Saturday, August 2, 2014

Arrakis, Dune, Desert Planet

"Long live
the fighters!"
I've mentioned Frank Herbert's landmark science fiction novel Dune numerous times throughout this blog, but I've never actually bothered to dedicate an actual post to it.  This is mostly because Dune is such an expansive novel it's not easy to talk about.  All manner of themes are covered ranging from philosophy, religion, psychology, politics and ecology.  Frank Herbert was a journalist and Dune, in many ways, is a summation of his lifelong experiences, observations and thoughts.  Unlike most sci-fi that came before, Dune flips the dichotomy of society and technology on it's head by placing the focus firmly on how society influences technological development rather than the other way around.  To help him explore the themes he was interested in, Frank Herbert structures the universe he creates with easy to identify entities:
Commerce = CHOAM
Transportation = The Guild
Political Power = The Landsraad
Religion = The Bene Gesserit Sisterhood
Research and Development = Ixians and the Tleilax 

"He who controls the spice
 controls the universe."
Even the individual leaders of factions within this power structure are given iconic labels like Duke, Baron, Emperor, etc.  All this is done in service of the social aspects of the setting.  The majority of the text in Dune is either internal monologues or dialogues between two or more people.  It's actually one of the reasons the book makes for less-than-page-turner reading.  The style is oddly Shakespearean when you get down to it, with unnatural sounding conversations  and discussions of major events that happened "off-camera".  For these reasons, I have to say that the first Dune video game is probably closest to the novel in terms of focus.  Instead of having the player directly control units, like later entries in the series, the game takes a much more hands-off approach by having the player's avatar issue general orders to subordinates. In a modernized version of the game it would probably work something like this; Want to travel to another planet? Well, don't buy a space ship. Talk to a Guild representative. He'll make all the necessary arrangements for you. Need to examine your financial assets? Don't look it up on a computer. Just consult the house Mentat.  Decided to go to war?  No battle micro-management for you. Instead, make you desires known to your Weapon Master.

"We have worm sign."
This form of interaction might seem boring, but I think it's really aimed at an unorthodox set of strengths.  Namely things like diplomacy, intrigue, espionage, assassination, bribery, blackmail, betrayal, duels and trading secrets like spice.  Would it be fun to play?  Hard to say since the closest video games I can think of to it are Master of Orion 3 and the Crusader Kings series.  I think the key to such a game working would be quality social interaction.  I'm thinking The Walking Dead dialogue trees meets the Sims with some randomly generated NPCs and a robust AI thrown in the mix.  Limited multiplayer interaction might go a long way toward enriching the experience as well.  I'm not sure what genre this game would be in since what I've described above sounds a lot like a first person adventure game with RTS elements running in the background.  Regardless of fun though it would be true to the themes of the Dune novel and Frank Hebert's notions of innovation.
"This person, this traitor, will be worth more to us than ten legions of Sadaukar." 

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