Novel Games – Frank Herbert’s Dune

There are many games out there with worlds based on works of fiction. From The Witcher games, based off Andrzej Sapkowski’s books, to the Sherlock Holmes titles and even such adaptations as American McGee’s Alice.

Novel adaptations as games have become a common thing, sometimes more prolific than even film tie-ins, offering a deeper and more compelling experience than those. Novel-based games often have a thoroughly crafted universe to draw from in terms of plot, characters and gameplay design options.

This week let’s do something different. Let’s give Urban Fantasy a rest and instead go to another world, one filled with sand and Spice and supreme beings in mortal flesh. Yes, I’m talking about Frank Herbert’s Dune. While there have been games based on the universe, none of them have tackled the novel, instead going the RTS route to represent the war between the great houses. What we’ll be designing today is the game based on the story, the game about Muad’Dib.

As is always the case, there might be spoilers ahead so read at your own peril!

  • Genre: Action-Adventure | RPG
    • Paul Atreides is the son of Duke Leto, travelling with his family to the Dune planet, Arrakis. There he loses his family and home and must run with his mother deep into the deadly deserts, eventually finding and joining the Fremen tribes. With his Bene Gesserit and Mentat training combined with his combat skills he quickly becomes a leader among his new people and by taking the water of life, he achieves his true destiny, becoming the Kwisatz Haderach.
      Ok, there’s a lot more to Dune than this, but suffice it to say there’s intrigue, combat, preternatural abilities and much more, and the Action Adventure Genre fits it the closest. The RPG elements are there to represent Paul’s growth.
  • Gameplay: Combat, Social interactions, Stealth.
  • Similar Games: Shadow of Mordor, Advent Rising, Assassin’s Creed, Jedi Knight, Mass Effect, Xenoblade Chronicles.
    • Some of the games mentioned above have skill trees representing different areas of training closely tied to the lore.
    • Advent Rising is close in theme as well with a young man slowly acquiring superhuman abilities. Jedi Knight is a similar case.
    • Assassin’s Creed gameplay closely represents the way the Fremen fight: Stealthy and lethal.
    • Shadow of Mordor’s smooth and swift combat flow is perfect for the Crysknife combat.
    • The way Mass Effect takes your actions into consideration to determine your forces’ chances against the enemies on the final mission is close to how the jihad would influence the Imperial Invasion.
    • The Nemesis system could represent the Harkonen power structure in Dune.
    • Paul’s Prescience is similar, though greater, than the Monado visions from Xenoblade Chronicles, though they would work similarly in combat.
  • Main Mechanics:
    • Skill Trees: Muad’Dib’s skills are extensive and from several training sources. The best way to represent these and his own growth over the course of the story is with skill trees, with experience gained from completing objectives or successful encounters, be they social or combat.
      • Bene Gesserit Tree: This handle’s the more mystical side of Muad’Dib’s abilities, the prescience he develops over the course of the story as well as social manipulation.
      • Duelist Tree: This one is both the formal imperial training, the weirding way and his Crysknife abilities. It’s a purely combat oriented tree.
      • Fremen Tree: The Fremen are the masters of the desert and they’re not only skilled combatants, but also stealthy, deadly and the best trackers on Arrakis. This skill tree teaches Muad’Dib their secrets, up to and including riding the Makers, the sand worms.
    • Combat: Combat is free-flow, allowing Paul and his allies to smoothly attack one enemy, then another while parrying a third one. The game could use Batman Arkham Knight’s tag-team combat if he has allies with him.
    • Social Combat: Manipulations, diplomacy, bribery and coercion are part of imperial life and nowhere as present as in Arrakis. These segments could help Paul gain advantages over his enemies without spilling someone else’s water.
    • Missions: Paul starts a jihad against the Harkonen and these missions would represent it, sending Muad’Dib on social, assassination and combat missions against his enemies, reducing their influence. The more he completes, the better his forces will be during the last segments of the game, the Imperial Invasion.
  • Prescience: Paul gains the ability to see the past and predict all elements of the future. In game terms, this ability would let Paul predict enemy attacks as well as the direct consequence of his actions in other situations. For game balance, the ability would be limited in the number of uses, though its power would increase with skills from the Bene Gesserit tree.
  • Allies: While he is certainly powerful, Paul would never succeed without his allies and followers. Here are some of them:
    • Fremen: the Tribes follow Muad’Dib with fanatical fervor and will do everything for him. In game they would work in a similar way to the Assassin recruits in the Assassin’s Creed games.
    • Jessica: Paul’s mother is a source of wisdom, offering hints and advice on how to proceed on certain missions, how to treat certain factions.
    • Gurney: The great bard warrior is loyal to the Atreides, almost to a fault and he’s a mean arm to have close to you in a fight.
    • Chani: Paul’s lover and eventual concubine, she’s one of the deadliest warriors among the Fremen.
  • Factions: In the world of Dune, political manipulations are something of daily routine, and even on Arrakis, there are several factions vying for control or just trying to survive.
    • House Harkonnen: The main antagonists. The Baron Harkonen is vile and cruel, but also a tactical genius.
    • Empire: The Imperial forces, especially the Sardaukar, are the fiercest force outside of the Fremen. The emperor sends his Sardaukar to Arrakis to help overthrow House Atreides.
    • House Atreides/Muad’Dib: Paul’s allies come from his Dukedom and noble family as well as from his new adopted one.
    • Smugglers: The smugglers are out there to make a living, taking some of the Spice and making a profit while avoiding the authorities. They have no loyalty or love for anyone but themselves.

The above design notes are just barebones and don’t come even close to an actual game design document. I will revisit this concept in the future and flesh it out more, especially considering how vast the world of Dune is, how intricate and detailed the technology and customs are. You may consider this version 0.1 of this design document.

Let me know your thoughts on the design in the comments. And if you want me to do the same for another novel, let me know as well!

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