Dune: Awakening may eventually take players beyond Arrakis to other planets

A couple of decades ago there was a period when all videogames and especially all Unreal Engine videogames had to be brown and grey and dingy. “The Gears of Warrification of graphics,” we used to call it, huddled up in the chest-high trenches with our Xbox 360 controllers. Survival MMO Dune: Awakening threatens to bring that back in a big way: the novel and films on which it’s based take place, after all, on an entire planet made of sand.

Developers Funcom have various plans for sprucing up the aesthetic, however. For one thing, parts of Awakening are set underground, where there’s actual, canonical vegetation and thus, a wider range of colours. For another, it’s possible Dune: Awakening will ultimately leave the dunes behind and whisk us away on a journey to another planet.

“In the books of Frank Herbert, it’s quite clear that there’s quite a lot of vegetation in places that are hidden out of the way of the sandstorms and crevices between stones,” Scott Junior, the game’s executive producer, told me during a roundtable interview at GDC. These sources of underground flora aren’t just for decoration, of course – they’re harvestable materials, with some of the most valuable being located in eco laboratories that have been abandoned for centuries.

“Yes, we are using that to spice up the world – sorry for the pun, but to get some different environments,” Junior continued. “Because when you’re on Dune, there’s a lot of brown, there’s a lot of rocks, there’s a lot of sand. And we want to break that up and show some either more tropical environments or more alien takes on things.”

As for travelling to other planets in the Dune universe – if it happens, it’ll happen after the early access launch, but you can catch hints of possible destinations in the game’s character editor, which lets you choose a background and associated Great House, from villainous ivory Harkonnen to hearty and robust Atreides. “At the start of the project there was Giedi Prime, there was Caladan, all the other [major] locations, we definitely looked into that,” Junior said. “We are going to launch on just Arrakis, though, where there’s a lot to explore, because there’s not just the northern hemisphere – there’s also the south.” (The southern hemisphere of Arrakis is sealed away by equatorial sandstorms – if I were a game developer, I’d say that’s a pretty obvious opportunity for a mid-to-endgame pace-changer.)

“We can potentially go to other planets post launch, but it’s not in the launch offering,” Junior went on. “But yeah, if you see in the second movie, I would love to make a scene on Giedi Prime with the black and white thing they did there. I thought that was really striking.”

Also striking: the spectacle of Dune: Awakening’s sandworms in action, which somewhat compensates for the slightly desperate feeling I get playing yet another survival game in this, the year 2024. You can read my full thoughts from the Awakening GDC presentation over here.

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