I still remember my first exposure to the World of Dune. In 1998, I was reading a feature article on the video game magazine about the history of Real Time Strategy Games. 1998 was the year the first Star Craft game was released and the RTS fever was sweeping through South Korea; there were handful of RTS games which claiming to be unique and authentic (the most of which turned out to be another Star Craft clones), and PC game centres appeared here and there. Star Craft supported LAN gaming so these PC game centres provided the environments optimized to play Star Craft on LAN, which attracted many kids including myself. Anyway, that RTS fever was the reason why these game magazines started to examine the history of RTS. There were some familiar names in the article. I already knew the presence of War Craft 2 at the time, though did not know anything about the first one. Command and Conquer (R.I.P?) series appeared several times in the article. But amongst all, one game caught my attention more than anything.
The article introduced Dune 2 as the father of RTS genre; you had to collect resources, build bases and armies, build according to the tech tree to access better weapons, and attack your enemies to win – these familiar formulas were completed in Dune 2 according to the article, and I was fascinated with this game. I already was a bit of history geek since my childhood, thanks to the Romance of Three Kingdoms novel, so Dune 2 seemed to emit blinding aura on me with its historical significance.
I know that there were “Real Time Strategy” games before Dune 2, such as Herzog Zwei, but you have to admit it is the formula set up by Dune 2 that popularized the genre.
Blizzard Entertainment developed War Craft: Orcs and Humans, which exhibited Dune 2’s influence in its interfaces and the base building system (In Dune 2, you have to place building on concrete slabs, and In War Craft 1, you have to place buildings next to roads). War Craft managed to have its own unique features such as grouping units, special abilities, and more story oriented missions. War Craft 2 proved to be even more successful, and eventually this success led to the development of Star Craft. And Koreans went wild. Trust me, I witnessed the rise of e-sports in Korea with my own eyes, and it was insane.
Dune 2’s own developers, Westwood, started another RTS series, Command and Conquer, which retained some of Dune 2’s interface and system (they ditched concrete/road/ etc system though). Other RTS games, such as KKND and Total Annihilation (the game which made Blizzard to basically ditch everything they worked on Star Craft up to that point after seeing it on E3 and start over again) appeared and they all tried to be unique. But in the end, they owed their spirits to the conflict on Arrakis. Look what that war on the desert planet led to.
For months, the name Dune 2 carried the mystical air in my mind. Questions popped up in minds; what was the game like (the magazine only showed the cover with the soldier in front with the wind trap in the background)? Why was it called Dune 2? And what was Dune 1 like? What was the story? Etc etc…
Some of my questions were answered when Dune 2000, modern remake of Dune 2, was released. The magazines did the walkthroughs of the game, as well as introductions on the series. The story intrigued me; three houses competing against each other on the desert planet where the rare and important substance called “Spice” is produced – the story was simple enough but my imagination went wild with its world as I read about the Fremens, and Sonic Tanks. The desert people? The tank shooting soundwaves? All these sounded too awesome for me. I was only 5th grader at the time, so the world introduced in Dune 2000 was the first “unique” universe I have seen. Oh, yes I’ve watched countless animes and movies and comics as a kid already, but Dune had very distinctive feel that differentiated itself from many other fictional worlds I had read about.
When I first came to Canada, my family often visited another immigrant Korean family. In their house, I discovered Dune 2 on their computer. The moment I was waiting for.
It was very different experience from other RTS games I’ve played till that point. I could control only one unit at a time, and more strict restriction in constructions made me plan the base building more carefully. Sandworms were pretty annoying. But overall, it was pretty enjoyable. I felt like an archaeologist finding a hidden relic he was seeking for years after finally playing Dune 2.
But Dune faded away, or was buried under the sand of mind for several years, mainly due to all the new materials I had to absorb as the new immigrant to Canada. I managed to read Two Towers in grade 8, which made me sick of reading for a bit until I started reading other “manageable” books.
