For me, as for most of the guys who were interested in science fiction in post-Soviet Ukraine, Dune didn’t start with a book or even with the 1984 David Lynch movie starring Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, and Sting (and a “young” Patrick Stewart, only 44 years old). It all started with a game.

In fact, despite all the greatness of the Dune franchise, which has had a significant impact on world fiction, there are not many games based on Frank Herbert’s book series. However, among them there is a game that, if not created (researchers are still arguing about this), but accurately outlined the direction of the Real-time strategy genre for years to come. Dune II by Westwood Studios already had all the elements that define the RTS genre and became a model for subsequent games. It is with this game that the so-called “golden age of RTS” begins. But first, there was another Dune.


Platforms MS-DOS, Amiga, SEGA CD
Genre adventure/strategy
Year 1992

The first Dune game was created by the French Cryo Interactive based on the book by Frank Herbert, but it was inspired by the same 1984 David Lynch movie. Even the cover featured a still from the movie with Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Muad’Dib. The CD version of the game, and Dune 1992, by the way, was one of the first games to be released on CD, had extra content in the form of a cut from the movie.

Dune 1992 was a very interesting mix of adventuring and 4X strategy with a top-down view, even by today’s standards. You played as Paul Atrid, of course, and could communicate with other characters, complete mini-quests, visit new locations, and at the same time manage the economy and troops at the planetary level. The game featured time of day changes, a choice of options in dialogs, and much more. New gameplay mechanics appeared as the story progressed.

The game also featured a fantastic soundtrack by Stefan Pick and Philipp Ulrich, which was even released as a separate CD called Dune: Spice Opera.

Cryo Interactive spent only 800,000 francs on the development of Dune (the total budget with the license and marketing is about 3 million francs), which is simply negligible for an interesting and complex game, even in today’s view.

During the first week of sales, 20 thousand copies of the game were sold. At the time, it was a remarkable commercial success. By 1997, thanks to the proliferation of CD drives, 300 thousand copies of Dune had been sold.

Dune II

Platforms MS-DOS, Amiga, Acorn 32-bit, Mega Drive/Genesis, RISC OS
Genre real-time strategy
Year 1992

The great and terrible Dune II, the mother of all RTSs. Aka Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty, Dune II: Battle for Arrakis and simply Dune: The Battle for Arrakis.

The MS-DOS version of the game was released in December 1992, and the pirated version (what else?!) appeared in Ukraine in early 1993. Back in 1993, I was wondering, if this is Dune II, why is the first Dune a completely different game in terms of gameplay? It’s simple, because Cryo Interactive released its Dune in the summer of 1992, and Westwood Studios in December 1992, the latter had to change the name to Dune II. There were even rumors that it was a sequel to Cryo’s Dune, but this is certainly not the case. The blame lies with the publisher of both games, Virgin Games. And yes, Virgin Games was part of the Virgin Group of Sir Richard Branson.

Although it is believed that the first real-time strategy games were released in 1981-1983, they were only the precursors to the explosion that occurred in the mid-1990s, and Dune II was the game that marked its beginning and set the rules. Westwood Studios became the messiah of the RTS genre for a long time.

Do the math yourself. Dune II had: base construction (on special slabs so that Shai Hulud wouldn’t hear!); resource gathering; a technology tree that sets the sequence of construction; several parties to the conflict, the Atrid, Harkonen, and Ordos (the latter are not canon) with their own unique units; the fog of war; a contextual cursor, and more. Even the initial rush! There was also a strategic mode in which you had to choose the direction of expansion.

Dune II gave players unforgettable emotions, I, for one, still remember the tension that gripped you while collecting spices. Waiting for Shai Khulud to appear is something else.

It seems that the development of Dune II began when Virgin Games, which had a license for games based on Frank Herbert’s work, decided to close Dune from Cryo. Thank goodness that didn’t happen. Another interesting fact is that Dune II was one of the first games to support the newly created (1991) General MIDI standard (a standardized specification for electronic musical instruments).

Dune II received extremely positive media reviews and by the end of 1996 had sold 250,000 copies. In 2013, the game was ported to Android.

