Though the Dune license has largely been dormant for the past few years, developers are once again flocking to Frank Herbert's novels as source material for games. Westwood Studios' next Dune offering has already gone gold, and Cryonetworks is currently working on its own version of Dune that's set in a massively multiplayer universe. In Dune Generations, you will be able to establish your own house and construct massive military forces to compete with other players online, but you'll have to use much more than just military force to expand your empire. At various points in the game, you'll have the opportunity to form alliances with other players, and these alliances can be based on different aspects of gameplay such as trade or mutual protection against stronger houses. The ultimate goal is to seize control of the sand planet of Arrakis and its most valuable resource, the spice. But to use the spice effectively, you must establish good relations with the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis. We had a chance to speak with Tiphaine Locqueneux, communications manager at Cryo, to learn more about Dune Generations and some of its unique features.
GameSpot: Tell us a little about the development team working on Dune Generations.
Tiphaine Locqueneux: A development team of 50 people from Cryonetworks has been working for the last few months flat out and is still hard at it! We set up three specialized teams, each responsible for a different aspect of the game:
The game-system team takes care of all the permanent aspects. It is responsible for developing secure databases for storing the game universe and players' actions. It also falls to them to create the entire production system (construction of buildings, military units, and so on) but also to develop the code for the missions and campaigns that will be suggested to players. That's no mean feat when you consider the enormous mound of work the scriptwriters went through.
The gameplay team implements the numerous rules of the game that will allow and govern the interaction between the players. Alliances, trading, management of dynasties, espionage, etc. are also areas that fall under the leadership of the game designers. In particular, however, it is the gameplay team that is responsible for designing the game's AI system. We can promise one thing: Players who are already thinking of tactical battles against NPCs (nonplayer characters) as a simple formality are in for a surprise.
The visualization team, finally, has perhaps the greatest responsibility. This team manages all the visual aspects of the game, from the 2D interfaces to the 3D representation of the universe, not forgetting the special effects and sound effects. They are already hard at work on an attractive 3D engine. Initial tests look extremely promising and should allow the graphic designers optimum creative freedom.
GS: Are any of the members of the development team fans of Westwood Studios' series of Dune games?
TL: We particularly like Dune II, which was a real pioneer in terms of RTS [real-time strategy] games. However, the atmosphere and design were too far from Frank Herbert's novels. Regarding Dune Generations, we decided not to develop a simple RTS game but included political, economic, and diplomatic aspects to be faithful to Frank Herbert's universe.
GS: Is there a unique storyline to the game, or are you mainly drawing from the novels?
TL: We decided to use our unique storyline based on Frank Herbert's universe. Players will see references to the characters (the Fremens, the emperor, and so on--but won't be able to play them, as they are NPCs) and to the same general intriguing storyline. As players enter the game, they will discover new missions, as we wanted to add a new dimension to the game.
GS: In Dune Generations, you're in control of both a house and a planet. What houses can players select from, and what kind of impact does your house affiliation have on gameplay?
TL: Players can choose to control one of three types of dynasties--traders, warriors, or mercenaries--and each house provides a different playing experience. The trader family offers a game more oriented toward commercial strategy and resource management. The warrior family will focus more on military power. As for the third family, the mercenaries, it is mainly based on action and battles. One of the great innovations of Dune is the way the talents of the player's followers are used. Each house consists of a variety of characters: the leader, family members, and special aides. And each brings experience and specific practical skills. Intelligent use and management of these human resources benefit the progress of the house and create a broad range of potential strategies for playing the game.
GS: Does each house class--warrior, mercenary, and trader--have unique units, or are units given different abilities?
TL: Each house will manage specific units except for the basic units, which have the same abilities. They will be orbital units, antiaircraft infantry, rocket tanks, and so on. The design will be slightly different depending on the house you rely on.
GS: How can different houses interact with each other?
TL: The system of conquest and cooperation is fundamental in this game. We have designed the main part of the gameplay around the relationships between the players. So, for example, a trader player who does not wish to manage his battles can choose to approach a mercenary player and pay him to defend his interests. Players do not need to wage war to expand their empires. Through diplomacy, they can make alliances with other players and thus create extremely powerful political factions in the universe. In terms of technical features, a "chat" system allows any player to communicate in real time with any other player (one-to-one or collective chat).
GS: How many different types of units and structures are there?
TL: There are around 40 units (spaceships, armored vehicles...) and structures per house. New ones will be added as the game progresses.
GS: Are there any special unit features, such as a promotion system where units become stronger with every battle?
TL: Winning battles gives a player prestige points, which in turn improves the level of the house and then its units.
GS: What type of resource management is in the game? Is it similar to other real-time strategy games in that players simply send units to gather the resource and move onto new areas when resources are gone?
TL: The player's first mission is to master the natural resources of his very own homeworld. The mineral or agricultural assets at the player's disposal will vary according to what type of planet it is. The output from exploitation projects is determined by the amount of energy and labor put into them. The resulting yield can then be sold or used in the production of finished goods such as food, technology, chemicals, and weapons.
GS: Is it possible for an entire planet to lose all of its resources? If that happens, is it possible for players to move their houses to a new planet?
TL: It is not possible right now but may be in the future. Besides, it is recommended to conquer and exploit other planets to gain prestige points.
GS: Can combat between houses occur in space, or is combat only ground-based?
GS: One of the major elements in the game is prestige points. Can you explain how the prestige points work and what the benefits are for accumulating as many points as possible?
TL: Prestige will be obtained by actions of war, trading, or diplomacy (battles, resources management, spying missions, and so on). Prestige gained will accumulate and will allow players to gain levels in power. The more levels you have, the more powerful you are.
GS: The ultimate goal in the game is to gain the planet of Arrakis and harvest the resource known as the spice. How can players achieve this goal?
TL: When players' houses attain a certain level of power and command a favorable reputation in the eyes of the Imperium, they can then bid for control of the sand world and thus acquire the mining rights to the spice. The house that wins this commission gains a considerable advantage.
GS: When you're in control of Arrakis, do the Fremen come into the game at all?
TL: Arrakis is a hostile planet, inhabited by a strange race, the Fremen. Exploitation of the spice is managed in a particular way: An alliance with the Fremen clans is necessary if the player wishes to avoid the pitfalls of Dune and mine the spice profitably. Thus, how long the house retains control of this planet depends entirely upon the player's ability to meet the emperor's expectations.
GS: Is the Dune Generations world persistent? If so, what happens when one house wants to challenge another house that's not online?
TL: Dune Generations is a real-time strategy game in which the main feature is playing via the Internet in a permanent and massively multiplayer world. A player's house can be challenged when he's not connected. However, we favored the player's protection when they're not online. Guilds and mercenaries are also present to protect disconnected houses.
GS: How many players will it support?
TL: It will support 20,000 players enrolled per server with an average of 2,000 players connected simultaneously.
GS: How does the in-game interface operate?
TL: Right now we are still working on the interface. We focus on a simple use, and we are allowing the player to fully customize it. We give the player the ability to play as much as possible with his mouse.
GS: Dune Generations' engine is full 3D. Can it support a fairly large number of units onscreen without taking a substantial hit in frame rate?
TL: The Dune Generations engine is able to support more than 500 units onscreen. At this time, we are improving the engine to get the best frame rate. However, it is strongly recommended to own a 3D-accelerated card to benefit from the best of the game.
GS: Thanks, Tiphaine.