I eventually found a copy of Dune in the dollar store. It was one of older edition which showed the desert illustration with what seemed to be two people in the foreground. I believe it was supposed to show Paul and Jessica escaping from Arakeen. Anyway, I was taken aback by the pure size of it(at that time, any book more than 300 pages seemed pretty overwhelming for me), but kept it anyway.
Some time in my high school era, I had a chance to watch Dune movie on the cable. I was pretty hyped to watch it; for the first time ever, I will watch the story of Atreides and Harkonnens and others fighting for the control of Arrakis!
And I got something very unexpected.
Duke Leto Atreides dies early in the story, the house Atreides is destroyed, there was no House Ordos, and the movie focused on Paul’s awakening as Muad’dib, which was one element never mentioned in any of Dune 2 franchise. It was not what I expected. Only the scenery of endless desert and the worms were things I expected to see in the film. Was I disappointed? Not really. I later learned that Dune movie was…more of cult classic than commercially successful movie, but I still liked the imagery and the distinctive feel of it. I thought the introduction of “weirding modules” gave the movie interesting imagery because now the name of Muad’dib literally became the killing word and the Fremens looked more like religious fanatics.
This was the time when I started to suspect that Dune was nothing like I expected. The only similarities between games and movie were 1. They were both set in Arrakis, 2. There are sandworms and Fremens.
It was only in this October that I started to read the book that started it all. Reading Dune felt strange, because while I was familiar with some of the key concepts such as Spice, Sandworms, and the desert planet, the book threw unfamiliar concepts at me for the most part. I knew the basic plots from the movie, but the movie missed out on many details, such as Paul’s internal struggle between his identity as Duke and his larger-than-life role as Muad’dib. I have watched movie only once, and that was more than 6 years ago. So the overall story of Dune was more of mirage than actual memory. But this had unexpected benefit to my reading. I realized that Princess Irulan’s historical account foreshadowed each chapter, so reading this book with the knowledge of its plot did not ruin it as much as I feared. In fact, it felt like I was living through the events after seeing the uncertain future. I knew what was going to happen, but how was the event going to unfold? What were the characters thinking at the time? I was fascinated with the characters’ psychology throughout the book and enjoyed complex plots involving political schemes. What I loved the most was constant appearance vs truth; Yueh’s deception was the beginning, then Paul’s rise to becoming Muad’dib involved Paul and Jessica’s manipulation of the legend sown by Bene Gesserits to make the Fremens accept them as the saviours, and Fayd-Rautha’s plan to win people’s admiration by intentionally fighting the Atreides Gladiator are all fine examples of how appearance of the event can be deceiving. The last duel between Paul and Fayd-Rautha was no longer simple good vs evil by the time I read it on the page. Paul felt defeated because no matter what he does, he would not be able to stop jihad; if he dies, the Fremens will believe he sacrificed himself for them and start fighting, but if he wins the Fremens will believe Paul is invincible and start waging war anyway. The Duke cannot stop the Prophet no matter what. I will have to read the book again to be sure, but I had an impression that this duel was Paul’s struggle to remain as Atreides, and human opposed to Muad’dib who is the symbol of the Fremen jihad. That’s why he had to fight Fayd-Rautha despite objections from his friends. At least that was the impression I got. This may change when I read this part, or whole book again.
After finishing reading Dune, I felt strange emotion. I have finally read through the book that I was seeking without conscious effort. Initially the name Dune attracted me for its influence on historically significant game, then I unwittingly drew closer to the point of origin. It was little different from simply reading the book that inspired your favourite movie/game etc, because Dune and its offsprings surprised me whenever I was exposed to them. Walking on the road to Dune was full of surprise and wonders. I am not sure where I should go from here, whether to finish the rest of Dune series, or to read non-Dune books by Frank Herbert, but I am certain of one thing.
It will be full of pleasant surprises.