have been coming out of the works, causing many a gamer to question the origins of the genre. Where did it start? Some people, claiming that popularity built the franchise, will hearken back to Warcraft. Others might think back to the days of DOS and CGA graphics and say "Populous". Still others might claim that it was the X-Com series by Microprose that brought the RTS genre to light. And then there was Dune II.
Very few people seem to remember the original Dune game…Myself excluded, as some readers of my Myst III review pointed out to me. I had accidentally recognized Cryo Studios, the developers of Dune, as the developers of Myst III, as opposed to Cyan Studios. The original Dune was something of a political strategy game with resource management, but little interaction with battles. Cryo will be revisiting this arena sometime later this year with their own title, "Frank Herbert's Dune".
Look! It's Duke Worf of Atreides!
Dune II was licensed and developed by Westwood Studios, and while it may not have been the original RTS, it certainly did influence the popularity of the series. In fact, if you were to put Dune II and Warcraft: Orcs and Humans side by side, you'd swear that the same team developed them both!
Emperor: Battle for Dune, takes place following the events in Dune II, but prior to the plot presented in the movie and books. The Spacing Guild and its fellow houses are all at odds due to the chaos erupting from the death of the prior Emperor, Frederick IV. Frederick was to decide the fate of the planet Arrakis and thus indirectly the fate of the major houses. In his absence, the three primary houses, House Harkonnen, House Ordos, and House Atreides, have all begun to openly threaten each other for control over not only Arrakis, but the very throne of the Empire itself.
Originally, the Emperor's intention was to keep all three houses on the planet, allowing each an equal shot at managing the spice harvesting. His underlying hope, however, was that the houses would destroy each other and his own elite troopers, the Sardaukar, would be able to go in and single-handedly mop the deck. Without the Emperor, however, the Sardaukar have no direction, and become vigilantes, serving whatever side they choose. Along with the Sardaukar, other minor houses wish to retain their representation as well, and thus side with whomever they believe to be the strongest ally. The science-oriented Ix, the bioengineering Tleilaxu, the Emperor's Sardaukar, the Arrakis-native Fremen, and the Spacing Guild are all vying for their own interests in the war over Dune.
The ice world of Draconis IV, home of House Ordos.
Each house begins the game with its own plot, but the continuation of the plot depends on how you play the game. House Atreides seeks an alliance with the Fremen to allow for a peaceful coexistence on the planet. Ordos wishes to yoke the strength of the Sardaukar to bring them power and thus riches. Harkonnen simply wishes to rule all, and Arrakis makes a convenient battleground. The plot gets further divided as the player wages each individual battle, picking targets and occupations. For instance, if the player wishes to curry favor of the Ix, then he should avoid invading any regions where the Ix reside, and concentrate on attacking the Tleilaxu, bitter rivals of the Ix.