The making of Dune II, the game that put real-time strategy on the map

Read Only Memory published a fantastic retrospective of Dune II, the game that codified the realtime strategy genre and, en passant, helped make a sci-fi classic cool again.

Success comes from balancing numerous competing sets of demands. Exploring the desert will reveal spice deposits to mine, yet this takes the player away from base building. Spice is a currency that must be spent wisely. Should you, for example, build the base up or create a vast mobile army? Should your base be full of production and research facilities, or be ringed by strong walls and fixed defenses? Should you have swarms of fast, light infantry or put your trust in slower, heavier armoured units? Should you make more of an existing kind of unit, or spend spice developing newer, better weapons?

Victory also comes from making the right decisions at the right time. Proving the old military maxim that no plan survives contact with the enemy, many missions were lost by launching massed attacks against an enemy base just as they attacked yours, leaving your own base to fend for itself.

Though Dune II was the mega-hit, the game it was nominally a sequel to—Cryo's Dune—was itself a remarkable and memorable achievement. A graphic adventure with strategy and RPG-lite elements, it synthesized the novel, David Lynch's 1984 movie and state-of-the-art graphics and was a significant domino in the restoration of Frank Herbert's epic to nerd graces in the 1990s. Be sure to read The Digital Antiquarian's history of it. The apparent secret to its weird blend of wild imagination and solid gameplay: French designers, British managers.