And Westwood Studios continued to develop the RTS genre with the Command & Conquer series, but after a while returned to Dune.

Dune 2000

Platforms Windows, PlayStation
Genre real-time strategy
Year 1998

Dune 2000 is a remake of Dune II, which was commissioned by Westwood Studios, which had “grown up” to the rank of publisher, and created by the British studio Intelligent Games.

The developers took Dune II, updated the graphics, and added the Command & Conquer interface: Red Alert (selecting a group of units is progress!) plus traditional Westwood cutscenes with live actors, including John Rhys-Davies, who is known to you from the Indiana Jones series of films.

The game received mixed reviews. Everyone seemed to like the gameplay, but the graphics were no longer up to the standards of 1998. In addition, there were questions about the balance. In the original game, it was not a concern at all, but in Dune 2000, multiplayer was introduced, so it was important. The average rating on GameRankings was 58% for the PC version and 61% for the PlayStation version. Yes, you heard right, Dune 2000 was released on the first PlayStation, which is actually quite a miracle for an RTS.

Emperor: Battle for Dune

Platforms Windows
Genre real-time strategy
Year 2001

And this is a direct sequel to Dune 2000, again from the collaboration between Intelligent Games and Westwood Studios. Emperor: Battle for Dune continues the plot of Dune 2000 and also has video inserts with live actors, it’s a Westwood game after all. Among the famous actors, there is Michael Dorn (Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation).

The new installment featured an interactive single-player campaign, online and multiplayer, new mechanics, such as access to other people’s units after capturing an enemy building, etc.

The game received mixed reviews. Some praised the graphics and video, while others called them old-fashioned. Some liked the single-player campaign, others thought the game lacked innovation, and we’ve seen it all many times before. And although Emperor: Battle for Dune has a good Metacritic score of 79/100, some influential publications gave the new Dune extremely low scores: AllGame – 2.5/5; Computer Gaming World – 2.5/5; Edge – 5/10.

In fact, the golden era of RTS was already coming to an end, and real-time strategies were gradually falling out of favor among players and developers. Westwood Studios’ time was also coming to an end. Emperor: Battle for Dune became one of the last games of the legendary studio. After the release of the shooter Command & Conquer: Renegade and the really good strategy game Earth & Beyond, which did not meet the publisher’s expectations, the studio, which had been owned by Electronic Arts since 1998, ceased to exist. The rest was absorbed by EA Los Angeles.

Frank Herbert’s Dune

Platforms Windows, PlayStation 2
Genre action/adventure
Year 2001

If the not-so-impressive sales of Emperor: Battle for Dune buried Westwood Studios, this game buried the developers of the first Dune, Cryo Interactive.

The game is based on the Sci Fi Channel miniseries Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000) starring Alic Newman as Paul Atrid. The series even won two 2001 Emmy Awards for visual effects and cinematography, and received a sequel, Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune (2003).

Frank Herbert’s Dune was not so lucky. Cryo Interactive started the project with big financial problems, the development was handled by a little-known French developer Widescreen Games, and the result was terrible. Despite the fact that the game’s missions generally followed the text of Frank Herbert’s novel, it was impossible to play this action/adventure with stealth elements. In addition, the game’s graphics were outdated even by the standards of the early 2000s.

The result: GameRankings – 51/100, Metacritic – 48/100. Cryo Interactive ceased to exist in 2002. Two subsequent projects, Dune Generations (2001) by Cryo Interactive and Dune: Ornithopter Assault (2002) by the Hungarian Soft Brigade 2 for the Game Boy Advance, were closed. Game developers forgot about Dune for 20 years.

Dune: Spice Wars

Platforms Windows, Xbox Series X|S
Genre 4X real-time strategy
Year 2023

After 20 years, Denis Villeneuve returned Dune to the big screens, and game developers forgot about the fiasco of the 2000s and rushed to create a new generation of Dune games. And the first one was Dune: Spice Wars by Funcom/Shiro Games.

“Dune has returned to its roots. Dune: Spice Wars is a 4X real-time strategy game, just like the first Dune by Cryo Interactive. The adventurous part of the new game is rudimentary, but the economic, strategic, diplomatic, and combat parts are much more detailed than in the 1992 game. Plus stylized but quite modern graphics. And there are 6 basic factions: House Atrid, House Harkonnen, House Corrino, House Ekaz, smugglers, and freemen. Plus, DLC with House Vernius from X has recently been released.

Dune: Spice Wars was released in Steam Early Access back in April 2022. The full release took place in September 2023. The game received mixed reviews from the press, Metacritic – 73/100, but, for example, IGN rated it 90/100. Players seem to be satisfied, with a Steam rating of 79/100. Since its release on PC, the game has received several major updates and managed to be released on Xbox Series X|S, which, again, is unusual for a real-time strategy game, even if it is 4X, with APM (Actions per minute) an order of magnitude lower than in RTS.

Actually, Dune: Spice Wars is available on Xbox/PC Games Pass, so try it for yourself.

Microsoft Flight Simulator Dune Expansion

Platforms Windows, Xbox Series X|S
Genre simulator
Year 2023

It’s not a game, of course, but a free add-on to Microsoft Flight Simulator in honor of the release of the movie Dune: Part Two, but it’s so damn good we just couldn’t pass it up.

Dune Expansion adds the iconic ornithopter and part of the planet Arrakis to MSFS. The expansion contains three training missions that will teach players how to fly the Royal Atridian Ornithopter and six tasks on Arrakis. Five of them are races with time on challenging routes, and the last one is a rescue mission in which the pilot must save the instructor before he is covered by a sandstorm.

In addition, the ornithopter from the movie can be flown anywhere in the world. Due to the unique flight model and the extraordinary mechanics of folding the wings on the fly, players fell in love with this fantastic aircraft.

Dune: Imperium

Platforms Windows, Android, iOS
Genre board game
Year 2024

A digital adaptation of the 2020 board game of the same name by Dire Wolf Digital. The original, which is both a deck-building game and a game of strategic placement of workers, is designed for 1-4 people. The physical version has collected a bunch of awards and received two add-ons, and the digital version, judging by player feedback, is a very successful transfer of the board game to the online world.

The Steam rating of Dune: Imperium is fantastic – 96/100 out of 1300 reviews. Given the number of reviews, this is a commercial success. By the way, the game has a Ukrainian localization, but no Russian!

Dune: Imperium was released in Steam Early Access on November 14, 2023, and the full release took place on March 13, 2024. That is, as of now, this is the last Dune video game, but… there will be more.

Dune: Awakening

Platforms Windows, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S
Genre Survival MMO
Year TBA

And we know this because a new Dune game has already been announced. This is an open-world survival MMO from Funcom, the authors of MMORPG Conan Exiles, Age of Conan, Anarchy Online, The Secret World, and the cult adventuring series The Longest Journey. By the way, Funcom also published Dune: Spice Wars. Now Funcom is owned by the Chinese media conglomerate Tencent.

As users joke, Funcom will have little work to do, because the world of their previous games Conan Exiles and Age of Conan is also mostly a desert.

The game takes place in a different time period than in the Dune books and movies. The game will feature a rebuilding base, vehicles, political intrigue, unusual endgame options, and, of course, sandworms.

Dune: Awakening doesn’t have a release date yet, but on the game’s website you can already sign up for beta testing.

So far, these are all video games based on Dune, but something tells us that if Denis Villeneuve continues to make films, and the script for Dune Messiah is actually ready and just waiting for the actors to grow up, then new games will appear. And that’s a good thing.

Board games based on Dune

Dune (1979/2019) – Avalon Hill/Gale Force Nine
Dune (1984) – Parker Brothers
Dune: Imperium (2020) – Dire Wolf
Dune: House Secrets (2021) – Portal Games
Arrakis: Dawn of the Fremen (2022) – Gale Force Nine
Dune: Imperium – Uprising (2023) – Dire Wolf
Dune: War for Arrakis (2024) – CMON

Board role-playing games based on Dune

Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium (2000) – Last Unicorn Games
Dune: A Dream Of Rain (2004) – Evil Twin Games
Dune: Adventures in the Imperium (2021) – Modiphius Entertainment